It’s hard to believe it was four years ago when Oprah led her famous series of web classes with spiritual master Eckhart Tolle. I was recently reminded how thrilling it was to be one of the millions of people immersing myself in Tolle’s A New Earth for those 10 weeks, after I stumbled on the podcasts I had downloaded after each class. Pressing “play,” I knew why I had so eagerly tuned in for each weekly lesson from March to May 2008.
I also discovered there is still plenty I can learn.
Even before Oprah selected the book, I’d been enamored with Tolle’s teachings — so much so that I gave them a starring role in my own novel about a woman’s attempt to bring spirituality into her everyday life. But Oprah’s web classes deepened my understanding of Tolle’s insights, convincing me that every moment offers the opportunity to access the calm and powerful dimension of spirit. I don’t have to wait to become enlightened; I can enter that sacred space anytime.
Yet listening to the Oprah-Tolle webinar again, I’m reminded that grasping this spiritual insight and applying it moment by moment is as different as watching a chef create a gourmet meal on the Food Channel and rustling up something similar each night on my stove. Four years after “graduating” from the class, my application remains uneven.
Now that I’ve immersed myself in the series again (as inspiring the second time as the first — you can access it on Oprah.com), I realize my diploma could use a little refreshing.
Here are four teachings I’ve rededicated myself to mastering:
1. It’s not enough to know you’re a spiritual being.
Tolle makes clear that our roles, history, thoughts, and even our sense of ourself as a spiritual person are only the “contents” of our life — things we know about ourself. By contrast, he says, regularly connecting with our inner space gives us the deeper knowing of ourself. “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,” Oprah quotes from A New Earth, noting she considered this passage so important she marked it with three stars. Tolle offers a simple roadmap to know when you’re there: “If small things have the power to disturb you, then who you think you are is exactly that: small.” I guess I’ve got a ways to go on this one.
2. Learn to embrace uncertainty.
“Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour,” Tolle brilliantly observes, taking direct aim at my personal discomfort with uncertainty. “Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.” If you’re dissatisfied in this unsettled state, he says, you can’t hear the guiding messages from your higher self. When Oprah says, “When you allow yourself to be still, the universe rises up to meet you,” I recall the many moments where this has unquestionably happened in my life. I resolve to find more comfort in the space of not knowing.
3. Experience sense perceptions instead of words.
Oprah and Tolle began each class with a few minutes of silence. (I remember Oprah’s surprised face when Tolle suggested this in the first class; she looked nervously offstage as if checking with a producer before agreeing to a period of dead air.) With millions around the globe meditating together, I found these to be some of the most powerful moments of the webinar. I especially adored Tolle’s suggestion to focus on how the body feels inside — the cells moving inside your hands or feet, for example — without giving it a mental label. Later, in one of the classes, Oprah describes her experience of climbing stairs while remaining keenly aware of each movement in her leg. Tolle applauds her success in getting out of the mind but cautions that it can be harder than it seems, since once you proudly notice that you’re doing it, your mind has already come back in. I have long made it a practice to periodically focus on the feeling of my fingers running over the keyboard, but hearing this discussion has furthered my resolve to expand my efforts to get out of my head.
4. Know that fighting reality gets you nowhere.
Tolle shares a remarkable story of a Zen master unjustly accused of fathering a teenager’s child who reacts not by defending himself, but by calmly asking, “Is that so?” When the girl’s parents later demand he raise the child, again he answers, “Is that so?” and takes the baby. (Eventually, after a year, the daughter confesses that someone else is the father, and the man is relieved of the responsibility.) Oprah admits you have to be a Zen master to behave like this, noting that when tabloids and tell-all books make up things about her, she’s filled with the urge to scream, “It’s not true!” Yet I can’t argue with Tolle’s response: The reason you should aim to accept everything is “because it is.” Fighting reality — even something awful like financial ruin or the death of a loved one — he says, does nothing to change a situation; all it accomplishes is upsetting our inner peace. And, after all, isn’t contentment and peace what we’re wanting most of all?
Thanks, Oprah and Eckhart, for your invaluable wisdom four years ago (and today)!
Photo: SoniaT 360 / flickr