Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Noticing the Gaps

--by Eckhart Tolle (Jan 11, 2010)

In the first moment of seeing something or hearing a sound -- and more so if it is unfamiliar -- before the mind names or interprets what you see or hear there is usually a gap of alert attention in which the perception occurs. That is the inner space. Its duration differs from person to person. It is easy to miss because in many people those spaces are extremely short, perhaps only a second or less.

This is what happens: a new sight or sound arises, and in the first moment of perception, there is a brief cessation in the habitual stream of thinking. Consciousness is diverted away from thought because it is required for sense perception. A very unusual sight or sound may leave you "speechless" -- even inside, that is to say, bring about a longer gap.

The frequency and duration of those spaces determine your ability to enjoy life, to feel an inner connectedness with other human beings as well as nature. It also determines the degree to which you are free of ego because ego implies complete unawareness of the dimension of space.

When you become conscious of these brief spaces as they happen naturally, they will lengthen, and as they do, you will experience with increasing frequency the joy of perceiving with little or no interference of thinking. […]

Inner space also arises whenever you let go of the need to emphasize your form-identity. That need is of the ego. It is not a true need. […]

Here are some ways in which people unconsciously try to emphasize their form-identity. If you are alert enough, you may be able to detect some of these unconscious patterns within yourself: demanding recognition for something you did and getting angry or upset if you don’t get it; trying to get attention by talking about your problems, the story of your illness, or making a scene, giving your opinion when nobody has asked for it and it makes no difference to the situation; being more concerned with how the other person sees you than with the other person, which is to say using other people for egoic reflection or as ego enhancers […] taking things personally, feeling offended; making yourself right and others wrong through futile mental complaining; wanting to be seen, or appear important.

Once you have detected such a pattern within yourself, I suggest that you conduct an experiment, Find out what it feels like and what happens if you let go of that pattern. Just drop it and see what happens.

De-emphasizing who you are on the level of form is another way of generating consciousness. Discover the enormous power that flows through you into the world when you stop emphasizing your form identity.

-- Eckhart Tolle, from "A New Earth"


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

Previous Reflections:

On Jan 11, 2010 Shreeja wrote:

An interesting fact explained  so well.

On Jan 12, 2010 Archie wrote:

To be totally in the present moment without any past or future attached to it is the KEY.  Innernetweekly is a great way to bring one back to the self.  Thank you for the inspirations!

On Jan 12, 2010 joy wrote:

Im going to try this experiment......

On Jan 12, 2010 Conrad wrote:

This is exactly what I needed to read.  I'm attempting to show my ego almost all the time in an unaware manner.  After reading what you sent, I am more aware of it. After several years, I continue to be inspired and enlightened by what you send.  You have my gratitude.  Warm and kind regards.  Conrad

On Jan 12, 2010 SK wrote:

Tolle hits upon an important cause of misery and unhappiness in the world in the latter half where he mentions a few examples to illustrate how people unconsciously try to emphasize their form-identity. He recommends detection and discontinuation of these unconscious patterns.

 In making this assertion, he introduces an inherent contradiction with the first part of the write-up, where he emphasizes that the ability to enjoy life depends on the frequency and duration of ‘gap in alert attention’ or ‘inner space’ when the thought process of consciousness is interrupted. This initial portion along with the expression ‘frequency the joy of perceiving with little or no interference of thinking’ seems to indicate that thought is an impediment to happiness.
The unconscious pattern happen because there is no ‘in the present moment’ thought process involved and old fixed patterns just play out in the consciousness. It is the intervention of thought that makes us aware of these patterns creating an opportunity to change these patterns.
It is possible that Tolle did not intend this contradiction, or it may not seem a contradiction unless interpreted more literally. Nevertheless, I would prefer not to label thought or thinking in negative terms, and not necessarily consider it as an ego-enhancing activity. To achieve the goal of breaking the unconscious patterns as suggested by Tolle, the thought process does not have to be interrupted but rooted in higher degree of awareness.

On Jan 13, 2010 lynneann wrote:

 Noticing the gaps, was a wake up moment for me. Thank you for the opportunity to hear...

warmly, Lynne


On Jan 18, 2010 Zahid wrote:

Inspiration is Denying self Betrayal.............

On Jan 18, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

It was great to have Neil open today. He spoke vividly about how baseball hitters are able to get into the zone, where they can see the seams of the ball (which is hurtling down at breackneck speed toward them). Getting into the zone is about being able to slow down our minds and take in a much bigger view of what is happening in front of us.

Pavi shared a succinct observation - between the stimulus and the response lies a space. When we slow down, we begin to notice this space, and realize that we can choose our response. To me, this is the freedom that mystics and saints talk about. To realize that I create my own reality, not at the level of philosophical platitudes but at the level of practical reality, is a great realization. To keep that realization at every moment is an ideal to aspire for. Much happiness can be determined in our lives by doing so.

