9 Aha! Moments that blow Oprah off the Screen
1977: Eckhart Tolle
Raised near Koln, Germany as Ulrich Tolle, he was on a research scholarship at the University of London when he had a spontaneous, life-changing experience. Like the Indian mystic Krishnamurti, it happened to him at the age of 29. Years of depression and anxiety had brought Tolle to the brink of suicide. After a literal dark night of the soul he woke up the next morning permanently infused with a profound sense of peace.
He abandoned academia, drifted for two years — and through the power of his personal presence, began to attract a clients seeking counseling. In 1993, he moved to Vancouver, Canada and began writing The Power of Now, which went on to become a modern spiritual classic — and sold more than two million copies.
IN HIS OWN WORDS, Tolle's Aha! Moment:
It all changed one night when I woke up in the middle of the night. The fear, anxiety and heaviness of depression were becoming so intense, it was almost unbearable. And it is hard to describe that “state” where the world is felt to be so alien, just looking at a physical environment like a room. Everything was totally alien and almost hostile. I later saw a book written by Jean-Paul Sartre called Nausea. That was the state that I was in, nausea of the world. [Chuckle] And the thought came into my head, “I can’t live with myself any longer.” That thought kept repeating itself again and again.
And (then suddenly there was a “standing back” from the thought and Looking at that thought, at the structure of that thought,” If I cannot live with myself, who is that self that I cannot live with? Who am I? Am I one—or two?” And I saw that I was “two.” There was an “I,” and (here was a self. And the self was deeply unhappy, the miserable self. And the burden of that I could not live with. At that moment, a dis-identification happened. “I” consciousness withdrew from its identification with the self, the mind-made fictitious entity, the unhappy “little me” and its story. And the fictitious entity collapsed completely in that moment, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What remained was a single sense of presence or “Beingness” which is pure consciousness prior to identification with form—the eternal I AM. I didn’t know all of that at the time, of course. It just happened, and for a long time there was no understanding of what had happened.
As the self collapsed, there was still a moment of intense fear—after all, it was the death of “me.” I felt like being sucked into a hole. But a voice from within said, “Resist nothing.” So I let go. It was almost like I was being sucked into a void, not an external void, but a void within. And then fear disappeared and there was nothing that I remember after that except waking up in the morning in a state of total and complete “newness.”
I woke up in a state of incredible inner peace, bliss in fact. With my eyes still closed, I heard the sound of a bird and realized how precious that was. And then I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight coming through the curtains and felt: There is far more to that than we realize. It felt like love coming through the curtains. And then as I walked around the old familiar objects in the room I realized I had never really seen them before. It was as if I had just been born into this world; a state of wonder. And then I went for a walk in the city. I was still in London. Everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic. [Chuckle]
I knew something incredible had happened, although I didn’t understand it. I even started writing down in a diary, “Something incredible has happened. I just want to write this down,” I said, “in case it leaves me again or I lose it.” And only later did I realize (that my thought processes after waking up that morning had been reduced by about eighty to ninety percent. So a lot of the time I was walking around in a state of inner stillness, and perceiving the world through inner stillness.
And that is the peace, the deep peace that comes when there is no longer anybody commenting on sense perceptions or anything that happens. No labeling, no need to interpret what is happening, it just is as it is and it is fine. [Laughter] There was no longer a “me” entity.
NEXT: Dr. Richard Alpert, 1967