Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Say Yes to the Now.

Someone noticed a book I was reading the other day and asked, “Why do you read these kinds of books?” The book was ‘Eckhart Tolle’s – A New Earth: Finding your Life’s Purpose’ . I took that to mean they thought I was fairly well adjusted, and I suppose, given I’ve actually written a self-help book of sorts myself, didn’t think I really needed that kind of advice. I fumbled around for an answer to the simple question, and what finally stumbled out of my mouth was, ‘because they inspire me.’ Having now had a few batches of ice cream-making worth of time to ponder the question, I feel a little better prepared to expound a bit. My deflection answer still holds to a certain extent though. Self-discovery books (that sounds better than self-help or self-improvement), often do inspire, with stories of characters achieving amazing successes despite a receding hairline and the loss of both limbs in a grotesque threshing machine accident. Who wouldn’t be inspired by Lance Armstrong’s fearless battle through cancer and subsequent emergence from looking death square in the squash to not only to continue his dominance in the sport of cycling, but to become the best there ever was.

So aside from the occasional dose of inspiration, why does one read ‘these kinds of books’?’ Does anyone really expect to pick up a book, read along for a while under that old tree in the backyard, when suddenly they get to page eighty-three and smack in the middle of paragraph four there it is, the meaning of life, hitting them off the top of the head like an apple falling from the branch that’s shading them. What do you know, if I just wear blue every day, people will treat me nicer, my dream job employer will hire me, I’ll be inspired to write that NYT bestselling novel, and will live happily ever after. I suppose a person’s life could be changed by a thought or a new idea or philosophy carefully guarded within the pages of a non-fiction, but that’s certainly not my expectation when I reach for a Steven Covey or a Wayne Dyer book.

So what is the answer to the original question of why? For me, and I apologize if it doesn’t seem as profound as it sounds in my head, it’s because a good non-fiction page-turner makes you think about stuff. Let me use this latest read as an example. As I mentioned, I just finished Tolle’s book, ‘A New Earth’. He’s the guy who wrote ‘The Power of Now’, which I haven’t read, mostly because I got the distinct feeling everything I needed to learn from the book was right in the title. His newest bestseller, thanks to a huge endorsement from Oprah, continues on along the path of ‘living in the moment’, but takes a sharp turn deep into the psych 101 rabbit hole called ego. Using statement such as…

“The ego is not only the unobserved mind, the voice in the head which pretends to be you, but also the unobserved emotions that are the body’s reaction to what the voice in the head is saying.”,

Tolle proposes that our ego is the major obstacle between us and inner peace. He believes it’s our evil ego that triggers all those negative emotional responses in our heads (e.g. I’m not good enough. Nobody appreciates me. I’m not as smart as Mary. Etc.), thus preventing us from being content in the moment. He goes on to define what he coins the ‘pain-body’ (I’ve noticed self-help guru’s love to invent terms for stuff). Translation: ‘pain-body’ is just a fancy name for ‘baggage’. Bad stuff happens to us, ‘e.g. schoolyard bully beats us up and steals our lunch money,’ parents say we’ll never amount to anything, etc., and while seemingly not affecting our daily lives, our dreaded pain-body lies like a hibernating bear ready to awaken at the first sign of spring or threatening circumstance.

Like most self-discovery books, this one’s less rocket science and more reinventing a Freudian wheel. Of course, there’s little arguing what happens to us in the past affects how we respond emotionally to events in the now. We may have never thought of it as ‘pain-body’ per say, but undeniable nonetheless. One of Tolle’s major points is that the simple act of acknowledging the existence of your ego and matching set of baggage makes you more aware and more present. This sets the stage for you to start harnessing the 'Power of the Now'. And buy his next book or attend his seminar of course.

According to ‘A New Earth’, this is what it all seems to boil down to. Tolle asks,

“What is my relationship with the present moment? Am I making it an enemy? Since the present moment is all you ever have, since Life is inseparable from the Now, what the question really means is: What is my relationship with Life? This question is an excellent way of unmasking the ego in you and bringing you into the state of Presence."

Tolle tries to get you to admit that your relationship with the Now is dysfunctional. And when you acknowledge this, you become more present in the moment. “Say yes to the now, make it into your friend,” Tolle preaches. I’ll leave you to ponder your own present moment in whatever moment you choose to do so.

Did I learn anything new from reading A New Earth? Probably not. Did it encourage me to think about how to be better at being in the moment? Seems it did. I had never really thought much about ego and its relationship with your thoughts and emotions. I must admit, though, I think ‘ego’ gets a bad rap. Perhaps I’m just better aligned with an Ayn Rand’s approach than an Eckhart Tolle’s when it comes to ego, aka self.

Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values. Man's ego is the fountainhead of the human achievement. -Ayn Rand

Sure, ego has a dark side ‘that guy has a big ego’, but be that as it may, I think it’s our drive to care and feed our ego that is perhaps the strongest driver of all human achievement. Ego doesn’t necessarily mean having to be ‘better’ than someone or everyone - how about just trying to be as good or great as you can possibly be? Why does it have to represent what Tolle calls ‘a false sense of self’? Why can’t we just admit being successful feels good? Why does earning the approval and admiration of others have to be portrayed so negatively, like the rich people in the movie Titanic? Of course, you shouldn’t do things just to win the approval of others. I don’t believe you should ‘need’ that approval to be happy with your successes and with your life. But I don’t see what’s wrong with admitting it feels good when something you do, create, become is looked on by others in a positive way. It can be intoxicating. It will fuel your desire to achieve again. As long as one doesn’t become all-consuming, I’m not convinced your ego, your past, and your presence can’t all coexist together happily right here in the moment.

So that’s why I read ‘these kind of books’. Hope I didn’t sound too much like a lunatic drunken psych professor. In a nutshell, ‘those kinds of books’ are just tasty food for thought.

Ice cream for thought, if you will.
On a lighter note, am I the only one that thinks Eckart looks a lot like Benjamin Linus from that kooky Lost island? Coincidence or not?...

I leave you to your now. Enjoy.

1 comment:

LT Garcia said...

Have you ever read "Taming Your Gremlin"? I think it sounds similar, though it casts what seems to be the ego in this case as a "gremlin" in your head constantly whispering like a nattering nabob of negativity in your inner ear. Of course, it also comes with a whole slew of self-help seminars, web sites and associated subculture, all of which is probably way excessive. But I do recommend the book since you seem to like reading this sort of thing. It's on Amazon here: Taming Your Gremlin

And no, I'm not associated with them in any way! Just thought the book was helpful and interesting...

LT Garcia