Monday, May 11, 2009

BOOK TALK: A New Earth

(The following article was originally published in my "Book Talk" column in phenomeNEWS in 2008. Since it is one of my favorite books, I decided to publish it here on my blog as I may be referring to it sometime and need it to be here. It is a book one can read and re-read and always find something inspiring or insightful to think about.)


Last month in “Book Talk” we reviewed The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (New World Library, 1999). Now we shall examine his newest work, an Oprah Book Club choice, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (hardcover: Dutton, 2005; softcover: Plume 2006). Clearly, the two works are inter-related. Both deal with spiritual awakening in individuals. A New Earth, however, takes the transformation a step further, relating it to the world around us as well as to the individual. Readers will also discover much greater insights into dealing with the troublesome ego that blocks so much of our attempt to move forward spiritually.

Just as in his first book, author Tolle intends A New Earth to be more than just something inspirational to read. In an article published on the Borders website, he notes how a person can be awakened by a book. He names three conditions to be met. “First, there must be a readiness on the part of the reader, an openness, a receptivity to spiritual truth. . . .Secondly, the text must have transformative power. This means the words must have come out of the awakened consciousness rather than the accumulated knowledge of a person’s mind. . . . Thirdly, the terminology used needs to be as neutral as possible so that it transcends the confines of any one culture, religion, or spiritual tradition. Only then will it be accessible to a broad range of readers world-wide, regardless of cultural background.”

The author notes that these conditions were met in The Power of Now, and it is clear that they form his intention in A New Earth. But he has “new perspectives, new signposts” and “an added sense or urgency” to reach “an even wider audience.” Like many writers and teachers today, Tolle believes that “we are running out of time.” He warns, “Spiritual awakening is not an option anymore, but a necessity if humanity and the planet are to survive.” And so let us examine Tolle’s New Earth to learn ways in which we can evolve and awaken spiritually.

[Note: the book has 10 chapters. Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle began 10 weekly website classes in March, 2008 on Oprah still identifies this book as her "favorite."]

Chapter One states the purpose of this book, which is to facilitate a “transformation of consciousness,” through the means of the book itself. “As you read, a shift takes place within you.” In order to achieve an “awakening,” however, each of us has to recognize the “unawakened us”--the ego. Therefore, this book, in much greater detail than Tolle’s previous work, clearly depicts “the main aspects of the ego and how they operate in the individual as well as the collective.” This is definitely a key issue. Unless we really recognize and catch the ego in action, it will effectively block any and all progress that we might intend to make. Moreover, Tolle says, “The act of recognition itself is one of the ways in which awakening happens.” In this chapter as well, Tolle relates his insights to original teachings in the great religions and spiritual traditions. He also refers to “the voice in the head” and encourages readers that the voice “is not who I [you] am [are].” He concludes this introductory chapter with a reference to “a new heaven and a new earth.” This single chapter, like all Tolle chapters, is rich in insights.

Chapters Two through Five all deal with the ego. Readers will find a plethora of insights in these chapters. It’s a fact that all of us are currently living in what might be called “ego-states.” We think we are what we appear to be. We perpetuate this state with labels and words. When asked to describe ourselves, we usually refer to gender, profession, nationality, race, religion, roles, or we tell the “story” of our past, “things that happened to me”! All this and more becomes the “I” for each of us. In this and following chapters, Tolle helps us move from this limited perception to a far broader one.

We learn how ego-identification creates attachment to “things.” Now obviously, some “things” in ordinary life are necessary. But as Tolle points out, we are living at a time that emphasizes “more” in every sense of that word. Even our government seems based on constant “growth” of the economy. Tolle also emphasizes how we often “identify” with things. If I have “more” things than you, does that mean I’m superior (more important, more powerful, smarter)? The implications of ego-attachments are astonishing. Tolle urges us to “just be aware of your attachment to things.” Of course, to get to the real point of the chapter, the objective is to “realize your true identity as consciousness itself. . . .The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I AM.”

Chapter Three will surely resonate with readers. It is rather like a mirror in which we can view ourselves as well as everyone we know. Titled “The Core of Ego,” it describes how the ego behaves. First, its intention is to protect and enlarge itself in order to survive. The ego believes it is us. We need to realize that it isn’t our real Self, but to survive it acts in many recognizable ways. A favorite behavior is complaining “especially about other people.” It labels and name-calls. It feels resentment, expressing this as bitterness, indignation, or being offended by this or that. It resents all situations not to its immediate liking. It takes everything personally, and often moves to a stronger emotion, such as anger.

The ego builds its strength by being “right” and making others “wrong.” This provides the ego with “moral superiority.” All of this behavior is apparent not only in individuals, but also in collective groups: “Nations, races, tribes, religions and other ideologies.” Given that all such ego-driven behaviors lead to an “us versus them” mentality, in turn it drives violence everywhere in the world.

Eckhart Tolle does more than point out all the faults of our ego-driven selves and groups. He teaches us what we need to do to change this behavior. A surprising point is that we cannot “fight” it. He says, “unconsciousness, dysfunctional egoic behavior, can never be defeated by attacking it . . . whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” The key point, emphasized over and over, is: “All that is required to become free of the ego is to be aware of it.”

We might say that one way to discover our true self is to recognize what we are not. We are not the ego, the persona, the personality that for so long a time we have believed to be our identity. We can only move on to spiritual awareness when we can finally realize that this ego is the major distraction preventing us from reaching that goal. Author Tolle helps us by identifying the ego’s behavioral clues so specifically that we are able to recognize them and act from a point of the aware observer.

