Editor's note: Stacey Lawson's weekly column will return Monday, April 7th.
For as long as I can remember I've been a raging pessimist. My father tells me it's in our "black Irish" genes to be not only the "glass is half-empty" type, but rather the "glass (an inferior one at that) is totally empty" type. I have my moments of shiny, happy optimism- but the conditions have to be just right- sunny and warm, a weekend day with money to spend in my pocket and friends around me. I tend to live life waiting for the other shoe to drop or the sky to fall and wonder if both sides of my bed are the wrong one. I don't want to be this way; in fact it's a miserable way to go about daily living. And so after hearing much chatter about how "positive thinking" can change your life, I turned to the only beacon of knowledge I trust: Oprah.
My not-so-secret vice happens to be all things Oprah. Her show, her magazines- I drink the Oprah Kool-Aid and then I go back for refills. Recently, she has been heavily pushing a new book club book The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. A bible, per se, of living a peaceful, happier existence through eliminating negative thinking, your ego and toxic emotional baggage. After reading her previously featured positive thinking tome, The Secret and finding it too gimmicky, I was wary. The whole "power of attraction" thing seems to fail in logical reasoning terms when applied to things such as terminal illnesses or a loved one's untimely death. You cannot simply "positive think" these things away or not allow them to affect you. Not to mention that I was not able to "positive think" myself a pair of white leather Barcelona chairs either, no matter how sunny and optimistic I was. Hardly the point, but highly disappointing.
However, when a painfully injured back collided with a bad mood one afternoon in a bookstore, I found myself purchasing The New Earth. Perhaps this newest publication would unlock the secret to attaining, as Ace Ventura so skillfully put it, "omnipresent super-galactic oneness." It was worth a shot, especially after seeing that almost a million people all over the world had signed up for Oprah's online class with the author. I felt attracted to the idea of overhauling my often-gloomy brain with positive affirmations and seeing what it brought about. Not to mention the subtitle, which promised the evasive answer to the purpose of life, was very intriguing. Doesn't everyone want to be awakened to his or her true "purpose" after all?
The recent popularity of the Buddhist-tinged "be present" / "power of positive thinking" movement is understandable given the state of the world. Violence, disease, war, a volatile economy, lowered morals and an overall grim future forecast have caused an epidemic of pessimism. We, as people, have to find some hope that there are better things on the horizon or fear collectively losing our minds. The premise of this "positive" movement focuses on the belief that this "new" way of facing the trials of daily life will perhaps be the thing that brings some change to society, or at least allow us to sustain in such unsure circumstances. I was eager to hear the reasoning behind this belief from Mr. Tolle.
Can a small change on an individual level create societal change? I found myself at first, naturally, being pessimistic about it. Big shock there. But I was soon frantically underlining passage after passage, while feeling wonderfully connected and understood. He is not trying to say that if we all think happy thoughts, we'll receive magnanimous good fortune, as I was expecting. But rather that if we just stop being so stressed out by every little issue that arises and simply soak up the present moment, we will see and feel a change. The little things will become more valuable and meaningful to us. I began reading passages out loud to my husband, who does not need such a book, as he is the Tigger to my Eeyore- perpetually positive, bouncy and accepting of whatever comes his way. But for me, there was such a resonance in the author's dissection of what plagues society, namely the quest for more, more, more. And I was clearly a part of the problem.
Our personal identification and sense of value by way of material things -- jobs, money, fame and power -- have caused us to become a vapid and ego driven society, the kind that creates a marketplace for pathetic "hire-your-own paparazzi" companies like www.celeb4aday.com. Among us are those who would actually pay to be stalked by fake paparazzi in order to get a taste of the cult of celebrity- something we've created into a sort of religion. We all aren't that egocentric, but examples of our shallowness don't have to be that extreme. I for one, sometimes struggle with the feeling of needing to validate my existence through a wildly successful career and/or material goods. Even though I have learned time and time again that a bigger home or designer handbag brings me nothing but a small moment of gratification followed by the desire for the NEXT best thing, I repeat this mistake over and over. We have become a culture of "stuff". It's how we have learned to "know our value"- by comparing our assets--monetarily, intellectually and physically- to those of others. Herein lies the root of all evil.
Mr. Tolle is very focused on the toxicity of the ego. We are slaves to it. Case in point, I was hoping that in the middle of this book it would spell out exactly what my purpose was. As if, by magic, in the middle of a passage it would say, "Erin, your life's purpose is to become an artist". Great! Problem solved! Gosh, I am relieved to finally have an answer. But perhaps that is my ego talking. It wants to find something that will garner some recognition by others so that I can feel that I've accomplished something special and can feel good about myself. But what Mr. Tolle illustrates is that my purpose is to just be. A very difficult concept to accept and put into action. I have a hard time sitting still, never mind just being. This is not to say he is advocating quitting your job, sitting on the couch and mindlessly noshing on chips all day. It's trying to be accepting of what happens when you simply live the life you choose to live. Accepting that maybe your job will never be your dream job but rather a means to an end, or that your house may not be the one you imagined owning. And in doing so, you will rid your life of the constant desire and disappointment cycle that plagues us and makes us miserable.
One of the strongest observations from the book is that we "look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn't have or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have." There is such truth in that- we seem to all focus on what's past or what's coming, instead of what's happening now. If we just accepted what life dealt us with "nonresistance" (a major sticking point for Tolle) we'd live a more blissful existence. It is as plain as the "secret" of Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti, who so simply stated, " I don't mind what happens". A seemingly obvious revelation, but to someone like me who tends to plan for the worst and await its arrival, quite profound. If I took nothing else away from this book, this was a mantra that bears daily repeating. One simple rule that could be life changing if applied, if even in small doses.
By no stretch of the imagination have I become an enlightened soul or even an optimist, but I at least pause for a moment and gather myself before assuming the worst, like self-diagnosing a headache as a brain tumor on Web MD. I try to find space in each day to just breathe and be grateful and embrace the messiness of life. To stop resisting so much to what each day brings me. It is, after all, just life, and not something to be taken so seriously. Just be. A feat much larger than it may sound, but of grandiose meaning to me, and a possible step towards "a new earth".
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