Perhaps you’ve experienced a deep sense of presence while walking alone in nature or in silent meditation—but is it possible to bring this quality of relaxed and open acceptance into our relationships? In this excerpt from his new audio retreat, Eckhart Tolle discusses the challenge of truly meeting another human being—and how to make that connection through the art of presence.
When you meet fellow human beings, maintain the background of aware stillness in your perception of the other. It's easy to do in nature with a tree or flower. It's more difficult with other humans because of our noisy minds.
In most cases, when you meet another, you are meeting an egoic entity that doesn't know who they are. They think they are their personal story and that they need something to fulfill themselves. They have fears of all kinds, and interpret you through the eyes of their conditioning.
So in your interaction with others, it's essential to be there as presence and not as a labeling mind. One way to do this is to feel your inner energy field, or sense what I call the “inner body” as an entry point into presence. Following the breath with your attention enables you to feel presence as a whole body phenomenon—and, ultimately, sense presence as it transcends even the body and the world of phenomena. The mind will resist, but do it anyway.
You'll feel an aliveness in this energy field: that's your anchor. If you can sense the inner body when you're facing another human being (somebody you've never met before or someone you know) there is a moment of perhaps three seconds in which you just look at them. In that looking there is stillness. There is no judging. There is just a field of presence. It is then that you truly meet another human being. You connect on a deeper level.
And that is only possible when you're not lost in or reacting to the world of form—the form of that person, which is either their external appearance or their psychological form. When you meet someone and bring to the interaction a space of no thought, a space of consciousness—just looking or listening—the awareness goes beyond the looking and the listening; there is actually a flow of energy between you—a totally different energy from a normal interaction between thinking minds.
Here you have a very different frequency between two humans. It's a peaceful, alive energy field that connects you, in which the two of you momentarily become one. And even if the other human has no idea what's going on, he or she may simply feel suddenly free, not judged.
A greater challenge than meeting a stranger is meeting somebody with whom you share a little past. The more past you share, the harder it can be because old thinking and behavior patterns will want to come back in. It is enormously liberating when you can meet somebody you know without bringing in the past as an active operating principle. Instead of meeting the other person as a walking personal history, you meet them just in this moment, through the power of this moment—which is the power of presence, and who you really are.
For example, many of us did not grow up in a conscious family, and in many cases resentment builds up over the years between family members. The same reactions may happen during every visit—you have a fight and leave. And then one day you meet each other—and you feel the inner body at the same time. You remain anchored in the Now.
If you do this, you'll find that it's hard for someone to keep playing out the old script if you aren't playing anymore. In presence, you become free of that which you thought you needed when you were identified with thought; you don't need anything, psychologically speaking. With presence comes acceptance—a compassionate acceptance of what is—because with presence you have found inner space . . . formless consciousness . . . peace.