I liked all the different examples in which my ego plays out. I could find myself raising my hand several times. I would add that feeling guilty about the past is another big activity for the ego. Who is guilty and about what? I have deviated from my self-image and am devastated. This is one of the biggest time-sinks we can engage in. Every time I've been in this mode, all it has taken is one simple question - who is feeling guilty? And immediately, the foolishness of the time spent feeling sorry for myself becomes evident.

On Jan 18, 2010 Pancho wrote:

My family calls me Pancho and I'd like you to know that I love you all...

Somehow to be surrounded by angels facilitates the flow of inspiration. Particularly last Wednesday, I felt an interesting touch of art and science at the time when the microphone reached me. An emergence of the Beloved One using me as a tool:

1. The Primordial Gap: the Breath Bridge
2. Electric Arcs
3. The Arc of Understanding, we all can be "in the Zone"

1. The Primordial Gap: the Breath Bridge

One of the primordial gaps I've been found precious is within us all of the time: our breath. There is a magic moment in our breathing, when inhale becomes exhale, an instant in space/time that goes deep into our being to really explore who we are. I think/feel about it as a bridge connecting the inner and outer Cosmos. There is something universal about this "gap" because there is no Buddhist breath, no Christian breath, no Hindu breath, no Muslim breath, no Jew breath... just human breath.

2. Electric Arcs, a Spark Gap

Air and bridges, air and arcs. I remember the emotion and curiosity I felt as a child the first time I witnessed with  awe and wonder an electrical climbing arc that was part of demo in a Science museum. I couldn't understand how it was possible to have some sort of a shining ghost climbing two metal sticks. I spent tens of minutes pushing the button that generated the spark that jumped from one bar to the other, creating a beautiful shining arc. But that wasn't all. Then, the beautiful blazing bridge started to graciously climb up until it disappeared at the tips of the bars.

Later, with the same excitement, I learned the rational explanation: two conducting electrodes separated by a gap filled with a gas such as air. When a suitable voltage (difference in electric potential) is supplied, a spark forms (a gap spark!), ionizing the gas and drastically reducing its electrical resistance. Then, electrons can easily flow between the electrodes (generating an electric current) until the path of ionized gas is broken. This occurs when the voltage between poles is reduced, or when the heated gas rises, stretching out and then breaking the filament of ionized gas.

I think the same thing happens with human beings. We are like the two electrodes. When we have the right amount of attention, empathy, patience and care, we generate the spark of life energy that creates an arc between spirits, a connection at the SOULlular level.

It is our full attention, that keeps the "high voltage" between the two persons, so that the blazing beautiful love arc can form.  And not only that, we can have such a strong attention and awareness that we might be generating a "current of air" going down that won't let the "electrical climbing arc" go up.

3. The Arc of Understanding, we all can be "in the Zone"


In the sharing circle, brother Niel talked about athletes and doctors being "in the zone", when everything turns slow and spacious to perform close to perfect actions. For that, one needs to train a lot and not all of us will become a Michael Jordan or a Roger Ferderer or a Nadia Comaneci. But I believe that we all have the capacity to be "in the zone" of connecting with each other, we all can be creating these "electric arcs". We only need to be present and attentive.

We all can be great because we all can serve; we all can be great because we all can be attentive and present; we all can eradicate the walls of prejudices among us that block the flow of life energy; we can all reduce the resistance, as the gap spark does; we can ionize the air of a meeting with a smile. Suddenly, these connections, these arcs of understanding will form more often in our lives. And to develop understanding, you need to practice to look at all living beings with the eyes of compassion; and when you have compassion, you understand; and when you understand, you love; and when you love, you naturally act in a way that could relief the suffering of others.

Yes, we all can be "in the zone", and be delighted by the beauty of sparking human relationships, the same beauty that captures a child's attention and nourishes our soul curiosity. 

May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.

On Jan 20, 2010 DAVID COLE wrote:

   I'M HUGELY HEARTEND TO HEAR THAT E.K. ROSS HAS CONTINUED TO EMBELLISH THE WORLD WITH HER WISDOM AND ANECDOTES.  My moment of inspiration came October 2nd. of 1980.  That would become my inspiration.  Its requiring the rest of 1980 and the 1st. quarter of 1981 for me to >GET IT< that if I were to continue to exist in a comatose state, I would miss my opportunity to share what God had entrusted my soft  tissues to.  Well, 6 months later I began PT, OT, Speech and Psychological counseling.   To sustain 2 tons of automobile... at passing speeds (I'll let you do the math, but I'm pretty sure E=mc2 applys here.), I feel was my purpose... in my face!