The following is an in depth analysis and exploration of the material found in Chapter Two of Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose from his class with Oprah. It examines the influence of labels, and our personal stories on the development of the Ego. It helps us understand what the Ego is, how it works, and how to best work with it for our spiritual evolution to lead a life based on joy and inner peace.
There is only the present moment
For those of us who grasp that powerful statement, nothing more needs to be said. It is amazing in fact, how just that statement alone holds so much empowerment for your life. If we all could understand how important living in the now is and how much it alleviates stresses, worries and anxieties the world would be a much happier place right off the bat!
To bring us all to the now Eckhart employed a short and very simple exercise that consisted of focusing on one’s breathing for just 10 seconds. No talking, no thinking. How can you, when your entire focus is on each breath. I did it with them again, even though I tried it many times before, and it is really powerful but at the same time not as easy as it seems. We are not used to stopping our thoughts and focusing on something like our breathing. Sure we can do it for a breath or two or three but 10 seconds or more is actually quite long. If you have never tried it, try being in control of your breathing one day and see what happens… your thoughts very quickly creep in. It is a good thing our bodies control our breathing for us or else there would be a lot of us going around that have forgotten to “breathe” as our thoughts got the better of us.
Stop labeling things
This is another one of those powerful messages. I think most of us can hold the common sense within our heads that if we stopped labeling races, religions, behaviors, etc., we would immediately see a rise in world and personal peace. Eckhart stated that “we react out of situations not out of the actual present moment.” He also goes on to say that “the more we label, the more shallow and lifeless our reality becomes”. That sounds very grim, but look around, it is evident everywhere. As we grow up and grow older, the very first things we learn are names for things and then that continues to names for behaviors, different people, etc. We label ourselves, we label our jobs, and we even label our days as good or bad. This happens to such a magnitude that by the time any of us reach adulthood, we are usually very desensitized and indifferent to the amazing little miracles all around us, a new person on the street, a new meal idea, a new flower blooming in your yard. We see in front of us just another day, with responsibilities to fulfill and tasks to perform and futures to secure.
This is also why Eckhart stated that some people get “addicted” to extreme or even dangerous sports or activities. It is in those times that the entire body and mind is focused on only that present moment, as one wrong move can end your life. He stated that people get a rush from this, as naturally it is freeing from the continuous thought cycles of our minds and thus they crave those activities even more.
Leave your story behind
Most of us today live through “our stories” with which we have completely identified ourselves. This of course causes us to live in the past and thus keeps us away from the present. We think we are “those stories”, the bad childhood, the negative relationship, the financial hardships and so on. Learning to let go of these stories is very uplifting and freeing.
Imagine yourself as a prisoner with a ball and chain around your ankle, it is very difficult if not impossible to venture into new territory and have a fresh start. You are bound to something. Now drop that ball and chain – drop that story and see the magnificent transformation that happens. You are not who you are because of your past, yes it had an effect on you then, but it is not with you in the present moment. The sooner you disengage from it, the sooner you become free, free to enjoy this moment in all its glory!
The Birth of the Ego
Eckhart used the example of the famous ancient Greek figure, Narcissus. At a time when there were no mirrors, Narcissus caught a glimpse of himself in a puddle of water. Eckhart uses this as an example of the start of “obsession with self.” The ego is the “false self” and so we can see our bodies, our jobs, our roles as displaying to us a false sense of self when we allow ourselves to identify with them, as the ego wants us to do. Remember, there is nothing wrong with being beautiful or a doctor or a mother or a diseased person, as long as we realize that is not really who we are. That is not our essence. Those are all just manifestations we chose to express or are expressed in us by default in the physical world.
And so Eckhart invites us to ask then “who am I?” In a series of such repetitions do not look for a physical answer, simply allow yourself to feel the essence of your being. It is also not an exercise of self discovery and thinking, in fact as Eckhart says “it has nothing to do with thinking”.
The other way you can clearly see the ego within you is expressed in the example of the child and their view of “my toy”. Eckhart used this example saying when the toy is taken away from the child, the child cries and get upset as “my toy” has been removed from them. Eckhart explained that the child thinks that the toy adds a sense of self to them and its removal indicates a loss of a piece of themselves. I completely support this theory as it is evident in many adults when they lose a possession in some way, whether it be a car, a watch or a partner. There is always that sadness and anger derived out of a sense of ownership. And ownership is further I believe derived from identifying with it and hence making it a part of you. So we feel that if we lose something, we have lost a part of ourselves. Many people will surely disagree here and state “well of course I have” especially when it deals with a partner or personal beliefs, more so than a material object. But we all have to step back and look at the bigger picture, you truly are not your opinions, your car, your house, your spouse or any other “toy” you hold in this physical world. So there is no point to get defensive about it. If that is all you were just think about, how pointless life would be as our worth and happiness would be measured simply by possessions. Hey wait a minute isn’t that what happens to a lot of people currently? Precisely and look at their level of fulfillment, satisfaction, depth and peace in their life.
