“let be be finale of seem”

Everything is about mindfulness these days.

I’m reading Eckhart Tolle‘s new(ish) book, ‘New Earth’ at the moment. Basically, he’s articulating the same insight that all Buddhist practice articulates, that Rob Nairn is trying to teach up in Samye Ling, that pretty much all Eastern philosophy points to.

The human condition: lost in thought.

I was recommending it to Rachel over lunch today (figs! Greek yoghurt! sesame seeds!) and even though she apparently never reads books, the more I struggled to sell it to her, the more convinced I became of its essential rightness.

In his direct, take-no-hostage style Tolle spells it out: the problem of life is not the content – not the thoughts, the emotions, the things – but the structure. The problem is not the stuff but how we hold the stuff. Thoughts and words, for example, are perfect in their place – where they become problematic is when they run out of control, or when we live in words rather than in the infinitely deep reality of things. When I think I’ve eaten “yoghurt” and “honey” instead of the yoghurty white creaminess, veined with golden sweet honey that is slipping down my throat, is sticky on my lips still.

Things and (particularly) people are infinitely varied, changing, shifting unique. Why reduce them by a label? Maybe for momentary convenience – but not always, not for ever.

The greatest – absurdest – example of this reduction is ‘I’. How absurd to reduce the massive, voluptuous complexity of you to one anorexic pen stroke.

This is Tolle:

The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that constantly unfolds within and around you. In this way cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost, and so are joy, love, creativity, and aliveness… Of course we have to use words and thoughts. They have their own beauty – but do we need to become imprisoned in them?

I’ve written and read all about this for years – but sometimes the membrane between thinking about something and actually feeling it becomes thinner and thinner and one day it might pop open. Why do we live in that reduced way?

A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote this:

An English writer from the turn of the century describes a fantastical kingdom, high in the mountains where there are no words. It’s an urbane and sophisticated civilisation where the adults spend most of their afternoons in busy teahouses, communicating in fluid gestures and with the tiniest nuances of their faces. The only sound to be heard is that of hands in the air and the clinking of china.

People from the valley live in blissful specificity. Since every person, animal or meadow flower can be judged on their unique merit – it makes no sense to give them names. There’s that bird and this one. Same markings and song but clearly different birds.

The children don’t have names either because they know each other by sight.

And when passing a stranger, people have to put down what they’re carrying and look that person in the eye to hold a conversation.

Once a year in summer, the Wordless Folk come together in a great silent gathering under the sky, chuckling with their hands and wreathing their faces with delighted smiles, unpacking picnics, laying out rugs.

When everyone has arrived and the sun has begun to sink behind the mountains – they sing.

They open their throats and sing.

7 Comments

  1. DM Riley

    June 5, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    While being bombarded with so many “labels” in the current
    US election, it is quite appropriate to be able to read a
    voice of reason.

    I really enjoy your essays and am wondering if you have a
    book? Is one in the making?

  2. David Quirke-Thornton

    June 7, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Wonderful and oh so true. I would like to visit this fantastical kingdom. I guess in the mind, we can.

  3. Valerie W.

    June 12, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Words are just references, but we tend to use them as
    labels.

  4. Lucy

    June 15, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    My other half has been much impressed by Eckhart Tolle. I watched the DVD of his Findhorn lectures; a little I can see why he’s called himself (as I presume he has…) Eckhart, I can imagine Meister Eckhart as in some ways similar, exploring, elusive, humourous, canny and naive by turns. Yet I’m a little wary of the cult of personality that has grown up around him…

    I’ve enjoyed the rich seam of photographs here since last I came, and cheered at your dislike of the mannered and mirthless Redgrave… I felt apologetic recently in the company of friends who were extolling her when I had to say I found her mannered and unwatchable…

  5. Valerie W

    July 2, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Sorry Monty was I too obtuse.
    Valerie is my reference but it doesn’t describe or label
    who I am.

  6. Anonymous

    March 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Ah thank you for this, you’ve summarized what I’ve always felt but was unable to properly reduce.

    Let’s fight for “Freedom”, “Hope” for “Change” … just examine these phrases, they’re ridiculous; meaningless.

    For my amusement, when I was younger, I would infuriatingly argue with my friends about philosophical issues by saying, “Hope is fear” or “Change is staying the same”; “Freedom is slavery”. And in a way, that’s all true, especially when you’re reducing such huge ideas into single words.

  7. Tia

    September 8, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I absolutely love practicing meditation! I never thought it could work before I gave it a shot… I wish all humans would give it a chance. First I just felt a bit more balanced and was amazed that this kind of spirit stayed with me the whole time or at least a few days. Now it is as important as being happy for me.

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