A spectral projection from a stained glass window near the interior entrance to the Sisters' Chapel, the oldest part of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Gary Bridgman / Flickr)
To listen to Eckhart Tolle is to be reminded that anything is possible — for anyone.
I'm not talking about living a life of leisure filled with expensive cars, beach homes, and extravagant vacations, but an experience brimming with the kind of spiritual insights that not only make this life worth living but decidedly more fulfilling. The problem is, whenever you say "spiritual insight" there's often the assumption that you're talking about something too ethereal to be practical or too elusive to be achieved in this lifetime.
This is exactly the point that one of the world's most well-known spiritual teachers and authors rebuffed during a talk he gave this past February at Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education:
"Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching. They may waken simply because they can't stand the suffering anymore."
He went on to cite examples of those who have either been told that they have a short time to live or have been given an exceptionally long prison sentence. In both cases, any thought of a future has been effectively dashed, forcing these individuals into what Tolle describes as "an intense awareness" that there is only the present moment with "no more future to escape into mentally."
And what's the result? A lot less suffering:
"That is the real spiritual awakening, when something emerges from within you that is deeper than who you thought you were. So, the person is still there, but one could almost say that something more powerful shines through the person."
The good news, according to Mr. Tolle, is that in order to experience this awakening, "you don't have to wait for the diagnosis by the doctor or to be put in prison… nor do you have to do 30,000 hours of meditation or live in an ashram for 20 years. Once you get a glimpse of it you can invite it into your daily life."
For a growing number of people, it's this understanding of the always present "spiritual you" shining through that has led to significant improvements in their lives, not the least of which is better health. This would seem to indicate that these kinds of spiritual insights aren't the least bit ethereal or elusive but decidedly practical.
"Spirituality and religion belong in the healing paradigm," writes Airdre Grant in a study published in the Journal of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society). "They are determinants of health and they are factors in recovery, wellbeing and longevity."
But where do these insights come from? Is it simply a matter of wishful thinking? Or is it perhaps something more reliable, more effective than that?
"Jesus said 'the kingdom of heaven is within you,'" observed Mr. Tolle, implying that this health-inducing understanding may be lot closer than we thought:
"I think if he lived nowadays, instead of 'kingdom,' he would have said, 'dimension.' And 'heaven' refers to a sense of vastness or spaciousness. So if we retranslate the words of Jesus into modern terms [it would be] 'the dimension of spaciousness is within you.'
And then Jesus said — when they asked him, 'Where is the kingdom of heaven and when is it going to come?' — he said, 'The kingdom of heaven does not come with signs to be perceived. You cannot say, ah, it's over here or look, it's over there, for I tell you the kingdom of heaven is within you.'"
How nice it is to be reminded that the proverbial "kingdom of heaven" we've been hearing about for at least two millennia — this "dimension of spaciousness" or what I might characterize as the understanding of our true spiritual identity — is "within you." Within us all. Here and now.
I suppose all that remains is the willingness — and the humility — to put this insight into practice.
Eric Nelson is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. His writing on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications.
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