I picked up Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth the other day at the library. I didn't find it to be anything too surprising, but I wanted to read it, if only because Tolle's book The Power of Now was extremely surprising; it was what opened my mind up to all the spiritual stuff I write about on this blog. For pop spirituality, it had quite an impact; maybe in the way a little falling rock can start an avalanche.
The thing is, when I was in my late teens, I was 1) a strict atheist, and 2) had a very shallow view on religion-- two things that I find tend to go together. Atheists act like because they've exposed all these contradictions and ridiculous notions from the Bible, that they've not only disproved God, but all spirituality; I don't see that they've necessarily done either. All they've done is shown how unsatisfactory a few specific positions on one specific sort of God and spirituality are; they usually have about as much depth to their opinions as the fundamentalists they so abhor. They are too literal, ignoring the poetry and metaphor inherent to spirituality.
So of course, I was reluctant to read The Power of Now-- thought it was just more religious B.S. my dad was pushing on me; but he was pretty jazzed up about it, and I guess the timing was right for me. Not far into the book, my mind was officially blown. I saw that my atheist viewpoint had no depth. To someone already versed in spirituality, especially Eastern religions, it would probably seem simplistic and wouldn't have much impact; but for me it was a totally new way to look at spirituality. I knew from my minimal knowledge that Buddhism was where to look for more on this, and from there a whole world opened up to me.
One thing that struck me from his new book was when he talked about when he observed a woman on the subway talking angrily to herself about some perceived slight. It's funny to me that the only difference between a raving derelict and us sane people is that we keep our mouths shut when we rave while she doesn't. If, instead of silently thinking it, we actually spoke aloud our running internal monologue, we'd all have to be committed. He pretty much nailed that observation. Identification with the ego is literally a form of insanity.
I also liked some of his instruction, all of which boils down to "be Present." One method is to "feel the life within your body," an energy, almost a tingling, immediately available to be apprehended, similar to a heartbeat meditation. I've always liked heartbeat meditations, feeling the heart from within, and/or feeling the pulse (from within) in specific parts of the body, for its own sake, as well as to increase vitality and even to heal. He also talks about listening without comment to your surroundings, which I later learned is a common eastern form of meditation. In the end, this includes listening detachedly (is that a word?) to your thoughts.
On the other hand, I think he takes his notion of the "pain body" a bit too seriously, making it almost into some sort of demon possession. At one point he even says that people under the influence of the pain body aren't responsible for their actions. His example, believe it or not, was murder. That's a lot of bullshit. Seems to me that the pain body is just another manifestation of ego, on a more emotional level. And however unconscious one is, however wrapped up in ego, one is always responsible for one's actions.
I also don't agree with his concept of spiritual evolution, as I've written about previously (see here). I'm not convinced that this is some special time in human history that's allowing more people to be receptive to all these ideas. Awareness is always there, and always has been. Which isn't to negate historical movements that bring certain notions to the forefront: sure, we're getting away from dogmatism more these days, Buddhism, especially Zen, has arrived in the West, and it and the hippie spirituality have caused some changes, at some level (what that level is is debatable). But the Evangelical movements here in the US, plus the fundamentalist Islam that's spreading in many places, seems to discount that it's a magic moment. Tolle says that the new rabid fundamentalism is the collective ego's reaction to the new rise in consciousness, but it just seems too convenient an interpretation. I think, as always, it comes down to the individual. We all get glimpses of our insanity, and we're always free to break out of it. Usually, we run away from the cracks of light coming through the chinks in the ego's shell, fleeing into new shadows, new illusions. But awareness is always there.