The Tightrope of Now

by Eckhart Tolle

This talk is the complete transcript from the 2000 Gathering.

No expectancy . . . no waiting for anything to happen . . . being completely present here. We’ll be sitting together one and a half or two hours simply to allow that state of consciousness that is free of future, free of past—a timeless state of simple presence—to emerge within yourself, because that’s why you’re here. You didn’t come here to be fed new thoughts, concepts, and ideas. Perhaps a few signposts—they are useful. But you didn’t come here to collect more signposts that say, “Rome or Mecca or Enlightenment” and then carry them home and put them in your library or living room: “Isn’t that a beautiful signpost?” Or worship the signpost as a concept, an idea, a thought.

We’re really here (this is not a normal conference where information is conveyed to be taken home) so that the opposite of all that can happen: a relinquishing of all concepts and ideas.

We’re here, ultimately (and that may sound a little bit frightening to the mind) relinquishing thought. What is stillness other than the state of consciousness that is free of noise? This is not some distant goal to be achieved in ten years’ time or a future lifetime. If this state of consciousness were not emerging in you already, you wouldn’t be sitting here. But to the mind and to the egoic sense of self, me, my story, my past, my future—it can be a little bit frightening. No thought? Who would I be without thought?

Yesterday, Katie asked the question, “Who would you be without this particular thought?”

It’s all about relinquishing attachment to thinking and ultimately going beyond the compulsive need to think. Then what arises is Presence—a state of clarity, simplicity of pure beingness—a very deep allowing of this moment to be as it is. That’s all that is, love. It is also compassion, a deep caring, an embracing of whatever is. In other words: embracing life, saying “Yes” to life. Where is life? Here. Now. Life cannot exist separately from here and now. So any denial of the now, resistance to the now, running away from the now mentally—always trying to get to the next moment because fulfillment is there somewhere, you miss this life. And then you reach the age of 85, still looking for something, and you’ve missed the Beloved, the Divine that is here, every moment. Now, this moment, now, there’s only one moment.

It appears in different forms. This particular moment happens to be beautiful externally—beautiful surroundings, wonderful people. So it’s a little bit easier as we sit here to enter the state of allowing.

There may be moments that appear to be not so good on the surface—not good in little ways or big ways. You miss the bus or plane . . . something little . . . or something major happens—some breakdown in your life, some loss. What happens then? Usually resistance comes up. A deep no to what is. That is the reactivity of the little me—the mind-made sense of self, the story. It gets stronger, the deeper the no is to this moment, and when resistance comes, the no can become very intense. And that, of course, is pain, suffering. The stronger the no, the deeper the challenge, the stronger the reactive no.

And what I call the “little me,” which is a mind-made image of who I am, is based on the past, things that happened to me. Not only that, but more importantly, it is based on an interpretation of those things happening. Over the years an image forms in the head: Me. I. And there’s a story, of course, that is an intrinsic part of the image of me.

So everybody lives in that work of fiction created by the mind. And the me is the main protagonist here. It may be a big drama; it may be a tragic comedy—a mixture. So being trapped in a sense of identity which is very small—my past, my story needs to be continuously revived mentally. And the little me lives in resistance to what is because the fictitious needs of that entity cannot be sustained except in a state of resistance to now or denial of now.

Every life story—the little me story—is ultimately unsatisfactory. If you look at the story of me: “It didn’t quite work out the way it should have . . . that’s not how I imagined my life to be . . . it looks as if something has gone wrong,” one always discovers this element of unsatisfactoriness.

However, if there is a little me sitting here, there may be one or two persons thinking at this moment, “He may be talking about everybody else, but I’m okay because I’ve just found the ideal partner, I’ve just fallen in love, and the story has now come to a satisfying conclusion. So the little me is okay. He’s wrong about me, but he may be right about everybody else. My story is actually fine. It’s a happy ending.”

Or you just got the dream job or won $5 million dollars in the lottery, and then the little me says, “Oh, this is it!” If that’s the case, we’ll meet again here next year, you will have returned by then from the honeymoon.

