For a few month now I have refrained myself from watching any news because when I watched it, it’s hard for me not to get depressed by all the conflicts and man-made catastrophes plaguing groups of people all over the world. The media thrives and survives on selling bad news. Instilling fear and uncertainty; their main driver.
In A New Earth, Tolle expands on the powerful ideas from his first book; The Power of Now - to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world.
Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows us how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. Even if there’s plenty in society that is improving, there just seems to be something wrong with humanity in general – our perpetual violence, our greedy destruction.
So what is the underlying cause of all these conflicts and constant misery? The answer, according to Eckhart Tolle, is found in our minds. By being too caught up in either the past or the future and by worrying too much, our egos dominate and steer us away from the true happiness and fulfillment of the present moment. In short, if we overcome our egos, we can create a better world, says Tolle.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
That the problem with the ego is that it tricks us into thinking that knowing ourselves is the same as knowing about ourselves
Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet financially or have plenty of money in the bank, having a true life purpose is the only thing that will bring you contentment
When you attain a state of enlightenment, your motivation to act will stem from enjoyment rather than feelings of desire or wanting
Madness and violence in today's society.
Most people say we live in crazy, overwhelming times. One of the most renowned Indian sages, Ramana Maharshi, once said that the “mind is maya.” In Hinduism, the word maya describes a form of collective mental illness. In fact, most ancient religions agree that dysfunction – even madness – makes up a large part of our natural way of living.
Buddhism articulates this idea differently, describing the mind’s natural state as 'dukkha', one of suffering and misery. Buddha saw dukkha as an essential component of the human condition.
In Christianity, the concept of sin, when translated from the ancient Greek of the New Testament, means “to miss the mark.” Therefore to sin means to miss the point of human existence, according to Tolle.
And yet despite humanity’s profound achievements in art, medicine and technology, we still seem to be tainted by an insane, destructive force – regardless of whether we call it suffering, madness or sin.
In fact, people of the twentieth century have both created and witnessed some of the most horrific, systematized methods of destruction, from bombs and machine guns to poisonous gas. Such developments led to the mass killings in Soviet Russia and to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, responsible for massacring a quarter of the nation’s population.
Even today such violence, greed and hate continues, not only among ourselves but also toward other species and even the Earth itself. We destroy forests, pollute the air and water and mistreat and slaughter animals in factory farms.
Though many religions have tried to provide ways to counter or mitigate these apparently very human tendencies, few have discovered the way to stem violence.
A cure to our inner madness.
People have always attempted to improve society. An idea such as communism is an example of a philosophy inspired by good, yet as an organising principle it failed, as the people who tried to lead this new society lacked the proper state of consciousness and ability to change themselves, says Tolle.
To guide us, we still have the enduring wisdom of ancient religious teachers, from Jesus to Buddha to Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching. However, many of these teachings have been misunderstood or distorted by both the teachers’ contemporaries and following generations.
Ideas were often added to such teachings that bore no relation to the original message, and some teachers were ridiculed and killed – or sometimes, in contrast, even worshiped as gods.
In this fashion, an original message of kindness, humility and unity might be twisted into a religion of hate and division – becoming part of the very insanity it was trying to cure in the first place. Considering that Jesus spoke about empathy and kindness, it is shocking that brutal periods such as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition could take place under the banner of Christianity.
The desperate search for a way to rid ourselves of destructive habits can be seen in how we live today. Ironically, it’s this pattern that is threatening the very survival of humanity.
Progress in science and technology has only accelerated our capacity to destroy ourselves and our planet, and magnify the problems created by the egoistic human mind.
Although slavery and torture have always been part of human history, the twentieth century and its cycle of brutality has raised the stakes to an unsustainable level. The need for a fundamental shift in our actions and how we live in the world can be stated simply as, “evolve or die.”
The ego and I.
Identifying with the ego keeps us floundering in our thoughts, feelings and desires to connect with anything outside of ourselves. It perpetuates our misunderstanding of the world. It’s time to stop identifying with the ego, and release it, says Tolle. The problem with the ego is that it tricks us into thinking that knowing ourselves is the same as knowing about ourselves.
The world today feeds on ego. We maintain the myth that our identity is defined through our accomplishments, backgrounds and material possessions. Letting go of the ego, however, is far more than simply giving up our attachment to material goods. It also requires the recognition that what we normally refer to as the self – the “I,” or the stream of consciousness that feels, thinks and forms opinions – is not who we are.
This self – the ego – is a mental construct, according to Tolle - a story we tell ourselves about who we are. The true “I” is the I who can observe this stream of consciousness from the outside. Releasing the ego is not an easy thing to do, but it is necessary as it is the source of all our discontent, insecurities and feelings of anxiety.
The effect of being led by your ego.
You may know the feeling of experiencing something that’s annoying or hurtful and then, instead of letting the issue go, turning it over in your head until there’s no room in your mind for anything else. I know I have been guilty of that in my own relationships.
