Chapter 1 - You Are Not Your Mind
The Power of Now - Kickoff Essay
by Mark Lewis (ASexyMind -at- FunJoyment.com)
Chapter 1 - You Are Not Your Mind
What fun to read the Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle and write the first introduction/chapter summary for this group! It is especially exciting and challenging for me personally, as Tolle's work is the closest to my own that I have yet to encounter.
Given that this is a forum designed to integrate and understand the benefits of both Objectivism and Buddhism (or spirituality), I hope to set a general context that speaks to both perspectives in this piece. Of course, Tolle starts and finishes discussing aspects of human experience which are largely denied out of hand by orthodox Objectivists, which makes bridging the two perspectives somewhat difficult. Rather than write a book that does so (that is a task for another time for me), I will present Tolle's case and compare/connect it with Objectivist ideas from time to time. As we begin to discuss this among ourselves, we can begin to challenge and question the ideas Tolle builds his case upon. In this essay, I will simply present them and offer ideas about how we might understand them for our own benefit.
In the first chapter, Tolle sets the context for the rest of the book and his work: enlightenment. Enlightenment, as Tolle describes it, "is not a super human accomplishment," but rather "simply your natural state of FELT oneness (or connectedness) with Being." It is to experience a lack of separation from any part of our experience - from ourselves, other people, and the world around us. It is not to "believe" that we are "not other than" everything we experience, but to know it as an inalienable and self-evident fact. The rest of the book is largely a clarification and explication of what it means to have a "FELT oneness with Being" and how we can experience it in any moment.
Why is enlightenment desirable or important? When we no longer feel this oneness as self-evident reality, "the inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation…Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm." We become unconscious and lose touch with our own values, allowing our personal and cultural conditioning to shape what we think, feel, desire, and experience. In a very Randian sense, we "drop context" of who we are and forget our own premises. In the process, we live lives of fear and insecurity, always trying to make up for a fundamental lack of self-esteem, trying to regain our true self. However, we are so used to this state of being that we don't recognize it as fear and insecurity, but just the way life is. In contrast, when we check our fundamental premises and become conscious and enlightened, we experience bliss, inner peace, and creativity. We transcend the feelings of separation and the fear it creates and bask in the radiant splendor of consciousness, love, and beauty.
When Tolle describes enlightenment as our "natural state," he implies that we would all naturally experience it ongoingly if there were not something that gets in the way of it. There is something that blocks us from experiencing enlightenment: identifying our sense of self, who we think we are, with our mind. Like Rand, Tolle points out that Rene put Descartes before the horse. The truth is not "I think, therefore I am," but "I am, therefore I'll think." The "I AM" is previous to and more fundamental than the "I think." In Tolle's perspective, this is understood to mean that we are consciousness (the I AM), while the mind (I think) is a tool of consciousness. When we identify our self with our mind, we have fundamentally mistaken and forgotten who and what we are. We have confused our self with a tool. We have dropped the context of who we are. Enlightenment is the process of restoring and keeping this context. It is the FELT experience we have when we rest our awareness in the I AM (Being) rather than getting our self caught up in the endless pontification and fear of the mind.
In Tolle's work, the mind includes the process of thinking, problem-solving, believing, and the emotional reactions and states we experience as a result of thinking that shape our personality and sense of life. As he puts it, "the mind is a superb instrument when it is used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly you usually don't use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over." The mind is an exquisite tool that can solve many practical problems. However, like a hammer, it is not always helpful. When we forget that we are consciousness and identify our self with our mind, we end up trying to use the hammer of our mind for everything and end up creating more damage than good.
As soon as we identify our self with our mind, or some content of the mind (including our wealth, social position, career, friends, sexuality, physical competence, family, personality, emotions, belief/philosophical systems, thinking, etc.) we lose our sense of oneness and connectedness with Being/bliss/inner peace. We create what Tolle calls a "false self" or "ego" around the things we have identified our self with. We then structure all our lives around the concerns of this ego, and lead lives of quiet (or not so quiet) desperation trying to pacify its fears or fulfill its desires. Our true self becomes enslaved to the "needs" of our ego. We become the tool of our tool (mind) but because we have forgotten our true nature (consciousness), we identify with the tool and think we are living our own lives. We end up rationalizing and defending our thoughts, emotions, and choices, even when they lead us to be unhappy, righteous, fearful, lonely, depressed, angry, and disconnected from the ecstasy which is life/Being/spirit.
The fundamental concern of Tolle and perhaps all authentic (vs mythic/dogmatic) forms of spirituality is this question "who am I?" or, "what is the nature of the Self?" As Rand puts so powerfully, all values presuppose the questions, "valuable to whom and for what?" Rand built her moral system around self-interest, but never investigated in any depth what the self is. The challenge is that until we determine the nature of our "self," we cannot know what values will further its thrival. Hence, the most immediate and important question a rational person can ask is "what is the nature of the self/spirit/consciousness?" In this way, rationality demands a radical spirituality to be consistent. To keep context, we must investigate the nature of consciousness.