So we’re just here at the moment, simply looking at the mechanical unconscious nature of the mind structure. But it’s more than that. By seeing it—the seeing is not part of it. The seeing is part of something that has nothing to do with the conditioned consciousness of the mind. And that’s arising here. So if you have not stepped out of the story of me at all, the worst thing that could happen to you would be not to have any more future because then, the little me gets into a panic and says, “The story will not reach a conclusion. If you take away the future, you take away the possibility of a happy ending to my story.” And it’s the worst thing for me to tell you that you have no more future or almost no future. And the strange thing is, really this is what’s happening here in a subtle way. I’m not going to shock you, but in a very subtle way gradually we’re removing the future from our consciousness so that level of consciousness is gradually replaced by something else. But we’re going into that gradually so that the little me doesn’t go into contraction and you run out of the room.

The future . . . seeking salvation, seeking completion in the future, that’s one aspect of salvation for the little me. The other part is that the little me also knows the future is very threatening. It is drawn towards it as an answer to its story, but it knows at the same time that the future is going to kill it. Of course it will. So a dreadful dilemma arises for the little me. It’s drawn towards future as an answer, as salvation, as fulfillment. And at the same time, it’s continuously threatened by the future because anything may happen. “I may lose what I already have, which may not be all that satisfying, but at least I have that, and the future may take it away from me.”

So there are two movements that govern the fictitious entity humans are trapped in. A deep striving towards the future as an answer is the movement of wanting and needing. That’s why everyone is running towards it. Traditionally, this has been called “Desire” in spiritual teachings. The other movement connected with the future is, “My God, what’s going to happen to me?” That’s called “Fear.” Fear arises.

So humans move between these two, in a continuous conflict or dilemma. Desire, which is wanting and needing, and fear. We are drawn to the future and fear it at the same time. It’s easy to see why humans live in such misery. And then the whole fiction of me cannot be sustained without being in opposition to something. The me, to be sustained, needs to be in conflict with something almost continuously because its survival depends on not me. It depends upon sustaining the illusion that this is a separate entity, this is my boundary, and here are the others and the rest of the world. That can only be sustained—the illusion of separateness, of an encapsulated self—because of the fear that underlies the little me. It’s in a state of continuous contraction—both psychological and even physical—protection of the little me and its encapsulated sense of self. For its illusion of separateness to be sustained, enemies are needed in some form or other.

Why is it that 90 percent of human history is the history of insanity? Anybody who owns a history book says, “That is mad.” So we need to get to the root of this madness to go beyond it—not say, “Oh, they’re mad.” It’s to see I am mad. To see madness is actually a very positive thing because where does that seeing arise from? Sanity. It’s only as sanity arises that you can see the madness. And we can see the collective madness of humanity in its history, the unbelievable madness—killing, suffering.

So how does all this arise? It arises in each individual. Embedded in the very structure of the egoic sense of self is the need for enemies. Enemies not necessarily in the form of people—although often that is the case—but in the form of situations, conditions, even places. And so what lies at the very root of that? What is the real arch enemy of the little me? The present moment.

And what is the present moment now? Life. Because life cannot be in any other place in any other moment except now. So the little me lives in opposition to life. Its enemy is life itself, which is now. If that’s not mad, what is? So it’s me against the universe. The little me.

The little me may have brief moments of relief temporarily. Never for long, because it cannot afford to be in the state of non-opposition to what is for long. It cannot afford to be in a state of peace for long. It cannot afford to be in a state of joy for long. It cannot afford to be in the state of love for long. Because all those things arise only when there’s no opposition to “what is,” but a deep embracing of what is. So the little me fears embracing what is. Its very existence depends upon not embracing what is. To recognize that is a wonderful realization. Something within that recognition: “Is there something in there that has nothing to do with the little me?”

So there are two movements—you may find it within yourself even here. Something emerges which is deeper than that—egoic fiction. It’s emerging now. Yet there’s still the momentum behind the egoic fiction of me. You can be sure that it doesn’t like this.

