Lately, I’ve been doing a bit more reading than I usually get to do. Thanks to the wonderful support of a great worship team at Westside, and the wisdom that so many of you are willing to share on Sunday mornings, we have a number of guest speakers who will be teaching, inspiring, and encouraging us this summer in our worship services. Which means that I have a little more time to read, reflect, renew, and learn—all of which will allow me to be ready to bring more thoughtful and engaging ideas to you when I am speaking on Sunday mornings.
The book that has my attention right now is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The book is predicated upon the idea that ‘ego’ is all about any kind of identification with things that are transient.
Roles, physical conditions, events, even emotions—all these are transient. According to Tolle, when we identify with these, we become unhappy. He encourages, instead, identifying with something more permanent, and less visible. Tolle describes this more essential thing, that which is worth identifying with, as an aspect of the Self that is concerned with being, rather than doing. To identify with this essential part of ourselves, the part that is unfazed by circumstances, gives us clarity, calm, and well-being. And his main prescription for cultivating this part of ourselves is simple awareness—choosing to ‘be’ with whatever is in front of us, rather than ‘do’ anything about it. This ‘non-action’ also includes avoiding the action of judging or interpreting things as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Reading the book on my front porch, looking out over the farmland surrounding me, I had an interesting experience of this sort of awareness. I noticed a small bird sitting on a nest in the corner of my porch, and instantly felt a wave of happiness and joy. “What a lovely, sweet scene,” I thought. Seconds later, I saw that there were also 3 or 4 wasps nests nearby, on another corner of the ceiling. My first reaction was to think, “oh, bad!’ but then—using Tolle’s suggestion—I paused, and disidentified with this judgment. Weren’t both nests the same? Simply one generation cultivating the life of the next generation of the species? Mothers sitting on nests.
I looked across to the newly mown field across the road. Neat, pretty lanes of cleanly mowed hay. “Pretty” I thought. “I could easily walk in that field now.” But then, I realized that there was no longer tall enough grass to hide the mother deer and her fawn who liked to come down to our pond to drink. My judgments of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ got all mixed up. But by simply remaining present, I was aware of both perceptions equally, neither a full expression of ‘truth’ or ‘reality.’ The field just is as it is.
How can we apply this kind of presence in more difficult situations? Like watching the news? Or having a difficult conversation with a loved one? What does it mean to be present, without judgment or action, in the face of things that are painful? And how can we cultivate a kind of present awareness that, rather than being passive, is in fact inspired? According to Tolle, truly inspired action comes not from the natural tendency to react from our emotions, our beliefs, our judgments, but from open, present awareness.
I will be experimenting with this over the coming weeks. I encourage you to give it a try, as well.
Wishing you a summer of calm, joyful presence, and deep appreciation of the simplest things.