When the spirit of the ruler moves against ye, yield not. One might be forgiven for seeking an alternative to the urgings of Ecclesiastes, after beating one’s head against the very unyielding obstacle of status quo politics for awhile. It seems only a tiny portion of the electorate recognizes the threat of fascism, of environmental collapse by nuclear war, climate change or just steady and persistent pollution of the life system, and with overpopulation exacerbating the whole damned thing.
Solace is offered, often part of the problem – consumption, what capitalism recommends, or endgame superstition of your favored religion, or a nice hobby. More “spiritual” paths are also available, often leading to thickets of thoughts in the head, in the form of lists of dogma to embrace, heads to shave, foods to avoid, checks to write. Somewhere in there one of these might actually have something.
Stillness Speaks is a collection of aphorisms distributed over ten chapters under headings like, Beyond the Thinking Mind, The Egoic Self, Death and the Eternal… all set forth as pointers, sign-posts, designed to bring one into presence, the here/now. In that state, it is said, one is connected to the intelligence permeating reality as opposed to the confines of egoic mind, and from there (here) one knows what to do. In presence one experiences interconnection, the greater self which is ONE. The feeling is joie de vivre.
In that state of joy, sooner or later, arrives an impulse to creativity and that action, aligned with basic intelligence, will be congruent with what is needed. Possessed by ego one behaves egoically, the great dysfunction of our civilization and its greatest threat. Possessed of presence one behaves in ways respectful of the life system and the ONE life. This is the most powerful form of activism, not advocating or arguing for an ideology but being it. Since the whole physical array can be seen as vibrating frequencies, the specific frequency of presence affects other frequencies more powerfully than clever argument.
This appealing notion tempts – why not try it out since it has become abundantly clear where ego brings us, has brought us. One doesn’t go, in this scenario, to presence to enhance and strengthen one’s point of view. It may be that presence will bring one to conventional activism but the answer to what-to-do will come from connection not from thinking. We might approach the same old opponents with the same old arguments but with a presence that transforms. We also might do something completely different, a possibility if we set aside all preconceptions and get our “instructions” from the connected state.
Ok, so how does one get present? On the first page of the book Tolle states, “The only function of a (spiritual) teacher is to help you remove that which separates you from the truth of who you already are and what you already know in the depth of your being.” A bit later, “… words (the aphorisms) are no more than signposts. That to which they point is not to be found within the realm of thought, but a dimension within yourself that is deeper and infinitely vaster than thought.” Tolle advises putting the book down often, to pause, to reflect, become still. Because the words in this book, “come out of stillness they have the power to take you back into stillness, out of which you arose.” Instead of identifying with the passing personality, we shift to that state.
Focusing on the main task the book puts forth, namely freeing oneself from the prison of obsessive mind chatter and ego, assuming that possible, what is the obstacle? If it is true that mind-chatter dominates almost everyone then, whatever age you are, you have that many years of conditioning to overcome. Changing a lifetime habit is no easy task but if the result is a state of joy, and a chance to significantly contribute to saving the world, well hell, wouldn’t we go for it? Haven’t many religions offered something similar, pie in the sky etc;? I suppose Tolle would say that when these kind of promises were made they were either misunderstood or mere con-artist manipulation, or as in Elmer Gantry, a confused combination of the two. The basic intelligence might be just another wording for God, the joie de vivre another for heaven, pie in the sky – just words, signposts. But in the desperation of our dilemma, where an essentially fascist movement seems to be arising all over the planet and where conventional resistance has shown itself ineffective, well, we might try something else or at least adopt an adjunct strategy. Tolle expresses this polarity saying, “… the dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much noise.” That’s cute. And a shot of hope.
Image credit: Warbucks, oil painting by Tom Ferguson (detail).