Monday, March 5, 2012

The Most Important Book Ever Published

Painting by Tom Ferguson, oil on canvas 1987, Throw-away World

Herman Hesse was the first writer I encountered who dealt with the subject of consciousness. A book on Hinduism was next and, over the next 40 years, a series of authors, teachers, psychologists, artists, philosophers, musicians followed who examined this subject with varying degrees of opinion and clarity.

The recognition that, as a species present course is dead-on toward extinction - we are fouling the nest, polluting essential-to-life air, soil, water with our consumption, over-population and war-making toys, so high tech that even their limited use could put an end to the whole opera - this knowledge is fairly widespread. And among people of good will there is the desire to incorporate it into business and government policy, yet taking an opposing view is risky - those who run things tend to be in deep denial, uninterested in questioning assumptions, and their influence goes way beyond their numbers. Democracy does not fare well in the hierarchal workplace.

Explanations vary as to how we arrived at this precipice - greed, sin, capitalism, short-term thinking, communism, democracy, propaganda, in-breeding, stupidity, folly, the immaturity of a young species… and depending on definitions, they all more or less point at the problem. But the most important book ever published, Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth, earns the half-serious title because it succinctly and eloquently sketches both problem and solution. It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Rather it acknowledges among the great traditions, glimpses expressed mostly in poetic, philosophic or metaphoric, thus obscure, language. Understandably, for ultimately the subject is extremely difficult to articulate, referred to in some traditions as ineffable. No less a personage than Oprah Winfrey has remarked on the clarity Tolle has brought to this discussion, describing a ten-week televised conversation she conducted, one for each chapter in the book, as “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” Someone who makes $78 million dollars a year can’t be wrong, right? If Oprah isn’t your idea of credibility, take a look at those videos, still available on her website (under book club, Eckhart Tolle). She gets it.

Tolle allocates about a third each to three topics: Ego, Pain Body and Awakening, this last including a prescription for doing, being in the material world in a way that transcends the first two, what has brought us to the edge of extinction and what can bring us back.

Ego: the author uses the word ego unattached to psychoanalysis. One way to get at what he means is to close your eyes… take a breath… let it out… watch for the first words to cross your mind. That is not you, you are the observer of those words. What you are observing is the unawakened you. So the words in the head, what he calls mind-chatter, is the ego, creating, in its ramblings, a mental construct of the world, an identity, a pseudo entity that dominates the individual, a role the individual mistakes for themselves, what is at the root of the dysfunction of our second paragraph. Like other entities, ego clings tenaciously to existence, is super-sensitive to perceived threats to its dignity and longevity, and ever-seeks confirmation of its importance in the eyes of others. Ego believes that we are separate, isolated, vulnerable individuals. Awakening happens and ego dissolves, when we feel interconnection, ONEness - which experience the frightened ego does everything in its power to prevent. This manifests in rigid ideology, intolerance of diversity, attacks on difference - the ego in defensive mode. But wakening is not about believing anything, it is about experiencing it, what Tolle calls presence. “To feel, and thus to know, that you are: and to abide in that deeply rooted state, is enlightenment.”

Pain Body: related to Karma, pain body is the residue of negative experience that awaits opportunity to release, a trigger where it can explode in anger, self-righteousness, condemnation. There is personal karma, accumulated and fed all one’s life and social karma, inherited from the milieu one happens to be born into. The Hatfields and the McCoys, the Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. invades Vietnam, killing millions of people. Can those born into this culture escape the negative energy of that massacre? Can the Vietnamese? The whole nation is founded on destruction and plunder of the native population. Military spending is now beyond 50% and the U.S. spends more than the rest of the world combined on so-called defense. Thought of as energy, negative pain body seeks compatible energy forms on which to feed. It is repelled by unlike forms, drawn to those which nourish its longevity. So we have the abusive relationship, whether spousal or national, which continues so long as unconsciousness goes unchallenged. We have to live with the karma we’ve inherited, personally and socially, and it will play out but we needn’t feed it when it comes around. Nor need we create new negativity.

Awareness: we have obsessive thoughts, they trigger emotions, we are caught in this karmic dance but the good news is that ego, what sustains this dysfunction, withers in the light of consciousness. When we witness this process, negative thoughts triggering negative emotions, and we remain the observer rather than feeding and identifying with the thinker/feeler, ego begins to dissolve and what remains is the conscious self whose profound beauty and unfathomable depths have been obscured by the frightened ego acting out. To begin to explore those depths we need consciousness. A by-product of the conscious person is influence. The concerned citizen who bangs their head against the city hall wall may have more effect by simply becoming conscious, reversing the ratio of time spent in mind-chatter to consciousness in favor of consciousness. Put in terms of frequency: thinking is a state of a certain vibration, consciousness is of another and since consciousness is aligned with rather than blocking or distorting the source of energy it is much more powerful than the efforts of thinking. Anger and resentment come out of karmic dysfunction whereas being is aligned with the intelligence at the root of reality. Physical form, as Tolle calls it, emerges out of and returns to, a term to avoid religious dogma, the unmanifest. The unmanifest, field of being, primal source… whatever word you want to use to point at this felt reality, is eternal, is ONE, is the essence of who we are. Identifying with this connects us in a way that dissolves the delusion of ego which identifies with the passing pageant or illusion. Anyone can see the apparently solid, enduring objects that surround us, including of course people, are in fact rapidly disappearing and so ego, unaware of the eternal, frightened by mortality, seeks safety, in wealth, prestige, superiority, conquest – as in our day, in the three Ps: power, profits and privilege.

A graph line on a chart depicting our descent toward extinction may cross at some fortunate point with a line depicting the evolution of consciousness, ascending from ego to awareness, the end of dysfunction and the arrival of A New Earth.


  1. What a great and thorough summation of a GREAT book! Thanks!

    1. The Bible does it for me.

  2. Nicely written, although I thought you said it much more concisely and impact fully when you ran a bout through your bookcase up in the 'quette. Speaking of "back 'den" times, the most important painting I ever saw was one you painted of a hand on a tablecloth displayed at art in da park. It learned me how to see a new way. Very grateful to the ego representing TF. Most important sculpture I ever saw was the leaves under the kitchen table. Most important cartoon ever was your cartoon of Nixon standing in a boat.

  3. Well said. I am struck by the similarities with Buddhism-a non-theistic spiritual path. The idea of dissolving ego and fostering basic goodness, practicing loving kindness and compassion toward all beings including ourselves through meditation, contemplation and doing good deeds. The idea of suffering caused by desire and grasping. The idea of karma and waking up instead of being asleep to the world around us, and opening our hearts to our goodness minus the mindless chatter and story lines from the past or future plans. Additionally Buddhism adds the idea of letting go of control and being comfortable with uncertainty and groundlessness. It encourages the individual to look and breathe deeply and with curiosity at our fears, anxieties, joys and not to push them away. Healing comes from that.