A friend recently asked me to elaborate on an Eckart Tolle quote he found opaque. These things are always hyper-subtle semantic issues, so to someone who does not have the appropriate perspective an author can appear to contradict even themselves. In this case, the quote does lend itself to misinterpretation, but that in its own way speaks to the reality of our daily lives.
I’m not sure what context the quote is from or even if it is necessarily accurate, but that is inconsequential when our point is to clarify its meaning. The quote goes: “When you no longer believe everything you think, you become aware and realize that the thinker is not who you are.” Whether you think you do or think you don’t understand that, I’ll try to be useful to everyone.
Imagine you are a computer. You’re beautifully built out of the very best parts and you’re sitting in a popular location where a few primary programmers are responsible for you (but a lot of different programmers will still have access to you). You have received all of the popular programs like How to Operate A Physical Body, Language, Reason, Basic Physics, even Regional Cultural Norms and Beliefs like Hip TV Shows and Bands, popular hairdos, etc. etc.
Along with those very useful programs came some viruses. These programs don’t accomplish anything—they just use up the computer’s resources and prevent it from playing more music, or watching more movies, or playing more games, or completing more work. These are programs like Guilt, Resentment, Pride, Envy, Jealousy, and Desire.
Now imagine that you are running all kinds of software all the time, and then some person loads in a copy of Philosophical Questions from Scott. And as you run that program, you develop some new and very abstract concepts. Let us say this special programming results in sentience. Let us say you the computer is aware. Let us say this computer has consciousness.
A conscious computer. So what would it be conscious of? Well, the only thing it’s doing is running software, so it would become aware of that. It would become aware of its own thinking. It would become aware of the fact that other people would have used actions and language to load programs or pathways into the wide open innocence of the computer’s physical memory. And the very nature of those pathways means we are cut off from other possibilities. In short, pure potentiality gets replaced by pre-wired ideas.
So while there is undoubtedly a much larger world out there, the world as any computer knows it is created by the programming, not the computer. Which means that any computer could have any software. Which means that every computer could potentially have been any other computer. Do you see why Enlightened people are quite peaceful? What sense does it make for two computers to argue?
Can you see that if you truly recognize that you’ve been programmed by experience to be who you are, and you also recognize your own lack of control over almost all of that programming, then everyone instantly becomes innocent—including you. Your mistakes cease to exist because they are only temporary calculations made by the computer. Yes, ultimately many of us are running valuable programs while others run viruses or violence, but even if they are running viruses, that’s still not the computer’s fault.
You think from a perspective. That perspective is not you, that is your ego. The real you is expansive and capable of being anyone, just as you were as a baby. Your ego is necessarily created as a byproduct of you moving through the universe. There is no way to move through life without our experiences leaving a footprint on the ego. Fortunately we can work around most of those. But there is no way around the fact that they will colour how you see the world. But that’s no more or less valid than anyone else’s way of viewing things, so stop trying to be neutral or perfect and stop trying to change other people’s programming and instead just be you. You have to be someone. So have a perspective. Just don’t take it too seriously.
You are not your thoughts. You are expansive and capable. You are the infinite possibility of the light, being projected by your consciousness onto the screen of your reality, and what you see is the results of your programming. Don’t take that programming too seriously. But do remember to enjoy your time while the power’s on.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.