Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Earth

Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘New Earth’ is a welcome vision for today’s world. It provides an update to the spiritual teachings of modern day gurus like (late) Krishnamurthy or Dalai Lama. It moves beyond the spiritual and quotes work from science as well as modern writers like Jean-Paul Sartre and concepts like existentialism. He also focuses on modern psychological ideas like the ego. So it is a mix or fusion of various disciplines into a modern and coherent message that is relevant for today’s stressful people. He makes the case that ego is the main culprit in today malaise. Quoting French Cartesian philosophy ‘I think therefore I am’, he points out that this is the start of the ego’s rise that inevitably results in mental dysfunction or delusional thinking. According to him, one does not ‘think’ but that thinking just happens like digestion. It is a function of the body. Hence, thinking is just one small facet of a person’s total consciousness.

The problem arises when one equates thinking as the representation of the person himself. This results in self-created ‘concepts’ that one fashions to explain himself. He identifies with his thinking in the brain but it’s just the ego trying to expand its importance. This results in delusional thinking and alienation because one is not the thinking brain. It’s too small to explain the totality of a person.  Thinking is just a biological impulse that must be recognized as what it is – a minor component of a person’s consciousness.  A person’s consciousness is composed of many things – his spiritual nature, his emotional nature, sociological aspects and so on. Thinking otherwise is just folly. Writing here now is not an expression of me, or my thinking self but an exercise in abstract symbolic expression. I am expressing myself here now not to define myself but to respond to certain biological or psychological urges.

Listening to a New York Times science feature on addiction, the research shows that addiction (to drugs or alcohol or sex) has no moral connotations. It is a misbalance of the body that responds to a predilection to endorphins or other such hormones that produce a certain high. Controlling addictions is resolved by taking medicine not attending counseling or psychiatric or religious sessions. Counseling tries to make the thinking mind dominant and forces the mind to resolve biological problems. The recent research on addiction seems to be consistent to Tolle’s view that the thinking mind is just the ego at work. Taking medication for addiction is following Tolle’s view but a transformation of consciousness is also a valid alternative. This means the transformation of consciousness will give enlightenment to the individual but not in the intellectual or logical sense. It is in the spiritual arena where faith is the answer - not words or thinking or logical constructs.

According to Tolle, the disappearance of ego results in masterful performances – where the person forgets himself and just immerses himself in the act. When one is conscious of himself then the performance becomes mediocre. One can be a technical virtuoso by being a technical master but he will not rise to excellence if he is always thinking about himself. This lesson is applicable to golf (or any sport for that matter) where one should stop his thinking and go with the flow. Over thinking is often the bane of great golfers and the solution is just to forget everything and have a good time. Hence, one loses the ego and ‘becomes’ himself with unselfconscious performance.  The churning mind is the culprit especially when the person identifies with his thinking. The golf swing is a function of the body, age, feeling as well as the mind so one must remove ‘thinking’ as the only means to play better. In fact ‘over thinking’ may affect one’s body and overall feeling (i.e. no confidence) to the detriment of the game.

How to apply the lessons to creative writing? One must remove the ego from the writing process and just write. Journal or diary writing focuses on the person. Moving to creative writing is a change in mental gears.  The take away of a diarist is the exercise of writing as a skill not as a thinking process. Journal writing is more often an act of self-reflection that can also feed the ego. The ego is the hero of a journal but self-reflection reduces the role of the ego by providing a larger perspective.  Hence, journal writing is a therapeutic device not a creative writing exercise. Moving to creative writing – one can mistake the ego as being the hero of the novel. This is the seductive allure of Hemingway’s work that one loses sight of the craft of creative writing. To be good in creative writing means losing one’s ego like in golf. The novel is not about the diarist but a different set of characters that one must bring to life.

Like in other endeavors, overthinking is the killer of one’s goal. Eckhart Tolle attempts to remove overthinking by reducing the role of the ego via self-transformation. Perhaps this is also the solution to being a creative writer – to remove the role of the ego in the creative process. One does not strive to write the great Asian or American Novel and be rich and famous like Hemingway. It’s the ego trying to achieve recognition but hamstrings any sincere attempt to write. With the ego dominant in the mind, there is no progress. Perhaps this is the true cause of writer’s block.  The technical skill of writing or expression in language exists plus the craft of creative writing but the disappearance of ego is needed, too. Unless one is writing an autobiography or other forms of non – creative fiction then perhaps one needs the ego as well.

This is a strange conclusion considering that some great writers do have outsized egos. Just look at Winston Churchill or Ernest Hemingway.  Maybe a healthy ego is really needed to exist as a writer not as a component of creative writing. Removing the ego will make the act truly professional. The removal of ego means a removal of one’s emotions and sentimentality. The result is a disciplined and no-nonsense act of structured creativity. One cannot be a great editor if one is emotional. Great writers are actually great editors which require one to be ruthless in one’s own work – to discard and start over again if the novel does not come out right.  Hence, one can have a healthy ego in one’s personality but no ego at all in the act of creative fiction. This is the only conclusion that one can get. After all, Eckhart Tolle is striving for a transformation of the individual’s consciousness to be better human being - not a better writer. With humility, one can be a better person and perhaps a better writer as well.

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