On the Bookshelf – Eckhart Tolle

You’ve heard of it, right? If you haven’t bought a copy of A New Earth, you’ve at least seen its placeholder spot at Barnes & Noble, where stacks of this new paperback might be sold out. Or, perhaps you’ve seen it perched on the front shelf in nearly every airport bookshop across America, or on Oprah’s show. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose has been topping the New York Times best-seller charts for “paperback advice” books for months, and some claim it has actually changed lives—teaching people to cherish their own goodness, accept shortcomings and live in a completely awakened state.

Tolle’s book isn’t for everyone. Some Christian readers have criticized it because they say Tolle asserts that man, rather than God, controls his own destiny. The book’s premise also has drawn fi re from some Christians who say people seeking to awaken to their life’s purpose should turn to God and the Bible, rather than Tolle. Stripped down to its most basic form, A New Earth is a self-improvement book. Tolle urges people to live “in the present moment” and to enjoy personal happiness without material gain. In a sense, Tolle hopes to change human beings entirely, envisioning a world more humble, more aware and thus more pure.

The idea must start in individuals, but Tolle’s vision is for his teachings to spread in mass proportions. One strategy to awakening lies in understanding your own best qualities, Tolle says. “You do not try to be good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.” Let go of your vision of how your life should be and just bask in the present moment—then, stay there forever, he says.

One reader called the book a primer, or a simple culmination of what spiritual teachers have been trying to say for years. “It’s all stuff we’ve been told before; nothing new, really,” says Sandi Taranto, a blogger from New Hampshire who praises Tolle’s book. “We’ve had pieces of the puzzle handed to us over time, but at long last, we know how the picture is supposed to look at the end when we put the puzzle all together.”

A New Earth is less like a workbook than Tolle’s 1999 best-seller The Power of Now, but it should be treated as such. Readers can hear the spiritual teacher preach his message in 10 Webcast segments—one for each chapter—accessed through Oprah’s Web site as a virtual tutorial for readers to ask questions. The subject matter should be treated with a little TLC: Sit down with the book, underline your favorite parts, write in the margins and inquire. The book is designed to awaken those who are eager and receptive.

Tolle stacks his arguments like a tall, sturdy tower: The beginning chapters are simple and explanatory, laying a foundation for the book. Early on, Tolle says his purpose is to expose the inherent dysfunction in humanity and to teach people how to rise above it. He builds upon that by giving the reader resources to do so, such as an explanation of the ego and its vices—the incessant need to be right, the desire to complain and the need to act out a false identity. In a word, these are bad, Tolle says.

But he offers inspiration, too, in teachings from spiritual leaders and his own recollections. Tolle recalls a time in the 1970s when he was a graduate student at Cambridge University. Each day at lunch, he saw the same severely disabled man surrounded by students. A few weeks later, their eyes met and, Tolle says, “I saw that his eyes were clear. There was no trace in them of unhappiness. I knew immediately he had relinquished resistance; he was living in surrender.” Years later, he saw the same man on the front of a magazine. The unknown man was Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s most famous theoretical physicists. Tolle writes, “There was a beautiful line in the article that confi rmed what I had sensed when I looked into his eyes many years earlier. Commenting upon his life, he said (now with the help of the voice synthesizer), ‘Who could have wished for more?’”

By the end of his 300-page book, Tolle has built a sturdy set of lessons and spiritual assertions about the road to a better life. He urges readers to let go of their “pain-body,” which is the baggage of old emotional pain, or grudges, that weigh down the spirit. The final chapter gives the reader a small shove out the door to do what his book professes. He offers this near his closing: “You are still an ordinary human. What is extraordinary is what comes through you into this world…. The 14th century Persian poet and Sufi master Hafiz expresses this truth beautifully: ‘I am a hole in a fl ute that the Christ’s breath moves through. Listen to this music.’”

The language is poetic and uplifting, but several blogs indicate some readers struggle to comprehend how they can incorporate Tolle’s preachings by the end of the book. It comes with time and further refl ection, Tolle stresses. And if you’ve missed any additional steps along the way, you may fi nd yourself sifting back through the chapters to review. Best part is the answers are all there.

Ideally, the effects of this book could ripple through humanity. Tolle truly envisions “a new earth,” and he would be proud to give someone like Hawking fi rst dibs for a spot. Those who have been awakened in Tolle’s mind—like Hawking, perhaps—have already transcended into a new realm. But others are lagging behind.

If you haven’t read the book, or feel like you’re still lagging, here’s where to start. (Even if you have read the book, Tolle would probably agree that it wouldn’t hurt to repeat this exercise one more time.) Take a slow walk, he says. What do you feel? What are you thinking? Try to focus on the here and now, and just walk. Feel your foot peel off the fl oor as your muscles contract, your heel eventually returning to the fl oor to complete one step. Do it again. Are you thinking about what you’re going to do once you walk to the place you’ve decided to go? Well, don’t, Tolle says. When you get there, you can tackle that. Live in the now.

OK, so it’s tough. Tolle never said that becoming a fully aware, awakened and enlightened person would be easy. For now, just try one more step. See where it takes you.

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