Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yeah, I read it too

“…A new heaven and a new earth are arising within you at this moment, and if they are not arising at this moment, they are no more than a thought in your head and therefore not arising at all…”

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.

I’ve made it no secret that I really like Oprah. I think her heart is in the right place and she has undoubtedly left her humanitarian footprint on American soil as well as abroad. I think she’d make a fine president and an even better dinner guest.
Like many, I responded to Oprah’s call for followers just as soon as she announced her most recent book club pick, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (to make it easier—and because it’s befitting, I will refer to him as E.T. for the remainder of this post).
After finishing this book (which was no small feat), I must admit that I am perplexed at how passionately Ms. Winfrey speaks of its contents.

I am a voracious reader. I like to believe that I have a relatively firm grasp on the English language. Any evidence of these two facts flew from my egotistical pain-body as soon as my spectacles met chapter one. When I toted the seemingly wispy paperback home from Borders, I was sure it would be an easy read. I didn’t plan for the frequent re-reading of passages for the sake of clarification.
Even as I read the last chapter, I found myself flipping back to one particular passage that haunted me;
“…In fact, at the heart of the new consciousness lies the transcendence of thought, the newfound ability of rising above thought, of realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast than thought. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself. What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought—or the emotion or sense perception—happens.

I was haunted because that “voice in my head” is precisely who I am. That voice is the one I depend on to remind me not to sweat the small stuff. When I begin to take myself too seriously, that voice tells me to stop and smell the roses and live life for the moment whether or not the beds are made or the carpet is clean. That voice reminds me that Sunday is still the Sabbath day whether or not the Cowboys are playing. That voice suggests that another jar of peanut butter added to my grocery list will help our local food pantry more than it will hurt my budget. That voice lets me know that I am still loveable despite the double digits on my jeans tag. That voice reminds me
that even parents need to apologize to their kids once in a while.
That voice is capable of reason on occasions when I have become completely unreasonable.
And now E.T. wants me to detach myself from that voice in an effort to rise above my unconscious self. If nothing else, I am suspicious
(and I don’t doubt that E.T. would suggest that suspiciousness is as serious an infraction as unconsciousness).
You’ll have to forgive me if I seem critical and a bit small-minded. Surprisingly, I actually like this book. I believe it will perpetuate feelings of heightened awareness for its readers and will do more good than harm for the thousands who seek to uncover their life’s purpose.
I can’t argue with a book that promotes purity of self
over our standard issue, egomaniacal persona.
I want a new earth as much as the next gal, but I hold fast to that notion with as much skepticism as I do for a well-deserved reduction in my property taxes.
I want to believe that within each of us there is an honest soul, free from the influences of our corrupt culture of materialism. I have to believe that even before E.T. became a household name, some of us were trying to fight the demons of consumerism and adopt a practice of selflessness over selfishness. But the concept of living through our conscious selves instead of living through our pain-bodies is one that I find difficult to wrap my head around.
And on the subject of ego, I find it interesting that the author felt compelled to travel so far from his own country to finally free himself from his once ego-centric identity. Personally, I can’t think of a better place to lose one’s ego than on his hometown doorstep.
As young children, we had little concept of ego. We enjoyed the everyday pleasure of being and if ever we strayed from the basic tenets of love, fairness and faith, we need look no further than our own kin to set us straight. I would argue that I am never more aware of my true identity than when I see myself reflected in the eyes of my loved ones. I am never more my true self than I am in the presence of my kin. Perhaps this is why traditional methods of soul-searching often involve detailed genealogical research. By connecting with ones history, we are able to identify with another fragment of self.
We are who we are in part because of who we came from.
In fact, I recall watching a PBS documentary that detailed a genealogical investigation into the lives of prominent African Americans. Our very own Oprah sat in silent astonishment as her roots were traced back to an African community she had never considered as part of her ancestry.
An online resource summarizing the documentary states:

"In February 2006, the acclaimed PBS series
African American Lives brought to the forefront of
national consciousness the powerful process of discovering one's family history. A Roots for the 21st century, the series made a deep cultural impact through its riveting use of DNA analysis, genealogical research and family oral tradition to trace the lineages of highly accomplished African Americans down through U.S. history and back to Africa.
One year later, Oprah's Roots further crystallized and propelled America's interest in family tree research through the powerful stories of Oprah Winfrey's ancestors and their accomplishments."

