A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
Eckhart Tolle - 2005
A great many books contain bits and pieces of deep spiritual truth but have them buried so deeply within the
author’s own system of ideas that their significance becomes lost under a heap of dogmatic concepts and shallow
buzz-words. In spite of its Oprah-endorsed status, which it shares with the steaming pile of profit-driven bullshit
known as The Secret, the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle manages to escape this criticism to a great
extent. While the profoundness of the ideas in the book suffer somewhat from their translation into the language of
“self-help” literature, there is no denying their significance to each individual human and to the human race as a
whole. The near universal accessibility of the writing is therefore a strength rather than a weakness, as anyone
who reads the book with an open mind will no doubt benefit from its insight, and the more people who understand
and actively incorporate its ideas into their lives, the better off humanity as a whole will be.
At the core of the belief system that Tolle puts forward are the concepts of ego-driven consciousness, of the
penultimate important of the present moment, and the advancement of the human race from its present state of
being to a more enlightened force within the universe. Humanity has evolved from its animal state to its current
form as a being that is on the one hand capable of thought, but on the other hand consumed by it. Most of us fail
to realise that the voice in our heads is not really who we are, but simply a brain-process that we are aware of.
This voice, the human ego, is hopelessly consumed by memories of the past and worries about the future, and
when we allow it to take control we find ourselves sleep-walking through life, never fully appreciating the
profound joy that is available to us at any moment if we simply allow ourselves to experience it. The primary aim
of Tolle’s teaching is to help people learn to embrace the present moment, to appreciate the Now in whatever
form it takes, thus rising above the ego and contributing to a greater overall harmony between the collective human
consciousness and the deeper intelligence which underlies the entire universe.
One of the book’s major strengths is the order in which the concepts are laid out, which first provides a basic
understanding of the general truths it advocates, followed by sections containing more details on how this
understanding can be applied in a person’s life, and finally a look at its overall significance in the broadest possible
terms. The easiest way to analyse this text is therefore to take it chapter by chapter and examine the most
important ideas as they are introduced and explained.
Chapter 1 – The Flowering of Human Consciousness
Tolle immediately confronts us with the most important truth that human beings in the world today can be aware
of—that every species reaches a point when its environment has changed so radically that its way of life is no
longer sustainable, and at such a point it must either make an evolutionary leap or pass into extinction. Human
beings are reaching this point now, and we stand at a crossroads whereby we will either enter a new stage of
consciousness or destroy ourselves by continuing to be deceived by the ego into believing we are cut off from
each other and the rest of the universe, hopelessly consumed by an “us against them” mentality. “If the history of
humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid
delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence against his perceived
‘enemies’—his own consciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals” (12).
The only hope for humanity is to recognise its own insanity, to become aware of the workings of the ego, and to
rise above it.
It is also important to note that the spiritual transformation that must come about will not come through religion.
The fundamental error of religion is to accept concrete thoughts as spiritual truths. In other words, religious
people attach far more importance to the words in their Holy books than to the concepts which they point to.
What they fail to realise is that Absolute Truth can never be expressed in words. Words are only a tool for the
enlightened to try and point others in the direction of Truth, but the full meaning of any spiritual truth is always lost
in its translation to language. As such, different religions have different interpretations of the truth, and ego-driven
religious fundamentalists will draw lines of division between themselves and those who do not share their own
interpretation. But while religion is hopelessly attached to thought, spirituality itself can rise to pure understanding
and be felt intuitively, free from the limitations of language.
Chapter 2 – Ego: The Current State of Humanity
The ego is the voice in your head that tells you the story of your life as it sees it. Its interpretation of the events of
your life is completely conditioned by the past in terms of its structure and its content, the latter of which is
determined by your environment, upbringing, local culture, and other such factors. There are many kinds of egoic
structures, its most common form being identification with things. People define themselves through their
possessions, and as the ego is in constant need of expanding itself, we find ourselves in a state of near constant
desire—always wanting something and unable to feel satisfied for a very long time even if we get it. The ego
wants to want more than it wants to have. The corporation is the perfect example of this egoic structure taken at
a collective level—an organisation devoted to its own interests above all others with profit as its sole motivation.
As long as these kinds of structures remain the most powerful political forces on earth, they will serve to prevent
the much-needed transformation of human consciousness.
