Question: How do you respond when another driver lies on the horn and screams obscenities at you?
According to Eckhart Tolle in “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” (Plume. Paperback. $14), if you yell, “idiot,” or shake a first, or, for that matter, respond in any manner whatsoever, a phenomenon called “unconscious ego-repair mechanism” has kicked in — and it’s one-way road to enduring unhappiness in life.
“Unhappiness or negativity is a disease on our planet,” writes Tolle. “People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness, that is to say, dependent on form. They don’t realize what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly.”
The subject of — and advice in — Tolle’s new book isn’t groundbreaking. There are countless self-help books on how to find happiness and purpose in life. In fact, Tolle himself has already authored many. “The Power of Now,” first published in 1999, covers much of the same ground, suggesting the key is living in the now. By that, he means, don’t get hung up on the past or wish away the present for the future. His message was well received. Close to 800 reviewers rate it 4.5 out of five stars on amazon.com.
Before Tolle, going back through the millennia, there have been other spiritual teachers. Tolle doesn’t promote any one religion or spiritual tradition, yet he acknowledges many in his book, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Consider “The Power of Now” as something of a freshman primer and “A New Earth” an upper-class course with a lab intensive, courtesy of Oprah.com. On March 4, Oprah Winfrey debuted a 10-week online class featuring Tolle’s newest book. So far, the site claims over 2,000,000 people have “experienced” the class, which offers a companion workbook, exercises and chat rooms.
In “A New Earth,” Tolle says the “book’s main purpose is not to add new information or beliefs to your mind or to try to convince you of anything, but to bring about a shift in consciousness, that is to say, to awaken.”
The roadblock to awakening, according to Tolle, is the ego.
“Most ancient religions and spiritual traditions share the common insight — that our ‘normal’ state of mind is marred by a fundamental defect. However, out of this insight into the nature of the human condition — we may call it the bad news — arises a second insight: The good news of the possibility of a radical transformation of human consciousness.”
It’s the “fundamental defect,” or ego, that blurts, “jerk” when another driver yells at us. “When someone blames or criticizes, that to the ego is a diminishment of self, and it [the ego] will immediately attempt to repair its diminished sense of self through self-justification, defense, or blaming. Whether the other person is right or wrong is irrelevant to the ego. It is much more interested in self-preservation than truth.”
Unfortunately, the ego’s survival mechanism comes at the expense of happiness. Tolle explains the ego as identification with form — be it thought forms, emotional forms or physical forms.
“The joy of being, which is the only true happiness, cannot come to you through any form, possession, achievement, person, or event — through anything that happens. That joy cannot come to you — ever. It emanates from the formless dimension within you, from consciousness itself and thus is one with who you are.”
Identification with form disconnects people from their inner essence, which some call “God,” others call “spirit,” and Tolle calls “being.”
Tolle writes, “Being is prior to existence. Existence is form, content, ‘what happens.’ Existence is the foreground of life; being is the background, as it were.”
Lasting happiness comes with what Tolle calls, “awakened doing.” That is, “the alignment of your outer purpose — what you do — with your inner purpose — awakening and staying awake.
To those who have read many of these types of books, this one may feel redundant. For others new to this track, it’s the repetition that makes Tolle’s concepts understandable. Tolle approaches his writing like any thorough photographer. He captures his subject over and over again from many different angles. If Tolle’s ideas are esoteric to some, his writing is straightforward, making his road map to happiness easy to read. Tolle rarely interjects his personal story, and yet he comes across as a sympathetic narrator. He doesn’t present himself as a guru or as the keeper of all knowledge but as a fellow pilgrim on the path.
Pearls of wisdom and practical exercises sprinkled throughout the book make “A Good Earth” a worthwhile read — whether read as a refresher or as an introduction to spiritual self-help.
Of course, saying anything otherwise would be an expression of the ego — the ego that wants to strengthen itself by showing off its knowledge or by appearing better than others. That’s what Jesus meant, according to Tolle, when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Similarly, the “Tao Te Ching” teaches it is better to be the valley of the universe than the mountain.