Many people I come into contact with tell me that their mind is a continuous stream of thoughts, largely repetitive, and often negative. They also claim that it causes them much suffering and leaves them feeling stressed and exhausted. Several years ago, I was one of these people, and this constant thinking had become unbearable. I’d heard that spiritual teachings, and especially meditation, could be really helpful for quietening the mind and so I started reading spiritual books and attending talks and workshops on this theme.
With so many spiritual teachers out there, I was expecting it to be a daunting task to find one offering the right teachings for me but was amazed to discover they were nearly all conveying the same message. This was certainly reassuring and I guessed for so many people to have arrived at a similar conclusion, it must hold some validity.
What they were proposing was simply that we are not our minds. Now I’d spent many years trying to find answers to my problems and nobody had ever suggested this to me. I also wondered why it wasn’t common knowledge if it was such a fundamental part of finding peace in one’s life. Surely something as major as this couldn’t be a secret. I decided I would investigate within myself to see if I could make sense of this concept.
Although many of these teachers were pointing to the same reality, I had been most drawn to Eckhart Tolle, for the simple way in which he delivered his message, his gentleness and sense of humour. His best known book The Power of Now, as you may gather from it’s title, is all about living in the present moment. It seems that we are nearly all living ‘somewhere else’ – either in some past event we’ve already experienced, or imagining ourselves at some future point in our lives. This is a totally dysfunctional way to exist, according to Eckhart, and he proposes that if we can just move our attention into the present moment, all suffering will cease and we can be fully at peace.
My life was in crisis at this time and I decided to purchase all his available books and talks on CD, retire from the world and embark on an inner journey, with the intention of overcoming the mess I had gotten myself into. I remember the early days of working with his teachings, observing my mind to see if I really was lost in time. I was amazed to find it was true! I was being pulled between terrible trauma from my past and anxiety dominated movies of how my future would be. Never before had I considered past, present and future in relation to where my attention was, but I had to admit he was spot on with this, I was hardly ever in the present moment.
I decided to try staying present more but I really struggled with this. Tolle claims that as soon as you realise you’re not present, you are present, and based on this I decided to find a way to remind myself to stay present. A friend of mine had just bought me an Eckhart Tolle calendar for a gift and it contained some lovely images with quotes from Eckhart. I cut it up and stuck all twelve images around my home so pretty much wherever I was there was a reminder to stay present; this seemed to work pretty well.
Walking around holding a spiritual object like a book, or beads, or anything else that represented presence was also very helpful. If I needed to make a challenging phone call, I would create a shrine of many spiritual objects and books around the phone, and it really served as a good way to maintain presence during the call.
Eckhart recommends keeping attention in the body as the best way of staying present, and although this did work for me at times, I would often forget and found the many external prompts I set up to be more helpful.
The intention to stay fully present has now become a way of life for me. I still often lose myself in the mind but it doesn’t take too long before I realise I’ve slipped out of a state of presence and simply need to find my way home (back into the moment).
It seems the more we can train ourselves to stay present and not to identify with the thoughts in the head, the more we can connect with this deep sense of peace and joy within us and feel our connection to the source (whatever we deem that to be). And the really good news is, no matter how we’ve lived our life up until now, that special place inside of us remains perfect and unchanged, and is ready to be connected with.
When enough people have found this place of peace inside themselves, we will see an incredible transformation on our planet. War, genocide, racism, to name but a few, will become history. The vast amounts of money governments currently spend on such things as defence budgets may be ploughed into supporting those in need and helping to build a better world for all of us. Our species will live in alignment with the planet in a very different existence to the one we know today.