Idol Chatter

Welcome back to week 7 of the Oprah Winfrey/Eckhart Tolle “A New Earth” web event. Monday night’s class, based on Chapter 7 “Finding Who You Truly Are,” is now available for viewing at or here at Beliefnet.
This week’s class really digs into the fundamentals of why people are responding to the book and its subject matter, I think. Basically, are you a curious person? Do you strive to know who you are, yet always feel that words, labels and well-defined roles don’t quite suffice? Or are you confident in a self-definition?
If you think you know who you are, you’re defining yourself by outside forms which are ever-changing. That may work for awhile, but by mooring your identity to external categories and concepts, you will eventually find yourself at a loss (unhappy, devoid of peace, etc.) when things “out there” inevitably shift around.
So who are we truly?

Ultimately, we are not our history of experiences, our journal of happy and horrible times. We are not our physical sensations or our emotional reactions. We are not the thoughts rattling around in our heads for, as we pointed out a week or so ago, our thoughts actually have a “mind” all their own.
We are, quite simply, the awareness or consciousness of all those experiences. We are the formless witness to everything described above. And that formless observer, that awareness, exists in the eternal present moment, free of the constraints of time; it rests in the peace, wonder and stillness of Being.
That’s a lot to chew on if you’re just joining the discussion, but it can happen pretty darn quickly when you start to simply observe yourself. It’s really amazing how soon you can see which false label(s) you’ve used to identify yourself for so much of your life.
To use Oprah’s favorite lines from Chapter 7:

Knowing yourself deeply has nothing to do with whatever ideas are floating around in your mind. Knowing yourself is to be rooted in Being, instead of lost in your mind. (p.186)

This is the central point of Eckhart’s teachings and everything in the book and the web class consists of different approaches that all point back to it in order to make it known to us on an experiential level (as opposed to an intellectual one which is still only based in concepts of the mind).
If you’ve been following along all these weeks and/or reading the chapters, I have to say that Monday’s night class was one of the most fascinating to watch. Oprah shared one of her own most profound spiritual moments that really helped me to understand her own journey to date.
I don’t know about you, but I have been fascinated to see Oprah Winfrey in this online venue— she is completely honest and vulnerable, inquisitive and gracious, relatable and down-to-earth. It struck me that there can be no doubt that she is the real deal given how she runs these commercial-free, hour-and-a-half classes where she can’t hide behind any of the potential smoke-and-mirrors of her highly-produced talk show. I have an even greater respect for her now than before these classes started.
Back to her profound spiritual moment, it happened while she was on Maui with her friend Bob Greene. I’m guessing it was on Haleakala, the dormant volcano on that island that continues to entrance me in mystical ways that defy explanation.
She tells the story of walking with Bob as the clouds that were up in the sky descended and enveloped them, creating an extreme stillness and peace that she had never experienced before. To this day she can see that same stillness operating in the background of every moment of life if she simply allows herself to be present.
It’s deeply moving and worth watching the video for because I think it’s something that many people can relate to in some form or another. Or if you feel lost at times, her story can serve as a guidepost to what it feels like to connect with the ground of Being. Great, great stuff.
Per my usual convention in these commentaries, I’ll highlight the parts of the web class and the corresponding chapter that really resonated with me:
1) To repeat a central concept from the class, Eckhart says that, for most people, life is not about knowing who you are, but discovering who you are not. We are taught to identify with our roles or our gender or our accomplishments (the list of possibilities is quite extensive) but as those identifying markers disappear or change over the course of our lives, we often have the epiphany, “Oh! Wait, I guess I’m not X since X is gone and I’m still here. So now who am I?”
2) Eckhart tells an amazing story of a mother who’s son was very ill and that, when he died at her side, she felt a tremendous peace and stillness fill the room that could only be described as transcendent and life-altering. Her mind eventually kicked in and she began to grieve, but she was forever affected by that whisper (or shout, really!) of Presence that’s always operating behind the tapestry of the identity our ego has created.
3) In response to a question of how we’re supposed to live in the world if identifying with form is so counter-productive, Herr Tolle offers that life is about finding the balance between honoring whatever roles we play (parent/doctor/public official/etc.), but not identifying ourselves with the role which is ultimately only an illusion.
4) There is a lot of talk in this chapter about abundance and that whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are actually withholding from the world.

Whatever you think people are withholding from you – praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on—give it to them. You don’t have it? Just act as if you had it, and it will come. … You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. (p.191)

This reminds me of some of the teachings of the Secret, though in a more concrete way. But it also corresponds with what I know to be true from experience. For example, we only know what beauty is out in the world because we know what it is within; otherwise, it wouldn’t hit our radar screen.
5) Laura in Baltimore chimed in to say that before reading the book, she usually suppressed her emotions and she wanted to be sure that accepting her emotions while they’re happening was not just strengthening her pain-body.
It’s a great question, as most of them are that make it into the live class.
Eckhart’s response was that when you fully allow an emotion, it subsides pretty quickly. It doesn’t get the chance to bubble up and affect your thinking because being aware of the emotion and accepting it as it is in the moment creates the space via awareness so that the emotion has very little power, ultimately. The emotion bubbles up, you recognize it, accept it and then it passes away.
6) At one point near the end of the class, Oprah’s copy of “A New Earth” falls into frame and the poor thing is covered in those highlighter Post-It note thingies. I cracked up laughing. Proof that she does, in fact, find them useful, though I’m not sure if they’ve done much to help her organize much since it looks so chaotic and marked up.
7) Finally, Eckhart mentioned a very powerful re-imaging of a very familiar symbol to the West–
the cross. I have heard this described before from others, but it seems particularly relevant given the class and his teachings:

Time, that is to say, the past and future, is what the false mind-made self, the ego, lives on, and time is in your mind. It isn’t something that has an objective existence “out there.” It is a mind-structure needed for sensory perception, indispensable for practical purposes, but the greatest hindrance to knowing yourself. Time is the horizontal dimension of life, the surface layer of reality. Then there is the vertical dimension of depth, accessible to you only through the portal of the present moment. (pp.206-207)

Therefore, our goal is to replicate the cross, to bring the vertical awareness of Being itself into the timeline of horizontal chatter of the mind and ego. For me, in particular, this explanation makes the cross a very powerful symbol.
Great stuff and one of my favorite classes to date.
Phew! My brain hurts.
Next week “Opreck” will be talking about the goal of our lives as they delve into Chapter 8 – “The Discovery of Inner Space.” We’ve already gone into outer space so inner space is the only thing left, right?
See you in class or back here next week for the recap!

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