While identifying with things and accumulating more power only strengthen the ego, great loss and suffering can
have the opposite effect. Many people, after losing everything, find great peace in the understanding that they are
separate from the things they owned—that their essential nature is far deeper than any possessions they might
have. On the other hand, hardship can sometimes strengthen the ego as a person falls into the trap of identifying
oneself as a victim, and living in a constant state of resentment towards an old lover, a parent, God, or anything
that is perceived to be an obstacle to happiness. The only obstacle to happiness, however, is the ego itself.
Chapter 3 – The Core of Ego
The ego identifies itself as something separate from everything else, and therefore the “I” thought cannot sustain
itself without a thought of “the other”. The ego needs enemies, and it thrives on emotions such as anger and
resentment towards those people or situations that it perceives as obstacles to its happiness. The ego strengthens
itself by complaining, getting offended, or holding on to grievances from the past. The right approach to a situation
in which a person offends you is nonreaction, the ability to recognise that the thoughts of others are only coming
from their ego and to look past this to the inner essence which you both share. To restrain yourself from striking
back against an enemy, and to refuse to judge someone who does you wrong, are impossible things for anyone
closely identified with their ego to do.
Identification with the ego is identification with form. Those who recognise the transient nature of all forms but fail
to draw a distinction between themselves and their ego will experience anxiety at the notion that this form will
eventually pass away as well. Thus, the underlying emotion that governs the activity of the ego is fear—the fear of
non-existence, of being nothing, of death. Only by experiencing your deeper nature as something formless and
eternal can this fear be overcome.
Chapter 4 – Role-playing: The Many Faces of the Ego
The ego plays roles in order to get something from another, be it material gain or some kind of physical or
psychological satisfaction, even just attention. One of the most common roles it plays is that of a victim. “Seeing
oneself as a victim is an element in many egoic patterns, such as complaining, being offended, outraged, and so
on. Of course, once I am identified with a story in which I assigned myself the role of victim, I don’t want it to
end…the ego does not want an end to its ‘problems’ because they are part of its identity. If no one else will listen
to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity
as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image,
makes me into someone, and that is all that matters to the ego” (87). To transcend the ego, you have to refuse to
play this role, and to take responsibility for all of your thoughts and emotions. The emotions you feel about a
given situation do not result from the situation itself, but from the story you tell yourself about it. The events of
your life are neutral—it is your perception that labels them good or bad.
The pathological ego often carries unhappiness around subconsciously, constantly filled with thoughts like: 1-
something needs to happen in my life before I can be happy, but it hasn’t happened yet, and maybe my
resentment will make it happen, 2- something happened in the past that should not have happened and if it hadn’t
I would be happy now, and 3- something is happening now that should not be happening and it’s preventing me
from being happy. The ego thrives on its own suffering, always believing it is justified and unable to see that it is
making others miserable or that on some level it enjoys misery. Inner peace is an enemy of the ego—any moment
that is completely accepted is a moment in which the ego has no control.
When people argue over a difference of fact, the ego plays no part in this and the tone of such debates usually
remains civil. But when people argue over matters of opinion, they can get very emotional. This is because the
ego has identified itself with its own thoughts. If someone disagrees with my opinion, I see it as an affront to my
self, when in reality it is only thoughts that are being disputed. This can become very dangerous when manifested
on a collective level. A collective ego is usually more unconscious than the individual egos which comprise it, and
any insult to a group’s political or religious beliefs can result in violence or even war. It is important to recognise
that all of your opinions do not belong to you but to your ego, that you are capable of altering them at any time,
and that when death dissolves your ego they will dissolve as well.
Chapter 5 – The Pain-Body
One of the only things I truly dislike about the book is the use of the term “pain-body” to describe the human
tendency to perpetuate negative emotions, carrying them around with us over the course of our lives and allowing
them to prevent appreciation of the present moment. “Pain-body” just sounds like such a cheesy, self-help
psycho-babble buzz-word that it becomes too easy not to take these sections seriously. To be fair, the idea that
each nation or ethnic group carries around the negative emotions from previous generations within their
subconscious is a profound idea, but when couched in terms like, “It becomes part of the collective pain-body” it
just sounds silly.
Basically, the “pain-body” plays the role of the ego when the ego indulges in its own negative thoughts. Emotions
are the body’s reaction to the thoughts, so when an ego continues telling itself negative stories about itself, it
replenishes the pain-body. This cycle repeats itself constantly, and those who are caught up in it fail to see that the
emotion is not contained within an event itself but arises only from their reactions to the event.
