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Potentially Damaging: Read at your own Peril
on 23 April 2016
I first read this book last summer, and if you'd have asked me what I thought of it then, I'd have given it 5 stars. I fell for all of the mumbo jumbo, though I didn't put it into practice. But, when I started rereading it the other day, I realised the destructive potential of this book, and the ideology that rests behind it.
Simply put, Eckhart Tolle advocates living in 'the Now', which is his repetitive term for the present. This is perhaps the only good idea of the book. Unfortunately, Tolle steals absolutely everything beautiful about living in the now with the rest of the book.
Firstly, he teaches us to disconnect from our thoughts and emotions, and our 'egoic' sense of self. However, he doesn't actually term how we should do this. In proper mindfulness (something which I ascribe to), it is taught not to physically disconnect yourself from thoughts and emotions, but to accept that they are part of you, and to feel them and enjoy them as part of life. This is beautiful. Tolle, however, seems to be of the opinion that thoughts are awful. You want to be in the state of 'no mind', he repeats regularly. If I was constantly in the state of 'no mind', how would I remember my girlfriend's birthday, or what time I had to get up in the work in the morning, and so on? How would I remember to be compassionate to other people? How would I decode and tackle different situations? Clearly, this idea of 'no mind' is completely ridiculous. One can accept that they have some thoughts that they have no control over, and that negative/intrusive thoughts may not reflect reality, but to get rid of them is simply a ludicrous and potentially damaging idea. If someone walks around constantly trying to clear their mind of thoughts, then they're not concentrating on the Now are they? They just get more lost in a losing battle with their own minds.
Secondly, disconnecting from the emotions is also a dreadful idea. If one disconnects from the emotions, then how are they meant to feel love, and awe, and pride, and joy? At the end of the day, like it or lump it, 'love and joy' does not come from your 'spirit'. Here's the science: they are made by hormones that are created by your glands and organs, that affect different parts of your body in different ways. Example given: foxes have emotions. I doubt they're particularly 'spiritual' animals, and I also doubt that they have different ways of communicating philosophy in fox talk. They don't think words either, but they do remember to have children, and to eat and drink, and to sleep. This is because their emotions tell them to.
So I would completely counter Tolle by saying that you should always listen to your emotions. You should open up to them and accept them as part of you. That doesn't mean you should act on them, for example taking out anger on someone else. But always listen to them. Why do I feel anger? Why do I feel fear? And then: should I go with this emotion, or should I let it go? Your emotions are trying to tell you something, they're trying to improve your life and help you to exist. You can think about them in the wrong way with your mind, but fear wants to keep you alive. Attraction wants you to have children. Joy wants you to feel rewarded. Emotions are sending you messages. Don't block them out: listen to them.
The final problem that I have with this work is that we should all be passive. If somebody does wrong on the planet, for example if Putin dropped two nuclear bombs on the United Kingdom tomorrow, then we should approach them with a passive mindset, and try to get them to right their wrongs by helping them to find their 'inner spirit'. What a ridiculous idea this is. If Putin dropped two bombs on the United Kingdom tomorrow, then he should be reprimanded! He should be viewed as a criminal! It seems that Tolle has got the wrong end of the 'non-judgement' stick. To me, 'non-judgement' means viewing the situation in the truthful way that it is, and then finding an assertive, and not a passive, way to deal with said situation. By doing this, we improve people's lives, and don't take a ridiculous, indifferent, uncaring attitude to everything that exists around us.
In conclusion, the world would be a pretty boring place if we sold our minds, our egos, our emotions, our assertiveness, our positive actions, our will to change the world. We would probably walk around like a bunch of accepting cyborgs. "Oh, you spilled your drink on me. Don't worry, I've accepted that that is now in the past. Let us continue with our conversation while I focus on living in the moment." Or maybe Emperor Eckhart would like that, as he sits in his big mansion eating caviar, berating his servants who, of course, simply accept, passively, that that is there life situation. Wake up people. Life is proactive, not reactive, and if you want to live in the Now, then do it by going out and doing something, and not falling behind your own insecurities.
And yes, my emotions are telling me frustration. Yes, I went with them. Eckhart: get over it.