I question what Ms. Winfrey and E.T. would make of the aforementioned term “national consciousness” in light of
their recent awakenings.
By being conscious of our roots and by taking interest in the physical form of our ancestors, are we then succumbing to the influences of our unconscious, ego-centric selves?

The fact is, with or without this book, I am a work in progress.
And to be told that the physical manifestation of self is
insignificant at best, is a bitter pill to swallow.
Not because I am self absorbed, but because I find comfort in identifying with the physical attributes of my ancestors.
I share light eyes and fair complexion with my Irish grandmother, I worry and gesticulate in identical fashion to my Italian grandmother, I share my mother’s smile and my father’s brow. Siblings and I are built differently but share the same gait. Our hair color is as varied as our personalities yet we sound alike.
In my quest to awaken to my life’s purpose, it would seem impossible to dismiss any of these.
Perhaps I am missing the point.
Am I?

I am amused by one particular passage in the book which I consider to be a disclaimer of sorts. It would seem that E.T. allows for his own acquittal should any of his teachings seem disingenuous
(or worst case scenario, should he fail to awaken a dedicated reader
to her life's purpose). I don’t know him personally, and by all accounts he seems to be an incredibly knowledgeable person of reliable ingenuity but, just in case...
He writes:

“Only the first awakening, the first glimpse of consciousness without thought, happens by grace, without any doing on your part. If you find this book incomprehensible or meaningless, it has not happened to you. If something within you responds to it, however, if you somehow recognize the truth in it, it means the process of awakening has begun. Once it has done so, it cannot be reversed, although it can be delayed by the ego. For some people, the reading of this book will initiate the awakening process. For others, the function of this book is to help them recognize that they have already begun to awaken and to intensify and accelerate the process. Another function of this book is to help people recognize the ego within them whenever it tries to regain control and obscure the arising awareness.”

Either way, I suppose he’s glad you gave it a shot
and bought the book (alternatively, you could have purchased
a CD or DVD of his teachings from his website).
Some would suggest his teachings are prophetic.
If such is the case, I would have to ask,
is he a not-for-profit prophet?

And as for Oprah’s commitment to A New Earth and its teachings,
I applaud her ambition. Only Oprah could see the vision of a worldwide classroom through to its reality. I was an early registrant for her progressive online course and I look forward to open dialogue about A New Earth.

If I am permitted to submit a question to Ms. Winfrey through the classroom chat forum, I might ask her if a time will come when she will surrender those chili-pepper soled Louboutins for the sake of
her (obviously) aching feet, and reveal her true self in a pair of sensible, comfortable shoes.
I would have to guess that her ego is responsible for choosing such fashionable (albeit torturous) footwear.

Or perhaps I might question her recent need to transform a neighborhood of “Schlumpadinkas” into fashion-forward soccer moms. Did she find them offensive as they sported their worn but honest track suits to run errands and chauffer children?
Can’t we be our true selves in elastic waist pants and well-worn velour leisure suits, or is there a dress code?

I may have failed miserably in my attempt to keep cynicism at bay.
Perhaps I am simply a poor candidate for a successful awakening.
I’m not sure I’m ready to part with that voice in my head
who, for the better part of forty years has kept me grounded. It tells me that in just a few short months after Oprah’s ten-session lecture on A New Earth, she will be filming her “Favorite Things” episode for 2008 during which she will share ‘must haves’ for a best life.
Most of the items will cost more money than her loyal viewers can afford and we will face the moral dilemma of feeling joy over jealousy for her lucky studio audience. I am curious to know however, if her ratings will be down by then.
If we follow E.T.’s advice for finding and accepting joy, we
will realize that:
“The misperception that joy comes from what you do is normal, and it is also dangerous, because it creates the belief that joy is something that can be derived from something else, such as an activity or a thing…but it cannot do that. This is why many people live in constant frustration. The world is not giving them what they think they need.”
(Or what Oprah tells them they “must have”).

And so this book and I will likely continue our tumultuous relationship. Perhaps I will read it through once again.
Perhaps not.

In the meantime, when I experience those occasional feelings of hopelessness and fragmented identity, I will look to those who know me best, the ones who love me unconditionally, to offer their emotional and physical support.
I am also confident that when my ego takes center stage, that same cast of characters will lead me back to my true self, the one who is working hard to be in a state of awakened doing .

