An Interview with Eckhart Tolle about A New Earth: Awaking to Your Life's Purpose
B&N.com: The theme for your new book is consciousness and overcoming our ego's struggle for power. Although you say the key to happiness is simple, why do you think it's so difficult for people to see through the ego's tricks?
Eckhart Tolle: Because the ego cannot recognize itself. To recognize the ego in oneself, another dimension of consciousness needs to arise. We may call it awareness or Presence. The arising of awareness is spiritual awakening. As long as there is no awareness, you are the unobserved mind, which is the ego. By definition, the unobserved mind cannot observe itself.
But more humans than ever before are now ready to awaken. Books such as A New Earth are here to accelerate the awakening process and are themselves part of that process.
The ego looks to the future for happiness and to the past for its identity: a recipe for continuous frustration and unhappiness. In its search for identity and happiness where they cannot be found, the ego obscures the only point of access to happiness and your true identity: the present moment.
In the section "A New Heaven and a New Earth," you say, "The inspiration for the title of this book…seems more applicable now that at any other time in human history." Why is this so?
A long time ago, some people already foresaw that the dysfunction inherent in the human mind would eventually bring about havoc on our planet and lead to a global crisis that would threaten the very survival of our species. We are reaching that point now. For the first time in history, the dysfunction of the human mind is threatening not only our survival but that of all life on earth. This is because science and technology are magnifying the effects of that dysfunction to such a degree that it is becoming an ever-increasing threat to all life on the planet.
Some people also foresaw that such a radical global crisis would act as a trigger for a shift in human consciousness. This is described in the Bible as an arising of a new heaven and a new earth. Heaven here refers to the inner dimension of consciousness, whereas earth is its outer reflection.
Describing the New Earth, you state: "…as the old consciousness dissolves, there are bound to be synchronistic geographic and climactic natural upheavals in many parts of the planet…." Can you explain a bit how human consciousness and the planet are interwoven? How can we make sense of difficult natural events like Hurricane Katrina?
One of the greatest insights that has come out of modern physics is that an event is not separate from the consciousness that perceives it. That is to say, the observer and the observed are not separate, and every act of perception is also an act of creation. Ultimately, what we perceive as external reality or the world is an outward reflection of our state of consciousness. This is to say that whatever happens on planet earth is a reflection of collective human consciousness. And when the old structures in the collective consciousness break up, as they are now, this is reflected outwardly in the breakup of external structures, both man-made as well as natural ones. This means we can expect many more such disasters as Hurricane Katrina and last year's tsunami. There is always another side to such events, which on the surface look entirely negative. Through the disruption of their lives, millions of people who otherwise would not be ready to awaken are being initiated forcefully into the awakening process by such disasters. They are forced to dis-identify from form, which is what awakening is. Many others experience the arising of compassion and the joy of egoless giving and helping. And what of those who don't make it, who die? There is not death, only the dissolution of form, which in any case is just around the corner for every human being and every life form.
Can you describe the difference between awareness and thinking? Is our essential being constant, or can it grow or even change over time?
Awareness is consciousness that has become conscious of itself. It is formless and unconditioned. Thinking is form, and form is conditioned by the past.
The arising of awareness is the dis-identification of consciousness from form. This is spiritual awakening. You can sense it as an alert inner stillness in the background, while thinking, emotions, sense perceptions, and experiences happen in the foreground. The only way you can really understand awareness is by being aware, that is to say, present -- not by thinking about it or trying to define it.
Our essential being is consciousness. It is constant, eternal, that is to say, not subject to time. However, from our human perspective, it appears that it can grow over time because it is only gradually coming into this world. "Spiritual growth" means realizing and manifesting more and more fully who or what you already are in the depth of your being.
Ultimately, there is no spiritual growth, only the gradual (and sometimes sudden) dissolution of illusion and ignorance, which occurs when you stop identifying with the incessant stream of thinking.
In the book, you have tips for parents on how to raise spiritually healthy children. Do you think everyone is born with an ego that can get stronger over time; or, are people ego-free at birth, and it's created later?
Children are not born with an ego but with pre-existing mind-structures -- a blueprint as it were -- through which the ego later comes into existence. As humanity is awakening, an increasing number of humans who are coming into this world now, instead of being stuck in ego for the rest of their lives, will quickly outgrow the egoic stage of human evolution. On the new earth, many people will have outgrown the ego by the time they reach their early 20s. Ego will be recognized as no more than immaturity associated with childhood and adolescence.
You say that "the ego in search of a stronger identity can and does create illnesses in order to strengthen itself through them." Can you elaborate, and what are some examples of illnesses that the ego creates?
The ego's underlying fear, its sense of lack and incessant wanting, its resistance to or denial of the present moment create enormous stress, anxiety, and other forms of mental-emotional negativity. Even mainstream medicine is beginning to recognize that such stress and negativity weaken the immune system, create toxicity in the body, and adversely affect the heart, cell reproduction, and countless other functions. Many diseases are, therefore, an inevitable by-product of the egoic state of consciousness.
In addition, an illness can serve to strengthen one's conceptual sense of self, the ego. You then define a significant part of your identity as a "patient," a "sufferer" of this or that disease, or a victim. The ego grows through seeing yourself as being "more" seriously ill than someone else. ("You are in pain? That's nothing. I've been in far more pain for years. Don't talk to me about pain.") The mind can and does make the body ill. The ego, the unobserved mind, will sometimes use what would otherwise be a passing physical weakness or imbalance, attach a concept and a sense of self to it, and thus give it a solidity and permanency that it didn't have before. And so it grows into "my illness." Some people may feel angry upon reading this -- a sign that they have some unconscious ego investment in the concept of illness.
In other interviews, you have described your spiritual awakening and how the world changed for you, literally overnight. Do you ever ponder your life prior to your awakening, and if so, what are your thoughts about that time in your life versus now?
It is like a distant memory of a past lifetime or a dream, and I rarely think about it. I am, however, grateful for the suffering because there would have been no awakening without it. When I reached a point when I couldn't live with myself any longer, the self that created so much suffering and that I couldn't live with turned out to be no more than a phantom. I woke up from a bad dream. That's what it feels like. But if the dream had not been quite as bad as it was, I might still be dreaming today.