The greatest barrier to awareness, to being present, is our mind. Tolle is of the opinion that the main obstacle is, “Identification with your mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. It also creates a false man-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering”.
Tolle believes that we have taken things to such a degree that our thinking has become a disease, “Disease happens when things get out of balance”. In the case of our minds, “You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over”.
Stilling the mind; that is the cure. First though we must regain control of our minds, that takes discipline and discipline takes effort. We are back to effort again.
Remember, Scott Peck reckoned that laziness was the only real impediment to spiritual growth. Brother Lawrence told us that concentrated effort over time, time measured in years or even decades, was necessary. deMello advised us of the need to practice his steps to wisdom “a thousand times”.
One of the first practical steps that we can take, Tolle tells us, is to “watch the thinker”. “Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by ‘watching the thinker’, which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence”.
Don’t make the mistake though of judging your thoughts, just observe them. Judging them is your thinking getting back in, taking control again. “When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially”, Tolle advises us, “That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You’ll soon realize; there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind”.
In my philosophy class, we talked about the ‘unchanging observer’, that kernel inside of each of us which feels unchanged in spite of the passing years. People often say that they don’t feel their age, that they haven’t really changed, that they are still the same person at 55 that they were at 15. That unchanging inner being is the ‘watcher‘ Tolle refers to.
Identifying the ‘watcher’, the ‘unchanging observer’, is an important step in becoming aware; realise the separateness between the observer and the thought. Realize that you are not your thoughts.
Now we are making progress.
That’s why the class i attended is called, ‘Practical Philosophy’, it teaches us how to live.
Don’t stop now, Tolle exhorts us, “So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence – your deeper self – behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking”.
We can control our minds and by so doing we begin to unlock our inner stillness and peace. “When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream – a gap of ‘no-mind’. At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being”.
Your progress can be further developed by practicing being present; so many times we drift through life without taking any particular notice. How often have we read the newspaper, listened to the news, driven the car, even held a conversation with a loved one, only to realise afterwards that we have no recollection of the content. This is not being present, it is not being alive. Tolle tells us, “In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present”.
And the reward for progress is – peace. Tolle provides us with a guarantee, similar to what deMello promised us, “There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice; the degree of peace that you feel within”
That’s Tolle’s Fourth Lesson for us – identify, and identify with, the watcher, the unchanging observer.