The deep need embedded in the very structure of the egoic mind, a deep need for unhappiness, is never made conscious because the survival of that mind structure depends upon unconsciousness. When you make it conscious, you suddenly see, “Oh, this is mad! My need to be unhappy.” Never recognized fully, it always comes in a concealed way since the reasons for my unhappiness are always out there: “This is making me unhappy, that is making me unhappy, the present moment is making me unhappy. What is—is making me unhappy.”

As long as there is unconsciousness, the causes of unhappiness are out there, and there’s always the interpretation: “If only those things changed or I could change them, I would be okay.” And then you’re engaged in continuously fighting with what is. “I’m going to change these things out there to remove the causes of my unhappiness. If I can make you change your behavior, then I will be happy. My unhappiness will go.” That’s the illusion, and many people reach the end of their incarnation (the majority still) trapped in that illusion: “If only things were different,” not seeing that unhappiness is embedded in the very structure of the mind. You can see it in relationships. If you meet a person, the first few days or weeks—sometimes even months—there is harmony. And then something arises that is very different, a completely different energy. The need for conflict returns. And the longest humans are without conflict is often when they fall in love, and that can last a few weeks. Or if you went to live on a South Pacific island, you may be free of unhappiness for a little while, but you can be sure that the happiness which is in here—not there—in the structure of the egoic mind, will find a reason for you to be unhappy. Even when in paradise, there will be something that’s not right. It could be anything—mosquitoes, boredom.

Let’s say somebody could create for you an environment where all causes for unhappiness had been removed. Deep unhappiness would still arise out of unbearable boredom, even to the point of suicide. You sometimes see that with people born into great wealth, where all their needs or desires are immediately met. They should be blissfully happy—they’ve got everything, yet often deep misery arises, deep dissatisfaction with everything. So you can’t get away from that.

There’s a deep reaction, a revulsion to what I’m saying in the little me that says, “Well, he may be right, this may apply to other people, but really, I’m unhappy because I have reason to be unhappy. The others may be in delusion, but my misery is real.”

And so to see, to look through that is an amazing realization—that you carry around unhappiness within the structure of your own mind. I’m using that as a generic term. The Buddha used the term “Suffering.” Other traditions use the terms “Delusion” or “Illusion” or even “Sin.”  From the seeing of that starts its dissolution. The structures of human unhappiness, which are the structures of an egoic conditioned mindset, begin to dissolve. And what happens then? It only happens if your attention moves into the now, and sustains itself there.  But the ego likes to make that into a problem, too. It says, “Okay, it must take time to get rid of the illusion of all that unhappiness in my mind. How long is it going to take?” If it has taken 100,000 years for it to arise in humans, then it’s the human condition. If it has taken that long, will it take just as long to get out of it? Another 100,000 years? And the ego says, “Yes, yes it will! Give me time.”

And that is your opportunity. You may be ready. It could be through the very fact that perhaps the form may not remain in existence for that long. Maybe it will. There may be an element of uncertainty, and you can go very deeply into the “yes,” and into the now, and into Presence, so that past and future fall away almost completely except for practical matters. And you walk on this path of now. I sometimes describe it as a “tightrope of now.”

And that is the flowering of human consciousness. If you walk the tightrope of now, you have to be totally present, every step. There’s no little me. You can’t remember your problems on a tightrope, or you would fall off immediately. Even fear. You can’t fear the next step or you would fall off immediately. There’s only this step. And there’s a total presence with every step. This is the state that is arising, and it’s only in that utter and complete presence that the little me dissolves and all the problems that cling to it—in fact, which make up its very existence—fall away. They cannot survive in intense presence.

Look at any problem in your life, no matter how serious it looks, and see if it can survive when your attention is totally here. Then you become what you have always been—which is consciousness itself, the field of still presence underlying everything. So the heaviness is gone. That’s the fulfillment of your human existence.

Now, it doesn’t matter how much longer this form exists. A few weeks, 50 years—it doesn’t make that much difference. This flowering is the realization of “who” you are. But you wouldn’t be able to say very much about it through the mind. If somebody asks, “Who are you?” there may just be a stillness.

The strange thing is, from the point of view of the mind, it looks as if you knew less about “who” you are than before. And it’s true. It is a voluntary embracing of the state, and this is also a key, a voluntary embracing and saying, “Yes” to the state of not knowing anything anymore. That’s why it’s so frightening to the little ego. An embracing of not knowing.

