Ten years ago my sister told me about a German spiritual teacher named Eckhart Tolle that I had to check out. After watching one of his talks on Youtube I was hooked.
I subscribed to his website and have been listening to him regularly ever since. In fact, for many years I have listened to fifteen minutes of his talks as preparation for my daily meditation practice.
Why? Why did Eckhart have such a strong influence on me? And on so many millions of others around the globe?
It’s not only his teachings
I submit that it is only partially because of the spiritual concepts he espouses. Yes, I love his articulation of how and why we are not our thoughts and as such should not identify with them. And yes, I love his emphasis on the power humans can gain from accessing and living in the present moment.
But his concepts, like most spiritual teachings, are not particularly original, something he would admit to. They are mostly drawn from Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity (he even changed his name from Ulrich to Eckhart as an homage to the great 14th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart).
The reason Eckhart is so beloved and one of the most influential spiritual leaders on the planet (along with the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis and Thich Nhat Hanh) is because of his presence. His bearing. His mien.
Being present is the key
Let me back up. Another of Eckhart’s central teachings is that there is nothing more valuable we can give to another than being present.
What does he mean by “being present?” He means interacting with others from a place of no mind. Of no thought. Experiencing the other in the moment. Not thinking about what you want to say next or somebody else at the party you can’t wait to talk to or what you want to eat for dinner later. Just being fully there.
Crucially, when we do that, when we are one hundred percent there, what is not there is our ego. The ego that judges, compares, criticizes, gets distracted and does all sorts of other undesirable things.
Eckhart is egoless
So where does Eckhart fit in all of this? Of the many spiritual teachers I’ve studied/listened to, Eckhart is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to being present and egoless.
Which isn’t to say others aren’t also this way. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Mickey Singer, Adyashanti, Peter Russell…They’re all incredibly present and low ego.
It’s just that with Eckhart one gets the sense of no ego at all. He’s all presence.
Presence is God
And here’s where things get a little wacky and metaphysical, but here goes. That presence that Eckhart emanates is called many things by many people. Some call it consciousness. Others call it pure awareness.
And some call it God. Or the presence of God.
I’m not saying that I think Eckhart is God. I’m saying that when the mind and thinking subsides in anybody, the resulting space of consciousness provides a portal for God to shine through.
The person who captured this best was the great Indian guru Meher Baba who said:
“Man minus mind equals God.”
Presence is love
And that is why Eckhart is so beloved. It’s because I, and so many others, feel and sense the pure love and compassion that comes from this place of no ego. I just feel good when watching and listening to him, regardless of what he’s saying.
We also love Eckhart because that strong God presence in him recognizes and brightens the God that is in all of us. In most of us that God presence is shrouded by our overactive minds that prevent us from being as present as we’d like to be. But being in Eckhart’s presence, even if it’s only looking at him speak on my computer screen, feels good because it stirs the deepest, best, God-like part of me, if ever so fleetingly.
The takeaway for us
Fine. So what’s the takeaway from all this? What does learning about why people love Eckhart do to help the rest of us? That’s easy: It shows us all the endpoint.
Not many people get to that egoless point Eckhart has arrived at. I know I’m nowhere near it. But it’s my strong belief that getting closer to it is the work of our lives.
How we get there
What work is involved in getting closer to the awakened being that Eckhart is? Working every day to shed our egos. Through meditation and mindfulness we chip away every day at quieting our minds and allowing our egos to dissolve.
And when we do that we become more present. And when we become more present, we become better dads, moms, siblings, friends, coworkers and human beings.
In short, we become more like Eckhart.