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The Art of Presence

by Eckhart Tolle

      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 listener.

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 these possibilities.

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.

The Book

Sounds True
September 2007
Audio 6CDs / 7 Hrs
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The Reviewer

Deborah Adams
Reviewed 2007
NOTE: Reviewer Deborah Adams is the Flair and Macavity Award winning author of the Jesus Creek Mystery Series: All The Great Pretenders, All The Crazy Winters, All The Dark Disguises, All The Hungry Mothers, All The Deadly Beloved, All The Blood Relations, and All The Dirty Cowards. She was also an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel.
© 2007