When he was 29 years old, Eckhart Tolle was a talented and up-and-coming academic. He was also, by his own admission, deeply miserable.
One night, he lay in bed gripped by an overwhelming feeling of negativity. The cycle of negative thoughts wouldn’t stop.
In his book The Power of Now, he describes waking the next morning:
“I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all.”
It was an incredible transformation. In one fell swoop his negative thinking had passed.
But how did this happen?
It wasn’t until much later, after reading many spiritual texts and consulting numerous spiritual teachers, that he could articulate what happened.
He had realized his nature as “pure consciousness” and saw his ego-bound, separate self as “ultimately a fiction of the mind”.
While it’s impressive that Tolle was able to experience such a rapid transformation, most of us aren’t that lucky.
Instead, we need to work on our personal transformation step-by-step.
That’s why I have put together this ultimate guide to Eckhart Tolle’s approach to getting rid of negative thoughts. I’ve broken it down into the most simple steps.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand Eckhart Tolle’s approach and will be able to implement it into your own life.
According to Eckhart Tolle, compulsive thinking is an addiction
Here’s the most important point to understand.
We think millions of thoughts every day. Most of them pass through our brains subconsciously, and we never give them the attention they might deserve.
Even when thoughts come to the forefront of our brains and try to get our attention, we still ignore them because of fear, uncertainty, or just plain ignorance.
Not only do we ignore some pretty important thoughts, we often let negative thoughts invade our brains and take over our lives.
You are probably reading this because you recognize how negative your own thinking is and you want to change that in your life.
Our thoughts have incredible control over us, but the good news is that we can rise above them.
According to Eckhart Tolle, this kind of compulsive thinking could actually be an addiction.
“This kind of compulsive thinking is actually an addiction. What characterizes an addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure; pleasure that invariably turns into pain.”
What makes our thoughts so addictive?
Eckhart Tolle says our thoughts are so addictive because of how we identify with them:
“Because you identify with thinking, which means that you derive your sense of self from the content and activity of your mind. Because you believe that you would cease to exist if you stopped thinking.”
We derive a great deal of our identities from our thoughts: how we see ourselves, how we think others see us, what we think we contribute to our jobs and our communities, whether or not we think we are good parents, friends, lovers, workers, and so on.
We think all the time. We can’t help but think about things. Even when we are trying not to think, we think about not thinking.
You can see how this is turning into a cycle or pattern. And that’s just what addiction is: a cycle. It’s a cycle that can’t be broken. We try to quiet our minds, and we try to busy ourselves with day-to-day tasks, but the truth is that underneath all that buffering is real negativity that needs to be managed.
Otherwise, we are just wasting our days stirring in the negative when we could be basking in the positive.
Why it’s so difficult to stop the cycle
As we are growing up, we tend to develop a sense of self based on what others tell us about ourselves and how we view ourselves through the eyes of other people.
If your parents told you that you were good at baseball and drove you to practice every other day and insisted you would play baseball all summer, then it’s likely that you associate yourself with baseball.
You were a baseball player. Maybe you still are. If, however, your parents told you that you couldn’t play baseball, and they didn’t want to pay for you to play baseball, then you might grow up thinking you can’t play baseball.
Not because you don’t have the skill or the ability to learn the skill, but because you believe in a version of yourself that you cast upon you, not created by you.
We do this to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves we can’t leave our husbands or wives because we don’t want to identify as a “divorcee” when we could be looking at it in a positive light and call ourselves “happy.”
Divorce sounds terrible, and it is awful when a relationship falls apart, but no one ever stops to think about the positive that might come out of something like that.
We just take for granted the negativity that society has placed on concepts, terms, and even our identities.
According to Eckhart Tolle, this is what creates the ‘ego’:
“As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ‘ego’. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking. The term ego means different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.”
Eckhart Tolle explains how to overcome negative thinking and stop the cycle
Getting a grip on your thoughts is the first step to taking back control over your life. The best way to do this, according to Eckhart Tolle, is to stay in the present moment.
The ego doesn’t exist in the present moment:
“To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode, the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it – who are you?”
Yet, Eckhart Tolle says, thinking and consciousness are not synonymous:
“Thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.”
So, how do we rise above our thoughts and not be so attached to them? According to Eckhart Tolle, we need to become an observer of thoughts so we can live in the present moment:
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken…The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.”
Eckhart Tolle shares an exercise to let go of thoughts and get into the present moment
At one of his retreats, Eckhart Tolle shared a useful exercise to let go of thoughts and get into the present moment.
He shared this in response to a question from an audience member. I’m including it here because I think many of us can relate to the questioner.
Check out the video:
The gentleman asks how to reconcile the balance between removing thoughts from the mind without getting annoyed when thoughts come back in.
This happens to me all of the time, so I found Eckhart Tolle’s response very useful.
He explains what to do when you feel like you have a hyperactive mind:
- First of all, refrain from giving too much input to your mind. You can do this especially in conversation with others.
- When you’re talking to someone, try to listen 80% of the time and speak only 20% of the time.
- While you’re listening, feel the inner body.
- One way to do this is to be aware of the energy you feel in your hands. If possible, try to also feel the energy in your feet.
- Feel the aliveness in your body while also listening to what the person you’re speaking to has to say.
- This helps you to be more aware of your body and the information you’re receiving, as opposed to what you’re thinking about.
You don’t need to be perfect at this. It’s enough to give it a try and be aware of your body.
You could also try going out into nature and being more aware of your other senses, such as hearing and your smell.
If you’re interested in how to practice meditation, check out some of these articles:
And if you’re looking more Eckhart Tolle wisdom, check out these articles:
Are you mentally tough?
Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. They determine how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to dealing with challenging emotions, to carrying on after a relationship has ended.
In The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Developing Mental Toughness, we outline exactly what it means to be mentally tough and equip you with 10 resilience-building tools that you can start using today.
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