Monday, 16 February 2009

A New Earth Revisited

Back in May, I made this pronouncement about Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth:
There is nothing new in this book, and other people have said what Tolle tries to get across, only much more beautifully. However, I would agree with Oprah that out of the many books like this that I've read, Tolle's is the most simply explained.

Well, I picked up a cheap paperback copy of the book in Tesco a few weeks ago, and since then I have read and re-read it about 4 times. I have gone through it underlining and highlighting. I have read entire chapters aloud to my husband. One evening we spent well over 2 hours talking about some of the concepts in it. So, I have to say, I change my mind about the importance of the book. I am no longer feeling at all dismissive of it.

I also made this comment on my first reading:

The only thing so far that I've not really agreed with (or possibly haven't grasped) is this whole 'pain-body' theory of his. Maybe it's because I find the very term 'pain-body' quite distasteful. And his description of the pain-body is eerie and disturbing. This alien, almost demon-like force indwelling you and feeding off negativity, like that blobby monster in 'Ghostbusters II'! Tolle says, 'The pain-body is a semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up entirely of emotion. It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and its intelligence is directed primarily at survival.' Its food is negative emotion, according to Tolle. It wants to gorge on bad feelings. I don't accept this concept at all.

I am really feeling the irony of this statement, because on my recent re-reading of 'A New Earth', the pain-body chapters were the ones that had the greatest impact on me. I read them over and over, and they are the chapters (Chapters 5 and 6) that I read out loud to my husband and that we then spent hours talking through. In fact, I thought for a couple of weeks about the pain-body chapters before even asking my husband if I could read to him from the book. The concepts were that significant to me.

So, what is this pain-body, and how can knowing about it help you?

Thoughts and emotions

Most of us would agree with the notion that we are not in control of our thoughts, that there is a constant voice in the head that seems to have a life of its own and that a lot of people are at the mercy of it. Tolle says that thinking is not something that we do, but something that happens, like the blood circulating or food digesting. It happens without our volition.

Tolle goes on to explain how emotion arises as a result of this stream of thinking. First he explains the difference between an instinctive response and an emotion. Both take place in the physical body. An instinctive response is the body's direct response to an external situation. An emotion is the body's direct response to a thought. For example, you notice a car coming at you very fast when you thought the way was clear: a surge of primordial fear. Rapid heartbeat, a wave of something washing over you, eyes widening, maybe an outcry. That's an instinctive response. On the other hand, someone says something to you about a new job opportunity coming up at work. You feel similar rapid heartbeat, a feeling of something washing over you, whilst you think, 'Wow! What a great chance for me to move up! I knew if I was patient something good would come along for me here,' or 'Yes, I could apply for it, but I know I won't get short-listed. So-and-so will probably get it. I should just apply for work elsewhere, I'm getting nowhere here.'

Now, all of us would feel and respond pretty much the same to the oncoming car. And all of us would have some sort of physical response to the news of a new job opportunity. But see how different the thoughts are? The voice in the head tells a story that the body responds to . So, emotionally speaking, it's not what was said or done that you react to but the story you tell yourself about it that determines your emotional response, which manifests as a physical response to the thought.

This is all familiar ground, all Dr. Phil type stuff. We've heard this stuff before. You're thinking that next we'll be chanting, 'I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.' But Eckhart Tolle isn't laying the groundwork here for positive self-talk. He goes far beyond that. Tolle's point is that both responses, positive and negative, are in fact the same: ego-generated emotions derived from the mind. One is not better than the other, they're both equally irrelevant because they are 'ego'--they do not 'emanate from your natural state of connectedness with Being.' They are part of the 'little me'--the illusion of who you are that obscures your true identity as formless and timeless Presence. One response is not the right one, the other the wrong one. They are both equally irrelevant emotional responses based on thought.

So is Tolle saying we're not supposed to think or feel? Not at all. Quite the reverse! You can't help thinking, it happens without your volition, just like breathing, circulation and digestion.

Have you ever said, 'I can see myself spiralling out of control,' or something similar? Stop for a minute--who is this 'you' who is watching you? Tolle says it is the Consciousness, the Awareness, the timeless Presence that is the true you. The part of you that is aware of and observing the emotion and the thoughts, that's the true you. You are not your emotion or thoughts. And once you become aware that there is a part of you that is separate from emotion and thought, that is awakening. Whether they are positive or negative, you are above your thoughts and your emotions--but that doesn't mean you should try not to have them.

The Pain-Body

Okay, so we have emotions and we can't help that. Here's where the pain-body comes in:

Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissove. It leaves behind a remnant of pain.

This energy field of old but still very much alive emotion that lives in almost every human being is the pain-body.

Out of time now! More on this later...

1 comment:

Anna Down Under said...

Carla, you expressed it so well, it took me back to when I read it -- it all made such sense to me then, and you've made me want to go read it again.

I'm so glad you gave it a second look!