ECKHART: Yes, it did. I didn't understand it; I just realized the next day that I was suddenly at peace. There was a deep sense of inner calm, although externally nothing had changed, so I knew something drastic had happened. A while after this transformation, I was talking to a Buddhist monk who said that Zen is very simple: You don't rely on thought anymore; you go beyond thinking. Then I realized that's what had happened. All that unhappy, repetitive thinking wasn't there anymore.
OPRAH: Where does our identification with these thoughts and this voice in our heads come from?
ECKHART: That identification that is derived from our thinking-which includes all of one's memories, one's conditioning, and one's sense of self-is a conceptual one that is derived from the past. It's essential for people to recognize that this voice is going on inside them incessantly, and it's always a breakthrough when people realize, "Here are all my habitual, repetitive, negative thoughts, and here I am, knowing that these thoughts are going through my head." The identification is suddenly broken. That, for many people, is the first real spiritual breakthrough.
OPRAH: How is it spiritual?
ECKHART: I see it as not believing in this or that, but as stepping out of identification with a stream of thinking. You suddenly find there's another dimension deeper than thought inside you.
OPRAH: And what is that?
ECKHART: I call it stillness. It's an aware presence, nothing to do with past or future. We can also call it waking up. That's why many spiritual traditions use the term awakening. You wake up out of this dream of thinking. You become present.
OPRAH: Your book Stillness Speaks is all about that awareness. I love this line: "When you notice that voice, you realize that who you are is not the voice-the thinker-but the one who is aware of it."
ECKHART: That's right. The stream of thinking is connected with the past. All your memories, reactive patterns, old emotions, and so on, they're all part of that, but it is not who you are. That's an amazing realization. Of course, the mind may then say, "Well then, who am I?"
OPRAH: That's the big question. So what is the answer?
ECKHART: The answer is, who you are cannot be defined through thinking or mental labels or definitions, because it's beyond that. It is the very sense of being, or presence, that is there when you become conscious of the present moment. In essence, you and what we call the present moment are, at the deepest level, one. You are the consciousness out of which everything comes; every thought comes out of that consciousness, and every thought disappears back into it. You are a conscious, aware space, and all your sense perceptions, thinking, and emotions come and go in that aware space.
OPRAH: You've often characterized thinking as a terrible affliction, even a disease, that is the greatest barrier to the power of now. But isn't to think to be human? Isn't that how we differ from other animals?
ECKHART: Yes, and thinking can be a powerful and wonderful tool. It only becomes an affliction if we derive our sense of who we are from this dream of thought. In that case, you're continuously telling yourself what I call "the story of me." For many people, it's an unhappy story, so they're always dwelling on the past. That's a dysfunctional and unhappy state.