As for this blog post, I suppose it's a bit of food for thought.
I don't expect that most of you who read A New Earth
will agree with me.
But it makes no difference, because that little voice in my head
is my own. And as each of us has our own voice
(whether we acknowledge its presence or not), we are free
to accept our differences, enjoy the dialogue and
face the next book club pick with enthusiasm.
I would expect that even E.T. won't disagree with that.

And if I may offer a bit of advice for the author, who will likely
find himself in a state of shock at an unprecedented number of
books sold (in the millions), and facing the inevitable cruelties of fame and fortune (not the least of which will be the question
prophet or profit?), I would direct him towards the truest,
most genuine reflection of self, where shoulders are available unconditionally, to stand on-- or cry on,
and ego has no place beyond the doorstep;
Phone home.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food



Anonymous said...

Interesting review. But, the concept in "E.Ts" book is nothing new.. it's basically time-honored buddhism with the Jesus' "Approval" stamped in the book a few times. I think it's also been pretty dumbed down so americans can understand it.

Ambar said...

I'm surprised you are getting negative feedback. I find your perspective refreshing. I haven't completed the book as of yet, but I have arrived at chapter 7. I will say I'm finding some truth, but I would also say, I see truth in what you are saying as well. Oprah is good intentioned but sometimes she is cut off from reality. She has been wealthy for 20 years, she's definitely not "in tune" with the average person. But she trys, we have to give her that. Kudos to you for listening to your inner voice, sounds like it's sending you in the right direction. I, for one, will definitely be droppping an extra jar of peanut butter in my shopping cart from this day forward ;).

tall penguin said...

Hi Michelle,

Saw your post on the Oprah forum and wanted to make a comment here.

Your commentary made me smile. I actually can't stop grinning. Although I enjoy Tolle's work, I share many of your thoughts. And to see them put so succinctly brought me a very simple sense of delight today. My pain body thanks you. ;)

Anonymous said...

Where were you criticized? I see nothing of the sort.

Is that your ego talking? ;)

Michelle said...

Apparently, it's my ego that's always talking.
However, the post you provided a link to is actually the third post that appeared on that site.
For some reason, that one was allowed to remain.
My first two were removed by moderators for reasons known only to them.
I suspect the first one I posted was removed because I did not comply with rules about web addresses and links.
The second one is a mystery to me.
Both of those had several comments both negative and positive. I have received a few private messages that I'm still trying to figure out. It would seem that this book brings out all sorts of behavior.

If you stopped here just to remind me that my ego is present, thanks for your visit.
If I ever forget to listen to my ego, I'll be reminded of those conscious enough to point it out.

And yes, that's my ego talking.


Anonymous said...

I am a faithful "lurker" on the Cooking Light boards and had to read your comments on this book. I applaud you and suggest that you write the next book because your insight is real and tangible, very different from E.T. Thank you for a great review, I look forward to reading your blog frequently.

Mary Ann

SB said...

I am *so* glad that you left a pointer to your blog on your Oprah profile --

We agree on much, but you are funnier.

I may try lightening up a bit with my next post on this book.

And -- oh, yeah -- in case your ego is interested -- I've subscribed.

Anonymous said...

Oprah's 4 interviews with Jill Bolte Taylor were the first that Oprah did after Eckhart Tolle and they take everything Tolle talks about to another level. Oprah's copy of Jill's book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, was dog-eared and all marked up and kept reading from it the way she read from A New Earth and recommended it highly.

Oprah's recommendation was enough for me. I read My Stroke of Insight and I loved it too. This story is as inspiring as The Last Lecture or Tuesdays with Morrie - and even better, it has a Happy Ending!

I bought the book on Amazon because they have it for 40% off retail and they also had an amazing interview with Dr Taylor that I haven't seen anywhere else - Here is the Amazon link:

Anonymous said...

I read "My Stroke of Insight" in one sitting - I couldn't put it down. I laughed. I cried. It was a fantastic book (I heard it's a NYTimes Bestseller and I can see why!), but I also think it will be the start of a new, transformative Movement! No one wants to have a stroke as Jill Bolte Taylor did, but her experience can teach us all how to live better lives. Her speech was one of the most incredibly moving, stimulating, wonderful videos I've ever seen. Her Oprah Soul Series interviews were fascinating. They should make a movie of her life so everyone sees it. This is the Real Deal and gives me hope for humanity.