Friday, March 14, 2008

Demystifying A New Earth

Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is captivating millions of readers. Since being selected for the Oprah Winfrey book club millions of people have been inspired by the awe elicited by this book. But many readers find the material difficult to grasp. Fortunately many of the concepts presented in the book are described elsewhere in a less mystical and more direct style that may appeal to some readers. Here is a guide to several of the concepts discussed in the book, presented in the approximate order they appear in the book, and organized by chapter number. This text reflects only my own interpretation of some of the concepts mentioned in Tolle’s book and is in no way connected with his book or efforts. Follow the links for in-depth descriptions and references for each term.

Chapter 1
Evolution is on-going and sometimes crosses transformational thresholds. This book may cause a collective awakening that allows us to cross such a threshold.

Fear is a basic emotion that quickly alerts us to impending danger. Our emotional brains are wired to defend even before we comprehend.

Greed is a failure to distinguish wants from needs. Wants are insatiable, so greed is ongoing. Needs are rather simple, but not often met. Beyond meeting basic physiological needs, we only require autonomy, competency, and relatedness.

The desire for power has several origins. Tyranny is an abuse of power.

First-person viewpoint is the fundamental asymmetry of humanity. We don’t recognize the many distortions inherent in our thinking.

Chapter 2
In the world there are real objects, collections of real objects, mental symbols we use to represent objects and collections and words we use as labels for objects or symbols. Tolle uses the word “form” to mean label, symbol, or object.

The word “self” has a few meanings and is often synonymous with “ego.”

An ego consumed with wanting more, being better than you, self-justification, and proving itself faultless is destructive. Tolle calls this the "egoic mind".

The “voice in my head” is our own awareness of our self-symbol. We can think about a tree and we can think about our thinking about a tree. When we are thinking about thinking about ourselves we are aware of that voice. At other times, that voice is advising us.

When we confuse stature with status, image, or class, we make the mistake of confusing ourselves with our associations and our attachments. We can begin to mistakenly believe that we become better by having better things or hanging out with better people. But stature can only be attained through the hard work of making authentic contributions toward helping others.

There are paths of progress other than growth. There can be more to life than wanting more.

When an irrevocable loss occurs, we adopt a series of coping strategies. Once we recognize the loss is permanent and cannot be changed we can move past our grief.

Researcher and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has dedicated his career to studying flow—the absence of emotion or consciousness that occurs when we become so engrossed in our present activity that we suspend our self awareness. This is similar to Tolle’s concept of “Presence”.

Chapter 3
A prevalent myth is that stature is a “zero-sum” game and your loss of stature can somehow contribute to my gain in stature. It is the mistaken belief that I can enhance myself if I diminish you. For me to be right, you have to be wrong. This leads us to be destructively competitive. It also drives us apart, to emphasize differences rather than similarities we have with others. This is the precursor to hate.

Hate is the strong emotion based on intense dislike—distancing ourselves from others. It has a simple origin in self-protection, but it is only sustained by cognitive error.

Envy is a synonym for resentment. It is our wanting what another person has.

We always have choices in how we respond to events. We don’t have to react as we always have. For example, there are several paths we can take out of our anger. Choose a constructive path. Don’t be overcome by destructive reactions, become aware of the choices you have. Analyze and step away from your anger, jealousy, envy, blaming, and hate. Be willing to forgive and move on. Don’t take the bait; sidestep dominance contests.

Separate fact from opinion and separate assumptions from well-founded beliefs.

Chapter 4
Many of us live according to introjected regulations—acquiescing to an external motivation without accepting it as our own. We feel obligated to do something, perhaps to fulfill some role or to meet someone else’s expectations. These introjected regulations are the results of someone else’s “shoulds” and “oughts” and they are not authentic to our self. They cause stress, guilt, anxiety, and obligation and have many other negative effects.

For many people their self-esteem is fragile or variable. They are insecure about their stature because they are not confident their authentic stature is high. This makes them very vulnerable to the opinion of others. They have not yet learned that image is not stature and at the end of the day, the only opinion of yourself that matters is your own.

Playing the victim is a destructive tactic of passive aggressive behavior—hostile inaction.

You must become your authentic self before you can have an authentic relationship. Authentic relationships are peer relationships, where each treats the other as an equal and is not filling any other role.

Peace of mind is only achieved by removing obstacles to it. Understand what you can change and what you cannot change. Om shanti, shanti, shanti. Authentic happiness is achieved largely through gratification.

Relatedness—the need to feel connected to others and to feel like you belong—is a psychological need that often goes unrecognized and unfulfilled.

Love has several manifestations, but limbic resonance—an emotional bond created by responsiveness—is at the core of true love.

An essential element of anger is blameworthiness—the belief that someone else is responsible for my loss. A constructive approach to anger begins with examining and challenging this assumption.

St. Augustine famously warned us that: “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Yet many hot-heads are hostile people who allow resentment to define their temperament; they get angry very easily.

