Eckhart Tolle's Litmus Test For Spiritual Maturity

Whether Eastern or Western, religious or secular, spiritual teachers often try to capture or articulate the state of spiritual maturity in language to provide a guiding light for others still struggling with their own particular forms of suffering.

In the Christian tradition we use terms like the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven (mostly in Matthew’s Gospel written for a Jewish audience, so the use of the word “God” was forbidden – the two can really be understood interchangeably).

Throughout the centuries mystics, poets, and writers used different metaphors for this blessed state of being: the inner castle, the rose of flame, the grail. These are metaphors for what awaits us at the end of our spiritual journey, after disciplined inner work.

Contemporary teacher Eckhart Tolle tries to articulate something similar, but focuses less on the journey or process itself, and tries to cut through misunderstanding brought about by the religious metaphor of ancient writings, opting instead of direct speech for the contemporary mind.

To describe this quality of being the transformed person experiences, he uses the simple word Presence. It is both a discipline and an experience. We might compare it to St. Paul’s invitation to pray without ceasing, remaining constantly vigilant of the mind generated distractions from the divine presence, which is always to be found in the present moment.

Contemplatives teach of an interior silence where we experience the presence and action of God. Tolle himself writes of a kind of transfiguration experience after a night he came close to suicide.

He now speaks to packed auditoriums, never reading off of notes, and has sold millions on millions of books, ever maintaining a simplistic lifestyle and helping others.

His focus is simply on staying fully present, without getting drawn into the mind’s egoic games.

Once we’ve had this kind of awakening experience in which we realize the divine is always and ever right now, just as the Christian tradition teaches Christ is all times and everywhere present, there is nothing to fear, outrun, or achieve. We are able to simply be.

Christian contemplatives, too, write of the neutral space of openness and acceptance once we allow our inmost being to become deeply saturated by silence.

Tolle describes three states of being we experience when we are fully present. In a sense, these are like the litmus test for spiritual maturity. Are we still judging, assessing, rejecting, drawn into the mind’s games, or are we open and loving?

The three states of being or three modes for the person abiding in presence are: Acceptance, Joy, and Enthusiasm.

It’s as if these three states simply differ in degree, not in kind.

In a state of Acceptance we are still present to the life and movement around us, the dynamics and interplay of the ten thousand things available to the senses, the dance of light, the sound of water, the crunch of shoes on a pathway. These simple things delight.

In a state of Joy can be spontaneous or experienced in a particular context, but is an upwelling within, and finally of course, enthusiasm is usually an experience we have in the face of some kind of change, and is often a shared experience.

On my own path I’ll occasionally become aware of a state of anger or resentment or disappointment and recognize right now, I’m not in a state of spiritual maturity, of openness, of presence, not because some teacher wrote about it, not because Eckhart said so, but because I’ve had that experience of non-judgmental awareness, of pure being, and the simple joy that comes out of that state. May we grow in our capacity to abide in that.

Going Further

Eckhart Tolle on Settling Into Presence
Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth
Contemplative Light’s Contemplative Practices Course