The consequences of ego-driven over-thinking are alienation and suffering and only leeds to conflict and unhappiness. When we think too much, we constantly ruminate over past hurts or dwell on anxiety about the future.
Spiritual texts provide many examples of negative over-thinking. Tolle mentions one story in particular of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido. Tanzan and Ekido were walking down a muddy road when they saw a young woman trying to keep her silk kimono clean as she tried to cross the road. Wanting to help, Tanzan picked her up and carried her safely across.
The two monks walked on in silence, but after five hours, Ekido could no longer contain his outrage. He said to Tanzan, ”We monks are not supposed to do things like that!” Tanzan said simply, “I put the girl down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?”
The majority of us are like Ekido, constantly collecting situations, resentments, hurts and other negative emotions that prevent us from enjoying life. Instead, we should take inspiration from nature, says Tolle - such as examining the behaviour of ducks. After a fight, ducks quickly separate and swim away in opposite directions as if nothing happened. I picture myself in a similar situation! Mostly I would continue thinking about the event, fueling resentment and anger within myself, creating stories and speculating about the other person - I am sure I am not alone doing that.
It would be far better to let go of the incident and return to the present moment, which is where we can always find peace.
Your outer purpose and the inner purpose.
Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet financially or have plenty of money in the bank, having a true life purpose is the only thing that will bring you contentment. But how do you find it?
We all share the same inner purpose, says Tolle: to awaken by experiencing a change in consciousness that separates thought from awareness. This state of enlightenment may also be described as presence, or a state in which we are conscious but without thought.
Instead of being caught up in the ego and our thoughts, we can recognize that our real “I” is the awareness that exists outside of our thoughts. Being aware of this inner purpose is vital. Outer purposes, like making money or building a career, are always subject to external change. Inevitably, then, the things that feed our outer purposes will at some point let us down.
Tolle goes on to say; say you believe your purpose is to raise children. This means that you depend on your children depending on you! What happens when they grow up, leave home and no longer need you?
In addition, if you define your purpose as being the best at something, it also means you depend on others being “worse” than you. In this way, meaning in your life depends on another person's failure, says Tolle.
We should remember that it’s not the goals or actions themselves but rather the state of consciousness from which they come that determine whether something is motivated by ego.
A person working as an activist for homeless people, for example, may have an outer purpose that seems selfless and noble, but she might be doing it for the selfish inner reason of ego: to gain accolades or to feel superior to others working in “lesser” fields.
Acceptance and enjoyment leads to enlightenment.
Do you ever wish you could dial down the pressures of your daily life to experience more peace, perhaps even a sense of enlightenment? Then you need to learn how to enjoy and accept life as it is right now. But how do you do this?
Tolle explains that acceptance is the willingness to do whatever you need to do in the moment, in a peaceful, open fashion – even when a task is not inherently enjoyable, perhaps even stressful like filing your taxes, taking a driving test or doing the laundry. The aim is to reach a state of mind where you can accept the task and be at peace with it.
If you cannot bring yourself to enjoy – or at least accept – what you’re doing, you should stop the activity. If you carry on without a joyful or accepting mind-set, you’re surrendering responsibility for the one thing you have true control of in your life – your state of mind. Only you can control the way you deal with the situations life presents.
When you attain a state of enlightenment, your motivation to act will stem from enjoyment rather than feelings of desire or wanting. The good news is that enjoyment happens naturally when you are able to focus on the present moment. Doing this enables the joy of 'being' to move through your body – this is the joy of consciousness!
Remember, though, that even if you’re able to affect the lives of others through the enjoyment and enthusiasm you show, you mustn’t forget that you’re still human. Maintaining humility will keep the ego in check when it feels the need to crow about any achievements or successes you’ve had.
What I took from it.
The human ego fuels a dangerous, self-sustaining cycle of violence and destruction within each person and in the world at large. Learning the destructive nature of the ego is essential to letting go of it and experiencing the satisfaction of non-judgement, non-resistance and non-attachment. This is the way to achieve both internal joy and greater world peace.
A quick win from what Tolle is to just breathe. Most of us are too distracted by the constant bombardment of thoughts and anxieties within ourselves to feel our inner aliveness. Focusing on your breath will help you reconnect with this. Simply take two or three deep breaths and feel your limbs, fingers, toes, stomach and chest swell with air as you fill yourself with life. It’s an incredibly simple and powerful exercise, yet we so often neglect to do it with the intent to calm and focus ourselves. I have been doing this simple exercise for a while now and is working well for me.
After struggling through The Power of Now, one of Tolle's earlier books, I was nervous to start A New Earth; worried if it was going to go over my head again,like The Power of Now. Luckily for me, I think in the 8 years that passed between the two books, Tolle realised that there is a group like me who are still in the early stages of awakening and therefore A New Earth was simpler and for me a lot more enjoyable. It is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life and building a better future.