“Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness.
This is the ‘I Am’ that is deeper than name and form.” – Eckhart Tolle
One of the first insights gained in meditation is that we live inside a cacophony of distracting mental noise. We may have some awareness of this runaway train of thinking, but with the beginnings of meditation, the full extent begins to be realized. Buddhism notes, and modern consciousness teacher, Eckhart Tolle, brilliantly explores, how we mistake this mental activity for who we are, investing it with a sense of self, our self, that it does not have.
The real truth of who we are lies hidden, or more accurately, distracted from us, by this wall of mental noise. These thoughts that we give our identity to are actually conditioned into us by society, family and culture, and are a complex system that is the personalized egoic mind telling us over and over a story of who we are, what society is, and what is true and what is important. This compulsive mental activity is certainly not who we are, nor can we lay claim to being its source, let alone it being our source. It is an opaque screen of concepts separating us from understanding our true identity, the world, our place in the world, and even the nature of God. And it is this opaque screen of concepts that we cling to desperately for it seems we have no choice.
But we do. Buddhism calls this blindness “egoic delusion” and points to it as the source of our suffering. It is a story of aloneness and fear of insufficiency in the face of the vastness of Life, and we spend our lives fighting off the subtle terror it brings called anxiety, looking everywhere within its story of separateness and materialism for meaning, clinging to it like a life-raft, while it is actually more like the water pouring over the edges, sinking us.
But beneath the mental noise, emanating from within and from the Universe that we occur within, beneath this story with all its conflicts and drama, is a profound stillness, as quiet as the vastness of space, and there resides a dimension of our existence that is free, wise and at one with all Life. To a Hindu, this is Atman, God within. To a Zen Buddhist, it is your original and true self, the place of Buddha-mind. Contemporary consciousness teacher Eckhart Tolle calls this dimension, Being. It is That which Is, and as some spiritual teachers say, Thou art That.
This can seem all extremely esoteric, interesting to contemplate, but of very little value to this identity, me, in the world, maneuvering for my place in the world. Or perhaps, it can seem this special knowledge can be adopted into a story of spiritual specialness. Either perspective would be error. Among the great mistakes of the personalized egoic identity is its insistence on “either-or” thinking, and looking for its edge, how to make itself special. We live as if the spiritual and the secular are really very separate. Not so. The secular and spiritual must be one, but in a manner we are not accustomed to in this culture. We don’t do well with the idea of the mystical in this culture, but that’s because we don’t do well with paradox. We keep insisting paradox is contradiction and impractical, when in truth, there can be no practicality without paradox, and the true realm of paradox is mysticism, and in actuality, mysticism is very practical. It puts us in touch with the big truths.
If we are to know true peace in our lives, the spiritual has to be the well from which our secular self draws its fundamental psychological well-being. In an interesting coincidence of phrasing, it must come from the well-of-Being. This spiritual source cannot be, however, anything other than the “peace that surpasseth understanding.” It is not contained in any complicated special teachings. The most important secret of Life is simplicity itself. It’s just this, but it is a “this” that is the infinity contained in each and every simple thing.
A commonality of spiritual masters of all traditions is that they tell us that the only true teachings are those that help us see beyond the teaching to what the teaching is pointing toward, and what any true teaching points toward is the dynamic stillness of the Universe happening through a human consciousness. It must point us toward our Source, and to find that Source, the noise of the egoic mind and its stories of secular and/or spiritual specialness must be quieted. The secular and the spiritual must be realized as the same, for the Source is That, and every person, every bird, every tree, stone, and every moment must be realized as That.
Without an ongoing connection to our fundamental Source, our secular lives are like a small boat on the ocean, completely dependent on external forces, the weather (and whether) of our lives for its well-being. We can pray and chant all we want, do ritual after ritual, but only if after the prayer, after the ritual, we enter into the immense silence of the Mystery and listen into the silence will we be able to walk our everyday lives in the Presence that brings peace. Buddhism directs us to not mistake the waves for the ocean, our life-circumstances for Life, or the prayer and ritual for the Source. Beneath the surface of the ocean, our lives, and true religious experience, there is a deep stillness that is constant and calm, deep and vast, connecting all that is.
This is the true realm of Spirit, not stories of God in Heaven, separated from us, judging us. For too long, humans have mistaken God to be a projected egoistic figure. This story leaves humans in an unrelentingly hostile world of their own making. It is the reason that societies with religions of God in Heaven (and reactive no-God societies) are responsible for most of the war and devastation on this planet, and the psychological ills and pathology that plague humanity.
This moment. Can you touch the deep stillness that abides within and all about you? Can you even recognize what I am referring to? If you stop the stories and realize the truth of your own experience, you will know, you will remember, all your moments of wisdom, calm and clarity have occurred when, by circumstance, you experienced the stillness, the silence out of which truth could whisper. It may have been on a mountaintop. It may have been in a cathedral. It may have been walking through a forest. It may have been just a moment in the midst of everyday life when, for some reason, there was a stopping of mind-chatter and time, and what arose was a powerful sense of being present that can only be described as mystical or spiritual. We may have given the mountaintop or the cathedral or the forest or the circumstance the credit, but they were only the stimulus. The stillness was you. It was, as Eckhart Tolle in another teaching tells us, we are the moment arising in awareness. All story about who we are stops, and there we are. Awareness becomes palpable. The deep, vast stillness that is awareness holds the moment, and in that moment, you are That, and nothing that can be said can exactly describe It.
Seek the vast and deep stillness. Look to teachings that point you away from your small and chaotic egoic self – and away from themselves – to the stillness – on the mountaintop, in the oceans depths, in the vast night sky – to the vast quiet that is your own awareness in which all thought, feeling and experience occurs, yet never is, cannot be, disturbed. Rediscover your true individualized Self, Atman, Buddha-mind. Find it and bring it into your everyday life. Be one spark of sanity, joining with other sparks, what Buddhism calls “the Sangha,” the community of awakened beings, to create a fire of consciousness on the planet so that, Phoenix-like, our true humanity can rise. Walk in Presence and know, Thou art That, vast and deep and still. Presence. Presence. Presence in awareness. Awareness as Presence, just this, and big as all Creation. You need know nothing more than this. This is the practical, mystical Truth.