Spirituality uses many names and concepts to describe the conscious self, that entity that only exists when we are present in the moment. Some call it awareness. Eckhart Tolle calls it presence and spaciousness. Witness consciousness and being centered in the seat of self are phrases used by many spiritual teachers, including my favorite, Mickey Singer.

The problem is that these words and phrases are confusing to many. And since this concept goes to the heart of most spiritual traditions, it’s important that we “get,” as best we can, what this means.

With that in mind, I pass along this Eckhart Tolle quote that offers a beautiful and apt metaphor describing what the conscious self is and isn’t:

“You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.”

So we have the sky and the clouds. Let’s start with the sky. That’s who we are. Why? Because the sky is always there. It doesn’t change. It has no name and no history and, like our true self, it is formless.

The clouds come below, around and through the sky — sometimes as thunder, hurricanes and blizzards, other times as mere soft, billowy clouds. These come and go. They are the thoughts and emotions that arise in our lives, pass through our sky and then disappear.

We suffer when we think we’re the clouds

A major problem facing humanity is that most people get involved with these “thought clouds.” They ruminate and argue with these thoughts and emotions, which, again, are not who they are. In fact, they get so entangled and enveloped by all this mind activity that they come to believe that that’s who they are.

And believing that we are the clouds has a deeply deleterious effect: It stalls the clouds. It gives those insidious, torturous thoughts racing around our heads like a stock car in the Daytona 500 a longer life, which results in untold suffering all over the globe.

But if we simply recognize that we are the sky and not the clouds, then we can just watch these thoughts and emotions as they come…and as they go. We don’t wrestle with them or engage with them or judge them…We just watch them pass through.

The takeaway

Fine, so we are the sky and our thoughts and emotions are just clouds coming and going. How can this concept actually help you? By using Eckhart’s quote as imagery.

Consciousness, awareness, presence, seat of self and witness consciousness are all just words. Yes, they aptly describe the concept of the true self…but only in words.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I find it exceedingly helpful to conceive of concepts using images. So the practical benefit of Eckhart’s quote is to literally “see” yourself, in your mind, as the sky. Imagine it.

And use this image when you find yourself stressed out and overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. Simply close your eyes and imagine yourself asthe blue sky. Take some deep breaths. Then lean back and just watch your thoughts and emotions as clouds passing by. Don’t dive into them. Or judge them. Just watch them…

With will, commitment and practice, you’ll get better and better at calmly allowing your clouds to pass by. And over time, you will feel and experience yourself more and more as that timeless, eternal and beautiful blue sky that we all are.