Back in the day, I had a difficult time understanding the applications for a mathematical formula known as the
quadratic equation. For the life of me, I couldnít figure out why I needed to learn this string of numbers and
letters, until it was explained to me in a way that fit into my experience, level of understanding, and needs.
("If you want to pass this course...") Eckhart Tolleís audio learning course, The Art of Presence, reminds
me of that learning process. Throughout the seven hours of talks, he explains presence in many different ways
and, through a broad range of examples, to address the experience, understanding, and needs of almost any
While Tolleís teaching comes from no particular religious or philosophical movement, his message does
incorporate ideas from a variety of belief systems. Even though I was familiar with the concept of mindfulness
and "being in the moment," I found that Tolleís choice of words and anecdotes revealed a new way to think about
Tolle encourages us to bring awareness to now, to this moment, to presence. He agrees that "presence" cannot
be defined and points out that thinking about the possible meaning of presence actually pushes understanding of
the term farther away from our grasp.
Throughout the seven hours of lectures on these six CDs, Tolle speaks slowly, frequently pausing as if he has
slipped into presence himself. And thatís okay, as he would tell us. Thereís no need to rush, nowhere more
important to be. This pace allows the listener time to absorb the words, while moments of mild humor sprinkled
throughout the course keep the content light and help illustrate the points being made.
Examples of presence permeate the sessions, each with its own focus. Living With Grace introduces us to
stillness - "consciousness without thought" - and warns us about the danger of mistaking our situation for our
self. Discovering the Extraordinary provides us with Tolleís explanation about the foundation of
addictions. In the session that addresses Relationships, Tolle points out the danger of getting tangled
up in our thoughts. "What you cannot think about in the other person... thatís who they are."
The Pain-Body session is a familiar area for Tolle followers and delves into the reasons we continue
to carry our emotional burdens. Tolle tells us that 99% of thoughts are repetitive - something Iím thinking
about over and over now. Most of these thought re-runs are likely to be the supporting structure for what Tolle
calls the "pain-body," an accumulation of the pain, fear, and negativity that weíve encountered as individuals
and collectively. Mind you, this is not pain that we experience now, but rather the thinking about past pain.
Try to identify it, challenges Tolle. Show me. Point to the pain. Ah! It is only a thought.
A lengthy Questions and Answers session allows participants who were - no pun intended - present when
these talks were recorded asking for suggestions about specific difficulties. Tolleís thoughtful responses,
while covering the same ground traversed in previous sessions, provide another opportunity for listeners to
approach presence from a different direction.
Wrapping up with a session titled Freedom from Time, Tolle asks us to ponder the question, "Is your
life cheap fiction or great literature?" If we werenít motivated to find presence before this, that lecture
alone brings home the need for connecting with presence, with the essence of our selves.
Tolle credits a "profound spiritual transformation" for the radical shift in his life, from conventional
academic to spiritual teacher. His personal experience and demeanor invite respect and trust. While Iím always
leery of those who make their living by dispensing wisdom, I must admit that what Tolle shares in this audio
course is valuable. His message in The Art of Presence is consistent, empowering, and capable of
engendering tremendous positive growth.