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Book Review: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I am always a little skeptical of the self-help genre. I don’t say this from a place of smugness (trust me — I’m not above receiving help) but just from the sheer fact that it is hard to completely legitimize a section that also houses titles such as Why Men Love Bitches and has book covers plastered with Dr. Phil leering at you in the aisle. Nevertheless, there has been considerable press about the wonder of the book, A New Earth, so I decided to plunge forward.

Eckhart Tolle’s life itself reads like a novel. He was born in Germany and largely self-educated until he journeyed to England to attend the University of London. At the age of 29, he experienced a radical shift in consciousness that allowed him to free himself of the suicidal depression that he had endured for years. Tolle compiled his thoughts together to write The Power of Now, a #1 New York Times bestseller, dedicated to the idea of living presently in the moment and A New Earth is the follow-up to this work. The title refers to a New Testament passage that Tolle interprets to mean that heaven may not be a physical destination, but more a manifestation of one’s consciousness. This book has generated much acclaim, due in large part to the fact that it has been embraced by Oprah as her “book of the month” and has been the subject of a ten week web seminar, designed by both Oprah and Tolle, devoted to studying the work.

Although Tolle is not affiliated with any religion, he pulls together tenets from Christianity, Buddhism and a variety of world religions in an attempt to allow people to see themselves beyond the limits of our own self-concepts; the predetermined roles that we act out in society. Our main problem, according to Tolle, is our attachment to the ego and all of the corresponding pain and drama that accompanies this attachment. He explains how society with all of its trappings and distractions caters to a perpetual state of suffering. Tolle cites specifically the inherent undermining nature of addictions and included in that categorization is television. Indeed, he devotes a small chapter to the evils of television and the perpetuation of violence in the media. Although it is hard to dismantle that argument, it is with a certain sense of irony then that he must have justified his ongoing participation in the Oprah Winfrey show.

Tolle is so confident in his work that he claims it will generate an “awakening” similar to the shift in consciousness he experienced at a critical juncture in his life. He does caution, however, that some may not be ready for this awakening or may find it through other life experiences. The book serves as a tool to help people to discover or facilitate this transformative process.

A New Earth is definitely not an easy read; it’s more psychology text than a pop culture pre-package. It’s hard to criticize a work that is dedicated to helping people to live more authentically and to free themselves of behaviors that generate pain and suffering. However, I was a little underwhelmed. While its contents are somewhat inspiring, I don’t know if they are so unique and revolutionary. They seem but mere echoes of things that have been sold to the public previously on the self-help circuit.

Perhaps I am not ready to be truly awakened to the experience that is A New Earth. I might just surrender myself instead to the evils of violence television.

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