During my late teens and early twenties, I read many self-help books written to help people find their identity by becoming more in touch with themselves and appreciating the intrinsic qualities making them who they are. Two books that stand out to me are Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and The Power of Now. The reason why these books stand out is because they helped me learn how to step outside my microcosm of worry, anxiety, and incessant thought in order to see my problems from a bird’s eye view, comprehending how such complex problems don’t have control over me or my thoughts. Even more effective was Tolle’s ability to explain how to stay present and to avoid getting lost in rumination, or the disillusionment that the world was so much smaller than I was making it out to be. Truly, reading these books at the time were, for me, enlightening. This was while I was first discovering Christ in a whole new light, still coming to grips with what Christianity meant. My faith in Jesus was not very strong yet as I had not yet learned what it meant to fully receive His love.
ENLIGHTENMENT AND SPIRITUALITY
In reading these books, I finally understood how unhealthily I had been living for so many years since my parents divorced, and how my shell of a life crumbling to the ground had been the tool acting as the ostracism of my own identity from me. Upon realizing this, and further stepping back—I experienced the liberation I could finally take advantage of regarding all the pain in my life up to that point. Put differently, I could finally “see” the space between me and my past pain. For me at the time, this seemed a powerful first step towards “enlightenment,” or “spirituality” beyond church. Never before had I been able to step outside any bubble, much less recognize the space between me and any of the substance of thoughts running inside my head. Now I was able to do just that, and, at first, the experience felt so intrinsic that it was as if the liberation and space itself had become my new identity. It felt great! A good couple of months of this set me free from all those years of worry, anxiety, some of the depression (not all), and a lot of the repercussive shame (for example, there were memories of my past I felt shame over because I had assumed I upset one person or another for something so minuscule as to be meaningless—like that of not smiling at someone when I could have, or speaking words with a negative inflection. I finally accepted that my memories proved I had done nothing worth hanging onto for years and years, and more importantly, that the only person who was likely hanging onto the type of worry I was was me—for all those years. Needless to say, letting that shame go was deeply liberating).
Further, what I recall receiving from Tolle’s books about 6 years ago now is how his perspectives, teachings, and focuses were in some ways related to one of the several facets of Pantheism; the doctrine which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God. From this angle of Pantheism, the universe and humanity are one, so the belief that God is the universe then reduces God to a much smaller degree of His actual size and power, ably placing humanity on His level. For some, this would be so extreme as to be blasphemy. When I recognized this flaw (again, I was still learning about Jesus, the Bible, God’s love, and humanity’s historical relationship with Him ranging from long before to far after Christ’s death and resurrection), what I realized was how Tolle was describing God in all of us—not as in the Holy Spirit as described by Jesus before His ascension to Heaven, but rather, what Tolle had described was experiencing presence (the act of mentally being in the here and now) as if the act of presence itself was the gateway to God’s presence and that presence was also our connection to His wavelength. Again, this idea of a “wavelength” reduced God, bringing Him down to a level that made Him appear impersonal, limited, and distorted. Here lied the biggest eye-opener for me.
AN IMPERSONAL, HUMANIZED GOD
Claiming humanity is on the same wavelength as God not only lowers God down to humanity (which Jesus had already done through the Incarnation, whereas Tolle’s teachings had nothing to do with anything Jesus had done—if anything, Tolle merely quoted some of the godly wisdom Jesus spoke in the Bible as a reference back to the his point on enlightenment), it tells us God is not personal. The ideology of Tolle’s books offer nothing about personal relationship with God. In fact, if anything, his words only imply that we are with God in the sense that we are all on the same wavelength like that of a radio station frequency. To me, this is as ludicrous as is playing with a heavy subject in the shallow end of the pool. Moving further still, a vitally important missing piece of his teaching is how Tolle says nothing to connect dots from his message on enlightenment to the universal concept of sin to restoration, from understanding evil to emanating love, or from receiving pain by adversity to actively practicing forgiveness. Ultimately, Tolle’s words are limited to the thoughts in our minds as the main source of our problems. The problem (and limitation) with this is that for those living in their mind like I had been for so many years, we may back out of our thoughts, but then we are immediately left alone to figure them out, judge them, change them, and to discern the good from the bad and the ugly. But on whose terms?
THE LOSS OF SALVATION AND PURPOSE
These books, as enlightening as they were for me, also offered no promise of salvation or relationship with God; only the implication that slowing down enough to step outside my thoughts would bring me to God’s wavelength. Let me tell you, as someone who used to be a suicidal atheist desperate to find a purpose or literally kill myself—I have never been so much as curious about wavelengths, air waves, or “channels”. Ridding myself of my worries was incredible, but I soon after understood that there had to be more than mere enlightenment. What about living for a purpose, and discovering ours in order to live it out? What about loving people who hurt us to be a witness of Jesus’s love for them? What about the soul of morality in a world so contradictorily convinced morality is subjective? Mere enlightenment doesn’t touch on any of these imperative questions. Of all the positive lessons of enlightenment, its most transparent flaw is rooted in the narcissism that we are inner-connected, yet still interpersonally remiss, without reason to be selfless. In other words, enlightenment does not teach about nor touch upon unconditional love, forgiveness, or salvation from our desire for indulgence; enlightenment merely celebrates our ability to think outside the box without getting tossed back in again later.
When I finally came to grips with how relationship with Jesus is meant to be and to feel personal, enlightenment seemed like a small prerequisite to learning to be present enough to understand the importance of opening the Bible and appreciating its promise of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ. My eyes were then opened by God—not Eckhart Tolle—to the truth that enlightenment may attempt to act precociously, but it gets caught with its shoes untied and missing a belt.
THE REALITY OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Readers, even if and when we can find ourselves able to back out of our worry, anxiety, shame, or depression—we still have those to deal with and to allocate spiritually. What does that mean? It means we still need to learn who to surrender our fears, worries, anxieties, shame, and depression to. Dealing with the spiritual allocation of these problems means handing them off to God and dropping them out of our hearts and minds like heavy suitcases. Enlightenment can help teach us how to do this—to let go of the heavy and unnecessary worry stopping us from truly living and slowing us from truly seeking our purpose from God. What enlightenment can’t do, and what it in and of itself doesn’t have—is the power to answer our deepest, most personal and intricate questions or desires about the meaning of life, or our purpose in it. Enlightenment may clear the road of tree branches and the debris of life, but the road itself was already there, paved by God Himself.
OUR NEED FOR JESUS
What I’d like for you to take away from this is the importance of understanding our need for relationship with God through Jesus Christ does not come from any form of enlightenment. Living with worry and anxiety isn’t worth the struggle, and the world does not help us let go of such things because the world is the source of the problem aside from our choosing to let our problems get to us. Admitting this allows us to see the helpful tool of enlightenment, which can help us to see our path with less luggage to carry along the way. But enlightenment is not the journey, relationship with God is, but I didn’t realize this until after I had searched for a bit of enlightenment myself to understand the difference. It was there that I found enlightenment didn’t have the answers I was looking for either, only Jesus has those answers. If we would seek Him and His kingdom first and foremost, He will give us the desires of our hearts (Matthew 6:33).
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