Summer
 2008

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Two Books by Mindfulness Teacher Eckhart Tolle

A New Earth:
Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

by Eckhart Tolle

Plume Books, 2005

The Power of Now:
A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle
Namaste Publishing and New World Library, 1999

Review by Barbara Kammerlohr

In this issue, we review two of Eckhart Tolle’s books, A New Earth and The Power of Now; both related to our theme of inner work and both veterans of The New York Times bestseller list. Tolle is a contemporary spiritual teacher whose recent web-based class with Oprah Winfrey made his name a household word and, therefore, a perfect choice for this issue’s book review section. Understanding inner work and how to do it becomes more important the further we move into our second journey. Tolle’s teachings are one example of how to proceed with this important task.

Aging consciously demands that we not only attend to our own inner impulses and goals, but that we make important decisions based on information we collect from that inner self. To say that this task demands clarity is an understatement. Yet, clarity can come from a purposeful inner listening to our own wisdom. What is our purpose in living now that society no longer defines it for us? What legacy do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren? Which of our skills and talents will we develop in order to continue contributing to the welfare of our society? Where do we want to live now that the decision is no longer determined by the morning commute? Answers do not come easy to those of us steeped in a tradition of denying old age and confused by society’s stereotypes of aging.

Eckhart Tolle on the Oprah Winfrey web-based class

“How do I find answers to those questions?” is a question I frequently get from readers of this column and from my classes on conscious aging. The answer is awareness. Experienced meditators and veterans of other systems of inner exploration such as journaling, yoga, dream work, contemplation, prayer, tai chi, vision quests, etc. understand that answer immediately. Others, who might have avoided looking within themselves for answers and accepted the roles and expectations assigned by society, need an explanation of the terms: "inner work, consciousness, awareness". Tolle’s teachings are one way to approach the process. There are many others, specifically those mentioned throughout this issue and illustrated by the Tree of Contemplative Practices, but Tolle seems to be emerging as one of the most widely accepted contemporary spiritual teachers. Tolle's message is simple and ancient: " Be here and now" which is both the practice of mindfulness and its greatest gift.

Tolle’s teachings are similar to the core insights of most of humanity’s spiritual traditions, especially mystical Christian thought and paths with roots in the East. All agree on the following two points:

  • The need for a transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening. “The normal state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness…” “This collective manifestation of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition constitutes the greater part of human history—wars, slavery, torture and widespread violence inflicted for religions and ideological reasons.”

  • The good news of the possibility of a radical transformation of the human condition. “In the teachings of Jesus, it is salvation, and in Buddhism, it is the end of suffering.” Liberation from the ego and awakening to and acceptance of what is here and now are other terms used to describe this transformation.

Tolle believes that simply being in the present moment is the key to awakening—ending personal suffering and transcending this ego-based state of consciousness. This is a prerequisite, not only for personal happiness, but also for the ending of violent conflict endemic on our planet. The following quotation hints at just how important he considers this focus on the now:

When you don’t cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity…became possessed by thought. A depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness, and the greatest miracle is the experiencing your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels and images.”

Tolle’s philosophy comes from his own unique experience of awakening. That experience convinced him that focusing on the present moment is the way to awaken.

All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence…”

“The most important relationship in your life is the relationship with the now—the present moment.”

Tolle’s instruction about how to achieve more focus on the now differs from the instruction given by most Buddhist and Yoga teachers who teach that meditation is the key to awakening, To Tolle, it is all about finding ways to stay centered in the now. Meditate, if you find it helpful, but “formal meditation is no substitute for bringing space consciousness into every day life” The key is to stay centered in the present moment—now. The past is gone. The future is yet to be. All we have is now. To Tolle, the most important factor in awakening is the ability to stay centered in the present. One technique for maintaining that focus is the awareness that all things pass: He said:

Live in the awareness of the fleetingness of every situation. This too shall pass. When you are detached, you gain a higher vantage point from which to view events in your life instead of being trapped inside them. With detachment, another dimension comes into your life—inner space.”

A New Earth (2005) and The Power of Now (1999) both reflect the same philosophy of awakening. In A New Earth, however, the ideas seem to be more mature, more carefully explained. It also amplifies an idea only introduced in The Power of Now, Tolle’s belief that humanity is now ready for a major shift in consciousness, an awakening, “an inner flowering so radical and profound that compared to the flowering of plants, no matter how beautiful, is only a pale reflection.

Tolle, the author of two and >Stillness Speaks, was born in Germany and educated at the Universities of London and Cambridge. At age 29, a powerful inner transformation radically changed the course of his life. Since 1995, he has lived in Vancouver, Canada. His website is www.eckharttolle.com.