Ihave just read a book by a man who sees straight intomy soul. Yet, rather than being the slightest bit offendedby this naked transparency, I find myself in awe ofhis understanding of me - and of you. In fact, of whatAndre Malraux famously termed 'the human condition'.The man is the German writer Eckhart Tolle and the book,his first full length work in eight years, is A NewEarth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.
Since the extraordinary success ofhis first major work The Power of Now which catapultedhim to the bestseller lists earning iconic status fora book on spirituality among the more usual fare ofmurder and mystery, we've ticked over into a new millennium,a new age pregnant with possibility. And despite itscomplexity, this new book released in Australia in November,will be devoured just as eagerly because it providescompassionate and, dare I say it, enlightened guidancefor seizing that possibility.
Eckhart Tolle, for one, believeswe are already well advanced in our evolution towardsa world of heightened consciousness, what he calls the"new Earth" where we renounce the ego andall its flawed trappings and sense our oneness withthe universe. It's only the ego, he tells us, our needto set ourselves apart from and preferably atop ourfellows - just think sport, politics, TV soapies, Cronulla-styleracial relations - that prevents us reclaiming, in thewords of both the Old and New Testaments, " a newheaven and a new earth". Heaven, says Tolle, clearlya deeply religious as well as spiritual man (quotationsfrom the Bible pepper this book) is not a location butrather an inner realm of consciousness. The earth isits outer manifestation. Complex? Certainly. It's easierto grasp the link when Tolle suggests that as humanlife and consciousness are intimately bound up withthe life of the planet, the dissolution of old waysof thinking is wreaking synchronistic climatic and geographicupheaval. Just how many monster hurricanes have hitFlorida in the last year or two? How many tens of thousandsof people died in the "once in a lifetime"tsunami of last December? Not to mention the earthquakein Pakistan of unheard-of destructive power.
It's indisputable that our worldis changing - and Eckhart Tolle is just the man to makeus want to embrace that change.Now working as a counsellor and spiritual teacher in Vancouver,Canada, Tolle, for me, is at his best in those sectionsof the book where his comments about humanity in generalhave a rapier-like perception on the personal level, too.I often felt his insights were like a wise presence lookingover my shoulder as I went about my daily business. Neverthreatening or censorious, always understanding if inclinedto prod a bit uncomfortably at times!
In fact, the idea of transporting our self from withinthe prison of our ego, an entanglement of our thoughtsand emotions, so that we can look upon our self with detachmentis one of his key messages. Tolle talks about "standingback from the mind and seeing it from a deeper perspective"and in that moment there occurs " a brief shift fromthinking to awareness". It's the same idea that certainmeditation techniques teach - name a problem or an emotionthat's troubling you and view it, as it were, from theoutside so that it becomes limited and contained and "outin the open".
Eckhart Tolle shares with us his first glimpse of thisawareness as a 25 year old student at the University ofLondon. Fascinated by a woman he often saw on the trainwho was always engaged in her own angry and very louddialogue " in the voice of someone who has been wronged,who needs to defend her position lest she become annihilated",one day he decided to follow her to her destination. Tohis horror, it turned out to be the university's centraladministration building and library! The realisation thathis unswerving faith in the power of the intellect hadjust been seriously shaken - "How could an insaneperson like her be part of this?" - brought a momentof intense clarity after he found himself muttering aloudin the men's room: "Wasn't my mind as incessantlyactive as hers? There were only minor differences betweenus. The predominant underlying emotion behind her thinkingseemed to be anger. In my case, it was mostly anxiety.She thought out loud. I thought -mostly - in my head.If she was mad, then everyone was mad, including myself.There were differences in degree only." (P33). Unfortunately,this moment of clarity and detachment was a glimpse onlyand for the next three years Eckhart Tolle battled depressionto the brink of suicide before awareness returned and,with it, the cleansing fire of liberation from the mind.
