Book 1 of 24 of A Year of Books: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Read: January 2018.
I love long haul business flights. Being alone forces me to spend time with myself without much disturbance. In the plane I am suspended in the air, disconnected, in a state of being neither here nor there. Silence (or at least something like it) is a luxury. Of course travel is a luxury as well – but that’s a different story.
In this specific flight, I was en route to Amsterdam. My first trip for the year. The perfect time and place to be still and think about “matters of no consequence” – if I may borrow the words of The Little Prince. Like, maybe, happiness. What does it even mean? And why does it continue to be elusive despite “success” or privilege? And what about success? What does it mean? Will their definitions be any different if we strip away what everybody else thinks? I have a barrage of other questions, but I’m afraid to go too deep too soon.
I started reading my first book for the year in that flight – A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. A book which I have already read before, but did not have any meaning the first time. I am not fond of reading books a second time, but that has changed now, partly because of this. Reading a book again with a new framework or with a completely different state of mind changes everything about a book. Come to think of it, it changes everything about everything.
With some extra openness, I started to read A New Earth once again, really slowly. This time allowing it to fill me, and then empty me, and then fill me again. I allowed myself to think and delve deep into “matters of no consequence”: the past, the present, ego, perception, the use of words and thoughts, acceptance, joy, enthusiasm. All these things that are just faraway concepts in my daily life.
Is it a book for everyone? I’m not too sure. I don’t think there is a book for everyone. For a taste of it, I’ve listed my favorite quotes here. (And I tried so hard to condense this list, but it is impossible). So here they are, almost all of them, in all their glory.
The greatest achievement of humanity is not its works of art, science, or technology, but the recognition of its own dysfunction, its own madness.
On religion: They became ideologies, belief systems people could identify with and so use them to enhance their false sense of self. Through them, they could make themselves “right” and others “wrong” and thus define their identity through their enemies, the “others,” the “non-believers” or “wrong believers” who not infrequently they saw themselves justified in killing.
Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg.
Of course we have to use words and thoughts. They have their own beauty – but do we need to become imprisoned in them? Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp, which isn’t very much.
The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that. And what is a grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.
How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.
The ego identifies with having, but its satisfaction in having is a relatively shallow and short lived one. Concealed within it remains a deep seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of “not enough.” “I don’t have enough yet,” by which the ego really means, “I am not enough yet.”
What you usually refer to when you say “I” is not who you are. By a monstrous act of reductionism, the infinite depth of who you are is confused with a sound produced by the vocal cords or the thought of “I” in your mind and whatever the “I” has identified with.
“Well, right now, this is how it is. I can either accept it, or make myself miserable.”
For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. “I have fifty cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering. Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.
Happiness is ever elusive, but freedom from unhappiness is attainable now, by facing what is rather than making up stories about it.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.
What is reality? Whatever is. Buddha called it tatata – the suchness of life, which is no more than the suchness of this moment.
Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?
Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain to the pain that is already there, is it possible for you to completely accept that this is what you feel right now?
Can you see that your unhappiness about being unhappy is just another layer of unhappiness? In other words, and this may sound strange, if you don’t mind being unhappy, what happens to the unhappiness? Don’t you want to find out?
Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment. It is part of the isness of the Now. You can’t argue with what is.
Nobody can tell you who you are. It would just be another concept, so it would not change you. Who you are requires no belief. In fact, every belief is an obstacle.
If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance. The fact is: Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.
You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it.
See the fullness of life all around you. The warmth of the sun on your skin, the display of magnificent flowers outside a florist’s shop, biting into a succulent fruit, or getting soaked in an abundance of water falling from the sky. The fullness of life is there at every step. The acknowledgment of that abundance that is all around you awakens the dormant abundance within. Then let it flow out.
Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality. Jesus puts it like this: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
It won’t even be able to differentiate between life (good) and death (bad) anymore since everywhere new life grows out of rotting and decaying matter.
And yet the universe is an indivisible whole in which all things are interconnected, in which nothing exists in isolation. The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of “good” and bad” are ultimately illusory. They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily.
The atoms that make up your body were once forged inside stars, and the causes of even the smallest event are virtually infinite and connected with the whole in incomprehensible ways.
“This is my secret,” he said. “I don’t mind what happens.”
Do I want the present moment to be my friend or my enemy? The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of a relationship you want to have with life.
To the ego, the present moment is, at best, only useful as a means to an end. It gets you to some future moment that is considered more important, even though the future never comes except as the present moment and is therefore never more than a thought in your head. In other words, you aren’t ever fully here because you are always busy trying to get elsewhere.
When this pattern becomes more pronounced, and this is very common, the present moment is regarded and treated as if it were an obstacle to be overcome. This is where impatience, frustration, and stress arise, and in our culture, it is many people’s everyday reality, their normal state. Life, which is now, is seen as a “problem,” and you come to inhabit a world of problems that all need to be solved before you can be happy, fulfilled, or really start living – or so you think. The problem is: For every problem that is solved, another one pops up. As long as the present moment is seen as an obstacle, there can be no end to problems. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” says Life or the Now. “I’ll treat you the way you treat me. If you see me as a problem, I will be a problem to you. If you treat me as an obstacle, I will be an obstacle.”
if you look more closely, that is to say, through your own immediate experience, you find that there are not many moments at all. You find that there is only ever this moment. Life is always now. Your entire life unfolds in this constant Now.
As long as it runs your life, there are two ways of being unhappy. Not getting what you want is one. Getting what you want is the other.
