Please weigh in, agree or disagree, thoughtfully and respectfully. Ferocity and passion are encouraged; disrespect is not. Thank you for reading, and seeing this as a conversation rather than a monologue.

June 30, 2010

Taking on Tolle

"The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you." ~Eckhart Tolle

I've not read Tolle – this quotation was sent to me as is – so I don't know the context. Taken as is, this statement is both true and not true. If none of those are me, do I still have responsibility for them? Cannot others describe me accurately, if incompletely, by referring to them? It's true that none of the qualities, singly or in aggregate, are a complete definition of us, but they do serve a function in knowing who we are, so they are not useless or entirely false.
I'd posit that the best definition of us is the aggregate of what we have done, for good or ill, in our lives up to this moment. We'd like to define ourselves, of course, as something higher than our own and others' experiences of us, as something ethereal. But doing so denies our common humanity, which is a damned mess AND glorious, and binds us all together.
My concern with many alternative or new age philosophers is that they would apply to humans one of the "heresies" (I would call them concepts, but whatever) often applied to Jesus: that he was really fully divine and not human/flawed at all. (Was it Docetism?) Some theories of humanity seem to want to deny our messiness – our combination of surprising heroism, courage, generosity, etc., with our capacity for greed, callousness, self-centeredness, etc. They seem to favor an ill-defined, but more polished, version of human nature that is not our experience, or is our experience only at times. It may be what we aspire to be, but that is not us, either.


  1. The way I see it, the work you do, social status and recognition, relationships, and such things are *results* of who you are. They're part of the mark you leave on the world, an outward manifestation of you. But they are not you. Personal history helps shape you, and you would not be you without it. But personal history is not you, nor is family history. Belief systems, on the other hand, including political and religious or spiritual belief systems, combined with hopes and dreams, desires, passions, including love and hate, sorrows, joys... these things are you. None of them alone is you, but together, combined, they are you.

    I'm not quite sure I understand the second part of what you're trying to say though. You say that the idea of the ethereal soul denies our common humanity, that it denies our messiness, as you put it. Why? Can't the soul be just as capable of error and learning? Can you give an example of what you mean?

  2. true. they are not you. they may be pieces of you but they are not you.

    I'm thinking this is what he meant but I could, still of course, be mistaken.

    Mo Rage
    the (other) blog


  3. Seems there is a perpetual tension in us humans between conventional identifications (like Tolle lists) and absolute identity (like perhaps soul). If you invest identity in the things you have done you limit and distort who you are. Buddhism's conventional/absolute distinction is helpful, to me anyway. Identities are traps, but awareness is not -- including what "you" have done and are doing. To know what is happening and your actions vis a vis "all your relations" seems close to who "I" am. Hope this makes sense. It's a try. (I haven't read Tolle either, so this has nothing to do with "him".) Ah, pronouns.
    John (


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