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I got hopelessly entangled in a web of Tolleesque contradictions
on 11 January 2010
This is a very original personal development book. It's about this thing called presence, which means - if I'm understanding correctly - the ability to enjoy what is going on around you at this moment, rather than waste your energy on regretting the past or worrying about the future.
That concept looks great, and this book looked just terrific at first. Eventually, though, it got so illogical that I couldn't even finish it.
Please don't get me wrong. I know that personal development books are not to be taken literally. For instance, when you are told to stand and imagine that you have roots that go into the earth, then of course you know that it's physically impossible for you to have roots, but nevertheless such an exercise might serve a useful purpose. I have no problem with that kind of "illogical".
I am not criticising this book because it contains some things that aren't logical or physically possible. I am criticising it because some of its crucial points are so illogical that the book goes beyond useful imagination way down into the realm of nonsense.
The most disturbing statements in this book were the following.
1. Mr. Tolle describes how he reached an enlightened state and spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of immense joy. Now, it's wonderful that Mr. Tolle felt happy, but somehow I feel reluctant to pursue a state like that myself. One the one hand, it makes sense to free oneself from the excessive need for possessions, achievements and other people, but just to sit on park benches soaked in happiness about oneself - it would feel good all right, but would you call that human life? In which way is that different from a drug high, except that it doesn't give you hangovers? Or what is the essential difference between Eckhart Tolle sitting on park benches in a state of profound joy, and an autistic child sitting with his eyes and ears closed and humming to himself? Both are happy in their worlds. Why would the latter be considered mentally ill and the former a role model?
2. The book makes it appear like you ought to live in the present moment without any regard to the past or the future. Quote: "Focus your attention on the Now and tell me what problem you have at this moment. I am not getting any answer because it is impossible to have a problem when your attention is fully in the Now."
This just doesn't make sense. We couldn't function in the world if we didn't learn from our past experiences. Neither can we live without planning for our future. I'll bring one obvious example.
Suppose you live in a rented apartment. You rent is due in two weeks. It means your rent isn't due now. So you shouldn't think about paying your rent now, should you? It follows that there is no reason for you to go to work today. Why on Earth should you work today if your rent is not due today?
In fact, even when you fail to show up at work, and are fired, and in a couple of weeks, your landlord comes asking for the rent money, you still don't have a problem. You can tell him "Relax. The rent money is not a problem. Losing the now is the problem." Not even when he sues you will you have a problem. Even when you lose the case, you won't have a problem. Only after the bailiff has thrown you out of your apartment, and it begins to rain and you won't have a roof over your head, you'll have a problem. But by then it'll be too late to have gone to work that morning several months ago.
Obviously, nobody can lead a normal life like that. If you would take the idea of living in the now literally, you would land in big trouble. And if you think that I am trying to twist Mr. Tolle's meaning, here is a quote from the book:
""But I still have to pay the bills tomorrow, [---]. So how can I ever say that I am free of time?"
Tomorrow's bills are not the problem. [---] Loss of Now is the problem."
3. Mr. Tolle claims that in an enlightened state ("in that state of wholeness") you can easily reach all your goals. That is illogical because he also mentions that being enlightened means loving everything the way it is. So an enlightened person can impossibly have a goal, any goal whatsoever. The word "goal" implies a wish to make something different from what it is now, which is impossible if you love everything the way it is.
4. Mr. Tolle also claims that an enlightened person doesn't have problems. However, he proves himself wrong by repeatedly displaying his outright panic about the ecological state of Earth. Every now and then, no matter what the subject at hand, he would say something about people "raping the planet" and "destroying our beautiful Earth". It spite of his claim to the contrary, it is plain obvious that Mr. Tolle has at least one big problem. In fact, the reason I quit reading the book was because I grew so annoyed with his environmentalist whining.
Mr. Tolle's claim that the Earth's ecological state keeps deteriorating might well be true, but that's not the point. The point is - why would Mr. Tolle feel disturbed about it? Now, I would hate the nature being destroyed, but Mr. Tolle is supposed to be an enlightened person, and an enlightened person is supposed to love everything as it is, remember? So even if Earth was nuked, it shouldn't be a problem for Mr. Tolle - not only because enlightened people don't have problems, but also because a nuked Earth should be just as lovable from an enlightened person's point of view as a non-nuked Earth.
Now, could it be that I am misunderstanding something? Why don't we take a closer look at precisely what Mr. Tolle said about problems:
"A situation that needs to be either dealt with or accepted - yes. Why make it into a problem? Why make anything into a problem? Isn't life challenging enough as it is? What do you need problems for?"
Guess that makes it clear what he really means. You stop using the word "problem" and you no longer have problems. What a genius Mr. Tolle is! Abolish the Criminal Code, and nobody will ever commit a crime, merely some actions will occur. Or you give up using the word "war", and there will never be a war again, just perhaps an occasional international armed conflict.
Now, what if all the above is just misunderstandings? What if that's not what Mr. Tolle actually meant? Well, in that case, why didn't he write what he actually meant?
I wanted to give the author as much benefit of doubt as possible. So I asked some of those questions in a forum. I didn't get as much as one intelligent reply. The bottom line is: I feel entitled to say that I gave my best effort to make this book make sense, and it just wouldn't.
If you are disappointed with this book, you might want to check out "Quantum Consciousness". Also, "The Gift of Your Compulsions" contains some very interesting exercises that might help you enhance your presence (never mind the somewhat misleading title).