presence

Presence, No Guru, Part 1

There’s something about Eckhart Tolle I don’t like.

I mean, yes, the concept of being in the here and now is a great one, but it’s hardly new. The kind of lifestyle Tolle promotes dates back at least to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau, in the modern age of personal growth.

I suppose it’s the way he presents it that gets me. There’s a lot of references to God and Jesus and the Buddha, which he almost definitely intends to reflect onto him.

Plus, there’s the way he shuts down questioning that’s far too reminiscent of the way most authoritarians speak. Someone raises a perfectly valid question and it’s “No! You just don’t understand!” as though there’s no other will than his and no other understanding to be had beyond his own.

That doesn’t jive with the presence I’ve know or the concept of it I’ve seen presented. To be present is to be open. Shouting down any questions or alternative perspectives is not open. That comes from a place of fixed mind, one that is not willing to be open to what’s happening around it, here and now. That is a mind not open to growth.

And in my mind, in my experience, if you’re locked in a state where you are unwilling to take the world around you as it is, questions and all, then how can you say you are here, now?

It’s hard to take a man seriously who behaves as though he (and only he) has all of the answers, and that they are original and no one understands them but him, especially when the same concepts can be attributed to any number of thinkers, including Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain, Jesus, the Buddha, a bunch of ancient Greeks and Romans, Voltaire and any number of Renaissance era philosophers, most of whom portrayed the ideas in a manner much less prone to psychobabble.

He also repeatedly references Armageddon style coming destruction unless you think his way, which as most people who’ve paid any attention to dictators and cults know is typically a sign that someone is trying to use fear to control you and put you under their power. Or just as likely, to take your money.

There’s a sense that in this presence of Tolle’s, it’s a static thing. There’s no expression of a desire for growth or any evidence of actual growth, only be here, now, and that’s it. The divorce of thought from consciousness ignores the fact that one is simply a facet of the other. Is it best to have control over the spinning miasma that can be one’s mind? Of course. Is it best to condemn thought as something outside the self, almost a hostile force?

That’s something else entirely.

There’s a sense of perfection in Tolle’s presence, as though if you truly “get it” as he presents it (which again is a simple concept proposed by hundreds of thinkers over the millenia that he endows with a bunch of supernatural attributes in order to feed into the religious, new Messiah vibe he’s clearly going for), but to me, perfection is not actually a desirable state.

Perfection is static. There’s nowhere to go with perfection. Perhaps that’s what he intends, but how much more meaningful a life with room to grow, room to change and learn?

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe he’s actually a totally nice guy who lives in the moment and has some kind of understanding beyond everyone else that’s totally new and absolutely not Buddhism redux with a lot of Jesus and Sufi quotes and certainly not any kind of warmed-over Sixties transcendentalism.

Maybe he’s just not particularly well read and missed all those books by Osho and Alan Watts. Maybe he was in his glory at the time he wrote it, full of himself and this “new” idea and not realizing that he was communicating his message with an infusion of epic ego (ironic, given his fervent arguments against the egoic mind). Maybe he’s grown and he’s now exactly the man he claims to be.

I don’t know.

And the thing is, does it really matter? The core message is important and correct: presence is an important of finding peace, of being truly happy and content. It’s critical for growth and creation, for keeping an open mind and a sense of connection to the world around us.

The problem is all the extraneous stuff. The unnecessary mysticism, the infusion of this desperate need to be the source of knowledge, the end-world threats, the dismissal of morality or the need for growth… I particularly enjoyed the mansplaining of how to handle menstruation for women. That alone screams outsized ego.

None of that is necessary for the core lesson. That extra stuff, if you’re not paying attention, can seriously sidetrack a person. Look at those who buy into everything Donald Trump says without question. They’re so far gone from reality that end-world scenarios are starting to look a lot less like fiction and more like something at least a quarter of the U.S. population actually wants.

And all starting from one essential truth, twisted and added onto with extraneous bullshit and ego: that being present creates calm and focus and peace and is a good thing.

(In Trump’s case, it’s that the working class is getting screwed, which they are. No matter what side of the debate you’re on, you know that’s true. Even the billionaire class knows it, because they’re the ones benefiting. The problem is that he and his ilk have convinced a quarter of the population that it’s not the rich folk screwing them to blame, but some poor brown or black person who just wants to live their life the same as anyone else.)

My point is that there’s danger in bullshit, in taking real concepts and twisting them to suit one’s ego.

Be present. Stay present. Forget all the other shit. Because I’ll bet you can guess the other truth behind that.

It’s only done to part you from your money, and to take your mind and divorce you from it, in favour of someone else’s control.

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