exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
How To Sit Quietly
In A Room Alone
Eckhart Tolle: “You're in a room, you’re facing a wall, just sitting, and then you observe your mind, what it comes up with, and you learn to ‘just be with what is.’ This simple Zen meditation, some would say, is the most difficult meditation - just sitting and being with what is.”
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In the school of Zen, they have a meditation called 'sitting.' No structure whatever. All they say is 'sit and be with what is.'
the following is a summary of hours of lecture, a rough transcription, of Eckhart Tolle's public discussion, “Living a Life of Inner Peace"
Sometimes in Eastern places of meditation there are visiting Westerners and sometimes the Easterners are very impressed by the Westerners, they can sit still for long periods of time, and there’s so much will-power – like holding a lid on a boiling kettle – and they sit there, and they’re showing everybody how great they are in their meditation, and you can see, or sense, there’s a lot of “wanting” there, there’s a lot of force behind it, and that’s not it. There’s no discovery of “inner space” there.
“Directing attention” is what’s needed. “Where is your attention?” For most people their attention is almost completely absorbed by thought-activity. They are so identified with the streams of thoughts in the head that they’re not looking for meditation or for anything else because, for them, there is nothing else. They are “the voice in the head,” as far as they’re concerned. They don’t know there’s a deeper dimension as it’s totally obscured by the chattering “monkey mind.” This incessant thinking becomes the ego, which means that thinking is invested with a sense of self. This is the “false self.” This is the normal human condition of unenlightenment.
All of this mind-conditioning that is infused with “self” causes suffering in one’s life. Eventually, this becomes one’s pathway to “salvation” - to enlightenment, which is to realize the “sacred inner life” of the soul - as the suffering, stress, and unhappiness begins to “crack” or “dissolve” the ego, and then, in a desperation to find peace for one’s mentally tortured life, other options are finally considered. Slowly, one might catch a glimpse of the “inner life,” attention is directed, more and more, to the “true self.”
The purpose of meditation practices is to draw one’s attention to where the mind is focused. The purpose of meditation is to realize how the “thoughts in the head” run one’s life; that, because of many years of mental conditioning, the thinking controls us and runs our life, and that we are not in control of these enslaving thoughts.
A discomfort may arise during meditation; or irritation arises, or impatience arises, or any kind of mind-conditioning arises. And you can learn from this, simply, to be with it, whatever the form of this moment takes; for example, the form of a pain in the knee. You accept the form of this moment. And this is why in Zen, the school of Zen, they have a meditation called “sitting.” No structure whatever. All they say is “sit and be with what is.” And you sit for hours and be with what is – that’s the Zen meditation.
And then they put you in a room, you’re facing a wall, and they open a window, and the cold winter air comes in, and you sit there shivering, and you be with what is. And then you observe your mind, what it comes up with – “what am I doing here, o.m.g. this is so stupid, what’s the point of all this, I could be home in a warm bed” – and then you see what arises in your mind, and you be with that. And you don’t say, “oh, I mustn’t have these thoughts,” you just be with what is. This is the Zen meditation, and they don’t even call it meditation, just “sitting.”
This is instruction on how to live - to be with what is - because “what is” is the way it is, and to fight that is absurd. And so this is what you learn in this simple Zen meditation, and some would say, the most difficult meditation. Just sitting, and being with what is.
This meditation has no specific meditation object, except to be with whatever condition arises this moment, or “what is” during the meditation. The condition may be internal: an emotion, a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation; or it may be external: cold air, warm air, noises around you, disturbing noises in the distance. This Zen meditation is a practice for the real world, for life as it must be lived, in all its variations.
Whatever condition comes is incorporated into the meditation, so you can never say, “I can’t meditate because this or that is happening.” Well, it’s part of the meditation. “You can’t say I can’t meditate because the children are screaming” – be the “space” for the noise around you. This meditation prepares you to be “present” in the midst of the chaos of life; whatever arises is part of the “is-ness” of life. You accept whatever arises. This does not mean that you become powerless. Just the opposite. You become the expression of enormous power. It is the power and intelligence of Universal Consciousness and Life itself; which can then act and enter the world through you.
The secret of Zen is “to be with what is,” to be totally “present” in whatever arises. When you are aligned with “the present moment,” you are in a state of continual meditation. And when you are in that state of alignment, “you are the spiritual Master.”
Some people think you need a lot of knowledge or years to be a spiritual teacher, but all you need is to be one with “the present moment,” which is alignment with life and with the mind of God. And then, because you are an “open channel,” whatever is needed in a situation, the answer will come through you, from Universal Intelligence.
And so, the reality is, you yourself are not the spiritual teacher. And if someone says, “well, I’ve studied all these years, I’ve practiced this and that, and now I am ready to be a spiritual teacher” – no. This is a sign that you are not ready because you are not an “open channel,” but a voice for the ego. The best qualification for being a Master is to feel that you’re not ready and that you don’t know anything; you have nothing to say and nothing to teach. This should be the introductory disclosure to any lesson you might offer others.
Editor’s note: I’ve created a special sister-article for the above. See it on the “Surrender and Acceptance” page. It seems to me that the greatest misconception of “be with what is” and “surrender and acceptance” is the notion that one must become a doormat to the world and just allow everyone to walk all over you. This is utterly wrong. I clarify this error in the related writing. As Eckhart says,
“You accept whatever arises. This does not mean that you become powerless. Just the opposite. You become the expression of enormous power. It is the power and intelligence of Universal Consciousness and Life itself; which can then act and enter the world through you.”
did you catch it? - sitting quietly in a room alone is just about the most difficult thing you can do
Why is sitting quietly in a room alone so difficult?
To answer this, first consider how people will do almost anything to avoid being alone with themselves: the mall-shopping, the bar-hopping, the string of sexual conquests, too much work, too much tv, too much video-gaming, too much drinking, too much reading – we could go on.
None of these activities, pursued in moderation, at the right time, is necessarily a problem and might be fine, but it all becomes a giant problem, a pathway to insanity, when we can’t face ourselves.
like holding down a lid on a boiling kettle
Many of us, schooled in a can-do spirit of grit and determination, want to get in there and show’em how it’s done. We believe we can do this “sitting” thing with the best of them. But that’s not how it works. Peter Russell said it well with, we must “relax into the resistance,” it must be an exercise of “ease itself.”
It’s much easier for an energetic young person to stay clear of the quiet room. Many years ago I bought a house in a big city with a restful and quiet backyard-porch and garden. When I moved in, I still recall saying to myself, “Well, this will be a nice place-to-escape out here for a cool drink on a summer day.” However, some years later, when I sold the house, I sort of gasped to realize that, in all of my time there, I’d spent, maybe, a total of five or ten minutes of peace-and-quiet on that porch.
But when we enter old age, it’s different. We’re no longer in the “empire-building” phase of life, nor do we have the energy to work long hours. Our options scale down. We don’t go out as much anymore, and now a visit to the narrow confinement of a secluded porch or small room becomes more-or-less a required activity. And then, finally alone, we begin to understand what we were avoiding all these years.
It can be frightening; and, to do this gracefully in a clear-eyed way, without reaching for a bromide, is the most difficult thing that we've ever done.