Our egos cause us to distort, select, and interpret evidence to sustain the essential belief: “I'm OK”

Improving our emotional competency—the skills to recognize, interpret, and respond constructively to emotions in yourself and others—increases our awareness and allows us to step back from our egos. With that awareness we can act rather than simply react.

Sometimes we can get fully engaged in our work, lose any sense of self consciousness, and enjoy our state of flow.

Chapter 5
Emotions are subjectively evaluated on a scale ranging from “feeling good” to “feeling bad”. These are often called positive and negative emotions. There must be a goal at stake for an emotion to be aroused. Our emotional response to an event depends on our appraisal of the event. We often adopt unhelpful rules that misguide our response to various events.

We retain vivid memories of past events. Separate mechanisms store emotional memories and cognitive memories. Memories are associative—recalling one aspect of the past event often evokes a more complete memory of the event, including emotional aspects.

We often recall memories, replay past events, and fantasize about making different choices affecting past events. This ruminating is often stressful. Long-lasting painful memories often result in our enduing quest for revenge.

Dominance—the ability to harm another—is the predominant manifestation of power. Abuses of power are common and lead to the oppression of many people. Oppressed people suffer humiliation, harbor resentment, and seek revenge. Tolle uses the term “Pain-body” to collectively describe these bad memories and vindictive passions. It represents the on-going costs of past violence and abuse. People may seek pity, play the victim, indulge their past suffering, adopt pessimistic outlooks, or remain helpless as a result of this long-felt pain. People who allow this pain to become salient in their self-concept are often hot-headed, hostile, and easily become angry.

Forgiveness provides an escape from the cycle of anger, hate, revenge, and violence.

Chapter 6
People may allow themselves to submit to urges originating from their “pain-body.” This may result in anger displays, road rage, or other destructive, violent, dramatic and irresponsible behavior. People may feel less responsible for their actions when they can blame their pain-body. People whose temperament is dominated by pain are easily provoked to anger or hate. They may be described as “having a chip on their shoulder.” Perhaps they believe they are their suffering.

Various conditioned responses can serve as triggers for negative moods or destructive behavior.

Awareness of these mechanisms increases your autonomy and makes it easier to choose more constructive behavior.

It is best to accept what is.

Chapter 7
Behavior—your actions and reactions—is the most reliable indicator of your actual values and goals.

Know thyself. Discover your authentic self—do who you are.

Savor the awe and abundance of nature and the universe.

Integrate reductionist views of the world with holistic views of the world. Combine analysis with synthesis.

Suspend judgment—integrate experiences before forming an opinion or making a decision.

Stress results from resisting loss.

Accept what is, assimilate reality, and don’t argue with it.

Only the present moment is real. Plans are only thoughts about the future, memories are only thoughts about the past.

Choose when to resist and when to flow; become aware.

Self-justification frantically preserves our ego.

Humility prevents humiliation because the ego stands down.

Artists place lines and forms in space. The space is essential; the form is unremarkable without the space.

Chapter 8
This too will pass—everything is impermanent; attachment can be only transient.

By removing the clutter of the foreground—the things, the thoughts, the worries—the quiet contentment constantly present in the background can emerge. Be still and savor the awe inherent in nature: a sunset, flowers, breathing, a forest, vistas, or the vastness of space. The peaceful stillness and awareness that emerges is what Toll calls “inner space”.

Separate observation from interpretation. Events are experienced as: 1) neutral observations, 2) cognitive judgments, and 3) emotional appraisals.

Consciousness results from a strange loop.

Awareness of your breath creates space that invites the present moment in.

The universe consists almost entirely of empty space.

Cherish stillness.

Chapter 9
Our inner purpose is to gain perspective, focus on the present, and become aware of the interconnectedness of the world. Practice meta thinking; an awareness of your thinking.

This allows you to attain a viewpoint (an awakening) where you can observe your ego at work, isolate it, and decide not to let it proceed destructively.

Chapter 10
The entirety of the universe is vaster than anyone can comprehend. Therefore each of us has only a limited viewpoint on the universe. Each thought is only a tiny fraction of the whole and therefore not an accurate representation.

As we approach old age we naturally become less active. This decrease in doing provides space where we can increase our appreciation of being.

Eject introjected regulations so you can become integrated and accept everything you do. Enjoy most of what you are doing; become enthusiastic as you are achieving goals. Stress is a signal that we are resisting events rather than accepting them.

Value humility. Encourage it in yourself and others. It promotes peace on earth and goodwill toward all.

As you develop a robust theory of knowledge the true value of Tolle's book will become clear to you.


Anonymous said...

Now why didn't you write the darn book, I would have been better able to understand it.


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Common Zen Media said...

A New Earth is one of my favorite books and you've done a terrific job at breaking it down in a way that is digestible for the most. This book introduced me to the contemplation of emotions and it is a precursor to my feelings wheel app. Thank you for taking the time to write this!