“You can stop worry simply by acknowledging the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. Feel your inner energy field.” Eckhart Tolle (from A New Earth)
OK, I tried to stop worrying and it didn’t work. So “acknowledging” the “present moment” really has to be fleshed out so we can get a grasp of what’s involved here. “Acknowledging” is another word for Bare Attention. Now bare attention in Zen if Prajna, the aroused mind that doesn’t rest on form or thoughts or beliefs, or even the thought of self as a person. Bare Attention is like the white board upon which thoughts write. It is aware of the writing, but doesn’t think about it, have any opinion about it; bare attention doesn’t move. Bare attention is the pond prior to ripples, but here again the pond is not before the ripple in time, so you can’t get back to bare attention because the desire to get to bare attention is another ripple in bare attention.
A better analogy is blue sky. Clouds of worry cross the blue sky, and we identify with the could of worry, and we can even worry that we’ve lost bare attention. Bare Attention is Being or existence aware of itself, but not itself as a thing, which is a cloud. Bare Attention is Now, in Tolle terms.
So bare attention is like a wide angle lens that takes in everything, that doesn’t focus on anything, a panoramic view where everything is in focus, and nothing is special or objective. Bare Attention is allowing, so when one’s reference or center of consciousness shifts from identifying with worry clouds to blue sky of bare attention, the clouds cannot stand because you are not identifying with them. It is your identification with worry that sustains it.
So Tolle says to shift your attention to that which is not thinking: breathing and raw body sensation. But here’s the trick, the practice: If you focus on your breathing in order to escape worry, that is not bare attention. Bare attention is aware of your effort to get bare attention. The practice keeps you constantly backing up, saying bare attention is not this…not this.
A whirlpool is a good metaphor for worry. Worry is a whirlpool in the water of the mind. It sucks all thought into it, swirling around a vortex that is deep and empty. As word increases we feel we are being sucking into oblivion, and we panic for lack of something solid to hold onto. In worry the mind devours itself like two mirrors reflecting each other into infinity. Worry is self-generating, like when you put a mike next to an amplifier. The more the mind tries to stop worry, the greater worry grows.
At some point, the energy worry generates is greater than the whirlpool can hold, or greater than the amplifier can hold, and the system explodes in a nervous breakdown or violence.
Sticking with the whirlpool metaphor; when we are in the whirlpool identifying with thought, we are being sucked into the vortex. But a sudden Tolle Shift in view point can put us on the bank of the river observing the whirlpool objectively, while at the same time being in the whirlpool. This shift in view point is a shift to bare attention or bare awareness that is not thought. Suddenly, you are not the whirlpool, even though the whirlpool is still there. But when your identify is withdrawn, the whirlpool no longer is energized by your identity with it, and it begins to recede.