Unhappiness or negativity is a disease on our planet. What pollution is on the outer level is negativity on the inner. It is everywhere, not just in places where people don’t have enough, but even more so where they have more than enough.
Let us put it like this: There is something within you that has an affinity with space; that is why you can be aware of it. Aware of it? That’s not totally true either because how can you be aware of space if there is nothing there to be aware of? The answer is both simple and profound. When you are aware of space, you are not really aware of anything, except awareness itself – the inner space of consciousness.
The earth is precious and at the same time insignificant.
This, too, will pass. Suddenly, there is space around the event. There is also space around the emotional highs and lows, even around pain. And above all, there is space between your thoughts. And from that space emanates a peace that is not “of this world,” because this world is form, and the peace is space.
Breathing isn’t really something that you do but something that you witness as it happens. Breathing happens by itself.
Thought is form. Being aware of stillness means to be still. To be still is to be conscious without thought.
“Making it” in whatever field is only meaningful as long as there are thousands or millions of others who don’t make it, so you need other human beings to “fail” so that your life can have meaning.
Whatever you do takes time, and yet it is always now.
The unconscious assumption behind all such action is that success is a future event, and that the need justifies the means. But the end and the means are one. And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end.
This doesn’t mean you don’t know where you are going; it just means this step is primary, the destination secondary. And what you encounter at your destination once you get there depends on the quality of this one step.
Every thought, every desire or fear, every action or reaction, is then infused with a false sense of self that is incapable of sensing the simple joy of Being and so seeks pleasure, and sometimes even pain, as substitutes for it.
Some changes may look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.
If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.
Before we look at what relevance the expansion and contraction of the universe has to your own life, we need to bear in mind here that nothing we say about the nature of the universe should be taken as an absolute truth. Neither concepts nor mathematical formulae can explain the infinite. No thought can encapsulate the vastness of the totality. Reality is a unified whole, but thought cuts it up into fragments. This gives rise to fundamental misperceptions, for example, that there are separate things and events, or that this is the cause of that. Every thought implies a perspective, and every perspective, by its very nature, implies limitation, which ultimately means that it is not true, at least not absolutely. Only the whole is true, but the whole cannot be spoken or thought. Seen from beyond the limitations of thinking and therefore incomprehensible to the human mind, everything is happening now. All that ever has been or will be is now, outside of time, which is a mental construct.
As an illustration of relative and absolute truth, consider the sunrise and sunset. when we say the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that is true but only relatively. In absolute terms, it is false. Only from the limited perspective of an observer on or near the planet’s surface does the sun rise and set. If you were far out in space, you would see that the sun neither rises nor sets, but that it shines continuously. And yet, even after realizing that, we can continue to speak of the sunrise or sunset, still see its beauty paint it, write poems about it, even though we now know that it is a relative rather than an absolute truth.
And then just when you thought you made it or that you belong here, the return movement begins. Perhaps people close to you begin to die, people who were a part of your world. Then your physical form weakens; your sphere of influence shrinks. Instead of becoming more, you now become less, and the ego reacts to this with increasing anxiety or depression. Your world is beginning to contract, and you may find you are not in control anymore. Instead of acting upon life, life now acts upon you by slowly reducing your world. The consciousness that identified with form is now experiencing the sunset, the dissolution of form. And then one day, you too disappear. Your armchair is still there. But instead of you sitting in it, there is just an empty space. You went back to where you came from just a few years ago.
Stupidity is relatively harmless, but intelligent stupidity is highly dangerous. This intelligent stupidity, for which one could find countless obvious examples, is threatening our survival as a species.
The only actions that do not cause opposing reactions are those that are aimed at the good of all. They are inclusive, not exclusive. They join; they don’t separate. They are not for “my” country but for all of humanity, not for “my” religion but the emergence of consciousness in all human beings, not for “my” species but for all sentient beings and all of nature.
When the brain gets damaged, it does not mean you lose consciousness. It means consciousness can no longer use that form to enter this dimension. You cannot lose consciousness because it is, in essence, who you are. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.
The modalities of awakened doing are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all – from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.
Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires me to do, and so I do it willingly.
Performing an action in the state of acceptance means you are at peace while you do it. That peace is a subtle energy vibration which then flows into what you do.
On the new earth, enjoyment will replace wanting as the motivating power behind people’s actions. Wanting arises from the ego’s delusion that you are a separate fragment that is disconnected from the power that lies behind all creation. Through enjoyment, you link into that universal creative power itself. When you make the present moment, instead of past and future, the focal point of your life, your ability to enjoy what you do – and with it the quality of your life – increases dramatically. Joy is the dynamic aspect of Being.
The “waiting to start living” syndrome is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change on the outer level is much more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already, instead of waiting for some change so that you can start enjoying what you do.
Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into this world from deep within you. The misperception that joy comes from what you do is normal, and it is also dangerous, because it creates the belief that joy is something that can be derived from something else, such as an activity or thing. You then look to the world to bring you joy, happiness. But it cannot do that.
Some of those people who, through creative action, enrich the lives of many others simply do what they enjoy doing most without wanting to achieve or become anything through that activity.
Enthusiasm means there is deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward.
“Nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm.” The word enthusiasm comes from ancient Greek – en and theos meaning God. Enthousiazein means “to be possessed by a god.”
Awakening as a future event has no meaning because awakening is the realization of Presence. So the new heaven, the awakened consciousness, is not a future state to be achieved. A new heaven and a new earth are arising within you at this moment, and if they are not arising at this moment, they are no more than a thought in your head and therefore not arising at all.