Book Review: A New Earth

Now, some people love self-help books and others groan at the thought of them (guess which one I am). So let me start this post off with a question: 

Do you ever wonder when you're going to be happy? Do you feel like you live in a constant state of wanting things to be better, waiting for the day when you have less stress and find some peace? Do you often find yourself thinking that you will worry less and be happier when [fill in the blank] happens?
The first self-help book I ever read that really started to get at the root of these issues was Richard Carlson’s Stop Thinking, Start Living. It was the first time I realized that perhaps I was causing my own unhappiness. That I really didn’t need things to be a certain way for everything to be OK.

I will continue to recommend Stop Thinking, Start Living as a must-read, but A New Earth: Create A Better Life by Eckhardt Tolle (you may know him as the author of The Power of Now) is the newest must-have self-help book to sit on my bookshelf.

Tolle explains that the root of all our suffering comes from a lack of awareness of the fact that the person we know to be 'I' is split into two parts – consciousness and the ego. The ego is that part of your brain that you 'hear' all the time. The thinking part. It spends its time getting attached to things, not just material things, but any kind of form. It likes to be right (and for others to be wrong). And it's also a big fan of drama and storytelling. It is – essentially – our identity, our personality.

Its purpose is to survive, no matter what, so it attaches to whatever it can. For example, if you decided to rid yourself of the ego and attachment by renouncing all possessions, the ego would look for something else, say attachment to anti-consumerism. How many people do you know who have tried to search for greater meaning through something and then become unbearable with the steadfastness with which they attach to it?

Understanding the idea of consciousness versus ego is not an easy one – for the very fact that we are so strongly identified with our ego. But Tolle does an amazing job of making it all so clear, through examples and approaching the concept in many different ways until you find your perspective slowly shifting.

I believe (myself included) that most of us experience a background unhappiness without realizing that we are creating this ourselves. The ego makes assumptions – unexamined thoughts that are then confused with reality. As Tolle himself says, "Listen to people’s stories and they could all be entitled 'Why I Cannot Be at Peace Now.'"

And how to be at peace now? We’ve all heard it before, but by making peace with the present moment. The problem is that people don't really believe this will work. They live for the future, they live in the past, and they are skeptical that if they just focused on what they were doing right now, at this very moment, that nothing would change, nothing would get better.

Read the whole book, I say. Because it will tell you again and again in different ways, effectively drumming it into your head so you can finally start putting it into practice:

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 are never fully here because you are always busy trying to get elsewhere.

And the best part? You don’t really have to do that much to make peace with the present. All that is required is a subtle shift in consciousness; an acknowledgement that maybe there is a different way. And it might just get you that one step closer to peace.
P.S. I clearly thought this book was fantastic. However, I will caution that there is a chapter on the 'Pain-Body' which I thought was a little out there (and I am pretty liberal when I read these books). You'll know when you get to it. I suppose I am not sure I agree with his assessment of collective pain-bodies, particularly the bit about women.

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  1. I read A New Earth over the course of a two week vacation with my in-laws over the holidays. I enjoyed it, particularly for the way you mentioned - that it helps to "locate" the ego. Since reading it I've been practicing listening to my ego, and I realize that I am creating stories constantly. For example: someone makes a comment like "I just hope that now that you've paid for that you'll actually use it". My ego hears this and tells me: "Once again, you're doing something you're interested in and you're forced to justify it. This person doesn't want you to be free, they want you to do what makes them feel secure! Everything you do must be justified to someone else and it is literally crushing your soul." Drama! And my ego loves it. I can literally go on and on unless I hear myself and think "Do I really want to keep creating this story?" I generally snap out of repeating it to myself, but the thing I wonder about the ego is - I can hear it, yes, and that's good because I don't believe it as much as I used to, and I act in defense of it less than I used to, and I can see how it distorts things more than I used to, but I wonder- are there times when I can be aware of what my ego wants and it's a good thing? I did what Eckhart Tolle recommends and "experienced the diminishment of my ego in stillness" and I can tell you, it felt interesting but it didn't feel good. Is giving up the ego like giving up coffee? Good for you but no more peaks and lows? Do you have to give up dramatic emotions? I like those, even though I know they make me crazy, and out of control. My personal life has definitely become 1000% more functional since I started "listening" to the ego in me. Perhaps there's a part of my ego-created "definition" that includes disfunction, in fact, I'm sure there is. But I like it! But it's making me miserable! Arg! ha ha. oh crazy, you are my frenemy, I love you.

  2. It's a very interesting point. I think that the point of the book isn't to get rid of your ego but to recognize it and therefore reduce its impact on your life. Everytime you make that shift in consciouness happen, then you generate a choice. You can choose to go along with the drama or recognize it for what it is. Ever since I read the book I've actually started laughing at some of the things my ego comes up with. It's pretty ridiculous at times -- so much disfunction! I don't think it will ever go away, but I can observe it, be amused by it, but not let it run my life. Thanks for the very thoughtful and insightful comment!


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