Early this morning (5 a.m. to be precise) – after I took my dogs out for a walk (Lucy needed a walk desperately, she’s 15 and you can’t argue with her), and after I realized that I was locked out of the building, and couldn’t reach my loft mate, Abigail, who was sound asleep, I was able to borrow someone’s cell phone and wake her up. I happened to go on Facebook when I couldn’t fall back to sleep, and was IM’d by a friend in Spain, who told me that he was reading Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth” – and that he was loving it. I had started the book a year or so ago and stopped after about thirty pages. For some reason I decided to pick it up again and read it. Perhaps because last night had been a difficult night for me and my dreams had been rather upsetting, I must have felt the need to read Tolle. So I re-read the first thirty or so pages that I didn’t remember at all, and then eventually came to this section, which deeply resonated for me:
“The Peace That Passes All Understanding
There are many accounts of people who experienced that emerging new dimension of consciousness as a result of tragic loss at some point in their lives. Some lost all of their possessions, others their children or spouse, their social position, reputation, or physical abilities. In some cases, through disaster or war, they lost all of these simultaneously and found themselves with “nothing.” We may call this a limit-situation. Whatever they had identified with, whatever gave them their sense of self, had been taken away. Then suddenly, inexplicably, the anguish or intense fear they initially felt gave way to a sacred sense of Presence, a deep peace and serenity and complete freedom from fear. This phenomenon must have been familiar to St. Paul, who used the expression ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding.’ It is indeed a peace that doesn’t seem to make sense, and the people who experienced it asked themselves: In the face of this, how can it be that I feel such peace?
The answer is simple, once you realize what the ego is and how it works. When forms that you had identified with, that gave you your sense of self, collapse or are taken away, it can lead to a collapse of the ego, since ego is identification with form. When there is nothing to identify with anymore, who are you? When forms around you die or death approaches your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter. You realize your essential identity as formless, as an all-pervasive Presence, of Being prior to all forms, all identifications. You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness had identified with. That’s the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not that I am this or that, but I Am.
Not everybody who experiences great loss also experiences this awakening, this disidentification from form. Some immediately create a strong mental image or thought form in which they see themselves as victim, whether it be of circumstances, other people, an unjust fate, or God. This thought form and the emotions it creates, such as anger, resentment, self-pity, and so on, they strongly identify with, and it immediately takes the place of all the other identifications that have collapsed through the loss. In other words, the ego quickly finds a new form. The fact that this new form is a deeply unhappy one doesn’t concern the ego too much, as long as it has an identity, good or bad. In fact, this new ego will be more contracted, more rigid and impenetrable than the old one.
Whenever tragic loss occurs, you either resist or you yield. Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise, and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side, life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary, your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen. If no action is possible, you rest in the peace and inner stillness that comes with surrender. You rest in God.”
When I read this I had a deep inner sensation that this is exactly what has happened to me this past year. I lost all the external ego identifications: daughter, wife, mother (Zoe moved to San Francisco), a member of a couple, a worker among workers. I lost a home, many of the “things” that I thought mattered to me and I came to realize didn’t matter at all. I basically had to re-invent myself. And yet there is a sense of inner peace I’ve never experienced before. Really. Last summer, when I was in the thick of it all, a friend of mine said to me, “Tragedy becomes you.” Now I know why.
When you think about this in a larger sense – in Haiti for example, I wonder how most people cope with so much loss.