Parkway United Church of Christ – 7-15-18 – Jodie Walters
So … Kathy asked me to talk about a favorite book that influenced my spirituality. Years ago, a gal I worked with gave me a set of tapes of “The Power of Now,” read by the author Eckhart Tolle (Toe-lee). I listened to them several times, while I did the dishes. The ideas he presents in the book are not brand new. Thich Nhat Hanh (known as the father of mindfulness in the west) & other Zen masters have taught similar concepts. But the way they were explained in “The Power of Now” really rang true to me, Eckhart Tolle spoke with the power of conviction. After I started organizing my thoughts for today’s talk, I remembered that I’d been so impressed by this book when I first read it in 2005 I’d written an article about it for the Courier. I got some wonderful feedback from Joyce Momont & Owen Harris, two Parkway members who’ve passed on.
I was drawn to these ideas way before reading this particular book. As a baby boomer, I was attracted to these ideas by my experiences, circumstances, & natural disposition, they’d preoccupied by mind for decades.
I had read Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, “Brave New World,” & his utopian novel, “Island,” & was very influenced by them.
Then, “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda really captivated me & I joined the Self-Realization Fellowship & learned meditation & breathing exercises.
Later, I read all of Carlos Castenada’s books, which some people consider true anthropological accounts of his time with a Yaqui Indian learning about shamanism, & some people consider fiction. I was fascinated by a completely different way of looking at the world, & what we consider reality.
“The Four Agreements,” by don Miguel Ruiz lays out a code of conduct based on ancient Toltec wisdom. I try to remind myself of these concepts every day & find them helpful.
These books, & many others, laid the groundwork for me to be receptive to the ideas in “The Power of Now.” I felt like the concepts made sense, & they were helpful. They also seemed to dovetail with things I’d absorbed from elsewhere that I’d judged to be valuable. There are so many choices in life. You have to decide – which religion, or which version of Christianity, to believe, & how devoutly you’ll live your faith. You have to decide – if other faith practices can also fit into your belief system, or if there’s only room for one way of thinking. You have to decide – when you have an unusual experience, do you dismiss it, maybe consider it a coincidence? Or do you appreciate the specialness of the event, maybe recognize it as a synchronicity, which Carl Jung referred to as one of the ways to experience the divine? As Kathy said in a benediction some weeks ago, “May you be blessed with the awareness of God.”
So, what is the book about? It could be viewed as another attempt to package Eastern mysticism for Westerners, like yoga & meditation. It was already selling well when Oprah featured it, then sales really took off, & it reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Eckhart Tolle is now a spiritual teacher & public speaker. But when he was a young man he suffered a deep depression & was suicidal. At his lowest point he was struck with the realization that the voice in his head was not his true self. He had an epiphany, & it changed him. He recovered & studied & has gone on to help many other people. We currently have an epidemic in this country of depression, drug abuse, & suicides. Many people are bothered to a greater or lesser degree by the voice in their head – a stream of incessant, involuntary, compulsive, often negative dialogue. Understanding, quieting, learning to ignore, this inner voice can be very helpful to your mental health, decreasing self-consciousness & increasing confidence. To clarify, we’re not talking about what people consider the voice of their conscience, or their intuition, or gut instinct, that can be a helpful, protective mechanism.
Tolle teaches that the beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not just this voice, this thinker, you can observe this thinker, watch this thinker, break old habits, activate a higher level of consciousness. He believes the mind/the ego, what he calls the egoic mind, creates the inner dialogue & gives you endless distractions to keep you from feeling your true self, your true core. It creates a false narrative where the past & the future take over increasing amounts of your waking thoughts, keeping you from truly experiencing the present moment, which is the only true reality. As Lao Tzu said over 2500 years ago: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
When Tolle talks about the egoic mind he means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind, where the present moment barely exists, it’s only concerned with the past & the future. When you are free of involuntary dialogue there is inner stillness. Most of us need to practice techniques to experience this on any kind of regular basis. Or, it can sometimes be experienced in times of extreme stress. This happened to me once when I was caught in crossfire while I was driving, my mind went blank & I felt the stillness, the scripture we heard earlier popped right into my mind. Now when I recall that experience, I also think of when Marv Ediger (another old Parkway member) used to say, “The God in me greets the God in you.” Heaven is within you.
Tolle talks a lot about breaking out of old patterns, inherited (taught) collective mind patterns that have kept humans suffering for eons. What is false within you – human unconsciousness & dysfunction – leads to conflicts in relationships, & to wars between tribes & nations. What is true – the possibility of attaining an enlightened state of consciousness, stillness, peace, & joy of being – leads to your true nature, oneness with creation. You can only know it when the inner voice is quiet, the mind is still, & you are fully present, fully in the now.
He believes the collective egoic mind is the most dangerously insane & destructive entity ever to inhabit this planet. What do you think will happen on this planet if human consciousness remains unchanged? Consciousness raising is necessary – aside from increasing personal happiness it is needed to end the violent conflicts all over the planet. Just because it’s always been this way doesn’t mean it has to stay this way. Most scientists believe the Sixth Extinction is already underway – will it include us?
This quote at the end of the book really speaks to me: “What is God? The eternal One Life underneath all the forms of life. What is love? To feel the presence of that One Life deep within yourself & within all creatures. To be it. Therefore, all love is the love of God.”