|Luke writes: "[Eckhart Tolle's] thesis that 'mind identification' serves as the source for all strife in the world stands squarely at odds with reason as man's only means of knowing and his method of survival."|
Actually, this is not true. To explain why, we have to look at what mind identification consists of, and what the alternatives would be in everyday life.
First, here's a working definition: 'Mind identification' is an unconscious process by which you imbue some transitory aspect of your experience -- a thought, sensation, emotion, etc. -- with your sense of self.
To identify means to 'make same' -- and when you are in a mind-identified state of consciousness, you unconsciously treat many aspects of your experience as though they constitute your self (i.e., you make them the same as your self).
When I say it is an 'unconscious' process, I mean something that you do automatically, perhaps out of habit, perhaps because you've done it enough times that your body and mind now do it for you without requiring you to actually think about what you are doing.
Here are some examples:
1. You meet someone for the first time, and the thought flashes through your mind "He doesn't like me" -- and, before looking at the thought as just a thought, you begin acting as though it were an unquestionable truth.
2. You're supposed to work on your master's thesis today, but you wake up yet again with a vague feeling like "I just don't feel like working on it today" -- and, before looking at the feeling as just a feeling, you proceed to act as though it's just who you are, and, sure enough, you find that you just don't have the motivation to work today.
3. You feel a headache come on. It's been happening a lot lately. Automatically, before looking at the sensation as just a sensation, you begin to tense up against the sensation. This extra tension actually makes the pain worse, which causes you to tense up more, which ultimately results in a terrible headache.
In the first example, you identify with the thought (unconsciously associate your self with it), and proceed to act as though it were true. In the second example, you identify with the emotion (unconsciously associate your self with it), and proceed to experience yourself through the filter of that emotion. In the third example, you identify with the sensation (unconsciously associate your self with it), and your body takes over, causing you to tense up, seemingly without conscious control.
In general terms, this process is similar to the ways in which we project our sense of self onto a movie. When the characters in the movie have a scary encounter, we feel scared. When they achieve an important goal, we feel exalted.
In a movie theater, of course, you can look around you, see the seats, remember that it's a theater, and shake off the emotion. You can dis-identify from the movie.
In the same way, it is possible to dis-identify from thoughts and feelings and emotions. You can have a thought and observe "That's just a thought, it may or may not be true," or an emotion and observe "That's just an emotion, it doesn't mean that's who I am," or a sensation and say "That's a strong unpleasant sensation -- but I don't have to start reacting before my conscious mind arrives on the scene."
Note that this dis-identification doesn't mean you have to dissociate from the experience. Dissociation means shutting the experience out of your awareness; it's the equivalent of getting up and leaving the movie theater.
In dissociation, you move away from your experience. In dis-identification, you move toward the experience. But you can only move toward an experience this way if you have some "you" -- some capacity of an observing awareness -- that is essentially separate from the particular experience in question.
In this way, you can be much more consciously aware of something -- whether a thought or emotion or sensation -- if you are not unconsciously identified with it.
For example, I can be much more rational in responding to a transitory thought if I don't automatically assume it's true. I can deal much more constructively with an emotion if I don't act like it's the sum total of who I am in this moment. And I have much more control over how I react to pain if I become aware of it as a sensation per se, rather than as a de facto home for my sense of self.
As these examples show, it is easier to behave rationally -- to behave as though your "mind is your means of survival" -- if you don't allow unconscious identifications to run your personal life. And that's what breaking mind identification consists of: breaking unconscious identification with individual aspects of your experience.
You may be thinking, "Why does Tolle call this 'mind identification' when it's really unconscious identification? The unconscious has more to do with the body than with the mind."
The short answer is that Tolle (like many people with experience in meditative disciplines) makes a distinction between intensely wakeful awareness (which he calls "presence") and the automatic thoughts and emotions that are spun off automatically by the mind (which he calls "mind stuff").
Tolle encourages us to strengthen our capacity to silently observe our experience, with a high degree of consciousness, in every moment. On a temporary basis, this might mean that you stop "thinking" for a short while, so you can devote more attention to simply observing what's going on. You can come back to thinking later, when your thoughts will be much more clear and incisive, because they're not clouded by mind identification.
Many people find that it is easier to cultivate this kind of conscious presence if you also adopt a meditation practice, in which you deliberately strengthen your ability to observe your experience closely without getting lost in thought.
In my own experience -- and in the experience of several of my closest friends -- this has contributed far more to my ability to be rational, to live consciously, and earn a "face without pain or fear or guilt." I invite you to try it out yourself, without prejudice, and see what you find.
Time permitting, I am happy to answer questions from anyone with genuine interest in the topic.
UPDATE: I've just posted this to my blog, in an entry called "What is Mind Identification?" I'm somewhat more likely to respond to questions over there, since many of my regular readers are interested in this kind of topic.
(Edited by Joshua Zader
on 7/15, 4:15pm)