A friend recommended this book to me. He said it helped him a great deal, and wanted to hear my reaction to it. After my first read, I was intrigued by some of the concepts Eckhart brought up, but felt like much of the book was simply a pastiche of many eastern-based religions and philosophies. A slickly packaged and well-marketed regurgitation mind you, as the book has sold over 3 million copies to date. It also didn’t hurt to have the almighty Oprah form a business relationship with Mr. Tolle – and help to peddle Eckhart’s works using both the incredible power of the now, and maybe a sprinkle of the power of her book club.
I try to read things with an open mind, and don’t research the author and read other people’s opinions until after I’ve absorbed the book in my own little vacuum. As I read the first few chapters, I admit that there were some new perspectives brought to light that gave me some decent brain food for thought. I read the book on and off over the course of a few weeks. After my initial read, I noticed some pretty glaring hypocrisies, but wasn’t particularly bothered by them. I received his overall message, and found some new philosophical pathways to explore. My biggest complaint became the profoundly repetitive and inefficient way the information was being presented. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I guess part of being a self-help guru is simply repeating a message over and over in every conceivable variation, until it the reader accepts it as truth.
Upon completion, the next step was to do a bit of research on Eckhart Tolle, and then give the book a second read. I have since taken a more critical stance on both the messenger and the message. But before I get into my gripes, I wanted to list the things I agreed with in the book :
– Time is an illusion
– Dwelling on the past or fixating on the future can be dysfunctional exercises in futility
– Self-reflection and stillness/meditation can be therapeutic and productive
– Enjoying the little things in life and not taking them for granted can provide greater happiness / don’t worry about things beyond your control
– More compassion for others and less patting yourself on the back are good qualities to push for
– The mind does indeed provide a lot of “noise” to sift through (but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sifting)
As for the main things I disagreed with :
– Our minds get in the way of our happiness (yes and no, he oversimplified)
– There are simple, easy answers for the big questions in life and he knows them as facts
– Being in the “Now” is the only thing, ignore the past and future, they are toxic and illusory(and you should just sleep on park benches for two years dwelling in a catatonic state as Mr. Tolle did)
– Concepts like evil and sin and God are real
– He rallies against materialism and excessive future planning, while he is a multi-millionaire author who changed his name for marketing purposes residing in a mansion in California knee-deep in owning multiple businesses.
Eckhart’s modus operandi is to constantly touch on small truths, and then extrapolate the point through a series of tangential arguments into something profoundly bigger that isn’t true at all. He uses lots of analogies and simple metaphors so his message can be more easily digested and consumed by his readers. So, I’ll give this technique a try. It’s the equivalent of telling someone : “Hey, most living things need sunlight to live, right? Therefore, sunlight = life and therefore, more sunlight = more life, right? So, let’s go lay naked in the sun all day so we can be healthier!!!” This is a great way to get people to adopt both erroneous and sometimes, hazardous conclusions.
After about 30 years of consciousness, there are a few major theories I currently subscribe to in life. The only thing in this world that isn’t a grey issue or an easy answer is this : There are no easy, finite, neat answers. Whether it’s gravity or childbirth, even the most seemingly understood phenomenon and scientifically embraced theory can always be turned on its head. This is the nature of nature, and the closest thing to a fundamental truth I can point to. This is why even my most core moral guidelines and ideas about my place in the universe are ALWAYS subject to change in light of new evidence. Living life by the scientific method is what it means to be truly open-minded. But, it’s a lot easier said than done. And even if you are truly open-minded and embrace reality at every turn, this does not necessarily lead to happiness. In fact, quite often reality and human happiness are at complete odds with each other.
People love to say they are open-minded and unbiased. To make this claim is to be guilty of the very thing they are giving themselves credit for. David McRaney wrote a book called “You Are Not So Smart”, which I think should be required reading for middle schoolers. Just read a few chapters of that book to get a sense for how your evolutionary biology has led you to live a life of unbelievable delusion. To be truly open-minded, application of the scientific method to everything is the most effective strategy.
The answers to every question you might have about anything is going to be more complicated than you can ever imagine. Our biology makes us attracted to easy answers and uses simple neural shortcuts to make sense of life. However, the reality at hand is that the complexity of everything in existence(and even existence itself) is infinitely complex. Whenever I tell most people this, they seem disinterested and irritated. I guess the reality of life isn’t a very marketable concept. These are difficult answers, and don’t have 90’s sitcom endings.
But, I say that’s what makes life interesting. I mean, let’s just accept that mankind will never find the outermost boundary of the universe, or multiverse, or whateververse. Nor, will we ever get down to the smallest particle of all particles and truly understand their behavior. Why can’t we be okay with that? Is it because things we don’t understand scare us? Probably. When I ponder the concept of infinity while I look out into space for too long, it can make my emotions rut the gamut from awestruck to terrified. I get that the unknown can be scary at times. But, infinity makes more sense to me then the concept of something finite, and thinking about this stuff too much just hurts my tiny humanoid brain.
The dominant evolutionary preprogrammed response to the unknown for Homo sapiens seems to be fight or flight(mostly fight) – which makes total sense as to why it’s the default setting. The ancestors who went into that dark cave alone and curious to investigate those strange sounds didn’t reproduce as much as the ones who stayed by the fire armed to the teeth. But, let’s realize this about ourselves, and keep in mind that some of our programming is outdated. We need to correct and compensate for our biases wherever necessary. This should not be confused with repressing and denying our instincts. One can indeed be ignorant and happy. But, a more fulfilling happiness comes from acknowledging our predisposition for delusion and irrational fear, and attempting to compensate for it. This promotes greater empathy and compassion for others. Human Beings are sexual, social, self-conscious animals. To deny our nature creates great problems. People fly planes into buildings when they are sexually repressed and isolated. On the other hand, to try to live a purely rational life without emotion like a rational robot won’t work out too well either. It’s all about balance.
I do agree with Mr. Tolle on the idea that life is about the journey. So what, if we don’t get our easy to digest hollywood ending in life. I mean, let’s look at life as being very analogous to the TV series LOST – It’s really hard to understand and complicated, there are a lot of frustrating questions that will never be answered, and the ending really sucks. But, can’t we just focus on having some fun during the ride(especially during the seasons before the writers strike)??
And speaking of the ending of our lives… I used to be terrified of it. And not fearing death is something I agree with Eckhart on, but for slightly different reasons. He is right to say that we should not stress about things we can’t control. Further, I would say that what makes things in life special is the whimsical, fleeting nature of it all. If you could hit a button to make yourself immortal right now, would you do it? I imagine you had the same gut reaction I did, “Of course!”. But, when you really think about it, what could be more torturous and terrifying than never being able to end it all? I mean, really imagine it. You outlive everyone you ever care about. And even things that provide joy for you have to get old after a while. Why don’t you eat your favorite food every day, or listen to your favorite song every day? Because eventually it isn’t interesting or special anymore. The finite nature of time is what makes something special or not. We define value by how rare something is in our lives. If life went on forever, nothing would seem special anymore. It would be the worst hell I can imagine to be trapped in a reality that never ends with no way out.
Anyway….. Getting back to the book. It touches on some elements of leading a positive, peaceful lifestyle – which is great ! But, I can’t get past what a hypocrite the messenger is, and how irritating it is to be lectured about checking my ego at the door by an egomaniac. Eckhart Tolle doesn’t have all the answers as he claims, and let’s thank sweet baby Jesus for that. Although, I guess it’s still worth the attempted brainwashing to hear a pseudo-new viewpoint.
Overall Rating : 4.1/10