Eckhart Tolle's Photographs of Nature
Watkins Body Mind Spirit Issue 54
Portals to the profound, mysterious beauty of an enlightened consciousness. Part two of an interview with Eckhart Tolle - by Alexander de Cadenet.
I recall the moment in 2011 when I was excited to see a few of Eckhart’s unfiltered and spontaneous mobile phone photos that had been posted on www.eckharttolle.com. Wow! A chance to see another side of Eckhart’s consciousness manifesting!
My immediate impression was of experiencing some beautiful and peaceful moments within nature - exemplars of the traditional Japanese Buddhist concept of yugen (a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe). I was intrigued and ever since then have wished to see more.
In one image, Eckhart had captured a tiny figure standing on a distant rock almost lost within the landscape and set against a broad earth to sky horizon stretching out behind. In another, he had chosen to photograph a delicate wisp of cloud, as if made from a single, perfectly balanced brush mark expertly executed by a Zen master calligrapher. This photo revealed Eckhart’s own connection to the ‘Great Artist’ as he puts it, the mysterious process of forming or dissolving into ‘nothingness’ - a space filled with potential for the un-manifested to form.
In describing his favourite artworks in Part One of this interview, Eckhart spoke of his interest in paintings of ‘space’, of the ‘vastness of space’ and how certain paintiangs “enable you to have access within yourself to what I call ‘stillness’ or ‘spaciousness’, because this is what the painting emanates”. He also said, “If you approach it with the thinking mind, you will be unaware of that stillness. You might say, “Well, it’s a little boring to look at. Not much there”.
In our competitive, adrenaline-hungry culture of today, I wonder how Eckhart’s photos would fare on Instagram if we didn’t know they were by him? Perhaps people might pass them by as not exciting or daring enough compared to other cliff-hanging, manicured images. You might scroll on past them as being “a little boring” …Yet, herein lies their paradoxical significance.
When you know that they are by Eckhart, you sit with them for a few moments, you start to contemplate and feel them. With a little bit of time and attention, you begin to access something deeper.
Here is a man who experiences the presence or the ‘divine spirit’ that animates nature. He doesn’t need to exaggerate his experiences and he sees no need for special effects or filters. The photos are an opportunity to experience what Eckhart himself has described as, “the extraordinary in the ordinary”. The teaching here is about getting us to a place where we, too, are able to experience what Eckhart experienced when he took the photos.
In this sense, we could describe them as a portal, inviting us all to enter into a world where even in seemingly every day, ordinary moments in nature, one feels inspired and connected to the core of one’s being – the universal consciousness that is responsible for all creation.
Along with some of Eckhart’s recent photos, Part Two features further extracts from the interview, categorized into the various themes explored: The Sky – The Dimension of Spaciousness, Looking at the Stars at Night, Yves Klein’s ‘The Void’, The Intersection between Form and the Formless, Eckhart’s Mobile Phone Photos, The Underlying Harmony, Meditation: Perceiving without Thinking, The Future.
The Sky – The Dimension of Spaciousness
ET: As you know, I am particularly interested in the sky. Although I sometimes also take photos of nature, trees, flowers and sometimes humans in nature. But usually they are very small, relative to the vastness of nature. Let’s talk about the sky for a little while. There is greater significance here than is commonly realized.
The fact that we have a word for it gives the misleading impression that the sky is ‘something’, is a ‘thing’ in the same way that a tree, a cloud, or a table are things. But just because we have a word for it, doesn’t mean that the sky is a thing. It is not a thing! You cannot touch it, or ever claim to have reached it, even if you go up in a balloon or a rocket. So, it could be seen as a visual representation of spaciousness, the formless dimension, which is consciousness itself.
Jesus frequently used the term ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’ (in most languages they are the same word) as a pointer towards a certain state of consciousness.
I have come up with an alternative translation of the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ that, I believe, works better as a pointer for our present age. I translate it as ‘the dimension of spaciousness’. Andthat spaciousness, that stillness, is within you. It is the essence of who you are.The light of the sun, perceived against the darkness of space is, of course, what causes the appearance of what we call ‘sky’. In the middle of the night, the ‘sky’ isn’t really there anymore because when there are no clouds we just look into outer space.The spaciousness thenbecomes even more vast and infinitely deep.
Looking at the Stars at Night
AdeC: That is why you wrote, “Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it?” There’s something about that line that’s just extraordinary to me.
