Saturday, 5 January 2013


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 mind
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.


Anonymous said...

Yes. It was when waking in my cell, after falling asleep studying Greek, a cell since bulldozed so where I heard this voice is somewhere suspended in mid-air, I head a voice clearly saying 'Mi phobou', 'Be not afraid', Christ speaking to his disciples in the storm on Galilee. Without that I would have gone mad with fear, with loss of innocence, of God.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah. Thank you so much for that.

I woke this morning feeling uneasy that in my blog post here I'd been somewhat discourteous to Eckhart Tolle - as though I thought I'd outsmarted him or something silly like that. It occurred to me that my "I'm going to need your help with this", being a thought, could be categorised as the activity of the mind, and the observer of the thought to be the real Self, the God-in-me of me. But though the moment could be thus defined, that's not quite true to how it felt.

Reading your comment this morning, I see the affirmation of the intervention of God-who-is-beyond (the Father) or God-who-is-with-me (the Son) as well as God-who-is-in-me (the Spirit).

I think you are speaking of a monastic cell, but I have heard of inhabitants of prison cells experiencing a similar phenomenon - Star Daily, for example.

I should add that I have read/heard only a portion of Eckhart Tolle's teaching, and it may well be that he goes on to address this phenomenon elsewhere.

But thank you so much for what you say here.

Bean said...

Golly! I am just venturing into Tolle, the books are captivating, his videos almost mesmerizing. I feel as if the ideas are washing over me, gently, slowly soaking in. I read your words and in some ways feel that I understand and in many ways feel that I almost see but am not seeing. Does that make sense?
I will reread your post several times more, as I find I have to reread Tolle several times over to feel as if I have a good grasp on what he is saying.

All good stuff.


Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh - yes! There is NO waffle in Tolle's writing/speaking; none! With the result that the information is so concise, so dense, that I find I can assimilate only small bites and have to read over and over. x

Gerry Snape said...

this is another thought provoking post ! Thankyou Pen....

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) x

kat said...

I must practice that "over and over" more - though not sure where the time might come from to practice it!
I like your thought of "Thou", and feel it too in small parts ("still small" parts?), but then life sweeps across me and I loose touch - it needs quiet contemplation I think, and a well behaved inner monkey; mine is most unruly! xx

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Gandhi was taught by his ayah to give his inner monkey something to do. She said the mind resembles an elephant walking through the bazaar. Distracted by wares right and left, its snaking trunk snatches and grabs and upsets everything on all sides, causing chaos and distraction. But a skilled mahout will give his elephant a stick to carry. The elephant, proud to have a responsibility, curls his trunk around the stick, carrying it proudly, and passes in peace through the bazaar without damaging anything. In the same way, she said, if you give the mind a mantra, it can settle down. Gandhi's mantra - 'Rama, rama, rama' was the formula for abiding joy.

My main mantra is the ho'oponopono prayer:
'I love you
I'm sorry
Please forgive me
Thank you'

It cleans whatever crosses my path.

But sometimes I curl my trunk around a different stick -
'Jesus remember me
When you come into your kingdom' for example.


Pen Wilcock said...

Thich Nhat Hanh also speaks of the 'over and above' - I think, in 'Peace Is Every Step', in his excellent chapter on taking care of anger.
He recommends, when anger arises, taking an inner step back. Anger is a very encompassing, overwhelming emotion, so the small inner step back establishes a distance, establishes that I and the anger are two separate things; so at once the anger diminishes, because it not longer encompasses me.
Then (if I'm remembering correctly) he speaks of nursing the raging child within oneself, cradling it calmly until its rage begins to dissipate and it quietens down.

As the Tao says, 'no fight, no blame.'

Heidi said...

I don't think you're being discourteous (and even if you were, I don't think Tolle would mind, honestly), because Tolle doesn't "need" the fifth element in his worldview, being that what he sees as the divine isn't personal. Thus there is no need for that part of us to communicate with it (apart from being present and thus staying connected to God-who-is-in-me).

Anonymous said...

I have begun to read Thich Nhat Hanh, and realized how wise this man is. Taking a step back is truly what we must do when anger surfaces inside of us. Allowing Our Lord's Spirit to keep us quiet and calm.


Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends

Heidi - good point, yes I can see that. x

Maria, I feel privileged to have been alive in the same generation as Thich Nhat Hanh. Do you know his book 'Living Buddha, Living Christ'? It's excellent, though my favourites are 'Peace Is Every Step' and 'Being Peace'. x

Paula said...


Pen Wilcock said...

:0) x

kat said...

I like that Thich Nhat Hanh thought - I must have absorbed it from reading him, because that's more or less what I try to do - usually accompanied by a walk to the sea and back - it's a wonderful way to give those negative feelings away to something that is big enough to absorb them all, however growly they are! I also rather like the idea of having an unruly monkey AND a disruptive elephant in my head, no wonder it's so noisy in there xx ;-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Mental Zoo! x