Thinking Has Become a Disease

Eckhart Tolle: Thinking Has Become a Disease

“The compulsive thinker – and that means almost every person – lives in a state of apparent separateness, in a crazy, complex world of incessant problems and conflicts, a world that reflects the increasing fragmentation of the mind.”

You are not your mind. The greatest obstacle to enlightenment

What does enlightenment mean? The word enlightenment calls to mind the notion of some superhuman achievement – and the ego likes to maintain that notion, but actually enlightenment is simply your natural state to feel oneness with Being. It is a state of being connected to something immeasurable and indestructible, something that is almost paradoxically essentially you, and yet is so much bigger than you. It is to find your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to experience this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of alienation – from yourself and from the world around you. You perceive yourself – consciously or unconsciously – as an isolated wreck. Fear sets in and internal and external conflicts become the norm.

I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment – “the end of suffering“. There’s nothing superhuman about that, is there? Of course, like any definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not – it is not suffering. But what remains when there is no more suffering? On this matter the Buddha is silent, and his silence implies that you will have to find out for yourself. He uses a negative definition so the mind can’t make it into something to believe in or some superhuman achievement—a goal beyond your power to achieve. Despite this caution, most Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them—or at least not in this lifetime.

You use the word Genesis. Can you explain what meaning you put into it? Being is the eternal, irrevocably present single life behind its innumerable forms subject to birth and death. But Being is not only beyond but deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is available to you in every moment as your deepest self, your true nature. But don’t try to figure it out with your mind. When you are present, when your attention is fully focused in the Now, Being can be felt but never understood by the mind. To regain consciousness of Being and to dwell in this state of “feeling and awareness” is enlightenment.

When you talk about Genesis, do you mean God? If so, why don’t you say so?

The word God has been emptied of meaning as a result of thousands of years of abuse. Sometimes I use it, but sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the vastness behind the word, use it with enormous self-confidence, as if they know what they are talking about. Or else they present arguments against it, as if they knew what they were denying. This abuse has given rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and selfish delusions such as “my God or our God is the only true one and yours is false,” or Nietzsche’s infamous statement, “God is dead.”

The word God has become a closed concept – as soon as someone utters it, a mental image is created of someone or something outside of you and – yes, that’s right! – is almost invariably male. Neither God, nor Being, nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind it, so the only important question is whether the word helps or hinders the experience of what it names. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendent reality, or does it easily succumb to become just an idea in your mind, something to believe in, a mental idol?

The word Genesis explains nothing, but does the word God explain anything? However, the word Genesis has the advantage of being an open concept. It does not reduce the limitless invisible to some ultimate reality. It is impossible to form a mental picture of him. No one can claim exclusive rights to Being. It is your very essence, and is immediately available to you as a sense of your own presence, as the awareness that “I am” precedes the idea that “I am this or that.”

Therefore, it is a small step from the word Being to experiencing Being. What is the biggest obstacle to experiencing this reality? Self-identification with your mind, which makes thinking compulsive. The inability to stop thinking is a terrible misfortune, but we are not aware of it because almost everyone suffers from it, so it passes for normal. This incessant thought noise prevents you from discovering the realm of inner silence, an integral part of Being.

It also creates a false imaginary identity for you that casts a shadow of fear and suffering. We will look at this in more details later.

The philosopher Descartes thought he had discovered the most fundamental truth when he famously said, “I think, therefore I exist.” In fact, he formulated the most fundamental error – the identification of thinking with Being. The compulsive thinker – and that means almost everyone – lives in a state of apparent separateness, in a crazy, complex world of incessant problems and conflicts, a world that reflects the increasing fragmentation of the mind. Enlightenment is a state of wholeness, of being “at one” and – therefore – in a state of rest. Being one with life in its materialized side – the world – as well as with your deepest self and non-materialized life – one with Being. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering and the constant internal and external conflict, but also the end of the terrible slavery of incessant thinking. What an amazing liberation that is!

Identifying with the mind creates an opaque barrier of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks out all true relationships. It stands between you and yourself, between you and other people, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this barrier of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and “everything else” completely separate from you. But in doing so you forget the important fact that below the level of the physically visible, of individual forms, you are one with all that is. When I say “forget,” I mean that you can no longer feel that oneness as an obvious reality. A belief can bring you comfort. But only if you experience it, it can bring you liberation.

Thinking has become a disease. Disease is present when the balance between things is disturbed. For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body, but when the process continues, neglecting the needs of the whole organism, disease results. Caution: the mind is a wonderful tool if used properly. But when used improperly, it becomes extremely destructive. More accurately, you’re not so much misusing your mind, you’re usually not using it at all. He is using you. This is the disease. You think you are your mind. This is a fallacy. You have become subject to the instrument. True, like most people, I think very aimlessly, but I can still make the choice to use my mind to accomplish things, and I constantly do.

Just because you can solve a crossword or make an atomic bomb doesn’t mean you’re using your mind. As a dog likes to chew on a bone, so the mind likes to gnaw on problems. So it does crosswords and makes atomic bombs. You have no interest in either. Let me ask you: can you free yourself from your mind whenever you want? Do you know where the switch is to turn it off? That is, to stop thinking altogether? No, I can’t, except maybe for a moment or two. In that case, your mind is using you. You identify with it unconsciously, so you don’t even know that you are its slave. It is almost the same as being possessed, but without knowing it. Freedom begins with the realization that you are not what has possessed you – you are not the thinker. If you know this, you will be able to observe it. The moment you begin to observe the thinker, a higher level of consciousness is activated. You begin to realize that beyond thought lies a whole realm of intelligence, that thought is only a tiny part of it. You also realize that the truly important things – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – are born beyond the mind. You start to wake up.



The Power of Now“, Eckhart Tolle, 1999