“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then, suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: The ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”… My mind stopped… I felt drawn into a vortex of energy… I heard the words “resist nothing.”… Suddenly there was no more fear.
– Eckhart Tolle – Introduction to Power of Now
The discovery that Eckhart Tolle made in a time of deep despair, a time when, in effect, he had reached the end of himself, is an important secret common to all mystical teaching. It is also at the heart of Buddhist psychology. He had entered into and found resolution to the personal and spiritual conflict that is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul,” a term coined by the 16th Century Christian mystic St. John of the Cross to describe his struggle with faith. It is a coming to an end of self as understood and lived from a very limited egocentric perspective, and in that ending, to open into a new light of understanding that bridges the ego-self to the Universe, to all of life, awakening a deeper Self that lives in that connection.
Understand that a life-threatening emotional crisis is not necessary. Any person can decide at any time that there must be more than their anxiety filled life, and choose to open into new possibilities by looking at the life they have been living and deeply examining the “I” and the “self” as Tolle did. What Tolle discovered was that there is a “me” that can reach its end, and there is a “me” that has no end. There is the “me” that is all wrapped up in the beginnings and endings of my material life circumstances, and there is a “me” that is a direct expression of Life, a continuum without beginning and end. It is Life expressing itself through an individual human. It is also the entryway into mystical experience, an often misunderstood and ethereal concept, for it is in actuality, the true expression of the fullest human potential for spiritual and mental health.
Both this limited ego-self me and the mystical me-as-the-Universe-expressing-itself exist, and every human experiences both of these dimensions, although few recognize the mystical experience as their very essence, and fewer still consciously explore this ego-transcendent dimension. For the vast majority, they stay wrapped up in the certainty of their circumstantial material experience as the full extent of who they are. These seeming contradictory expressions of self are the essential paradox of human existence, which if unraveled, leads to a true liberation, to where there is no fear.
Anything that can end must also have a beginning, and so it is with this “me” that can reach its end, because this “me,” in addition to being a biological form that has its beginning and end, is also a story begun in each person’s infancy and rewritten and refined throughout a life span. Understand, it is not the biological “me” with its beginning and end that is a problem, not any more than a squirrel’s life is problematic, but rather, it is the “story of me” that we carry in our mind that bedevils and worries us.
It is the story of the socially conditioned “me,” the “me” in the timeline of my life, getting from past to future that causes so much tension, conflict and angst. It is my stories of success and failure, both past and anticipated. It is my stories of humiliation and redemption, of love and hate, of struggle and accomplishment, of gain and loss, of relationship and loneliness. It is the story of my psychological profile, my personal philosophy, and my political and religious identifications. It is my habits, my preferences, my prejudices, my likes and dislikes. It is my fantasies. It is my hopes and fears. It is the story of my addictive behaviors. It is even the story of my spiritual beliefs and journey. It is anything and everything that is in the matrix of thought patterns that fill my mind with who I think I am. And, it is not who I nor anyone is. Not at our essence.
The “story” always contains drama, struggle and strife. For some, there is relatively little struggle, for others it is a living torture chamber. What is true for everyone is that there is an ever-present whip of fear about whether they are enough, whether their story matters, whether who they are is actually the truest and best expression of who they might be. It always feels like there must be more. Again, for some, this may be nothing more than a passing fantasy of little consequence, while for some it is agonizing, and for still others, it is a motivating cause in their life, but for everyone, there is an urge from deep within to realize who they are beyond their limited and anxious story of self. There is a silent whispering to actualize a dimension that has no fear because it is the realized truth of who they are beyond any sense of lack or fear.
It is from this place, as Tolle’s inner voice guided him, that we are able to “resist nothing.” This is sometimes spoken of as the Self beyond the self, the Being that is before and larger than ego, the true “I” that isn’t at odds with anything in the Universe because there is a knowing emanating from this Self of being an integral expression of the Universe unfolding. It is. Nothing more is needed.
The man who was not yet the Buddha came to the end of himself 2500 years ago as he sat under the Bodhi tree in meditation vowing never to rise until he achieved enlightenment. In the moment of his enlightenment, looking at a morning star, he transcended himself and became the morning star, and so the seeking nobleman turned ascetic named Siddhartha Gotama figuratively died, to emerge as the Buddha, The Awakened One. He then rose from his meditation and went on to teach his “Middle Way” and the Noble Truths that said suffering was caused by attachment to this story of self with all its drama, cravings and aversions, causing life to be frustrating and often dissatisfying. He also taught that salvation was available to those who were ready to come to the end of their ego-selves, and in doing so, awaken into the deeper truth of who they were beyond frustration and dissatisfaction.
What is important for us to hold in awareness is that every thought in our minds is really only a story, a representation, and often a distortion of our direct experience-in-the-world, and we live attaching to these story-thoughts as if they were true, as if they represent who we are and what the world is about. This is what the Buddha taught as the delusion that leads to suffering. Each thought arises calling to us to believe in it as the truth, but it is only a story that arises and passes away. These thoughts are often at odds with each other, and certainly at odds with the thoughts of others, and conflict and confusion inevitably result. These thoughts are not who we are.
The lesson that leads to liberation, that leads to the discovery of who we truly are, is what happens when we are willing to let the thoughts, the stories and their drama end, when we are willing to come to the end of ourselves to discover our true Self in the quiet space that lingers after the thought-stories end. In that quiet space, where the ego-self ends, there is a purity of awareness like a mirror that reflects what is in front of it without reacting to the contents of the reflection, that can see clearly, that is completely within the unfolding of the moment, just as it is. It needs nothing. It fears nothing for it is our essential Self, and essence cannot be reduced or threatened.
We don’t have to achieve complete enlightenment as the Buddha did. That’s just another story. A moment where you stop all your stories, release your addiction to drama, where you come to the end of yourself, either by circumstance or by conscious choice, and fully experience the still quiet space where you and the Universe meet is enough. This end is the beginning, when the moment just as it is, is enough, and we find ourselves embedded within the moment, not some separate spectator or victim of it. It will start you on the path to the Self that knows how to resist nothing and live without fear. As you learn to linger there, tasting and learning the truth of who you are – at the end of yourself – you will find life, your life, sparkling like a diamond.