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exheres

TRIBE Member
Search for intense joy creates a best-seller


JANICE MAWHINNEY
LIFE WRITER

For the first 29 years of his life, Eckhart Tolle lived in a state of crippling anxiety, punctuated by periods of near-suicidal depression.

Now, at age 55, his every day is so happy that people come to him to learn how to achieve such a state.

His first book on the subject, The Power Of Now, has been on bestseller lists for years.

His second book, Stillness Speaks, has sold more than 200,000 copies since it was published in August.

Tolle, who lives a quiet, almost hermit-like life in his modest apartment in Vancouver, shuns interviews and certainly doesn't do the television talk shows.

Yet when Meg Ryan gave a copy of his book to Oprah, who announced on air that she had chosen it as one of her favourite things, he became a household name to a massive North American television audience.

Cher raves about his work. Dennis Quaid is a fan. Lifestyle gurus Deepak Chopra and Lama Surya Das praise his writing. The Power Of Now has sold more than 1 million copies in North America and has been translated into 32 languages.

Tolle keeps his distance from all the fuss. He remains a mysterious mystic, appreciating silence and avoiding the limelight.

"His life is simple and quiet and he's not at all materialistic," says his friend Victoria Ritchie, manager of a metaphysical bookstore in San Francisco.

Tolle teaches that what's important is who you are deep underneath your personality, the timeless part of a person that is connected to the divine and to everything and everyone else. This element can be reached through stillness, he says, through quieting the constant chatter of the mind. It is beyond thought.

Tolle recommends that you observe carefully everything you do. Be aware of every stair as you climb the steps. Focus entirely on the experience of turning the key in the lock. Every time you sit down, notice the flow of your breath. The awareness helps to carry you beyond the busy activity of the mind.

It also helps to keep you in the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future.

These understandings came to Tolle as a result of transformative experience he had as a young man. He was born in Germany and moved to Spain with his father at age 13.

He graduated from the University of London and worked in research for a while at Cambridge University. When he was 29, his long-term extreme unhappiness led him to despair.

"I cannot live with myself any longer," he thought. He was then struck with the difference between the "I" and the "myself" he felt he could not live with. Was he one or two? Who was the "I" and who was the "self"?

The answer came through a spiritual experience that literally knocked him unconscious for a while. When he awoke, he was intensely aware of the quality of the light coming through the window and the beauty of a pencil in the room. His sense of identity had broken down, he says, and had been replaced by a powerful awareness he calls consciousness.

This consciousness is his true nature, he believes. In fact, he says it is everyone's true nature. It becomes swamped by the workings of the mind, but it is possible to achieve the peace, security and happiness that come with this consciousness by learning to still the mind and touch what is beneath it.

While Tolle was first exploring this state, which he calls a "timeless and deathless realm," he left his job, his relationships and his socially defined identity behind. For two years, he spent most of his time sitting on a park bench "in a state of the most intense joy."

When people repeatedly asked for his advice on how they could reach a similar state in themselves, Tolle found himself a new role as a spiritual teacher. He took as his first name the surname of Meister Eckhart, a 14th century German-born Dominican mystic who taught that truth lies beyond image and that unattachment to material and sensory things can lead to the soul uniting with God.

He moved to Vancouver in 1996 and published his first book in 1997.

Tolle says his writings don't belong to any one religion or spiritual tradition, but have a universal application. There's an urgent need for people to consider these matters, he adds.

"The transformation of human consciousness is no longer a luxury, so to speak, available only to a few isolated individuals, but a necessity if humankind is not to destroy itself," he writes in the introduction to Stillness Speaks. Ritchie says Tolle deals with universal wisdom and teaches on a level that everyone can understand. "Eckhart uses modern idiom to synthesize ancient spiritual teaching," she says. "His work is revolutionary."
 
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