Over the weekend I flew to Seattle with my wife Pam to see Eckhart Tolle. I felt a lot of consternation about the time, effort and expense of the visit, but we stay with Pam’s sister and husband and their two wonderful little kids when we are in town, and that’s always great, and besides Seattle rocks. But all this to see Eckhart Tolle?
Several things were mitigating against it in my head: first, I am a counter phobic six on the Enneagram (ancient personality classification system), which means I’m generally not predisposed to Guru types—rather I’m pretty anti-authoritarian; secondly, while I agree with most of what I have heard and read of Tolle, his monotone delivery usually makes me want to go to sleep; and thirdly, in my own personal practice I have regular access to non-dual states, emptiness, my original face, Spirit, by whatever name.
Do I understand all things? No. But I sense the essence that everything arises from, and I can rest in that almost whenever I will. The world is more translucent now than it used to be, and the mystery and wonder grow from day to day. Is my ego still a pain in the rear? Yup. But, in any case, in my mind I’ve already got what Eckhart is selling. So, what’s the point? The point is I watch my ego spin all its stories and I go anyway.
We arrive at a concert hall in downtown Seattle, and it’s a happening: long lines, expectant people. Feels like a rock concert. I feel embarrassed. As I said before, the whole Guru thing bugs me. When I was in Germany recently I saw a video of a Guru/teacher who is big in Europe, and she was being asked questions by adoring students. I wanted to throw up and shout, “Dudes, you’re already it! Enough already!” Yep, I’ve got buttons and history and they were getting pushed in Seattle. So I do self- talk, “John, I’m sure there’s something to learn here and Pam wants to be here. So relax. Be cool.”
Well, the hall is beautiful. Packed. At least 2,000 people and we are in the second row, twenty feet from Eckhart’s chair. We settle down and Tami Simon (Sounds True) comes out and sets it up. This is good. I don’t know Tami personally, but I have friends who do, and I love her stuff on Integral Naked and the interviews she has done with Ken Wilber. I’m starting to feel better. Then Eckhart comes out. Oh, and I forgot to mention I had just eaten half of a very delicious Seattle burrito before entering. It is one o’clock in the afternoon. The blood in my brain goes to my stomach, and Eckhart begins his monotone drone. Bummer!
The first hour-and-a-half is a challenge to keep from falling asleep and embarrassing the hell out of Pam by snoring in public in the second row. No place to hide! I practice. I struggle. I manage to stay awake. Blessedly, there is a break. The line for Starbuck’s is huge. I think a man could get rich selling coffee at Eckhart Tolle events. No coffee for me as the line is too long, so I run around the block instead. Now the break is over and I’m back on my head. (Heidi, a friend and co-worker, just read this and asked, “What does back on your head mean?” It refers to an old joke where a guy dies and goes to hell and is shown three doors to choose from, behind which he will spend his sentence (eternity). After he chooses, the punch line is, “OK, coffee break is over, back on your heads!”) I take my seat again feeling like a doomed martyr. But this time, at last, my brain begins to wake up.
I start to give Eckhart my AQAL analysis. Being a spontaneous awakener, he doesn’t have a hell of a lot to teach us about practice. There seems to be just the slightest hint of the knowledge of states and stages… and so on. But at least I’m engaged and getting into the flow. Then it starts to get really interesting. Things start to get translucent. Eckhart finds his groove and I’m definitely finding mine. Things light up. What is speaking in and though him is speaking to me where I live in my deepest places and I’m feeling gratitude and love. Gratitude to him for being a shy introvert who has become a teacher and channel for a profound degree of awakening. And Love because when things start getting translucent for me, Love arises as I see through form into emptiness and know they are not two.
He said a couple of things that stayed with me. Eckhart said that when he comes out on stage he has no idea what he is going to say or teach. He just stays open to the moment and lets whatever arises come through. As simple as this sounds, it is not easy and takes practice. I am finding this to be true more and more as I explore writing and teaching and making music. I think this ability to stay open is the essence of presence, flow and creativity. Eckhart said that when he gives a talk, he is a spiritual teacher, and when he walks off stage he is no longer a spiritual teacher, he’s Eckhart.
I love this. The ego is always trying to constellate around a self-generated identity. “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a rock star.” I’m a this or a that. It’s a trap. You’re a mystery. I’m a mystery. Can you imagine? “I’m Eckhart Tolle, enlightened world-famous teacher.” What a bummer! Leave it on stage. Leave it at the office. Be here now. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.)
He talked about the need to hold children in this presence and emptiness, as well as getting them to brush their teeth and go to school and so on. Ken recently talked about the need for “father” love and “mother” love in raising a child—mother love being the unconditional, “I love you no matter what you do” variety, and father love being what you get when you do well. Both are needed in raising a child; too much of mother love gives you uncontrolled narcissism and too much of father love and gives you depression, rebellion, underground behaviors, and so on.
The same is very true in the Integral Recovery model. There is unconditional compassion for the person and the sufferer of the disease of addiction, but there is also holding the person responsible for their disease and getting well, as in the old saw, “With addiction you got to feel good by doing drugs and in recovery you get to feel good by doing good.” You add this to a stable awareness of emptiness, or Spirit, in the parent or Integral Recovery counselor along with the good cop/bad cop, father love/mother love combination, and you have an integrated field of consciousness that provides a non-dual energy and space for growth, healing, and creativity (another name for evolution).
I’m finding this in my music and teaching. I have achieved some technical proficiency in both from years of work, repetition, and practice, and I’m good enough technically. The cutting edge now is to become a vehicle, an instrument of the presence that permeates all, finding the groove, the flow, the creativity of this moment.
I realize this is what I really love about Ken Wilber’s writing and teaching: it floats in emptiness. Not the idea, but the presence. It just comes through. You can feel it. The most complete map of reality, the relative evolving wonder of it all floats in pure suchness, Spirit, emptiness. It is really extraordinary.
I can see this emerging in the Second Tier/Third Tier debate. Second Tier is, or can be, primarily a cognitive structure/stage. Third Tier, or late Second Tier, must include a whole-body spiritual realization of emptiness. I can see this in Don Beck’s recent rumblings about Third Tier, whether it exists or is even necessary. Sorry, Don, but ya gotta sorta be a mystic at Second Tier in order to get the Third Tier mojo going. And for most of us that requires disciplined daily practice unless you get zapped by dumb luck or Grace. Which brings me back to Eckhart Tolle.
I suspect Eckhart of transmitting and teaching at a primarily Green level, but he understands non-dual emptiness, and in the third act he started lighting up the place. I love this guy. He’s got a ten-week gig coming up with Oprah (our current American embodiment of Goddess juju), and I think it’s awesome: Obama, Oprah, Eckhart, Integral Life. There is something happening here. As the Bard from Minnesota says (no, not Stuart Davis), “The times they are a changin’.”