It is customary when writing on spiritual matters to tell stories -- parables or koans -- to help illuminate the unenlightened. Tolle does this, and these parts of the book, I like. Yesterday I happened across this in an old Readers Digest (March 2006) and it expresses, on so many levels, the difficulties I have with A New Earth:
During the Cold War, I was an interpreter in the Air Force. We were testing a computer that purportedly could translate Russian into English, and vice versa. We began by uttering this English phrase, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
The Russian translation came out, "Vodka horosho, no myaca slabie." Or, in English, "The alcohol is good, but the meat is poor."
Ah, yes -- translation. Translation from the 'spiritual' to the 'material' (or, as Tolle would say, formless and form.) Or: I want to be willing, to be open and receptive -- but I keep wanting evidence, something palpable, something testable. Something like alcohol and meat.
A teacher once told me that many people are processed cheese and pale beer, whereas I am sharp cheddar and dark ale. Perhaps this means I am all too much form. Here, I am wanting fine brandy and rare, bloody steak, but tasting mostly fumes and charcoal.
I have had many teachers. Most people, many other animals, countless trees. I am determined that this book will teach me. But determination, of course, is the entirely wrong stance from which to receive such teaching. At once, of course, I realize that there is nothing new here; this is all recycled philosophy, opinion, revelation -- as even the author confesses.
But such critiques are essentially pointless. The author protects himself well:
This book is about you. It will change your state of consciousness or it will be meaningless. It can only awaken those who are ready. not everyone is ready yet, but many are . . .
If you don't get it, you're not ready. So why are so many (over half a million, Oprah tells us) trying to glean wisdom and enlightenment from this?
In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, Chapter 9: Divinity With or Without God, Jonathan Haidt tells us:
In all human cultures, the social world has two clear dimensions: a horizontal dimension of closeness or liking, and a vertical one of hierarchy or status. . . . one day, you see a person do something extraordinary, or you have an overwhelming experience of natural beauty, and feel lifted "up." But it's not the "up" of hierarchy, it's some other kind of elevation. . . . My claim is that the human mind perceives a third dimension, a specifically moral dimension that I will call "divinity." . . . I am not assuming that God exists and is there to be perceived. . . . Rather, my research on the moral emotions has led me to conclude that the human mind simply does perceive divinity and sacredness, whether or not God exists.
And, as is his habit, he refers us to various studies that support his hypothesis.
So here we are, these half-million of us who have had such experiences a few times in our lives, and want to know what such experiences mean, or simply want more of them, and we sign onto Oprah.com at the assigned time to learn how to elicit them and crash even her (presumably impressive) technological resources. [Kudos to her for the attempt, nonetheless. With her, I do believe it's possible, and if anyone can pull it off, it's Oprah.]
Yesterday, I downloaded the webcast and watched it. Today, I don't remember much about it. He seems like a nice, kind man. Entirely inoffensive, and, I think, entirely sincere. His ideas are much easier to take from him on video than from the page, where he tends to be a bit opaque. What I remember (in my own [borrowed] words):
- The only moment we have is this one.
- Resistance (to this singular moment) is futile. (Resist nothing.)
- We are not our thoughts; we are the space in which our thoughts occur.
- Ego is the unobserved mind, the unhappy story.
- Ask not what you want from life (God, Consciousness) but what life wants from you.
- A bit of unsubstantiated (and unacknowledged as unsubstantiated) theory about energy fields and the evolution of consciousness.
So. Nothing especially new or earthshaking. Nothing, really, that might not benefit a willing spirit, were the flesh strong enough to pay ongoing attention, and the mind sufficiently engaged to doubt.
What interests me, though -- that thinking, egoic me -- is how this effort to move us toward peace, serenity and awareness has resulted in a flurry of angry, angst-ridden postings on the Oprah message boards; how this action has provoked its opposite in reaction. My guess, from reading post titles (I rarely dip into the posts themselves, after a few quick readings) is that there is some email campaign going on in religious right communities. I don't know how else to account for the number and vehemence of posts attacking Tolle (and Oprah) as anti-Christian; even as Satan, Beelzebub, or the Anti-Christ himself.
Really, if one's religion, or faith, is so fragile as to be seriously threatened by this inoffensive man and his restatement of ancient concepts, I'd say it's time to reassess that religion, that faith. It's time to explore some new -- or old -- ideas.
Here is a very cogent and funny post: Yeah, I read it too:
While it’s still fresh in my mind, I thought I would offer my two cents. Well actually, I was thinking of offering my twenty-five cents worth of opinionated review but in an effort to keep my conscious-self in check, I’ll stick with pennies. Perhaps a quarter is a bit egocentric. . .
So with that, I send you off to explore, and turn my own ego toward less substantial preoccupations. For a few days, anyway. Poetry, maybe. Or science fiction.
Unless you have something to add?