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
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.
I leave you to your now. Enjoy.