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48. Becoming More at Ease with Yourself

A number of years ago I had a coach who suggested that I start to give some attention to my spiritual life. She gave me books to read, tapes to listen to, meditations to practice. She also suggested that I take a rare opportunity to hear Eckhart Tolle speak at St James's church in Piccadilly. I had never heard of Eckhart Tolle, but I figured nothing would be lost by going to listen to him so I set off one Monday evening for Piccadilly. I went about an hour early because I was told that he was popular, but nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted me. The queue outside St James's curled right around the four sides of the church and extended up Piccadilly as far as the eye could see. As I joined it, the church was already nearly full. Needless to say, I didn't get in, but I did wonder about what had attracted such a crowd. I'd like to tell you his story, and for those of you who know him, to remind you... According to his own description, Eckhart Tolle was an unhappy, neurotic, confused intellectual. He was of German origin and grew up in the generation of Germans who carried a great deal of guilt about the Holocaust. At the time of this story, he was a research scholar at Cambridge university. Tolle had been deeply unhappy for some years when, one evening in his room, he felt ready to take his life. 'I can't live with myself anymore,' he said to himself. In that instant, he had a realization. If part of him was miserable and the other part of him didn't want to live anymore with the miserable part, what did that mean? Were there two of him? If so, who was this person who was observing himself? At that point he went into an altered state of consciousness, feeling himself to be travelling down a long tunnel, much as is described by people who have near death experiences. He woke in the morning to a state of thoughtless awareness and happiness that has never left him. Whether or not you believe in enlightenment, there is something very compelling about Tolle's story, and that is that he didn't have the faintest idea what had happened to him. He was not a spiritual man, coming to the end of a long search for meaning - he knew nothing of spirituality, and yet he knew that something truly extraordinary had happened to him. As a good academic would, he set about educating himself. He read widely round spiritual literature, he worked through A Course in Miracles, he meditated, he mixed with Buddhists. In this way he began to form an intellectual structure for his own enlightenment. Until then he had no word for it - all he knew was that he was happy, he was in a state of stillness and bliss. The central feature of 'enlightenment' is a separation from, or the death of, the ego. The ego is the structure that we form in early life from which we gain our image of ourselves and our model of the world. It is the part of us that tells us how we should be, and how other people and the world should be, and that reacts when reality fails to live up to those ideals. In a constant state of thoughts, feelings and reactivity to both the external and internal world, it is the source of pretty well all our suffering. Without it, we are at peace, we live entirely in the 'now', and we experience a natural feeling of happiness that is not dependent on things being a certain way. There are other stories of instant enlightenment, but these stories are rare. Most of us, if we want to experience what these people experience, have to chip away at our egos over time. Some of it happens quite naturally. If you're over 40 or so you have probably experienced some relaxing of your ego ideals. Ageing and life experiences tend to temper our expectations of ourselves and others, and we either mellow or become cynical and bitter. Mellowing, as in an increased flexibility in our reactions to life's difficulties, and a decreased attachment to things being a certain way, is a great deal more comfortable! I see a fair bit of suffering in my practice as a coach and therapist, and about 90% of that suffering comes about because people are railing against something that is not 'as it should be', whether internally or externally. And despite coming to understand how their expectations of themselves or their lives are making them unhappy, like most of us, they are very reluctant to let go of them. That is the power of the ego. Try this: 1. What is your ideal self and your ideal life? How old should you be, how attractive, how slim, how clever, how successful? What partner should you be with and what should that partner be like? How much money should you have, how many children, what kind of house? How easy should your life be, how much free time should you have, how many hobbies and interests should you have? How should other people treat you? What should your community or country be like? What should the politicians be doing? What should the climate be like? And so on. 2. What is the reality of you, your life and other people? What does the gap between your ideals and your reality produce in your life? Striving, energy, passion? Frustration, unhappiness, despair? 3. Is it possible to let go of one of your ideals, right now? If so, what would that be like? For further reading, try Ekhart Tolle's The Power of Now and other books. "Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on." Ekchart Tolle Have a peaceful week....