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  • Bill Petrie

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have had first-hand experience of a number of prominent spiritual teachers – amongst others, the Dalai Lama, Jack Kornfield, Sogyal Rinpoche, Ram Dass and Adyashanti. But, the retreat that I went on with Eckhart Tolle in 2014 in many ways remains the most profound.

Why was that?

Well, it's hard to say because, in many ways, the time with him was quite ordinary. There were no particular highs. He sat and talked – for fourteen hours over ten days.

And, much of what he had to say was interesting and I love his sense of humour, but I must say that I have experienced more inspiring speakers.

So, did it have to do with the venue?

Well, the Omega Institute was certainly special. Nestled in the back woods of New York, it has a very lovely energy and the setting is beautiful but the food was very average and the accommodation poor.

As lovely as it is, it wasn't that.

So, what was it that was so profound?

For me, it’s quite simple.

What was remarkable was to experience someone being genuinely free.

Not once in the 14 hours did I see Eckhart get significantly triggered or caught by his own mind.

It’s not that there were not personal reactions. It’s just that these reactions passed through him like momentary ripples disappearing as they arose without leaving a trace.

He was much more a Presence than a person and, at the same time, he was very authentic, very real.

Now, in all my searching, I had never seen this before and so, being a doubting Thomas, I began to wonder just how much this lack of attachment carried over into his personal life.

Fortunately, someone asked the question:

"Are you like this at home?'

And, he replied that he was and the really telling thing was that - at that moment - I saw his wife, Kim Eng, nodding in agreement at the side of the stage. That, I thought, is real confirmation.

Now, many of us are familiar with Eckhart's emphasis on the importance of being fully in the present - 'The Power of Now.' This was also the essence of Buddha's main discourse on mindfulness 2500 years ago and it was the main underpinning of Ram Dass's phenomenally successful book 'Be Here Now' in the sixties. It is also, of course, the foundation of mindfulness practice in its modern form.

But, Eckhart's teaching is so much richer than simple mindfulness.

At an ordinary level, Eckhart is a master at revealing the madness in all our minds. And, reading his book, it comes as a huge relief to find that it is not only us who are suffering. It is almost everyone! And almost all of us suffer because we buy into the thoughts in our minds - the thoughts that shame us, the thoughts that say that we are not good enough, the thoughts that make us anxious about the future. The value of this insight is profound!

But, he also takes us much deeper than this - to the realisation that we are not our minds. "Clearly [he writes] what I perceive, experience, think, or feel is ultimately not who I am, ... I cannot find myself in all those things that continuously pass away."

In that realisation, Eckhart Tolle echoes Ramana Maharshi and many others that passed before him.

At heart, A New Earth is essentially a comprehensive guide to an awakened life.

"Once you have made peace with the present moment [He writes], see what happens, what you can do or choose to do, or rather what life does through you. There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realise that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance."

It's hard to imagine anyone who would not benefit from reading and digesting this great work.

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