We might take a look again at the sub-title for A New Earth: “Awakening to your Life’s Purpose.” What does Tolle say about that? He says, “Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. . . . The ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to say, your purpose, is to bring that power into this world.” Are we getting the message? It should start to become clear that we have a double purpose: first to work on our own spiritual awareness; and secondly, with that awareness, add that to the world and thereby raise the level of the world’s awareness.

I keep thinking that each chapter in Tolle’s book is a little book in and of itself because each chapter contains so many helpful insights that open our perceptions to a clearer view of who we are. His chapter on “Role-Playing: the Many Faces of the Ego” clearly depicts how we role play throughout our lives. It is as if we are actors in a drama, but unlike true actors, we come to think we are the roles we are playing. One very common role, Tolle notes, “is the one of victim, and the form of attention it seeks is sympathy or pity or others’ interest in my problems, ‘me and my story.’” If this doesn’t sound like you, no doubt you know this person as a friend or relative. And guess who is playing that role of victim? Did you figure out it is the ego?

Given that we live in a world of role-players, it is interesting to note what Tolle has to say about the famous and powerful: “Most of the people who are in positions of power in this world, such as politicians, TV personalities, business as well as religious leaders, are completely identified with their role, with a few notable exceptions.” What we learn here is that “when you don’t play roles, it means there is no self (ego) in what you do.” In other words, the advice is to just be there “as a field of conscious Presence.”

In The Power of Now Eckhard Tolle devoted large portions of the book to discussions of what he calls “the pain-body.” In A New Earth he limits discussion of the “pain-body” to two chapters, focusing more on the ego and our need for awareness of that part of us. Step by step Tolle helps us understand the relation of emotions to mind and to ego. For example, “an emotion can . . . be a response to an actual situation or event, but it will be a response to the event seen through the filter of a mental interpretation.” Moreover, the body “cannot tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. It reacts to every thought as if it were a reality.” If you have trouble accepting this point, consider why you cry at the movies. The ego, “the voice in the head tells a story that the body believes in and reacts to” with emotions. When we experience a negative situation (or thought), the ego, the voice in the head, on and on “spins tales, still thinking and talking about it days, months, or years later. As far as the body is concerned, the fight is still continuing.”

Thusly, Tolle explains what he terms the “pain-body.” He says, “Most people carry a large amount of unnecessary baggage, both mental and emotional throughout their lives.” This “accumulation of old emotional pain” is the “pain-body.” The pain-body doesn’t just relate to individuals, but also relates to “pain suffered by countless humans throughout the history of humanity.” Tolle speculates that “the collective pain-body is probably encoded within every human’s DNA.”

Tolle’s discussion of the pain-body is extremely significant because he points out how it gains control of our thinking, making us become very negative. He devotes an entire chapter to “Breaking Free” and once again, first steps are important. “The beginning of freedom from the pain-body lies first of all in the realization that you have a pain-body.” So we see, once again, that as in dealing with the ego with awareness, the same awareness--recognition--works with the pain-body. Becoming the observer, the witness, is the key, and Tolle helps readers understand how to accomplish this.

Tolle assures us that “it is not the pain-body, but identification with it that causes the suffering that you inflict on yourself and others.” We can all acknowledge that when we hurt, we aren’t all that nice to the other folks in our lives. But we can choose to be more conscious and aware. Of course, it takes practice as well as understanding, and that is what this book helps us achieve.

There is so much more in this book. Tolle’s concluding four chapters deal with “Finding Who You Truly Are,” “The Discovery of Inner Space,” “Your Inner Purpose,” and “A New Earth.” We can only touch upon a few points and that isn’t easy because my copy of Tolle’s book is so heavily highlighted and underlined! But as I often do in “Book Talk,” I’ll use this opportunity to share a few choice quotations that may tempt readers to explore this exceptional work.

Tolle says, “Nothing you can know about you is you. . . . Knowing yourself is being yourself, and being yourself is ceasing to identify with content.”

I was reminded of the delightful Beatle’s song “Let it Be” when I read the following: “To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with that happens. It means not to label it mentally as good or bad, but to let it be.” Tolle continues, “The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: ‘Is that so?’ . . . Events are not personalized.”

Given that Tolle’s first book was The Power of Now, we expect to find references to the Present Moment in this book as well. Tolle says: “You discover that there is only ever this moment. Life is always now.”

A very helpful piece of advice for me, especially in this year of political debates, is to “consciously allow the diminishment of ego” by “occasionally refraining from expressing your opinion when everybody is expressing his or hers, and seeing what that feels like.” How about that?

Here are some more words of wisdom: “Nonresistance, non-judgment and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”

Finally, I would urge readers of Tolle’s A New Earth, or his previous work, The Power of Now, to share their thoughts and experience with others. That is, both books are perfect vehicles for group study, whether that group is just one other person, or a group of friends, or a classroom of sorts. Discussing the insights in these books with others helps clarify and reinforce their message. No doubt, this is why Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle elected to present ten “classes” on the book on the Oprah website.

Tolle says, “We are in the midst of a momentous event in the evolution of human consciousness, but they won’t be talking about it in the news tonight.” But you can hear Tolle and Oprah talk about it. And you can read about it in these books and share the thoughts with some friends. Thereby, you can become a part of that new earth and an awakened consciousness.”

Eckhart Tolle’s website is:
Oprah Winfrey’s website is:


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