Most importantly again do not feel here that you should therefore sit back, not tell people your name, not get a job, have any opinions or buy anything. It is more than ok to enjoy the physical manifestations of this world, but at the same time to realize they are just your toys here to use in the present moment. They will never make you or brake you as you are not them and they are not you.
Dealing with pain and illness
Eckhart had a wonderful question asked of him by one of the viewers, which was how to apply all this, living amidst a chronic disease or physical pain of the body. His answer was very predictable to a large degree – “Stop identifying with it”. The more we identify with a disease or pain the more real we make it. Granted sometimes the physical pain is real and difficult to look beyond, but Eckhart gives 4 good points that try to teach us that having physical pain does not mean you also have to generate psychological pain. Here is a summary of his suggestions:
- Stop talking about it. Don’t encourage questions or discussions about it. The more we talk about it, the more power and authority we give it in our life. Too many of us love to complain and get sympathy, but we neglect to see one huge thing and that is in no way is that helping you get better or rid the pain.
- Stop thinking of yourself as a sick person. No you do not have to lie to yourself; you simply have to focus on parts of you, your body that are healthy and vibrant. Personally I think we all realize that there never in the history of time existed a person who had something wrong with every part, organ, tissue and cell in their body. There is always a healthy physical part in you and in times of disease it is those parts that should be getting all your attention.
- Seek wellbeing around you. Turn especially to nature for examples of wellbeing and focus again as stated above on the healthy parts of you.
- Pain requires surrender, so don’t resist it. The more you resist something, the more it persists, so again there is no need to generate psychological pain from the physical pain. Accept it and take action in being proactive about it.
This example Eckhart applies to physical ailments as well as mental ones, such as depression. If you are suffering from anything, having read the above you may be thinking “easier said than done”. But remember you do have the inner power to control how things affect you. Start small and slowly give the four steps a chance, practicing one by one and who knows you may be astounded by the results.
Take focus off of form based attention
A woman called in also with a good question as to how to address these ideas of the present moment and ego to kids. Eckhart’s response included starting to give them your full attention and not like most parents focus on what the child needs to do, is doing wrong or right, etc. He says one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer their children is to be fully present to them and with them at any moment they are together. The child’s main goal is to be acknowledged not told what to do and what not to do. This does not mean drop all discipline, just see them each time as if you were looking at them for the first time.
Secondly, Eckhart gave a fabulous example relating to kids and the ego. This is especially worthwhile to try when the children first start to learn the names of things. We are all so quick to respond to a child that “this is a tree”, when they point to a tree and ask what it is. Naturally we need to teach kids how to get by and communicate in this world. So Eckhart recommends just changing that sentence slightly to “this is called a tree”. This type of naming along with proper explanations when they are ready for them helps free the child from “labeling” and thus becoming deadened to the aliveness nature holds and getting lost in a world of conceptualization. He also said to encourage kids to touch and experience the physical world using their senses, not just to label and leave it. This helps them see the awe and life in everything around them and helps diminish their desensitization to it.
Content and Structure of Ego
If you have read A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, you are by now not surprised to hear that the ego identifies with anything it can, be it positive or negative. Eckhart defines the ego as “a false sense of self based on mental concepts, mainly identification with form”. He explains to us that every one of us has an ego, but at any point in time that ego can be strengthened, weakened or disappear altogether.
Our true essence, what we really are is awareness, the awareness that we are identified with things. The more we recognize that, the more space Eckhart says, we leave between our true essence and them, the things. This is most prominent in our society in our shopping habits and advertising campaigns. Advertisers continually bait us by using “identity enhancers”, pictures, slogans and messages about their product that will make us feel better, healthier, prettier, etc. by owning it.
