Descartes famously said ‘I think therefore I am’, but Tolle and others rightly point out there’s more to it than that – there’s also an inner observer of the thoughts and thought processes, over and above the thought processes themselves, and operating in the gaps between thoughts as well.
Tolle speaks about the mind – what I have heard described by Indian thinkers as the ‘monkey mind’; the incessant inner chatterer.
He speaks also of the pain body – the reactiveness in us caused by the accumulation not only of our own personal suffering, but the suffering of any group with which we identify.
And he speaks of the ego or false self – what St Paul calls the flesh: the vain, anxious, competitive, grasping, conflicted inner Gollum creature.
Behind/below/beyond all these, Tolle identifies the real self, the observer, which paradoxically is in a sense not myself but God – the indwelling Holy Spirit. Lest this seems arrogant, it’s helpful to recollect that this is precisely what the Bible teaches – in the Old Testament, God forming Adam from the dust of the ground, then breathing into him so that he became a nephesh –a living soul. Thus human being is formed of a fusion of the substance of the earth (hence the name Adam, a play on the Hebrew word for earth) and Holy Spirit (for spirit, wind and breath are all the same word in Hebrew, so the breath of God in Adam = the Spirit of God in Adam). And in the New Testament, when Jesus says (of a denarius) ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’, he is saying that the denarius belongs to Caesar because it bears his image and must return to him, but that a human being belongs to God for the same reasons. So the real self is the touching-point with the formless, the eternal, the infinite, the Spirit.
Tolle teaches (in my reading and listening so far) of these four elements that can be discovered within, simply by paying attention to our internal dynamics:
The ego (false self)
The pain body
The real self / observer / the ‘I’ who sees – what the Quakers identify as the ‘divine spark’ within each of us.
I concur with this. I look inside, and find these elements within me. But then this evening, I found a fifth. The mind, the pain, body, the ego and the real self, yes. But in struggling to apply some of the beautiful teaching that builds kindness, honesty and compassion, the ‘I’ that is not the pain-body, the ego or the mind – the core reality of me, turned to something else with which it is in contact, something contacted from within me but even so existing beyond me, and said: ‘I’m going to need your help with this.’
The ‘I’ turned beyond itself to a ‘you’ and requested help. I think we call that prayer.
I guess someone reading this could be forgiven for saying ‘Duh – yeah – what were you thinking? Have you not heard of God? Remember Jesus?’
Well, the point is, I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus. In fact I’d go further than that – I believe that I know God, that I know (have personally met) Jesus. So I know that I know Him, and I know that I believe in Him. And I know that His Spirit lives and breathes in me.
But what intrigued me was that in getting to grips with Tolle’s lucid and well-observed breakdown of inner mental structure, I had expected to find out more about what one might loosely call the ‘I’ – find out more about how a human being works; but I had for some reason not particularly expected to stumble across this vivid evidence of relationship, the natural, instinctive turning of the ‘I’ to a dear familiar ‘you’, like a child turns with confidence for a parent’s help, like a man turns to a trusted friend. And this was not so much the observer, the ‘I’, observing a lesser aspect of the self reaching out - it felt more as though the ‘I’ itself turned to a ‘you’ existing, chiaroscuro-fashion, beyond the frame.
As Martin Buber put it: ‘I and Thou’ – the irreducible minimum of relationship.
Even though ‘I’ is Spirit-breathed, the image of God, the property of God, the emanation of God, there is also ‘Thou’ – the God to whom I turn.