A Soft Message for a Hard Time

I recently saw a YouTube video in which the actor Jim Carrey gets really excited about having discovered Eckhart Tolle. It seems that in reading and listening to Tolle, Carrey also had a sudden “wake-up” moment, as Tolle had. He realized that he is consciousness itself, the one who is aware of every “thing,” even of his worries in all their profound insignificance.

And in that blissful moment he felt a deep sense of peace and freedom — what some might call our natural state, or enlightenment, and that others might call knowing God as the source of all creation. But in recounting the story, Carrey grits his teeth, makes a fierce face and says, “I have been trying to get back there ever since.”

Ever the brilliant comic, Carrey cracked me up by expressing the very human dilemma we are in. We have our high moments of clear insight and wonderful inspiration from all kinds of influences.

But then life as usual drones on in the troubled mind. And there our attention seems to fixate most. Sometimes inspirations can even make matters worse because we feel how mediocre daily life seems to be compared to our “peak” experience.

Years ago in India, my teacher used to say, “It’s best not to be inspired in the first place if you don’t have the practical tools to respond to the inspiration.” He meant that what we needed was not the momentary flash of so-called “enlightenment,” but the ability to take realistic measures that allow you to permanently realize what has inspired you. Besides, he would say, it isn’t enlightenment we need, but intimacy with ourselves and others.

I appreciated Carrey’s humor, not to mention his honesty, but I wanted to tell him not to worry about trying to “get back there.” What he and Tolle both felt was meant to be only a one-time thing anyway. Such experiences are given to us to understand that we are in the natural state — that everything is indeed consciousness, even if we don’t experience it all the time.

As my teacher would say, once you understand something, you don’t need to carry it around all the time. You use a raft to cross the river, but you don’t keep lugging it everywhere you go.

But he kept repeating that what we need is a practical response to that insight — a way to enjoy our natural state without setting up this struggle in the mind to re-experience something.

And then he was kind enough to teach me that practical means, a simple form of yoga to do naturally, non-obsessively, and daily because it is how we embrace the nurturing power, consciousness itself, the basis of all life. We need action that works, not just wishful thinking or gymnastic heroic efforts in the mind or body.

In the traditions, yoga is described as “knowing your own direction and going to it with continuity, body, breath, and relationship in that order. Then you know your Self.” And there is a yoga that is right for you. It is not found in the sweaty gymnastic styles that have been popularized and merchandized in recent years, but the anciently given yoga designed perfectly for individual differences, for you and your unique life. Easy to learn, it is participation in the union of life’s opposites that reveals the source of all opposites, and brings you to greater intimacy with your own body that translates into intimacy with other people.

By his own admission, Eckhart Tolle was deeply depressed and was faced with a clear choice: suicide or awareness of the One who is depressed. He really had no choice. But most of us are not put into this acute position, so not everyone can have his breakthrough experience. Besides, we cannot duplicate another’s experience; we can only have our own.

My teacher put it this way: “Trying to be something you are not is the cause of human suffering.” Things don’t get this bad for most of us in the usual ups and downs of life. We have probably not been brought to that dramatic place, the dark night of the soul that is followed by certainty.

The point is that you cannot make permanent peace happen. Looking for it implies its absence, so the looking is itself the problem. Setting up the social model of enlightenment only creates un-enlightenment. Only unhappiness looks for happiness! If happiness comes, it comes naturally and spontaneously. In the meantime we need something practical that works. That is yoga, the perfect participation in life.

And in yoga it is known that the wonderful spiritual states described in the great tradition arise naturally without even trying. They are called siddhis, special powers that come naturally by grace. Just as sleep comes naturally. You cannot make yourself go to sleep. You can’t grit your teeth like Jim Carrey and try to go to sleep, any more than you can “try” to meditate. Trying to sleep prevents sleep! Sleep surely comes when you make conditions right. Just so, trying to get enlightened without yoga is like trying to go to sleep without lying down and turning off the light!

I teach a simple form of yoga that never directs people to “try” to be peaceful or “get to” consciousness or God. Instead, it shows us how to be intimate with life, with our body, and breath, which is the very means of connecting with God.

I want everyone to know what yoga actually is, what it does and how easy it is to do. It is intimacy we want, not positive thinking. It is intimacy we need, not enlightenment. It is intimacy we need, not God-realization. But intimacy gives us all three.

Mark Whitwell