He also throws into this discussion the aspect of ageing as asked by one participant. To gracefully age and realize you are not your youth or your looks, he recommends to bring in a deeper dimension to your life and an acceptance of your new look. It is as he says “the destiny of all life forms to experience degradation of form”. And this is another place where to apply the idea of acceptance instead of resistance, which will ultimately bring peace with the condition. Also it is important to bring attention the most at these times to the inner body instead of focusing on the external. Every being has a “formless” dimension and ultimately that is where your truth lies.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Eckhart also shed light on how to apply all this information regarding the ego to even what Jesus is quoted saying in the bible. He explained that after understanding the ego and the present moment himself, he had a chance encounter to open the Bible and after reading a few lines (not for the first time in his life) he realized himself, the amazing truth hiding in it. I completely agree with this, as I was exposed to and familiar with the Bible since I was a little child, and it hasn’t been until a few years ago that I myself am looking at it anew and grasping its amazing potential. See when we are part of a religion, we are told what to believe and how to interpret the Bible by others, but if you are lucky enough to quiet those engraved thoughts within you, you too can began to see the messages in a whole new light, one that definitely makes more sense to me, than anything I have ever heard in the past. In this passage of the Beatitudes, Eckhart explains that “being poor in spirit” is a great reflection of “having a light, unburdened spirit, not being dragged down by problems and possessions”.
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
The second part of this verse of the Beatitudes, Eckhart relays, can be seen in the following way: “For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” can be understood as “For theirs is Enlightenment, or put another way Awareness”. Now here it is very critical not to jump from one religion’s interpretation to another person’s. The key is look and read the passages yourself and with an open mind, see what they say to you. Personally, ever since I have embarked on my own journey of seeking enlightenment, my mind has opened up so much and my spirit has led me to understanding things in a way I never thought was possible. I do agree that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is not only awareness but it is also here amongst us now, in fact Jesus was quoted saying that in the Bible. I no longer feel it is a white, fluffy place or some fortress that will envelop the Earth one day, but it is the state of Being that any of us can reach right here, right now if we are open to it.
Meeting new people
There is no better time to be aware of your ego Eckhart explained, than when meeting new people. Try to be aware the next time you meet new people what thoughts are floating through your mind. There is no time like this example where we see our labeling practices at their worst. We immediately judge in a poor attempt to silently establish superiority or inferiority with the other.
It is also times like these, when we interact with others that bring out in us the want for more. Many of us constantly compete with others, and hence it is no surprise as Oprah said that many people in the U.S. live in debt. We seem to be obsessed with the idea of more. And boy do I have a lot to say on this topic, for example if you have not yet, read my article on The Story of Stuff, that puts a lot in perspective on this topic. We have to realize that our ego is never satisfied, Eckhart says. And so unless we see the “illusion” of seeking fulfillment in “more” and hence in the “future”, we will constantly be caught up in a vicious cycle of “not enoughness”. That is why so many of us dread the “present moment” as we feel it is standing in our way of attaining our true fulfillment. We live each day with the idea that in the future we will have this or that and hence be happy, etc. But we must realize Eckhart says that the future never actually comes. We are always in the present. And so the easiest way to detach yourself from and exit the ego and with it the obsession of “more”, is simply to embrace the present.
What about pleasant memories, do we have to abandon those?
One viewer asked this question and Eckhart responded that it ultimately does not matter if they are pleasant or not. There is no life apart from now and so they, just like any unpleasant memories are now only a “phantom identity”, they do not really exist. One can reminisce if one chooses, but be careful not to identify with those and hence be pulled into the past and out of the present moment.
Ability of teenagers to awaken
Near the very end of the webcast, Eckhart was asked an excellent question by a 13 year old girl if teenagers are unable to awaken due to their still developing ego. To this Eckhart responded, naturally no, as the fact of being able to read about and grasp the ideas of the ego already puts that person in a state of awareness. The benefit also he states to knowing and understanding the ego early is “not being as trapped in it” as others when you grow up.
Eckhart and Oprah concluded with the idea that all one needs to move beyond the ego, beyond the false sense of self, and beyond the constant yearning for more through identification with form is to just become aware! In our world today, feel free to use past and future as needed, i.e. to book an appointment, but make friends with the present. Any waiting, anxiety, and stresses about and for the future means not liking the present moment, and hence living in ego.
The “peace that passes all understanding” is the present moment. Accept it first, says Eckhart, and then take action. This way, your action will not come from a space of negative energy and hence put you in constant unease.
And finally, to break the chains of suffering and lift your spirit to new heights, simply LIVE IN ALIGNMENT OF THE PRESENT MOMENT!
A New Earth is available in local book stores and libraries, as well as Amazon.com below: