Eckhart Tolle’s second book, A New Earth, further built upon the successes of his first book, The Power of Now. In fact, this book received significant exposure due to it being picked by Oprah as a part of her book club. 10 webinars coupling Tolle and Oprah later, with over 35 million people attending, Tolle has sold millions of copies of this book. At a basic level, the book provides an overview of the problems facing the modern world but then offers opportunities for hope. We can be the ones who solve these problems. A New Earth offers where we should start and how we should continue in solving these problems, starting with our own problems with our ego, consciousness, and spirituality.
“The brain does not create consciousness, but consciousness created the brain, the most complex physical form on earth, for its expression.”– Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart aims to approach solving the world’s problems by altering the way we perceive our consciousness. In effect, we have both inner and outer purposes. Our inner purposes relate to living in the present moment and becoming more conscious of our own thoughts and behaviors. Our outer purpose is what we strive for, whether that be helping others, solving world hunger, or creating world peace. Although the latter may sound like the obvious option when attempting to make real change in the world, Eckhart states that this outer purpose is only secondary to your inner purpose. If you are predominantly focused on your outer purpose you will not find fulfillment or peace, as placing your foundation in outer purposes is an unstable approach. Instead, if your inner purpose is your foundation, then you will approach your outer purposes with greater awareness and motivation. This is what will ultimately accelerate your path towards achieving real change in the world.
Eckhart also points out in A New Earth that it is impossible to fight against this inner purpose. Your consciousness is all that is necessary, but you must also recognize that the human mind can be flawed, despite how intelligent we are. Being able to recognize these flaws in humans, and so in yourself, is one of the most important ways we can begin healing ourselves and the world around us. This is because we are connected to the world around us. Often humans equate the truth with their thoughts, as they completely identify with this thought in their mind; having this approach means that humans often view their thoughts as the truth, to protect their identity. We must acknowledge this flaw in ourselves and challenge it.
Consciousness is also spoken about with regards to spirituality. Eckhart believes that religion is not, by default, spiritual. Being spiritual has nothing to do with what you believe, it is to do with your state of consciousness. In fact, spirituality is tied to a new, potential consciousness of transcendence of thought. This is tied to our ability to realize our thoughts and no longer obtain our identity from them; obtaining our identity from thoughts is, by definition, our ego.
Humanity’s Current State
“Each person’s life – each lifeform, in fact – represents a world, a unique way in which the universe experiences itself.”
Eckhart states that, in the modern world, most people still identify with their ‘stream of mind’ or ego. Technology and the fast-paced modern world further highlights our tendency for compulsive thinking. Compulsive thinking is thinking without awareness and this is the reason behind a huge number of the dilemmas humans face.
Our egos are overly conditioned towards the past, focusing on previous circumstances and exaggerating the content. Our mind uses these previous experiences to give us the illusion that life is more serious than it actually is.
Plus, our mind also facilitates our ego through identification. One of humanity’s biggest faults is in identifying ourselves through other objects or things; this can include ‘positive’ actions, such as trying to help the homeless. Although we may produce some good, we also run the risk of losing ourselves in this ‘thing’. As our ability to produce this good is not permanent, we could ultimately lose our own identity when we cease to do this good thing. This identification with things is also what drives our increasingly consumerist, modern society. When we identify with material things the only viable measure of progress is having more. Eckhart compared this dysfunction to disease, using the simile of a cancerous cell: its goal is to multiply itself, but it is unaware it is destroying itself and the world around it in the process.
The way to challenge these ‘ego slips’ is to completely accept losses. You can value and care for things, but you should not get attached to them. Letting things go is what can help your consciousness emerge. Sometimes it is natural to let things go and it is life providing an evolution of your consciousness.
In summary, Eckhart believes that the consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.