Reining in "the voice in the head", made evenmore insistent and debilitating when it carries the emotionalbaggage of the past, is a central theme of Tolle's writing.In A New Earth he introduces us to something he calls"the pain-body", his vivid term for "anaccumulation of old emotional pain". And, insteadof finding this section unsettling or depressing in anysense, in Tolle's hands, guided as they are by a profoundand compassionate wisdom, I found it liberating. He knowsmy suffering, your suffering because it has been his sufferingtoo - and he gives us understanding and tools to do somethingabout it!
It's reassuring to accept Tolle's view that we aren'treally responsible for our own "dark side",that cacophony of critical, negative, querulous or plainangry thoughts that from time to time assail all but themost saintly of we humans! Absolution is a wonderful thingin any context! Tolle describes the pain-body as a "semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings,an entity made up of emotion". Like all living things,he says, "it periodically needs to feed- to takein new energy - and the food it requires to replenishitself consists of energy that is compatible with itsown.... energy that vibrates at a similar frequency."Elsewhere he describes it as a "psychic parasite"!
If your own tendency to dwell on perceived slights orinjustices or to rehash in excruciating detail every wordof some deeply inconsequential argument with your partneror your mother or your best friend sounds uncomfortablyfamiliar, join the rest of the human race, Tolle is tellingus. At that time, you're simply in the grip of an energybody that demands attention that actively seeks unhappiness.He concedes we may find it "shocking" to realisethat "once the unhappiness has taken you over, notonly do you not want an end to it, but you want to makeothers just as miserable as you are in order to feed ontheir negative emotional reactions." (P145)
He uses this engrossing idea to explain the roller coasterride of many intimate relationships, the tendency of manypeople to seek out the same sort of partner who broughtthem nothing but grief in the past, the collective painbodies of certain races namely Jewish, Native Americanand Black American groups (it goes without saying thatTolle's compassion would also extend to the collectivesuffering of our own Aboriginal people), and the media'sobsession with violence and misery. His view of the "collectivefemale pain-body" that has drawn its intense energyfrom the suppression of the Sacred Feminine in the ego-drivenworld of the past 2000 years is fascinating. The suppressionof feminine wisdom and the torture and killing of betweenthree and five million women by the Holy Inquisition ranks,says Tolle, "together with the Holocaust as one ofthe darkest chapters in human history". The pain-bodythat has absorbed over centuries the agony of wise womenwho dared to share their knowledge of nature's healingpowers now finds expression, says Tolle, in PMT! And that'sby no means a trivialisation. Even the more sanguine ofus women would agree (remember?), I think, that it isa time of "intense negative emotion".
Together with the profundity of his insights, EckhartTolle has the gift of offering us practical ways to bringthem into our daily lives. In most instances, it comesdown to his unshakeable belief in "the power of Now'.He often speaks, too, of living in Presence, of Beingrather than the ego-driven preoccupation of Doing.
As well, I loved his frequent excursions into Zen philosophyto illustrate with stark simplicity an idea that mightotherwise seem too complex to grasp. One of my favouritesillustrates the pain-body concept:two Zen monks were walkingalong a country road muddy after heavy rain. They cameacross a young woman trying to cross the road where thethick mud would have destroyed her silk kimono. Withouthesitation, one monk picked her up and carried her tothe other side. The two monks then walked on in silenceuntil, after five hours, the second monk asked the questionthat had been weighing on his mind: 'Why did you carrythat girl across the road? We monks are not supposed todo things like that.' The other replied: 'I put the girldown hours ago. Are you still carrying her?'
The final chapter of this book is a call to action, whatTolle calls "awakened doing" so that we can,collectively, bring about the next evolutionary stageof consciousness on our planet. Simply through '"acceptance","enjoyment" and "enthusiasm", we canachieve that "new heaven" of a more caring,thoughtful, gentle and compassionate world, one that hasits foundation within each of us. When it's put that way,it doesn't seem so unattainable!
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by EckhartTolle is published by the Penguin Group