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Eckhart Tolle on enlightenment, ego, and apocalyptic collapse



Eckhart Tolle

I have sometimes wondered about the reactions of my readers whenever I mention the writings of Eckhart Tolle with approval, as I have done several times. Tolle is a best-selling writer whose books occupy the same general “mind/body/spirit” publishing niche as those of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, etc. He’s a speaker who has now appeared at Google’s headquarters, the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, and other trendy signature places and events representing the front line of tech culture’s faux fusion with spirituality. He has famously been associated with Oprah Winfrey. (One of the most read posts here at The Teeming Brain, by the way, continues to be “Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, and the fundamentalist hijacking of Christianity.”) The organization that is set up to promote his work puts out a veritably relentless flood of merchandising associated with his books and teachings. All of the marketing markers point toward his being another fluffy new-gen spiritual guru of the kind whose apparent mission is to make money by encouraging the wealthy and the upper middle class to feel good about themselves by exploring their own specialness.

The thing is, he’s more than that. As I and a bunch of other people discovered well over a decade ago when Tolle’s The Power of Now became a grassroots publishing phenomenon at the turn of the millennium, he is a writer and teacher of frankly astonishing power who manages to communicate to a general audience, in exquisitely lucid prose and spoken words, the same nondual spiritual message that was formerly propounded to a much more rarefied audience by the likes of J. Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, and others (and indeed, Tolle has named Krishnamurti and Maharshi as being among his primary influences). Say what you will in criticism of the various directions his “brand” has taken in recent years — and a number of such criticisms, some that I view as valid, have indeed been offered — the man himself appears to be the genuine article, as in someone who experienced a profound spiritual awakening/transformation (arising out of intense personal suffering, by the way) and then found that other people wanted to hear about it, and that he was gifted to convey it in words and personal presence. I sometimes wonder whether, in both sociological and religious or spiritual terms, his presence in modern digital mass media culture, including the various aspects of it that invite criticism, might not represent the arrival of a new guru/anti-guru model that’s valid for the present age.

And in a way, I said all of that to say this: hey, look, Eckhart is talking about apocalyptic collapse again. I’ve quoted his apocalyptic observations before. Now here’s a new one, appearing in a recent interview for The Huffington Post that was conducted by Arianna Huffington herself (who has headlined with him at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference). I never fail to find it fascinating when he says things like what’s quoted below, because although on one level he might be taken as just another spiritual guru who is barking about the supposed imminent end of the world and possible advent of a new spiritual age involving a forward leap in consciousness, on another he is truly saying something insightful when he links the age-old nondual realization about the fraught relationship between ego and world, self and other, inner and outer — and about the ground reality that encompasses and gives rise to both — to the quite real disruptions that are visibly attending our ongoing journey into formerly unknown realms and configurations of technological, ecological, economic, and sociological reality on a new planetary scale. Which is all to say that I find his words well worth attending to, not least because he offers not a rosy optimism but an honest recognition that we may well fail the challenge:

Collectively, we are at a point where the old — I call it the old, dysfunctional, egoic state of consciousness — has become extremely dangerous. We can go back 100 years ago, which is 1914, when World War I started, and that was the first time humans fully realized how insane warfare was because of all the advances in technology that had happened by that time. Millions upon millions of people died in World War I from chemical warfare, tanks, poison gas, machine guns and all the other clever inventions of the egoic mind. That was the first time we realized the magnitude of the dysfunction in the collective consciousness, as it became amplified by the advances in science and technology.

We have reached a point now where if there’s no shift in consciousness away from the dysfunctional, egoic state that generates all that insanity, then humans would most likely destroy themselves, or at least bring about a complete collapse of civilization. We have arrived at a point of great danger, collectively, but danger also means great opportunity for change. There’s a fundamental universal truth, and that is humans do not change until they reach a point of crisis. That applies not only to individuals, but it also applies to humanity as a whole. It’s only when we reach a state of crisis, the suffering that it produces creates the impetus behind the shift in consciousness. This is the point that we have reached now, and we’ve been moving towards this for the past 100 years. This is why so many people are now ready to undergo that shift.

So this is a very important moment in human history, where there is a possibility of almost a quantum leap in human consciousness. There’s also the possibility, of course, that humans are not going to make it, that the shift won’t happen, in which case there would be a regression in human evolution that could throw us back several thousand years. Hopefully, that’s not going to happen, but it could happen, and even that would not be ultimately tragic, because I believe that consciousness is destined to grow and flower on this planet. I’m fairly confident that it is happening already, but we must not underestimate the gravitational pull, so to speak, of the old, dysfunctional consciousness that is still here and operates, as you can see when you watch the daily news. Most things you see on the daily news are reflections of the old, dysfunctional consciousness, or, rather, unconsciousness. We have reached a very interesting point in human evolution. It’s quite amazing to be alive at this time.


MORE: “A Conversation with Eckhart Tolle

Image by Kyle Hoobin (, via Gregcaletta at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Soundtrack for a Dark Enlightenment: A Numinous YouTube Playlist

"Searching" by Parée under Creative Commons

“Searching” by Parée under Creative Commons

Thomas Ligotti once spoke of having been subject to a “craving for enlightenment in darkness” that never worked out in real life, but that he channeled into various aspects of his horror stories.

If you, like me, happen to be someone who has shared this craving with Tom, and if by chance you’re searching for some aural accompaniment to take you deeper into the shadowy and mournful soulspace of that dark awakening, then please know that the following playlist is for you. It knits together over two and a half hours of music that has been profoundly meaningful to me personally over a span of years, and that has been involved in various ways with my own authorial and existential explorations of the dark and gloomy route to transcendence. I hope it may prove meaningful to you as well.

N.B., you should wear headphones or earbuds as you listen to these tracks, or else use a speaker system with plenty of bass capability, since that’s the range where much of the texture of this particular music comes through. I put a lot of thought into the order and progression of the different tracks with their specific themes, tones, and moods, the better to create a subtly structured progression through different chambers and modes of unfolding awakening to the inward reality of the mysterium tremendum and the silent, staring void.

Because we engage with this reality from the particular conditioned state of consciousness that we call “the human point of view,” it necessarily and alternately strikes us as threatening, fearsome, exquisitely beautiful, starkly horrifying, unutterably sad, and numinously mesmerizing. Those shadings and more are all represented in this music.


  1. “The Host of Seraphim” by Dead Can Dance (6:19)
  2. “Abraham’s Theme” by Vangelis, from the soundtrack for Chariots of Fire (3:18)
  3. “Migrations” by Jocelyn Pook (3:45)
  4. “The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!)” by Jóhann Jóhannsson (6:29)
  5. “Heaven in a Wildflower” by Bill Douglas (4:37)
  6. “Trent Makes the Map” by John Carpenter and Jim Lang, from the soundtrack for In the Mouth of Madness (2:15)
  7. “Blood for Dracula” by Claudio Gizzi, from the soundtrack for Blood for Dracula/Andy Warhol’s Dracula
  8. “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook (6:14)
  9. “Bibo No Aozora” by Ryuichi Sakamoto (7:24)
  10. “The Cave” by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, from the soundtrack for Ravenous (8:00)
  11. “Towards the Within” by Dead Can Dance (7:08)
  12. “Libera Me” by Elliot Goldenthal, from the soundtrack for Interview with the Vampire (2:52)
  13. “In Doubt” and “A Different Drum” by Peter Gabriel, from Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ (6:14)
  14. “Children” by David Darling (5:53)
  15. “Opium” by Dead Can Dance (5:45)
  16. “Saveoursoulissa” by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, from the soundtrack for Ravenous (8:42)
  17. “The Great God Pan Is Dead” by Jóhann Jóhannsson (4:47)
  18. “Elysium / Honor Him / Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, and Klaus Badelt, from the soundtrack for Gladiator (8:16)
  19. “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” by Arvo Pärt (5:09)
  20. “Twilight Twilight Nihil Nihil” by Current93 (8:23)
  21. “Across the Waters” by Byron Metcalf and Mark Seelig with Steve Roach (10:38)
  22. “Patripassian” by Current93, featuring Nick Cave (5:52)

George Clayton Johnson describes the reality of the ‘Twilight Zone’

Poster by postersdepeliculas at Amazon

Poster by postersdepeliculas at Amazon

Fans of both The Twilight Zone and the realm of philosophical, spiritual, religious, and psychological inquiry represented by the likes of books such as Daimonic Reality and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness — the latter featuring contributions from Teeming Brain teem members David Metcalfe and Ryan Hurd — will find much of interest in comments made by science fiction legend George Clayton Johnson in a 2003 interview conducted for the Archive of American Television. (A special thanks to Teeming Brain contributor Richard Gavin for bringing this interview, and this particular portion of it, to my attention.)

At one point during the five-hour (!) interview, Johnson speaks at length about the actual psychological, spiritual, and ontological reality of the liminal zone epitomized by the very idea and title of “the Twilight Zone.” What’s more, he asserts that the series itself can serve as a “tool” and a “consciousness expander” for helping people — especially children — to wake up to realities existing beyond the pale of the mundane world. Read the rest of this entry