On a daily basis, we travel between two different worlds sometimes transitioning from one to the other without even knowing it. Some of us have only seen one world and not the other. We act like passengers when we are truly pilots.
As I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now, my understanding of these two worlds grows a bit deeper through his analogies, explanations, and ideas. Tolle is a New York Times best-selling author and teacher who writes about spiritual transformation founded in acknowledging the presence of ego in an effort to transcend it. Tolle echos similar thinking from Jiddu Krishnamurti which I wrote about in The Circle From The Chain. Connection to who we are as individuals, our place within the realm of nature and how we interact with others have all been recent themes in my research and writing. Through meditation, I’ve been exploring these worlds further taking special care to notice the bridge between them. From meditation, I have started to extend these principles into the hustle of work, sports, activities, family time and other responsibilities. Last week, I wrote about Tilting The Axis to acknowledge the power that lies between things and how to open doors into new worlds.
Now we explore Tolle’s description of the worlds we oscillate between each day with some practical steps to find our way back to the most present one.
consciousness & EGO
The unconscious or manifested world has its roots in the egoic mind, while the conscious or unmanifested world stems from the stillness of the present moment. One of Tolle’s examples of the unmanifested world uses the analogy of space, as in outer space. Its a timely example given that a brilliant woman recently crafted an algorithm to stitch images from radio telescopes across the globe to construct a true image of a black hole. The depth and stillness of space allow all else to be. Space creates a pocket for something else, yet we fill our personal space with so much that it ceases to exist. My musical background directs me to a comparable concept of sound being nothing without silence. In order to understand what sound is, there has to be something that sound isn’t. Sprinting from meeting to meeting, darting inattentively through phone conversations and chasing the holy grail of happiness at a future point in time, we hear the noise but miss the space that contains it.
In the valiant mission of self-preservation, the egoic mind will limit our potential for connection and squander special moments. The collective egoic mind, which is easily spun up by political factions to drive action through manipulation, can be one of the most dangerous things in our society. Resorting to mechanical control, judgments and decision-making shortcuts, we can blink and not notice that we’ve been operating unconsciously in the manifested world. Jiddu Krishnamurti would add that one of the main forces the egoic mind feeds on is fear, which creates a cycle that can be difficult to exit. Much of that fear comes from being in one place and wanting to be somewhere else. We chase the idea of happiness and the hope that it is just around the corner. If I only had this position at work, if I could just afford this house, or I’ll be happy when I finally can buy that car. These are common societal drivers for happiness. What about joy? Joy lives in the small moments between the big wins. Joy is all around us waiting to be acknowledged in the swirling sphere of activity that promises to deliver happiness. Joy can be found in the space between things. The conscious mind lives in a heighten awareness beyond the noise generated by fear and anxiety.
We have an innate and often untapped ability to move from noise to silence. Our ability to recognize when we are taken over by ego and overcome by noise can even be cultivated. Enlightenment is not a power to be wielded, a badge to be earned or a state from which to look down on others. It lives within everyone, but it can be reluctant to speak in the rigid realm of ego’s grasp. How can we find it? The kind of awareness Tolle, Krishnamurti, Tara Brach, Rumi, and countless others refer to is not found in a single instant. Just like moving to a new city, it takes time to find your bearings and expand your reach. Small moments of awareness build and stitch together a larger and more connected experience.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll be familiar with my views on the importance of meditation. However, there are other ways to trigger the transition from the unconscious world back to the conscious world.
Here are a few things I’ve been trying to do consistently.
- Smiling and Saying Hello – Be first to smile and say hello. Energy is contagious and we should find ways to increase the presence of positive energy. It’s a simple but powerful act. I’ve been stuck in a grumpy mood and when someone I’ve never met smiles at me, I can’t help but smile back. It’s like when you were upset as a kid and a smile finds its way in. It’s hard to suppress a smile … even for something as strong as your ego.
- Go Back Faster – When I mess up, overreact or lose my cool, I am pushing myself to go back faster. It’s not easy. But by owning my missteps early, I get time back that I would have spent stewing and ranting. Ego clouds my judgment and locks me into a mode of protection and self-preservation. Our competitive desire to win has existed in our genes for thousands of years. Our ancestors used these traits to fight to stay alive in a dangerous world where being food was more likely than finding it. Being first to return to the scene of an argument with a level head is made more difficult by our innate need for self-preservation. A physical manifestation transpires following the neurological takeover by our reptilian brains. Muscles tense, pupils dilate, fists and teeth clench, and we release unrecognizable sounds that seem more animal than human. These are merely carryovers of the survival mechanisms that kept us five steps removed from a predator’s dinner table.
- Draw something – Randomly moving the pencil across the paper forming shapes always helps me to find the space between things.
- Observe objectively – Stop and watch something without thinking, judging, planning, or for a specific reason. Watch a bird sitting on a branch as its small head darts from one direction to another. Marvel at the individual leaves on a tree moving independently with a large gust of wind.
- Ask a simple question – When you feel anxious as the balance of open to completed tasks skews in an unfavorable direction, stop and ask yourself “In this very moment … in this instant of micro-presence, what is really wrong?” I’ve often found it hard to really list anything.
Ego is a formidable opponent and will not easily acquiesce. Consistency is your best weapon. Find small moments where things slow down. Enjoy them first and build on them to open the path back to consciousness. We aren’t our thoughts. If we are witnesses to our thoughts, we can be more aware of those moments where we move away from presence and into conflict. Recognize these biological responses for what they are. They are not you. They do not define you. They are an obstacle to the real you. If you embrace the signals, the path back home gets easier every time.
Find your way back, again … and again … and again.