I feel a bit self-conscious admitting that I liked this book for two reasons:
- It's shelved in the bookstore under "Self Help."
- It has one of those little Oprah stickers on the front. (She is turning this guy into the Dr. Phil of spiritual teachers.)
But despite all that, I think maybe it really did change my life. In about 300 pages, Tolle lays out the meaning of life. And everything he said struck me as true, as irrefutable actually. He tells us that joy is within our grasp, that death is inconsequential, that time is a fallacy — that everything that makes life seem scary and hard and serious is just a figment of our minds. At our essence is life, pure unadulterated pulsating glowing glorious life, and it is always there waiting for us, if only we could push aside all that chaotic thinking and simply Be. Of course, that is easier said than done.
Even after nine years of yoga, with the sitting quietly and trying not to think, this book was a revelation to me. What really struck me was the idea that we are not our thoughts, we are not our personality, we are the being that is perceiving the thoughts. We are not all separate and vastly different people, as we often see ourselves. Instead, we are all just physical manifestations of the same universal life force. But we allow that life force to get buried under our thoughts, under our ego. In this universe, there is really no such thing as death, only life. That life animates different forms at different times. He argues that we are immortal because what we truly are is that universal life force, which never disappears. We don't have life like we have cars, so it is not something we can lose. We are life. For someone who has spent a little too much time worrying about death recently, that is a comforting way to think about life and death.
He also takes on time, the other thing that scares the hell out of me. Tolle argues that the past and the future are only mental constructs. The only thing that truly exists is this moment, this breath, this place — and the best thing we can do is be present in it. Our egos (those voices in our heads that cloud our essential natures) are constantly telling us that there is some reason we cannot be content now. That there is something that needs to be overcome or accomplished, and then we can be happy. And that's how most of us spend our lives, constantly trying to fill that lack which can never be filled. We get what we think we want and then there is always something else. Tolle says it is our job to quiet that voice that says, "I need X to be happy," and to simply Be where you are.
If you are thinking, "But that means I'll never make any progress in my life, that I will be powerless to change my circumstances," that's not true. But I cannot do justice to his logic here; you'll just have to read the book. But if you become truly present in your life, it will go in a truer and better direction that in does when you are agonizing and laboring over each step. Human life is about balancing the two spheres of existence: The form-based part (paying the mortgage, going to work, all the worldly things that we must do) and the spiritual part (living each moment, being truly awake and alive).
I so want to reach this place. But I fear that, like so many things, this book is simply going to fade away, and I will sink back into my fearful, serious life. Already I feel myself thinking, as I try to notice my breath and be in the present moment, "What's so fucking great about this moment, Eckhart? This is boring." I'm not sure what I need to do to keep alive the idea that joy is within my grasp, that fear is only a mental construct, that time is an illusion. Read the book over and over again, day in and day out for the rest of my life? Go live in an ashram? I don't know, but I want to try.