Rarely is one given the opportunity to witness such a sacred encounter as that of Armando and Eckhart Tolle meeting for the first time this wet and chilly early April day in Central Park.
Let’s begin with the “Story of Armando,” which was sent to me by Lorna Davis, who should be credited for bringing it forward and thereby being the catalyst for their meeting.
The Story of Armando
I first met Armando on a summer day in 2013. I walked past a guy on a bench in Central Park who looked like your average homeless guy with a beard and a cart — and then I saw the words on the cart….
“Good grief, that doesn’t seem like your average homeless guy’s cart!” So I stopped and talked to him.
I heard a little of his background, but there were so many people stopping to talk to him, there wasn’t much time to hear his story, but it came out over the many weeks and months that I sat on that bench with Armando over the years since then.
Armando was born in Brooklyn on April 24, 1960, of Columbian and Puerto Rican parents.
He discovered alcohol and weed on the same day when he was 13, and was hooked. From that day on, Armando was what he described as an olympic addict. Any event would do. He took crack, marijuana, heroin, alcohol, cigarettes — pretty much anything he could find. His life was a series of cycles through the excitement of scoring drugs and the money for drugs followed by periods in rehab.
The way he describes rehab is a story in itself: “You get really skinny when you are on crack, because you walk, and walk, and walk and you don’t eat. Eventually you get tired and someone tells you to go to rehab, so you go. You get a nice bed, food, it’s warm and comfortable. You do nothing except eat and sleep and talk about getting high while sitting in a big circle — and they pay you $200 a month!
“After three months, you have $600, you are fat and bored and all everyone talks about is drugs and alcohol, so you leave and spend your new money on drugs, and off you go again.”
One winter night in Boston in 2001 Armando had done what he often did — caused enough of a commotion for the police to take him in and put him in the cell overnight. It was a good strategy, because it was nice and warm and he had worked out which police stations had a holding cell, and he would go there, stand outside and give a policeman some lip. He was in the cell and was continuing to give the policeman a hard time, when two big Irish cops had had enough. They picked him up and threw him out into the snow. Armando was furious, trudging through the snow, furious with them and the world when he saw a manhole cover. He lifted it and found himself in a culvert pipe, so he sat down to take shelter, to be furious and, as he says, “to suffer some more.”
At some point that night, for the first time in his life, he had “a period of no suffering.” We might call it “a moment of grace.” He thinks it lasted about 20 minutes and it was the most amazing feeling of calm and peace that he had ever felt. He waited for the night to end, and in the morning, he emerged from the pipe and dropped everything in the snow — the cigarettes, the crack pipe, the needle — and staggered to a bench. He found a homeless shelter that night and in the morning they noticed he was withdrawing and sent him to rehab. They said he had walked out of rehab twice from there already. He couldn’t remember, but there is a “3 strikes” rule, so they let him stay and complete the physical detox.
Clean and sober, he set out to discover what had happened to him. Many people tried to recruit him to their cause, and he spent some time standing on a street corner talking about the Bible, but none of it felt right.
One day, about a year later, he was in the 96th Street library and he found a copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, in Spanish. The way he described it was that it was like coming home. Every word in that book resonated, and he felt safe, comfortable and understood.
He has watched every video, read every word of every book of Eckhart’s many times over, and whenever anyone suggests other teachers, he says, “I don’t need another teacher. Eckhart says what I need to know.”
Today, Armando sits on the same bench in Central park every day. He feeds the birds, squirrels and dogs. Many a time I have come to visit him and found a privileged New Yorker crying about how sad they are and I see Armando quietly and calmly listening and accepting them.
This man has more friends and has healed more lives simply by his presence more than anyone I have ever met.
I have a dream that one day Eckhart Tolle will walk down that path and shake Armando’s hand.
A story to tell
Now we step back to hear the full chronology. At the request of Lorna Davis, Todd Schuster, whom I believe is a literary agent in New York City, contacted agent Bill Gladstone of Namaste Publishing, saying he had a most wonderful story to tell that involved Eckhart Tolle — and could he get it to Eckhart? Bill advised him that he would have a better chance of getting something to Eckhart if it came through me, his publisher.
When Todd emailed me, I agreed to talk to him and asked him to send over the story for me to read before I would decide whether it was important enough to pass on to Eckhart. Upon reading it, I was so touched by Armando’s story and thought Eckhart would be too. It so happened that I was set to meet with Eckhart here in my home office the following week, at which time I gave him Armando’s story to read.
After he finished, he looked up at me and said, “Yes, I will meet with him.”
As it happened, Eckhart was to be in New York City giving a talk on March 31 and then another talk to students of NYU the week of April 1.
“Oh, my God, it’s going to happen!” I said to myself. I quickly informed Lorna Davis, who was elated as well. We all worked at keeping this a secret — to surprise Armando when Eckhart walked to meet him on his bench. Several of us were there to witness this sacred encounter.
After a 20-minute walk from our entrance into the park, we approached Armando sitting on his bench. We watched from some distance as Eckhart walked up to Armando. When Eckhart reached him, Armando stood up and looked with shock and disbelief at first. Then the two men embraced. We stood there watching and there were tears while this tender, soulful hug continued for some time.
Armando kept repeating that he couldn’t believe it, that he couldn’t take it all in immediately. His spiritual teacher was standing right in front of him and it wasn’t a vision. He kept repeating how breathless he was with surprise and gratitude.
Soon Armando put a small towel on his bench and invited Eckhart to sit. We stayed put while Eckhart and Armando conversed, or maybe a more appropriate word is “communed.” When Eckhart pointed to us, it signaled that Eckhart didn’t come alone and we were now invited to join them.
I can only speak for myself but am confident that the five of us in attendance would say about the same thing: our hearts were overflowing with love and gratitude as we witnessed this miracle in Central Park. Armando was animated, talkative, and full of joy. He exuded warmth and love — a heart so big and so wide open he could embrace all mankind.
Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth and one of the most renowned spiritual teachers in the world today, who through his teachings has elevated the consciousness of millions, met with Armando, surely worthy to be called his disciple.
There are too few stories today that inspire us, that are heartwarming, that show us the power of loving connection, and remind us of the goodness in mankind.
The following are more photos of Armando, before and during his meeting with Eckhart Tolle: