A super-dear friend of mine sent me a book called “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle, tagged with a big “O” for Oprah Book Club. My first thought was, when she was telling me about this book, “Great, another new-age self-help book.” What she was telling me just didn’t add up. She’d use terms that didn’t seem to fit; she’d describe theories, notions, concepts, and philosophies that produced for me an image of an unformed blob nearly completely masked by deep, gray fog. She encouraged me to buy the book, and I mumbled an unintelligible sound hoping to pass it off as an assent. I’m not sure it worked, because here she sent it to me. I guess this book meant something more to her than the other books, because she wanted real input.
You see — remember, I love her DEARLY — she’s one of those souls who regularly visits her therapist and is constantly soul-searching. Not to the extent of one of my sisters, who waffles between religions in order to quarantine the perceived wrongs done to her in her earlier life and count herself sanctified. But my friend’s searching is constant because her need is never met. Oddly, no one I know of who reads such books can pin down what it is they’re looking for. They appear to be collecting specimens of precious thinking expecting that the theoretical stash will, one day, coalesce into being the thought or philosophy that will, not just lead them to salvation [from something], but sustain that salvation to achieve [something] into perpetuity. But this is who my dear friend is…at least as far as an observer can “know” her.
I’ve run across so many “self-help” books and stuff to have formed the opinion that they are written to feed the need for more help: they give you enough non-skeletal substance dressed in sincere and helpful tones to elicit intoxicated “Amens” yet leave you under-oxygenated and gasping for real air; but you think you’re just high from the thinner atmosphere of elevated consciousness. I was loathe to kill brain cells by oxygen-starving them, either by holding my breath while reading the drivel in order to not “taste” it, or actually fumigating my head with the oxygen-poor substance that produced the psychedelic, “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” interpretation of the book’s content.
I picked it up and started reading. I suppose I suspected it was a self-help book by virtue of it’s title — Awakening Your Life’s Purpose — under the perspective that having a purpose is something one needs to do in order to help oneself. What I found, after I got past what passed as one of the most horrific, stoned-mind incantations of a preface I had ever read, was actually bloody fantastic. But I say bloody fantastic after reading it the way I read things like this: with pen in hand, writing pages upon pages of comments, questions, and notes. It went through my rigorous scrutiny; and I finished the book feeling “awakened.” Son of a bitch! Did I just get self-helped?
But what is self-help anyway?
The book didn’t teach me what I hadn’t either practiced or believed before. I’d been a deep spiritualist in my younger days, but had let the deepness shallow by filling up the well of my mind with dogmatic debris. What this book did do is bring it all back to me. Dredge the well of the “religious” sediment and begin to clarify the medium of my consciousness. In this way, it helped me. But there was such a mismatch between what my friend said the “book was about” and what I found the book to be about.
In a nutshell, the book teaches the reader to recognize thinking as consciousness and awareness as consciousness as two distinct things; and that thinking all by itself occupies our minds like a non-stop dream where we can’t distinguish what we think from what is the reality of Now. The book quotes Jean-Paul Sartre in his evaluation of Descarte’s “I think, therefore I am” as: “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.” Majorly cool.
Further, people, to discover “who they are”, attach (associate) different things to themselves to form the notion of “I, Me, Mine”: the ego (Latin for “I”). It’s almost like the ego only exists as some sort of gas, but you can have enough things stick to it — to encrust it, if you will — to give it characteristics you can point to, to say “me, mine, what I am.” The desire to get certain things, somehow judged special, to stick to your cloud overshadows what current circumstances afford you. If you want to learn patience, is there some ideal and unique learning situation that teaches patience, or can you learn patience from any circumstance you find yourself in? Can you be a great writer by simply getting at it, or do you need a degree to somehow validate your talent before you begin publishing? The “stuff” that we’re using to encrust ourselves with is called “thought-forms” because they are forms given structure by beliefs, definitions, traditions, prejudices, etc. They’re “real” only because we act is if they’re real. When left unchallenged or unevaluated, they are confused with “truth.”
