By Eckhart Tolle
Question: How do I maintain a sense of presence when I’m in the company of another person? How do I bring presence into conversation?
Eckhart Tolle: It’s not easy. The moment you start talking, the two minds come together and so they strengthen each other. A flow starts, a stream of thought. A moment ago you were present, and then somebody starts talking.
What applies here is the loss of space during the conversation. Both participants of the conversation have lost any sense of space. There are only the words, the mind, the verbalization, the stream of thinking that becomes sounds. They are taken over by that. It has its own momentum – almost a little entity, a stream, that doesn’t want to end.
Often, it generates emotions in the body. That strengthens it, amplifies it. If the mental stream triggers emotions, which it often does, especially when talking about other people, what they did, failed to do, did to you, did to others, criticisms, gossip, all kinds of emotional things, the ego comes in. When you can criticize another, the ego feels a little bit stronger. By diminishing another, in the delusional system of the ego, you have enhanced your own self-image a little bit. Any criticism of another is a part of that energy stream. And then emotions come, and they amplify the thoughts. It’s the loss of space.
For you to regain space, without saying “I’m not talking anymore”, one thing is necessary for you – which is the realization that you’ve lost space. Without that, there’s nothing you can do – when you’re so taken over by a stream of thought, that you don’t even know you’ve been taken over by a stream of thought – there’s nothing you can do. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”. They are unconscious. They are the stream of thought. And as the stream of thought, you don’t want it to end – because you don’t want your own end. Every entity wants to remain in form for as long as possible.
If there’s the slightest realization that you’ve lost space, at that moment you have a choice. What is your choice? Your choice is to bring some presence, some space, into the stream of thought. But how do you do that?
It’s coming at you not only from within your own mind, but it’s coming at you from the other person too. The awareness is there, and it may only last three seconds, and then it’s gone again. So you have to use those two or three seconds, where you realize the loss of space, and do something in that space where you have some freedom to act. By a conscious choice, you take your attention out of thinking – but you have to anchor it somewhere else, otherwise it won’t work. So you choose your breath, or your body, or some other sense perception around you that you become aware of. When you are actually talking to another person, it’s probably easiest to either use your breath or your inner body.
Practice this beforehand, when conditions are easier, so that you can do it once it’s necessary. Go into your inner body, feel that your energy field is alive. And you’ll notice, you’re not thinking anymore. You can still listen. The amazing thing is that you can listen to another person, without thinking, easily, beautifully.
You are listening, but part of your attention is on your energy field – so you’ve taken attention away from your thoughts. There is a sense of aliveness in the background.
It’s ultimately formless; it’s already the doorway into the formless. Feel that while you sit there and listen, and you’ve stepped out of the stream of thinking. Then, the quality of the interaction immediately changes. The other person may not consciously notice what’s happening, and may carry on for a while. It also does not mean that you cannot respond anymore. But how you respond and the quality of your response changes, too. You are no longer contributing to the negative nature, which is often the case, in conversations.
A certain amount of stillness, then, will also be a part of the words that you speak. It’s so subtle that the other person probably will not notice it, consciously. So hang on to the inner body, let it be the anchor, and then you become present. If you lose it again, if the other person says something challenging, then after a little while you remember – and you go back into the inner body. That’s a powerful anchor, and then everything changes from there. It takes continuous practice.