Eckhart Tolle's Awakening
The following is Part 1 of an interview with Eckhart Tolle, conducted by Josh Max at the Omega Institute.
Josh Max: I'd like to talk about your transformation at age 29, where you say your personality was erased. Many people spend their lives trying to get something like that to happen, and here it happened to you at a young age. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Eckhart Tolle: I was unhappy, depressed and anxious. I was not trying to become enlightened or anything like that. I was looking for some kind of answer to the dilemma of life, but I had been looking to the intellect for the answer; philosophy, religion and intellectual inspiration. The more I was looking on that level, the more unhappy I became. I reached a point where the phrase came into my head—and this is in the book "The Power Of Now"—"I can't live with myself any longer." That part of my self—that entity became so heavy and painful.
Suddenly I stepped back from myself, and it seemed to be two of me— The "I", and this "self" that I cannot live with. Am I one or am I two? And that triggered me like a koan. It happened to me spontaneously. I looked at that sentence—"I can't live with myself". I had no intellectual answer. Who am I? Who is this self that I cannot live with? The answer came on a deeper level. I realized who I was.
When I'm speaking about it now, it becomes intellectualized because I'm using words, but that realization was beyond words. What "I" as consciousness had identified with was a very heavy mental and emotional form consisting of thought and accompanied by an energy field. At that moment the identification with that mind structure was withdrawn. It collapsed, and what remained was a spacious, peaceful consciousness. The identification was broken, and because of that, the mental/emotional structure—the psuedo self collapsed. My sense of identity broke down and was replaced by something that is very hard to put into words. Awareness. Consciousness. The words only came a few years later. I couldn't even talk about it. I had been anxious and depressed for years and suddenly I was deeply at peace.
JM: Do you think your transformation had less to do with achieving peace than letting go of the anxiousness and the worry?
Eckhart Tolle: Yes. It wasn't really the achievement of anything; it was the realization by letting go of the identification. Something suddenly was there that actually had always been there but had been obscured continuously by identification with the heavy mind structure. As I came to work with other people, I realized every human being already has that dimension. No matter how anxious, depressed, disturbed and fearful they may be. That dimension is already in there, in every human being.
And so I came to understand why some masters sometimes say, "You are already enlightened." That dimension is already in there, it just needs to be discovered. Something needs to be let go of, something needs to be recognized.
JM: You know, when I walked in here, I had no idea who was going to be here. I'd read your books but had never seen you except in photographs. When you opened the door, it was like the sun was in this flat. I couldn't help but forget any reservations or shyness I may have had, and I almost burst out laughing.
Eckhart Tolle: The reason for this is that in that act of meeting you, there were no thoughts about who you are or who I am. There was the openness of consciousness recognizing itself in another human being. And that is extremely joyful. And it's also joyful for someone who experiences that with someone else, because they feel more themselves in that moment.