THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF SPIRITUALITY

*Quotes attributed to Tolle in this piece are only close paraphrases. The content of Eckhart’s talks at Omega Institute have been filmed and will be made available in months to come on ETTV*

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The first powerful lesson I learned while attending the retreat at Omega Institute during Eckhart’s second talk was taught by pair of grass stained feet which belonged to none other than the “little me” (as Tolle sometimes refers to the egoic self). Interestingly, during registration on the first evening of the retreat the second lesson was already brewing in the form of ‘serious’ thoughts swirling in my mind.

The first afternoon of the retreat I took the 20 minute country path from my charming little bed and breakfast to the Omega Institute to complete my registration before Eckhart’s first talk at 8 p.m. Green, natural and peaceful were my external surroundings, but inside the usual storm. I didn’t notice the birds’ songs, or their occasional flight between trees. I didn’t notice the sound of the rubble and sand beneath my feet, and I missed the subtle nuances of the cool breeze dancing playfully around my body.

Locusts! North Sahara! - Rob Smart(Photo Credit: Rob Smart)

All I noticed were the voices in my head. They were so loud, and I was very aware that my mind was overtaken by them like a massive swarm of unrelenting locusts. I was painfully out of tune with what IS, and I knew that I was missing the subtle beauty and joy of the present moment. But would I add to the swarm with my “feeling bad” for not being able to STOP? No. I consciously chose to accept the noise and walked on.

At the registration office the small line of those attending the retreat was growing behind me. Among all the people who were there to see Eckhart, who were talking of their love for him, or wondering where he was staying, or exchanging stories about why they were here and how they first discovered the teachings – I felt alone. It wasn’t a negative feeling, but solemn nonetheless.

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I sensed how people wanted to be acknowledged by others as ‘serious spiritual seekers.’ Maybe some were dreaming of speaking to Eckhart, which is the same as being acknowledged by him, or receiving praise from him. I thought about myself and how I want to feel special – how all human beings want to feel special – an inch taller among ants. I felt sad. This sadness both calmed and disturbed me.

In those moments I knew that coming to the retreat was meaningless in and of itself. No “Tolle” could ever create another “Tolle”, just like no Buddha could ever create another Buddha. If I wanted to awaken, I would have to find the way myself. This was always a disheartening thought.

Little did I know that the universe was preparing me for a second lesson which occurred during Eckhart’s fourth talk on Monday, June 16th:

Spirituality is the serious business of not taking things too seriously

Although the “line conflict” was “by far the greatest conflict I encountered at the retreat,” the more serious conflict I generally suffer from is the conflict of taking myself too seriously. 

Who me?

No, not YOU. Me – the ‘little me’ The “emotional me”. The “intellectual me”. The egocentric selves pushing and pulling me from a tearful state of mayhem and self pity to a humorless state of stern rationalism.

Oh yes, I know those selves rather well. They’re constantly being fed and fattened. They’re ever re-energized and ready to steal the show!

Yes, and what a show they put on! “I don’t belong here!” one cries. “But I don’t belong there either!” the other one whimpers. “Stop the whining!” a third cries, “You’re indulging in your ego, you’re never going to attain enlightenment!” A fourth laments the unfairness of the universe’s selective enlightenment of certain individuals, “Damn Universe! Why not me!!??” And so on and so forth.

Hahahaha! Funny bunch.

Are they?

Aren’t they?

Well according to Eckhart they are. In fact, on Tuesday night (two talks after the ‘front row foot fiasco’), Eckhart gave his very first session of “spiritual entertainment”. It was all ‘hush-hush’ and I even heard a buzz that Jim Carey might be providing the ‘entertainment’. But no, it was Eckhart himself, delivering beauty. He appeared slowly from behind the curtain, greeting us in his usual way with a silent ‘namaste’ and a big sweet smile. He then sat down on a single chair on stage and declared that he was going to entertain us with a series of video clips on this ‘movie night’…

“This is going to be a night of fun” he said with his unimposing child-like tone and soft chuckle. He introduced the first clip as a commercial which showed the “impermanence” of the world of form in a very dramatic way:

As I watched the progression of the “impermanence” of the human body my face was stone cold. “Serious” was written all over me – my neck and shoulder muscles were tight, my teeth were clenched, my body was rigid, refusing to give way to the idea of this depiction of human frailty as “funny”. But Eckhart (and others) were laughing, especially when he added: “If it were my commercial I would have said ‘Life is too short, don’t play video games!”

Oh how the laughter rang out! But not from me. I wasn’t laughing. I felt sad about the impermanence of living beings, especially as I thought of the mortality of my children. This wasn’t funny, this was death! 

Doug Wheller - Eye Death(Photo Credit: Doug Wheller)

So you were the only one taking the ‘serious’ matter of ‘death’ seriously?

I don’t know about others, but I was as serious as death. This short ‘film’ did shock me into realizing that life is a serious business.

You were as serious as you tend to take Life…but can life be separated from death?

Life? Can you honestly compare Life to Death? One is the beginning, while the other is the end of this beautiful beginning! Life enthuse’s us with dreams, and death is the end of the world. Life incites hope and death generates fear.

Is death really ‘other’ than life? When you live a moment, a moment simultaneously dies. This is what the NOW IS. As J. Krishnamurti said, “Life and death are the same movement.” But we don’t treat death as part of life do we? We treat it as something to fear, something to escape from in dreams – in hopes and ambitions.

But I’m afraid of death!! I’m afraid of ending what I am, what I have, what I love!

Can you ever know what it means to Live or Love when you spend so much energy on fear? You gather the pieces of your conditioned past and project the same into a dream. Then you spend all your energy moving between fear and the dream. Is that what you call LIVING?

You mean that everything I do in life, all my dreams, are nothing more than a reaction to an innate fear of death?

Yes. If there’s no past, there’s no dream of change. If there’s no dream, there’s no future. If there’s no future, there’s no fear. If there’s no fear then there’s no death. Then only Life remains, NOW ever HERE for you to discover and live to its potential!

life is too short

So my dreams propel me into the future as my fears pull me down forcefully into the grave?

Yes, but you CAN wake up from the dream. You CAN Love and Live, but only if you’re prepared to laugh out your fearful selves, your escapist selves, your ego. 

Maybe Eckhart’s laughter doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take life seriously, or that he thinks the mortality of man is totally hilarious! Maybe he’s laughing at the absurdity of how we tend to live out this short trip of a life. Are the things we take ‘seriously’ actually serious? Are the things we consider ‘trifles’ actually trifles? Maybe he wants us to take a closer look at this brief shot in the dark that we call ‘life’.

Yes, that’s the message I internalized. What the video conveys (in a rather shocking way) is that “life is short and then you die”. How are we spending this fleeting Life? Now I am laughing as I think of Eckhart’s genius in showing us this commercial which happens to encourage the playing of video games. Hahahaha!

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Do you HEAR what he is saying? In what kind of soil are you sowing your seeds? What is the quality of the crop you are yielding, if any?

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!” (Mark 4:9

So, is how you spend your life from moment to moment worthy of LIFE? Don’t answer in words. Just sit back and relax, because Eckhart’s “Evening of Entertainment” is far from over…seriously. 😉

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