oil painting by author: "White Cap" (detail)
What is the best way to arrest our skid toward extinction? How to live an ethical life? How do we advance “spiritually”? How do we create the shift necessary to avoid nuclear war, war in general, alleviate poverty, eliminate pollution and unsustainable practices? I have always been suspicious of one-sentence or one-word answers to big questions but Tolle’s take on these questions overcomes my skepticism as it embodies the beauty of simplicity and a strategy to address the full range of critical issues that plague the human family. As with all simple answers elaboration is required.
Tolle's statement can begin that elaboration, “...there are many questions but only one answer...”, presence. How do I respond to my perception that the momentum of history is leading us toward extinction? That the quest for profits, power and privilege, or mere survival, is devouring the life system? That the most successful in that quest use their considerable influence to insure that no alternative way of organizing ourselves gets a fair hearing, that their preferred mode undergoes no serious questioning? This is accomplished via their ownership of media and disproportionate impact on the political system and other institutional life.
We can use our minds to create strategies to propagate alternatives, we might do that. The traditional resistence to the oppressor, cited even in the bible, in one of its many moods, “When the spirit of the ruler moves against thee, yield not.” But what we are inspired to do out of presence is not predictable which is why Tolle doesn’t advocate specific actions like blocking logging operations, whaling ships, war materials and demonstrations. Get present, then, connected to the self-evident intelligence out of which flows evolution, you’ll know what to do. It could be those actions, it could be others, but it is known only through stillness.
On some level reality can be conceived as a frequency array. Human consciousness, or unconsciousness, can be seen as part of this array, anger vibrating at a different frequency than affection, judgment different from acceptance… and presence, the state of non-thinking awareness, is a frequency we can call joy or peace. An agitated angry self-righteous demand for peace is little different, frequency-wise, than a similar demand for war. The frequency array is shifted by mere presence and one’s contribution to that is the ultimate form of activism. Presence is the state we enter when obsessive thinking is stilled. That is attained by simply noticing the chatter, bringing it into consciousness where it dissolves, transforms into presence.
Now in presence, in the stillness of being, there eventually comes an impulse, an enthusiasm to act and that is the answer to the question, what to do.