One of the better parts of this section has to do with entertainment and the media. Sad or violent television or film
entertainment is usually written from people’s pain-bodies, and it is the pain-body in the viewers that responds to
such stories with pleasure. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as a tragic tale or war film can often serve as a
mirror through which people can clearly see the humanity’s collective insanity. Depictions of violence are
therefore not harmful as long as they have a message.
Chapter 6 – Breaking Free
Once you cease to identify with your pain-body, it breaks control over you and becomes transmuted into
Presence. This is much more difficult for a person with a “heavy pain-body” as there are so many triggers which
activate it. “Someone who in childhood was neglected or abandoned by one or both parents will likely develop a
pain-body that becomes triggered in a situation that resonates even remotely with their primordial pain of
abandonment…the emotional pain they experience goes far beyond the pain that is natural in such a situation”
(178) Every experience of rejection or abandonment will trigger an emotional response far out of proportion to
what would be understandable in such cases.
Such people also have the disadvantage of a negative energy field that others can sense immediately. In fact,
when you meet someone your reaction to them is purely a result of their energy field. Once you talk to someone,
however, and words and thoughts enter into the relationship, these have a far greater influence over others’
perceptions. But it is harder for them to make friends in general because many people will feel a natural aversion
to their pain-body’s negative aura.
Occasionally, however, the pain-body can serve to awaken a person’s awareness of their deeper nature. If you
experience enough suffering, you may reach a point where the pain-body becomes so strong that it behaves like
an overheating engine, eroding itself with its own excessive energy. For some, this can lead to a recognition of the
pain-body for what it is, and a firm refusal to let it control them. For others, the pain-body can tolerate so much
suffering that this awakening never occurs. If you do become aware and decide to break free of it, the time it will
take to accomplish this depends on the intensity of the pain-body to begin with as well as the strength of the
person’s own Presence. But while it may take time to rescue yourself from the pain-body’s control of your mind,
it takes no time at all to recognise what’s happening and to dis-identify with the pain-body. To take a step back
and think of your suffering as a purely ego-driven process that is unconsciously chosen can happen instantly, and
once that recognition is made the rest follows naturally.
Chapter 7 – Finding Who You Truly Are
To truly understand who you are, you have to look beyond the concepts you normally use to define yourself such
as your job, age, gender, or even psychological character traits. Knowing who you are does not mean having
correct beliefs about yourself. Such beliefs tend to come from a self-perception that is dominated by time, when
the essence of what you really are is timeless. The primordial relationship in life is between your awareness and
the Now—the closer you are to appreciating the present moment, the closer you are to knowing yourself.
The ego resists the elimination of time because everything that defines it is bound up in time. It sees the present
moment as either a means to an end or an obstacle, if not a downright enemy. Perceiving life in this way gives rise
to emotions of fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, or anger. All over the world, people look at the present
moment as marred by something that happened but shouldn’t have, or deficient because of something that should
have happened but didn’t. Rarely is the moment simply accepted for what it is.
Unhappiness is actually more prevalent in places in the world with greater affluence, because in these cultures
people are more closely identified with things. In western civilisation there is a feeling that a life without fame or
fortune is worthless, when in reality it is those who are content not to stand out that live richer, more meaningful
lives. Their true essence is as clear to them as the feeling of awe they get when looking at the night sky. We
experience this awe not because of the stars we see but of the unfathomable depth that contains them—this
universe that is aware of itself through our own eyes. The current collective disease of humanity results from our
having lost sight of this. We are consumed by form when the essence of everything is formless.
Chapter 8 – The Discovery of Inner Space
The three aspects of inner freedom and enlightened living are non-resistance, non-judgment, and nonattachment.
To truly be free you must neither resist nor judge the present moment, nor become too attached to it. The mantra
of nonattachment is “This, too, will pass.” If you can understand the ethereal nature of everything, you will be
much better able to accept the bad and appreciate the good wherever you find it.
The burden of the egoic mind can also be resisted in ways that lead in the wrong direction. Some people find
watching television relaxing because it allows the brain to stop thinking as its thoughts merge with the thoughts
being broadcasted through the screen. Alcohol and certain other drugs also relax the mind, but when a person is
drunk they have not risen above thought, but sunk below it. Even Tolle agrees, however, that such practices are
not harmful, and can even be helpful, if done in moderation and with awareness.
Rising above thought means discovering the space within you. Because atoms are mostly empty space, the human
body itself is mostly empty space. Your body is just as empty as the universe that contains it, and during life it is
animated by the same universal intelligence that governs it. Taking a moment throughout the day to stop, take
deep breaths, and become aware of the life energy within you is the only way to overcome the ego and
experience freedom from thought. “If you are not spending all of your waking life in discontent, worry, anxiety,
depression, despair, or consumed by other negative states; if you are able to enjoy simple things like listening to
the sound of the rain or the wind; if you can see the beauty of clouds moving across the sky or be alone at times
without feeling lonely or needing the mental stimulus of entertainment; if you find yourself treating a complete
stranger with heartfelt kindness without wanting anything from him or her…it means that a space has opened up,
no matter how briefly, in the otherwise incessant stream of thinking that is the human mind” (234)
Chapter 9 – Your Inner Purpose
Tolle distinguishes between two different kinds of “purpose” a person’s life can have—inner and outer purpose.
While outer purpose varies from individual to individual depending on what they decide, inner purpose is the same
for everyone: to awaken. Awakening is the shift in consciousness in which thinking becomes separated from
awareness. Those who seek to awaken must be careful not to treat enlightenment as a kind of prized possession
that will make them a better person, as this kind of thinking only serves the ego.
True meaning must be sought not in the attainment of a future goal but rather in appreciating the present moment.
The purpose of your life should be different at every moment. When you walk to the office, the purpose should
not be to get to the office but simply to walk to the office. Your thoughts should be more focussed on the
walking—on taking in your surroundings and remaining aware of the life energy within you as you go—than on
what will happen once you reach your destination. If you focus only on the future, the result will almost invariably
be anxiety or stress.
Anxiety springs from uncertainty about the future. We can never know what the future holds, so it is important not
to dwell on it. We must accept the uncertainty and be comfortable with it—even appreciate it. “When you
become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It means fear is no longer a
dominant factor in what you do and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change….If uncertainty is
unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and
creativity.” (274) When you are open to the infinite possibilities of the world and are ready to accept any of them
that may come, your consciousness becomes aligned with the whole, the universal intelligence underlying
Chapter 10 – A New Earth
The final chapter delves deepest in its subject matter, and is therefore naturally the most objectionable part of the
book. Tolle’s theories regarding man’s place in the universe are just as speculative as anyone else’s, although
there is a beauty and simplicity about them that many other metaphysical systems lack. At the core of reality as he
sees it is a shared identity between man and the universe. Just as the universe expands and contracts [he admits
this is merely a possibility within astrophysics and not an established fact], so does the human life, beginning with
childhood and the expansion of ideas and influence and ending with old age and the shrinking of your personal
world. And just as each human life has an inner and an outer purpose, the universe has the outer purpose of
allowing forms to exist and interact, and the inner purpose of awakening to its formless essence through
The most objectionable claim he makes is that this unmanifested realm of pure formless consciousness flows into
the physical world through the human form, which was created for this purpose. I am always sceptical of any
metaphysical system that gives human beings that much significance, but the idea cannot be discounted. Surely the
human species itself plays a minor role from its tiny corner of the cosmos, but perhaps sentient, intelligent species
in general are the ultimate “goal” of the universe, if the concept of a “goal” can even be attached to something as
incomprehensibly grand and unfathomably complex as the entire universe.
Returning to individual life, Tolle postulates three “modalities of awakened doing”, which are the only three ways
you can bring outer and inner purpose together and live in alignment with the creative power of the universe:
acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. You are operating in a state of enthusiasm whenever you experience a
burst of creativity and work at a project that will be meaningful to you as well as the rest of the world. Periods of
enthusiasm come and go in a person’s life like waves, and almost all major scientific discoveries or great works of
art have been produced through enthusiasm. Enjoyment, by contrast, can be chosen by anyone at any time.
When engaged in any daily activity, one can go about it begrudgingly, thoughtlessly, or in a state of enjoyment. It
is important to keep in mind that enjoyment does not flow from the activity, but into the activity from the mind.
The ultimate goal is to bring joy to every little thing you do by appreciating each moment from the morning shower
to the evening meal. Finally, because some experiences simply can not be enjoyed, the best approach you can
take to some things is merely acceptance. You might be working a long boring shift at a job you hate, or you may
simply be lying in the dark and feeling lonely, but as long as you can accept it and approach the feelings as though
observing them rather than being dominated by them, you can still be in an enlightened frame of mind. There is
no situation so horrible that it cannot be accepted. But Tolle does admit that sometimes it is nearly impossible to
accept something, and if you find yourself in a situation in which acceptance is impossible, your only choice is to
do everything in your power to remove yourself from that situation.
