John F. Kennedy University Top Minds: Dr. Charles Burack & Dr. Karen Jaenke

The Writings of Eckhart Tolle

Dr. Charles Burack is a professor in the College of Psychology and Dr. Karen Jaenke is the chair of Consciousness and Transformative Studies at JFKU. In this video, the two professors discuss the importance of Tolle’s teachings and the benefits of being present and quieting the chattering mind.

Charles Burack:

My name is Chuck Burack, and I’m a professor and core faculty in the Consciousness and Transformative Studies Program.

Karen Jaenke:

I’m Karen Jaenke, and I’m the chair of the Consciousness and Transformative Studies Program.

Eckhart Tolle is an author. He grew up in Germany and then went to, I think, University of London. At 29, he had this spiritual awakening experience and then subsequently became a teacher about 10 years later, started doing teachings. He’s sold millions of books. He’s very popular. I have a friend, who is actually gonna join us, who just did one of his trainings in Norway where there were 800 people.

He teaches from his own life experience, his own inner experiences. He’s not tied to any religious or spiritual tradition, which, I think, is part of what makes him interesting because the language he uses is just very much everyday language. Not tied to a lot of references in spiritual texts or fancy language. It’s very accessible to ordinary people. I think, for that reason, his work has really caught on. It’s something that anybody, he says anybody could connect with and work with his ideas.

One of his main ideas is to differentiate, really two different aspects of the mind. One is the mind that is trying to solve a practical problem, and it’s utilized in information gathering and analyzing, etc. The other part of the mind, which is the dysfunctional part of the mind, is sort of that constant inner chatter, those inner tapes that we let run all the time. Usually, those inner tapes and inner chatter is negative thinking, critical thinking, and it’s thinking that separates us from other people and the world.

He makes that distinction, and then he also makes a distinction between mind and consciousness. He says that consciousness is basically a deeper intelligence than the mind and that the mind arises out of consciousness. The mind is dependent on consciousness, but consciousness is not dependent on the mind. When you’re able to quiet this chattering mind and disidentify from that part of the mind, you drop into consciousness or being. He believes that that is our original nature, our true nature as a human being, and that, as long as we’re caught in that chattering mind, which is also … another word for that would be the ego or the false self, we create suffering for ourselves because we create separation between ourselves and the world and kind of a world of duality. When we drop back into this deeper level of consciousness, the quiet mind, we enter into stillness and peace.

Charles Burack:

I think that Tolle’s teachings are very important for our time because we live at a time when the mind itself is emphasized, whether it’s using our minds in business, using our minds in school. We’re basically always caught up in our thoughts. He associates the mind with thought that’s concept-based. When we’re thinking in words, when we’re thinking in numbers, even when we’re thinking in images. Consciousness is when you let go of thought that’s based on concepts. You let go of thought that’s based on images. You let go of thought that’s based on numbers, and you drop into a kind of observational mind, a kind of witnessing consciousness.

That’s something that’s not very easy for people to do because we’re encouraged to use our minds, be caught up in our thoughts, be caught up in our concepts, our images. This idea of dropping our thoughts, dropping our images, dropping our logic, that’s not very easy for a lot of us since we’re socialized, we’re conditioned, we’re educated to sort of be in the mind. Even our whole understanding of intelligence is about using the mind to analyze, to compare, to quantify, and so on. But he’s really saying, let that go. Drop into a kind of primordial awareness, a kind of pre-conceptual presence that allows us just to observe, to feel, to be present.

That really does take some effort, and it also takes some training. Sometimes I think that Tolle maybe makes it look a little too simple, like it’s an easy thing just to kind of drop your mind and sync into that awareness because our minds are so filled with chatter. We’re surrounded by technology that encourages that inner chatter, as well as outer chatter. This idea of quieting down the mind, getting into a place of stillness is very difficult to do. And that’s why, for example, something like meditation or mindfulness practice or some other kind of mind cultivation practice is really necessary in order to be able to drop that kind of chattering mind.

Karen Jaenke:

The timeless spiritual teachings need to be retold in the language and with the struggles that people live in in their own time. I think Chuck spoke to that, in terms of talking about how much we’re conditioned to be in our mind and our incessant thought process that takes us away from a deep presence or being. That’s really the heart of his teaching.

In the book, he gives a lot of practices about how to do this, so it’s not just a theory. One of the first practices he offers is basically the way to get out of this chattering mind is to just start observing it. Develop a part of your consciousness that is watching the mind as it talks and noticing it. Then you’ve already created a separation, a beginning separation from that chattering mind, and that’s the beginning of awareness or presence. That’s a doorway right there.

Ultimately, the goal is that you would have that observing presence all the time, observing your emotional reactions, observing your thought processes. That way, you’re not embedded in the reactive part of the self or the chattery, noisy part of the self.

Observe the chatter.

Exactly. And that one step is just the critical shift because you’re already … It’s all about this identifying from this chattery mind, and as soon as you start observing it, he says you’ve shifted some of your psychic energy into awareness or consciousness and out of this busy mind that keeps you embedded in the world, keeps you separate from the world. And really, he says, is the source of all suffering or most of suffering is when we’re identified with this chatter.

Charles Burack:

One of the things that he says about the observer or the witness that I like that sometimes in some ways differentiates him from some other teachings are that he doesn’t emphasize being detached. In other words, you don’t step back and look at things. He wants you to feel. He wants you to be connected to your body. It’s not a kind of observation from afar, where you’re detached and you’re cut off from your feelings. You’re actually present to your feelings, present to your body, and in fact, he encourages you to always have part of your awareness on your inner body or inner sense. What does it feel like in your gut right now? What’s happening in your chest right now? As you’re connecting in the outer world to have part of your attention on the inside.

John F. Kennedy University’s Top Minds Video Series

The Top Minds series features video interviews of JFK University professors who are preeminent thinkers in cutting-edge fields. From virtual reality to gender identity, housing policy to somatic psychology, these interviews feature experts speaking candidly about the work they’re best known for and make knowledge accessible and available to the public. Each installment is geared toward offering unique insight into some of the most important questions facing human society today.