The Core of Ego
“In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same.”– Eckhart Tolle
In this part of the book, Eckhart helps readers understand what the ego is, when it arises and how you can identify it in yourself. These are the following characteristics he attributed to the ego:
- Everybody’s ego is strengthened by complaining and negative thoughts
- Egoism is related to unawareness. If you are aware, your ego will not be present
- The ego is fragile. It takes everything personally, even when it clearly shouldn’t
- The ego is merely a collective dysfunction. Something that we all struggle with and something that impacts on the people and world around us. It should be viewed as the insanity of the mind
- The ego thrives on reactivity. It loves drama and it loves negativity. It loves to dwell on your previous failures and your previous hardships
- The ego is built on structures that are unstable
And here is how Eckhart believes we can challenge our ego
- Forgive others and yourself, including your enemies
- Do not let the past have power over your present
- Love and do what you will
- Non-reaction is not a weakness but a strength
- Awareness is being within the present moment. Being aware provides you with unrivaled power over yourself
The Many Faces of the Ego
“Can you look without the voice in your head commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, or trying to figure something out?”– Eckhart Tolle
Going deeper, Eckhart helps the reader identify the different types of ego that can crop up in the everyday. Firstly, if you identify as being superior or inferior to another person, that is your ego talking. If you are comparing yourself in this way, you are identifying as an individual with reference to an external thing. In fact, Eckhart states that we should not identify ourselves at all. Doing this limits ourselves. If we identify ourselves we can lose ourselves in a particular role. Losing ourselves in a role is what can make life too serious. It can be extremely liberating to let go of the belief that you need to know who you are. This lightheartedness will spread into the rest of your life, bringing you greater joy.
Our ego is the cause of the unhappiness we feel about situations. The situation is not what brings us unhappiness, but the thoughts we then have about the situation. It is important that we understand how deeply connected our thoughts and our emotions are. If we let negative thoughts about a circumstance take over, we are only reinforcing negative emotions. Instead, if you are present in the moment and aware that a negative thought has arrived, but that you will let it go, you can instantly let go of the potential for negative emotions.
Although most people see suffering as bad, Eckhart believes that suffering also has a noble purpose. Our consciousness evolves through learning from suffering. There is an important difference between learning from and dwelling on, though. Suffering will burn your ego, so it is a good thing if we are equipped to transcend the thoughts associated with suffering.
We must also ‘do’ without becoming a role associated with an action. You are more powerful and will be more joyful if you commit actions for the sake of the actions, rather than as a way of feeding your role identity.
The take-home message here was that we are a modern civilization lost in doing. We need to be a civilization rooted in being. Be yourself, don’t identify yourself. Identifying as specific roles is based on our unconscious belief that we are not enough. This belief is based on identifying ourselves relative to others; as a civilization, we must realize we are neither superior nor inferior to anybody else when we consider humans in their essence. In form, we can be compared, erroneously, but in essence, we cannot.
Our world’s problems are derived from a collective ego. This collective ego is even more unconscious than the individuals that are making up this collective ego. Therefore, we must tackle our egos as individuals.
Eckhart sums up the secret to being rather than doing with three words: one with life.
The Pain-Body – Our Thinking is Controlled by our Emotional Pain
“The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that.”– Eckhart Tolle
Most human thinking is automatic and repetitive. Therefore, a large proportion of our thoughts offer little in the way of purpose. Thinking, just like digestion, is a physical process. We do not think, thinking happens to us. However, this does not mean we should let our thoughts control our actions. We increasingly let these thoughts control us and to offer us our identity. This is what we call our ego. Our ego is based upon the extent to which we identify with these thoughts. Importantly, these thoughts aren’t who we are. It is part of our consciousness, but it is merely a tiny part of it. As individuals within the modern world, we have let these thoughts become almost all of who we describe as ‘us’. This is why we become overwhelmed with emotions. Emotions are the body’s reaction to our identification with the mind.
We must identify the difference between instinctive responses and emotions. Eckhart describes instinctive responses as the body’s direct response to an external stimulus. Comparatively, emotion is the body’s response to a thought or an internal stimulus. Often we see emotions as direct responses to an external stimulus. This is not the case. An emotion is an event viewed through our own mental interpretation. Therefore, the ego is also the voice in your head which pretends to be you and the unobserved emotions that are a reaction to that voice in your head. Your body is attached to your ego and if your ego is providing a stream of negative thoughts, then your body will react accordingly with negative emotions.
All negative emotions can be summed up by a single term: unhappiness. This unhappiness is strongly associated with physical disease. This unhappiness is also something that we periodically seek. We seek out emotional negativity and this provides us with unhappiness. It is important that we recognize our tendency to seek out emotional negativity and stop them. The reason we have these negative thoughts is not that we cannot stop them, but actually, because we don’t want to.