Tolle asserts that to start this investigation with integrity, we must begin by questioning the common assumption that we are our mind. He encourages us to discover who we are, not through thinking (which would beg the question), but through direct experience. When we differentiate our self from our mind, we create the possibility to discover who we are. As he puts it, "you'll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This 'I AM' realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind." And, "the beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not…the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe [thinking]. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated." We can then begin ask the question, "what is the nature of self beyond the mind?"
But, we might ask, if we differentiate our self from our mind, if we transcend the mind, won't we become imbeciles? As Tolle points out, when we identify our self with consciousness rather than the mind and stop thinking, "this is not a trance-like state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth having." Rather, as Krishnamurti said 1000 different ways, when we rest our awareness in consciousness rather than getting caught up in the roller coaster of mind, we move beyond "smart" to true intelligence and genius. When we transcend our mind, the huge amount of energy we would normally use to protect our ego is freed up to be used by our natural intelligence and creativity. We become more present, more aware, more conscious. In this sense, it is only when we transcend our mind that we become truly rational beings.
We might say that, in the same way that Rand counsels us to transcend our emotions and not use them as tools of cognition, Tolle counsels us to transcend our cognition (or its emotional effects) and not use it as a source of self or values. Just as money can "give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires," so our mind can organize and help us achieve our values, but it does not create our values. Our values come from our nature as consciousness. They transcend our mind. If we allow our mind to dictate our values, we will predictably create pain, suffering, isolation, and hell for others and ourselves. When we relax into bliss and fullness of the ever present state of I AM, we know who we are beyond our mind, and are no longer its prisoner. As Tolle puts it, "[y]ou can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation." We become free to notice and act on our true values.
When we have ceased identifying our self with our mind, we discover something profound and truly wonderful: our nature, who we are, Being -- is blissful. All that we truly value comes, not from the workings of the mind, the solving of problems, or the achievement of our values in the world, but arise from the very center of Being. As Tolle puts it, "all the things that truly matter -- beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace -- arise from beyond the mind." And, "love, joy, and peace are three aspects of the state of inner connectedness with Being (enlightenment). As such, they have no opposite." They are not mind forms. They come from that place that transcends mind. They are not in the achievements of our past, or the achievements in our future. They are a natural part of what IS, in every moment of NOW. The more we transcend the mind and relax into the I AM experience, the more love, joy, and peace we feel, and the less attractive the chaos and striving of the mind attracts us. The rich get richer.
When we use our mind to evaluate our experience, on the other hand, we judge what IS against our ideal of what we think should be. When what IS matches what we think should be, we feel some variation of pleasure or what is commonly called joy. When what IS does not match what we think should be, we feel some variation of pain or dissatisfaction.
The more we are identified with mind, the more intense the emotions of pleasure and pain will be. Tolle says, "What is normally called joy is the pleasure side of the pleasure/pain cycle. Pleasure comes from outside, joy comes from within… Real love doesn't suddenly turn into hate, nor joy into pain." Because the emotions which the mind calls love and joy are dependent on the conditions of our life, when those conditions change, the love and joy disappear or turn into hate and pain. They are inextricably tied to one another, the karmic wheel of pleasure and pain.
When we are identified with the mind, we find ourselves spending our lives and energy chasing these experiences of pleasure and working to avoid pain. We try to achieve conditions in the world that match our mind's ideal of what should be. Every victory towards our ideal give us temporary pleasure and mires us further in the drama. Every defeat asks us to marshal our resources and try harder to win the game of achieving our ideal. Either way we become fooled into thinking that we need to achieve more within the game. The irony is that the entire game is bankrupt. It is dropped context. We will NEVER become truly happy by achieving our ideal life circumstances. Instead, we typically experience intense emotions around the drama of creating our ideal life, which dominate our awareness and distract us from the love, joy, and inner peace which is our nature. However, because we are identified with our mind, we literally cannot imagine another way to be happy, so we invest more of our psychic/spiritual energy into the game. The poor get poorer.
What Tolle is calling "real" love, joy, creativity, beauty, and inner peace are not responses to favorable conditions in our manifest life, but aspects of Being. They are the natural experience we have when we have transcended our mind and are resting in our pure awareness of I AM. They are the fruits of enlightenment, be it for a moment, or an ongoing way of being. They do not come and go with our circumstances, but radiate eternally from the center of our self. When we transcend the mind, we become bathed in them and recognize, as he puts it, "that nothing I ever do could ever add anything to what I already have." This connection with Being, and the bliss that comes of it, is the pearl of great price; it is the ultimate value around which to build a rational code of life; it is the ever present gift of consciousness that we are, have always been, and will always be; it is our Self.
Tolle asks us to consider that the whole game of mind is bankrupt; that by either transcending the mind and relaxing into the I AM of consciousness, or by focusing so totally on our present experience that we forget our ego/self, we can suddenly realize that we are already sitting on the pile of gold; that we already have everything we really want, and that we are truly free to express the love that we are with everyone we meet and in everything we do. As Christ said, the kingdom of God is at hand. The life of consciousness is heaven, bliss, love, joy, peace. The life of unconsciousness, of identification with the mind, is hell, fear, insecurity, striving, incompleteness, anxiety. Check your premises. Honor your Self. Your happiness awaits only your willingness to let go of being right and relaxing into being YOU.