The drawing is either two faces or a candlestick, depending on how we look at it.
Yesterday I sat in a room with a few hundred other people as Eckhart Tolle intertwined his fingers and said something like this, "Often people think that their interpretation of an event and the event itself are the same thing. There is no such thing as a dreadful event. All events are neutral. 'Dreadful' is an interpretation that is added to the event." Eckhart disentangled his fingers, saying, "Waking up is when we see that the interpretation is not reality." Eckhart held out one hand to represent the world of the mind, with its interpretations, judgments, opinions, and painful stories. The other hand represented actuality, the event without any overlay of thought. Presence is awareness freed from identification with mental forms. It is who we are beneath our stories of who we are.
Eckhart was talking with a woman with health problems who had lost her job. "There are no dreadful events," he reiterated. "There are only events, which can be challenging. Challenges are real. Problems exist only in the mind." Eckhart's comments to this woman may sound unsympathetic, but they were the opposite. "Freedom is not dependent on pleasant conditions but on clear seeing," he said, and the woman looked as if a load had been lifted off her shoulders.
For decades one of my worst fears has been the possibility of becoming obese, as obesity runs in my family. Eckhart also pointed out that what we fear, we tend to attract into our lives. When my husband and I became engaged to be married seventeen years ago, I said to him, "Promise me that you will divorce me if I ever get fat." He smiled and replied, "Okay, I promise."
Around the time I turned forty I went through four pregnancies in six years (three Cesarian sections and one miscarriage). Gradually my fear of gaining weight became reality. My sweet husband has also put on a few pounds, and thankfully he broke his promise to divorce me if I gained weight. For years now, every day there is the relentless march of shameful thoughts in my mind for being overweight. Every day there is a ready-made excuse to complain and hate myself and obsess over myself, etc.
Can I distinguish between the interpretation and the actuality? The actuality is the body weight. According to a medical definition, I am overweight. This actuality is neutral. Further actualities are that I am physically fit, I am pain-free, and I enjoy walking. I have a higher risk for weight-related health problems and I would like to lose weight. None of these actualities produces suffering.
The suffering comes in from the agony of thoughts of embarrassment, shame, unworthiness, and separation from others. The suffering comes from the judgments, "This shouldn't be. Things should be different. I am a failure." etc.
I am learning to distinguish reality (body weight) from the mental interpretations (this is a problem, this is unacceptable, this makes me miserable). I am beginning to feel more at peace in my body right now just as it is. I am in fact grateful for this body with its capacities of sight, hearing, taste, touch. I am grateful for the unfathomable mystery of this body that has been the doorway into this world for the three human beings I love most- Chris, Mary, and Jack.
Problems disappear when they are seen to be nothing more than mind-waves. The actuality remains, but it is what it is, and it is non-problematic. Even when the mind-waves reappear (habitual thoughts pop up again and again) they can be seen as innocent mind-waves rather than as a source of distress.
This is similar to the shift that can occur when looking at a picture such as the one above; nothing actually changes, but there is a transformation in perception- where there had been two faces there is now only a candlestick. Actuality bathed in transparent awareness free of judgments emanates the peace that passes understanding.
(Addendum: Please see comment # 7 on this post for information about a subsequent talk where Eckhart speaks of dreadful events in the world.)