Eckhart Tolle. Ever heard the name? Probably, as he is everywhere in American culture, it seems. He\’s written some extremely popular books: The Power of Now and A New Earth (which Oprah hosted an online class on) are the ones I’ve heard of. I am by no means an expert on him, but I have ingested some of his interviews and writings. Someone I love dearly is really “into” him, so my interest has been peaked…
He is considered a spiritual teacher of a teaching that is unique to him, but culls from many different spiritual traditions (Zen Buddhism may be the one he relies on most, not sure, though). His primary teaching is instructing people how to stay in the moment. He helps people pay attention to “now” and not move forward or backward in time in their thinking. “Now” is the place to be and stay…we use thinking when we have to, otherwise we are pretty much thought free, drinking in what “is”. The main benefit of this practice is peace of mind and an ability to not react to things, but just “be” in them and allow them to “be”. Stress (wanting to be somewhere else) is alleviated…even obliterated in this “place”.
As I listen to his teaching, I hear it intersecting with some Christian meditation techniques. Many of the meditative prayer practices we find in Christianity (Catholics saying “Hail Marys”, Eastern Orthodox saying the Jesus prayer, centering prayer, quiet prayer time, etc) are designed to quiet the mind and bring it into the present, but they are designed to do more than that…something that Eckhart doesn’t teach: connect with God, be with God. In fact Christian prayer practices are all about God and connecting with Him, surrendering to Him.
I would posit that there is a distinct difference between being in the moment Eckhart style and being in the moment, Christian style. The focus is different. Eckhart has us focused on what is, and that is all. Christian prayer has us focused on God, which allows us to be with Him in what “is” and to be used by Him in the moment.
Both promote a quieting of the mind, inner peace, and are stress relievers. In both we are aware of what “is” in a very real way and can “be” in the moment, but only Christian meditation opens the door to God. As noted in Star Wars, our focus becomes our reality; as Christ says, where our heart is, our treasure will be also. If it ain’t all about Him it’s all about something else, and we’re “missing the mark”.
If Christian meditation is something you’ve never considered or heard of, but you’re drawn to Eckhart’s teaching (if you’ve read this far, you are probably at least interested), then you may be a perfect candidate for taking the next step in Christian prayer, meditation or even contemplation. Regardless of your tradition (Protestant, Eastern Orthodox or Catholic), you’ll find plenty of resources out there to help you explore them and find the right place to start. I recommend these for your consideration: Richard Foster (Protestant); The Cloud of Unknowing (Catholic); Father Thomas Keating (Catholic); The Practice of the Presence of God (Catholic); Paul Evdokimov (Orthodox).
A gauge for discerning spiritual teachings out there, in our culture, is whether they point to deepening our relationship with Christ. Of course, Christ needs to be the Christ found in the Bible and not the one the teacher has formulated and stirred in with Christian understanding for good measure. If you decide to start delving into Christian prayer practices/Christian spiritual disciplines, I think you’ll find a rich and ancient tradition steeped in Truth that contains very practical and simple ways to connect with God. He has set us a smorgasbord, friends….Come to the table and see…