What our ego calls love, which is really just possessiveness and identification through another, can quickly turn into a hate-filled relationship if the ego is not dispelled. This, and other ‘bads’ in the world, are caused by one evil: the human unconsciousness.
Breaking free from your ego
“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”– Eckhart Tolle
In order to overcome your ego and your pain-body, it is integral that you first come to the realization that these things exist. On top of this, you need to learn to accept feelings of pain. Instead of hoping for things to be different, accept how things are at this moment. On top of this, it is important to understand that emotion does not always equate to unhappiness. It is an unhappy story you tell yourself about the emotion that leads to unhappiness.
Pain-body is deeply interconnected with ego. If one of them fails, the other does too. Try and challenge both. Eckhardt also explains that money has the potential to activate the pain-body and cause unconsciousness. Do not let money and the pursuit of money prevent you from being conscious in every moment.
“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”– Eckhart Tolle
The thoughts in your mind are not who you are. Therefore, getting lost in your own mind won’t help you find yourself. The best way to identify how well you know yourself is to observe the way in which you react to challenges in your life, whether that be from individuals or situations.
If you feel in your relationships that you are being starved of certain virtues, such as praise and appreciation, instead of complaining you should give these virtues to the people around you. Doing so is acting as if you have it and you will start receiving from those around you.
The majority of people define who they are through the content of their lives. Instead, you should be focusing on what enables this content. This is your consciousness. A great way of reconnecting to this thought is through interacting with nature. Nature can help realign you with the wholeness of life.
The most important relationship that will help you in finding yourself is your relationship with the present. How do you react in your present? Time is what the ego lives on, so if you can live in the present wholeheartedly you can end your ego.
When you are able to leave your ‘form’ defenseless when you step out of identifying as a specific role, who you are beyond form can shine through. We often attempt to stand out or be special, to make an impression on those around us; we should refrain from seeking this out. See how this makes you feel.
The Discovery of Inner Space
“There is space around my unhappiness. That space, of course, comes when there is inner acceptance of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment.”– Eckhart Tolle
Early on in this chapter, Eckhart uses the famous mantra: This too, will pass. This is vital and is an approach that is easier to adopt when you are detached from the events in your life, able to view them from a position that is no longer trapped inside them. Through detachment from the events in the world around you, there is the possibility of developing your own inner space. This inner space manifests as a feeling of stillness. You should feel peaceful, even when something ‘bad’ is happening. Now, you are able to experience the world around you without being attached. You will no longer place unreasonable demands on yourself or the world around you.
This inner consciousness will allow you to be creative, to laugh in times of struggle, and to not be overwhelmed by the thoughts and images instigated by the world around you. You should be aware of your breathing whenever possible, too. Do this for one year and you will be transformed. This will help you engage with your inner consciousness, taking attention away from your thoughts, and keeping you within the present moment.
Eckhart states that there are three ingredients to every experience:
- Sense perceptions
- Mental images
Your Inner Purpose
“Whenever you become anxious or stressed, outer purpose has taken over, and you lost sight of your inner purpose. You have forgotten that your state of consciousness is primary, all else secondary.”– Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart states that although our inner purpose should be to negate time, while our outer purpose often relates to the future. If our outer purpose has become our primary purpose, then our state of consciousness is external, rather than internal. We have let our ego take over.
Often success is attributed to outer purposes: recognition or prosperity. Ultimately, though, these are by-products of success. Your success is in your inner purpose and your future depends on that inner state of consciousness. Therefore, success occurs when the timeless quality of being intertwines with doing. Unless being flows into doing you will lose yourself in what you are doing. Plus, your reactions to failure or success will be negative.
How to Create a New Earth
As death is abstract, many people in the West struggle to understand or prepare themselves for the dissolution of their form. However, we must come to learn that consciousness is already conscious. It is eternal. Through awakened doing, by aligning your outer purpose with your primary inner purpose, you can become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. The peace that comes with surrendered action, with accepting that you may not enjoy something but it is what has to be done, can be applicable to death.
The joy of being is the joy of being conscious. Nothing is going to make us free because only the present moment can make us free.
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