There’s vast power in that not knowing. Whatever you need to know at any moment (which is always this moment) will arise out of what looks to the mind like the state of ignorance. Whatever you need to know, or anything you need to do to know at any moment, wherever—in relationships, in any situation—arises out of the state of not knowing. So become comfortable—happy with not knowing.

It’s a great thing to discover. And now this state of consciousness applies to your entire existence. It’s fine not to know, and then you stay with the not knowing, which is the stillness. And whatever is needed suddenly comes. It may come as words, as an action, simply an emanation of love. It happens, it’s no longer totality . . . life moves through. . . and then you return to the state of not knowing.

It could be a simple thing like going for a walk and watching everything around you in that attentive alertness. You’re not walking there as the little me with its problems. You’re walking as a field of awareness that looks at the universe—the phenomenal universe and its beauty—not needing to impose mental noise on anything or to interpret. You don’t need to know what this tree is called. You might know it, but it’s no longer important if it does not interfere with the beauty of that moment. There’s no longer the heaviness of a person walking through the street. The field of consciousness, and you, look at the world, and if you had a few thoughts in your head, you would say, “This is good. Every moment is good.”

And God saw his/her/its creation and—I can’t remember the exact words—saw that it was good. That which looks through your eyes at the world is then pure consciousness—the light emanating from the Source. This light looks through your eyes sans perceptions and loves its creation because you created it. You are consciousness, appearing as form, and it’s good. So you walk as a blessing on the earth, no longer as a burden. And everything and everybody loves you for that. Even nature, you will feel nature—trees, flowers—love your presence. It’s almost as if their very being moved a little bit towards you because within the totality where there’s no separation between this and that—when you see beauty without mind—it’s a self-recognition. Consciousness—the flower, which is an expression of consciousness, recognizes its own beauty through you. So even nature finds fulfillment through that. It knows itself through you. It looks like you.

And yet if all that is form, the eternal is underneath the forms, this very moment, what are the ingredients of this moment? The voice, your perception of the voice, the totality of this space, people, flowers, lights, sense perceptions of those things. Okay. That’s good. There’s also the silence. That’s even better. And to acknowledge the silence—“Oh, listen to it.” That’s the arising of stillness. Silence is helpful. Ultimately you don’t need it. Stillness doesn’t depend upon external silence, but it’s good. It’s helpful to listen to silence. It’s only the stillness in you that can even be aware of silence. If your mind were very noisy sitting here, silence would be meaningless—a concept. The moment you listen to silence, stillness arises. Through the stillness, you become aware of silence.

So it’s within and without, and then there is the realization, “it’s always within” (it may not always be without), but the dimension of consciousness is always there. And then it may arise at the most unsuspected times. You may find yourself in the middle of a noisy situation at work—little me’s fighting; and suddenly, silence arises, and you’re watching without condemnation, without interpretation. Then perhaps some words arise. You say something very different. Anything that arises out of your inner stillness has a very different quality to it. Even if it becomes words, it always has some of that stillness—the place from where it came, it still has a fragrance of that . . . a freshness and a newness. And perhaps you say something, and it comes out of that stillness. A completely different dimension of consciousness arises—love, basically, beyond what the ego images love to be.

We have been speaking, for quite a long time, about that which cannot be spoken of. Life is full of paradox. Basically, we have moved beyond time, more deeply into the now. According to the clock it looks as if we’ve been sitting here for one and a half or one and three-quarter hours, but this wasn’t really like that. One deep moment, timeless, the timeless dimension of consciousness is coming and it looks like an event in time, but you have to accept certain paradoxes, that’s how it is.

Let’s acknowledge the silence. Without, through, the stillness within. And now meet everything, everybody, through that stillness. Bring the stillness—be it, because you are it.

And then that is the dimension of the Sacred arising, inseparable from the stillness.

Sometimes questions are fine, but at this moment I feel there’s no need for that. It would only be the mind trying to figure something out that it already knows. And I know that you already know. And your mind says, “No, no, I don’t know.” Yes, you know.

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