ET: Yes, and the reason is that there is something in you, an inner space of which the outer space is just a reflection so to speak. You would not be awestruck by the vastness of outer space if you could not sense in that moment of contemplation the vastness that is within you. It becomes a moment of self- realization. In that moment, you are awake and alert, but not thinking.
AdeC: And did you ever take any photos at night, of the stars?
ET: Mostly I take photos of the sky during the day time. It’s difficult to take photos of the stars with an iPhone, which is what I use. Also, all you would see is the stars and you would not necessarily be able to sense the infi depth of space when looking at the photo.
Yves Klein's 'The Void'
AdeC: Do you know of Yves Klein, the French artist who did ‘The Void’, the monochrome?
AdeC: One evening in the early 1950s, Klein was lying on his back in the hills behind Nice in the south of France with a fellow artist called Arman. After the sun had set, the sky was becoming darker and darker and there was a point, a special moment between night and day, when it became a deep, luminous blue. As he was lying there he said,“I must give people this experience of just being completely absorbed in this experience of the sky”, or what he later called “The Void."
Inspired by this encounter, Klein developed a way of making monochrome paintings using blue pigment from the lapis lazuli stone. When you look at the monochromes, there’s this feeling of being completely absorbed into space.
ET: That’s wonderful. So, when you contemplate something like that, it’s important to stay with it for a while, to use it almost as a meditation object and then it can take you to a point where the mind becomes still. And if you are able to stay with that, what arises within you is spacious awareness. In a mysterious and almost paradoxical way, you become aware that you are aware. This is the essence of who you are, and it is also the essence of beauty. It is the source of all creativity. Any human being who has not at least had glimpses of that transcendent dimension has missed the purpose of human life altogether.
You could have achieved many things - created a big enterprise, made a lot of money or achieved fame. None of these things will fulfi you or satisfy you for long. The source of true happiness is found in the dimension of self-transcendence. The person that you are is your form-identity. You can honor and appreciate your form-identity, but do not seek to find ultimate satisfaction or happiness through it, unless you want to live in continuous frustration. Only by being rooted in spacious awareness, which is your essence-identity, can you find lasting happiness and fulfilment.
The Intersection between Form and the Formless
AdeC: Are you therefore advocating balance?
ET: Yes. (Laughter).
AdeC: I don’t see a reason why one can’t enjoy the richness of existence.
ET: Yes, exactly. You enjoy the world of form and also you realize that underlying the world of form, there is the deeper dimension that I sometimes call “the formless”. The Buddha calls it ‘emptiness’, which I think is not the best translation of the term ‘sunyata’.
The Buddha’s ‘emptiness’ corresponds exactly to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ of Jesus. It is the inner dimension of spaciousness.
So, you exist on two levels, or we could call it two dimensions. On the one hand, there is the dimension of form. This includes your physical body as well as the person you perceive yourself to be, which is your conditioned mind. All your thinking, all your mental and emotional activity, belongs to the dimension of form. This is the basis for most people’s identity, their sense of who they are. Then, on the other hand, there is the formless or transcendent dimension. You get a glimpse of it, for example, in the gap between twothoughts, when there is a momentary cessation of thinking without loss of consciousness. In other words, you are aware, but not thinking, and you realize thatthe awareness is more essentially who you are than the mind-made entity, the person or the self.
AdeC: You seem to be someone who enjoys the richness of existence, which I suppose belongs to the realm of form. You enjoy life in the world and you also enjoy the sacred formless dimension, which underlies and transcends the world of form. You’re not someone who would be content just to live in one or the other, but you’re very much enjoying both. It’s the ultimate way to live, isn’t it?
ET: Yes. One foot in this world and the other in the transcendent dimension. I love to take photos of the sky, which can become a pointer to that dimension. The clear sky represents pure consciousness, whereas the clouds can be seen as the thoughts that arise in that space of consciousness.
AdeC: Are you taking photos regularly?
Eckhart’s Mobile Phone Photos
ET: (Shows AdeC photo of clouds on the phone). This is on the island in British Columbia where we have a place. The sky is like a canvas on which the Great Artist continuously creates new and beautiful paintings.
So first you appreciate the beauty of the forms, such as the cloud formations or the landscape, and then you become aware of the empty sky, the underlying formlessness that enables the forms to be. You become aware of the surrounding emptiness. As you focus on both form and the formless, a balance arises within you.
AdeC: It’s lovely and I think that it’s another way of manifesting or experiencing your reality that other people can enjoy and be inspired by.