The most important part for me was both practicing the distinction between the two types of consciousness (thinking and awareness) and learning to recognize what’s going on with other humans. The repetitive assertion in the book that you are not who you think you are I take with a massive grain of salt. I like what I like — and I feed the likes to encrust the “who” that enjoys them right now. My friend is who she is, right now. If she wants something different, she can be a different “who”, including one that recognizes when thought-forms are keeping her from achieving … well now, that’s still the question!
One of the chapters in the book is entitled “Drama or Peace”. I’m thinking that we’d consciously say we’re all after peace even though in reality we seek out drama in order to enliven our living. (The book, “Blink”, referred to a study demonstrating something similar.) But oddly, my friend is looking for a secure job, steady income, and freedom from the quotidian turmoil of life. Is that what she is expecting to get out of this book? Maybe she can. As another good friend of mine, Patty, said, we can extract the help we need according to what we need at the time of the needing. We can reach the pinnacles we aspire to when we have the tools and the capacity to both recognize and grasp the opportunities. Drawing on religious or spiritual teachings: doors present themselves when you’re ready to open and walk through them.
Yet isn’t the concept of “help” more of a targeted thing? And don’t you have to recognize a door for being a door?
My thinking is that help helps to reach some specific end, “specific” being a key word. If I follow Patty’s thinking, it is possible for any nugget, no matter how microscopic, to be “help”. But, while I agree with that extrapolation to a point, I wouldn’t capitulate to something microscopic having the ability to solve a larger problem unless the atom of help was all that was needed to some purpose or was recognized for having curative properties. Otherwise, “help” is gratuitous and empty of calories. For me, the help of this book was bringing all the dots back together that I had enshrouded. I had wanted to bring them out from under the shroud, but was fumbling around hoping to happen upon a solution. And it was this book.
Yet, it’s not a total solution in the sense that it didn’t really solve anything, as in, bring anything to conclusion. That’s not necessarily what help requires to qualify as such. Assistance. The phrase “toward some end” could very well be a linguistic box that mis-channels my thinking because “end” suggests finality. And finality can only happen in contexts whose factors are known and calculable. But if we construe “end” to mean “toward some purpose,” then we’re still on track. My dear friend read this book because she is looking for assistance toward some end that she hasn’t defined yet — I see her thickening the cloud-like mass of “help” with more unprocessed gas. She’s groping in the gray fog hoping to find a piece to a puzzle that has no form. There’s something inefficient about that because, how do you evaluate an atom of help for its ability to help you if there is nothing to measure it by as you would with, say, an objective? Or maybe it’s like what a chef does given an ingredient she’s never encountered before: she studies its properties and then imagines a pastry that factors in those properties.
For now, I’m sticking with the objective angle. Let’s say her objective is peace, assuming that acquiring peace (like some objective condition) is something you can attain like exercise attains you “in shape.” I found peace to be wholly reliant on contentment. Contentment doesn’t mean surrender, but rather it means accepting that the current circumstances are what they are at this point in time as a factor to deal with in order to move beyond it. What’s in the Now simply is, whose content is just the stuff I have to work with. Thought-forms like, “I shouldn’t have to deal with this” or “I really deserve better” are not the Now, but rather results of other thought-forms derived from encrustations of self-worth. This book talks about that, and maybe — if she groks it — she will find the peace that allows her to continue to move toward an outlook on life where “stability” is the quality she brings to circumstances.
People process information in different ways to reach the same conclusion. And my way of judging a process isn’t always applicable because I don’t recognize some species of process for what they are. Yet I believe that how a person explains something is evidence of how they think about it. Word choice and syntax matter a great deal. If humans use a word to represent a problem, all the “nodes” (see last post called “Coolness Factor” on “nodes”) that compose the “meaning” of the words channel a stream of thought. The words chosen can actually box you in, constrain your conclusions. Her words did not make sense, neither the words used nor how employed. There wasn’t even a box that I could identify!
Or, maybe they did make sense, and it was just a different language. I can’t be sure. Time will tell whether whatever she was able to process out of the book contributes to an objective of peace. I hope that she finds, as I do, that this self-help book is a book that self-helps other self-helps, a key to decoding what self-help is. An ingredient that affords an actual progressive cycle that spins fast enough to cast off debris, the debris of inhibitive thought-forms of all types.
That key is: “self-help” depends on what it affords, but Self-Help is what you make of it. My understanding of “help” has been refined.