The final concept that Tolle introduces is that of the “frequency-holders” in the world, whom he differentiates from
those who are strongly motivated to achieve great things and have a very large impact on the world around them.
Those who have no such ambitions—who are content to merely find a comfortable niche through which they can
experience the world—have far more value than contemporary society bestows on them. We are indoctrinated
into believing that we have no value unless we achieve fame and fortune, changing the world in a drastic and
visible way. This, however, is not the case according to Tolle. Those of us who are content to simply live in the
world and contemplate its nature are the anchors of humanity’s collective consciousness. Major changes in the
world come about when major changes in the collective awareness occur. An example of my own would be the
abolition of slavery, which did not happen due to any one individual but because of changing perceptions and
attitudes that took place in many minds over many generations.
According to Tolle, a new change is coming about and its effects will become greater and greater as more people
awaken to the concepts he has outlined. As more of us come to see the ego as a collective disease of humanity
and more of us are able to separate our awareness from the time-bound and desire-driven ego, our species will
break free of the insanity that has been at the root of all war and oppression for millennia.
On a personal level, I believe it is extremely helpful to keep in mind the distinction between thought and
awareness. To dis-identify with the ego and treat it as something of a spoiled child that should be ignored when it
causes harm is an excellent way to overcome the patterns of the past and to avoid negative thought-spirals that
keep us in a state of hopeless misery. Taking responsibility for your thoughts and the emotions they cause is the
necessary first step towards overcoming any personal problem.
On the other hand, I believe Tolle treats the ego almost a little too unfairly. The ego is not always making you
miserable—in fact sometimes it has quite the opposite effect. Furthermore, allowing the voice in your head to talk
to itself for long periods of time can often have rather beneficial effects, particularly the kind of introspective
revelations that might never come about if one never practices self-examination. It all depends on the basic
relationship that the ego has to the inner self. In some it is a stalwart obstacle to happiness, and in such cases it
ought to be regarded as an enemy to be defeated. But in other cases it is a solid friend, like a pleasant companion
that is with you constantly. Thought itself is neither good nor bad—it can be either depending on the person and
the situation. Tolle understands this, as he writes that your goal should not be to eliminate thought, but rather to
break free of its control over you. The ego should be a tool that you use to bring yourself the best kinds of
experiences, as opposed to the ego using you to increase its sense of self-worth either through the satiation of
desires or the identification of itself as a helpless victim of circumstance.
Politically, I believe that widespread adoption of this kind of belief system could only lead to good things for the
world. Much of the world’s conflicts still find their roots in religion, and all would do well to recognise how
spiritual truth can not be captured in thought due to the limitations of language, and that most conflicts result from
people identifying not with the spirit of their religion, but with their own particular interpretation of the thoughts in
their sacred texts. In the new century conflicts will probably have more to do with resources than with religion,
but a universal understanding of the concept of ego and of collective national, racial, or gender egos will lead to
the worldwide dissolution of the “us and them” mentality that compels us to fight rather than cooperate. If
everyone had the common good in mind when taking political action rather than the interests of only the group
they belong to, a far better world would not take long to form.
Philosophically, I believe Tolle’s account of things is too speculative to be taken as the final word on the place of
humanity in the cosmos, but the picture it paints is certainly a plausible one. It may be the case that the intelligent,
self-aware living organisms are the penultimate form which all universal constants were fixed in order to bring
about, but as of now one can only accept this on an intuitive basis. There is certainly not a lot of scientific
evidence to support such a conclusion, as the universe is so vast and its duration in existence so long that
extremely improbable events are bound to occur, and self-awareness in a living organism may be such an events.
We may be un-planned and un-designed, a cosmic accident without any purpose at all, struggling to make sense
of the world we find ourselves in during the brief time we are in it. Unless we venture further out into space and
discover that intelligent life abounds throughout the cosmos, we must remain open to the possibility that our
existence is merely a cosmic fluke and not the result of any plan by anyone or anything on any dimension of reality.
Still, while I feel it is important to keep in mind the atheist/materialist view of the universe, it does no harm to also
entertain the possibility that people like Tolle and other spiritual teachers are right and that we do have an ultimate
purpose. If that is true then we as a species certainly have some work to do if we are going to realise that
purpose, and a deeper understanding of the nature of the mind, of the relationship between ego and self, between
thought and awareness, is definitely a good place to start.