ET: Yes, it’s true. It’s such a beautiful creation. It’s only there for a minute and it changes and then it disappears completely. We learn to appreciate the world of form and its ephemeral nature. The continuous flux of birth and death, creation and dissolution, the arising of forms out of the formless and their return into formlessness.
The Underlying Harmony
AdeC: Do you still occasionally experience a satori or ‘kairos’ moment when you’re absorbed in nature for example?
ET: Yes. At times, there is suddenly an intensification of ‘presence’ – as I call it. Sometimes the mind is totally out of the way and all there is, is a deep stillness which, at the same time, is also joy and aliveness. There is a deep peace and a knowing that no matter what you might see on the surface of life in this world, there is an underlying harmony and there is a deeper knowing that all is well, despite what they might say on the news tonight. (Laughter).
AdeC: (Laughter). That’s a wonderful thing. I’ve always felt that your philosophy of life is a very positive one and it’s always about enjoying what is available to us in any moment, as opposed to concentrating on what we don’t have. It’s all about gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of existence.
ET: Yes, exactly, it’s why we are here. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point of the consciousness of the universe. You are the universe recognizing itself and its creations.
When you are out in nature and become aware of the beauty of a tree or a flower, since everything is interconnected, it means that the tree or the flower recognizes itself through you.
It’s almost as if the entire planet becomes more aware through you. It’s not just the individual that becomes aware, although it may look like that on the surface, but when the awareness arises in you, the entire planet becomes more aware, more conscious. There is such a thing as planetary consciousness, which is an aspect of the One consciousness.
This is why there is an ancient saying in Buddhism according to which every blade of grass will eventually become enlightened.
Meditation: Perceiving without Thinking
AdeC: when you’re taking photos, are you sometimes meditating? Do you actively meditate?
ET: No, not as a formal thing, because a lot of the time I’m in the state of thoughtless awareness. I might even be walking in a city street and just perceive everything without thinking, which is basically the meditative state.
Occasionally, I might just enjoy closing my eyes, but I never think of it in terms of “I’m now doing a meditation”.
AdeC: It’s just part of everyday life. It’s integrated.
ET: Yes. And one of the main things that prevents spiritual seekers from truly realizing that state is the thought, ‘I’m now going to meditate’. Because when you have the idea “I’m going to do a meditation” or “I’m doing meditation”, that in itself is misleading because any notion of doing implies that you’re trying to get somewhere or achieve something. It implies future. The true meditative state is not achieved through doing, and in fact you cannot achieve it. It is the realization of being. This is intrinsically connected, of course, with the present moment.
AdeC: Yes of course, because you’re already there…
AdeC: Do you think about how you would like things to be in the future, for future
generations? Is that the next stage or are you just concentrating on what’s going on now?
ET: I have no particular goal for myself, although on a practical level we have now set up a foundation to enable the teaching to reach even more people, especially those who might not come into contact with it otherwise, such as people in prisons, in old people’s homes,
in hospitals, hospices, colleges etc. So, on a practical level, there are certain aims and goals, but mainly the teaching just unfolds and the books will be there as long as they are needed.
When they are not needed anymore, when people say “This is so evident, we don’t need to read this anymore”, that would be wonderful. When will this point come? I don’t know.
It’s amazing that some books, some great classics, are still read 2000 years after they were written. One of my favorite books, for example, is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It was written 2,000 years ago and it’s still as alive and relevant as it was then. (By the way, despite the title, it’s not a book about meditation, but about living consciously). Now if that happens to The Power of Now or A New Earth, it would mean that in the year 4000 people would still be reading those books.
However, my hope is that they won’t need them anymore, that the state of consciousness they point to….
AdeC: …is already in existence and self-evident?
ET: Yes. We’ll see…
MEET THE AUTHORS:
ECKHART TOLLE’S profound yet simple teachings have helped countless people throughout the world fi inner peace and greater fulfilment in their lives. At the core of the teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution. His books, The Power of Now and the highly acclaimed follow- up A New Earth are two of the best-selling Mind, Body, Spirit books in the world. A pioneer in using technology to disseminate his teachings, Eckhart gives monthly talks, live meditations and answers questions from viewers through EckhartTolleTV.com
ALEXANDER DE CADENET is an artist working primarily with sculpture, photography and painting. His artworks explore philosophical and spiritual themes which often combine a mischievous, humorous tone with deeper, more profound insights. In 2017, he set up The Awakened Artists Group, inspired by a meeting with Eckhart Tolle, which is a platform for artists to share the spiritual dimension of their art practice. On the web: alexanderdecadenet.com