Everything Old Is New-ish Again
In 2008, Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle and two million of their dearest friends met once a week for ten weeks, online, for the study of Tolle’s 2005 bestseller, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The live interactive seminar was reportedly the first of its kind, with viewers hailing from at least six continents. The seventh, Antarctica, basically four million–plus square miles of mile-thick ice, houses numerous clumps of scientists year-round as well as penguins, seals, tardigrades, and other critters large and small. With at least a thousand humans on the continent at any given time, it seems logical to assume that a few of them, anyway, logged on to the Winfrey-Tolle program each week.
In what had to be the planet’s largest-ever classroom, Tolle and Winfrey fielded comments and answered questions via Skype, E-mail, and telephone. The ten 90-minute sessions are available free on iTunes in large-screen, standard-screen, and audio-only formats.
Here’s the thing: A New Earth, stripped of its packaging, isn’t all that new. Guessing here, I’d say its message is three thousand to four thousand years old. Tolle certainly deserves credit for reviving this ancient wisdom, compiling it, and presenting it in a way that appeals to millions and keeps them off the street, at least for the length of time it takes to read 336 pages of rather dense prose. If he seems to suggest that A New Earthmight literally save the human race… well, who’s to say?
New Testament, New Thought, New Age, Old Story
In a similar (but not matching) genre, another publishing phenomenon, A Course in Miracles, appeared in 1976 but didn’t gain widespread attention until 1992 with the publication of A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, by Marianne Williamson. Tolle owes much to ACIM and Williamson and to dozens of other authors, including Wayne Dyer (whom I cautiously admire) and Deepak Chopra (who contributes a rich and ancient Hindumystical perspective), writing in the same vein but offering original approaches and ideas as well.
A small book with big letters and lots of white space, Energy Ecstasy and Your Seven Vital Chakras appeared in 1978. Anticipating Tolle by decades, the author of Energy Ecstasy, Bernard Gunther, also wrote Sense Relaxation: Below Your Mind (1969), “hailed as the first book of the human potential movement.”
The astonishing Louise Hay wrote You Can Heal Your Life in 1984, a full thirteen years before Eckhart Tolle’s first book came out. As Hay was entering her seventh decade, she founded Hay House, whose authors today constitute a virtual Who’s Who of self-help and New Thought luminaries, not to mention the most credible psychics and intuitives on the planet.
I strongly recommend that you tune in to Hay House Radio every Wednesday at noon for Trust Your Vibes with Sonia Choquette (that’s SO-nya, with a long O). Then subscribe to her YouTube channel and breathe in a little of the imcomparable Choquette energy, wisdom, and joy. Imbibe a bit of her spirit. You’ll be the better for it. (Here’s a sample. Much more about Hay House Radio below.)
Christian Science Lite
My daughter refers to the more recent crop of New Age spiritual guides as “Christian Science Lite.” The authors’ debt to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy and her remarkable explication of Christian Science, Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures (1875), is hard to ignore. Mrs. Eddy’s writings in turn reflect New England Transcendentalism, particularly the work of Emerson, perpetuating a metaphysical tradition articulated by the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, the Buddha, and the authors of the Torah and the Christian Bible.
Christian Science would have gained wider acceptance, I think, had it not been for the population’s reluctance to forgo medical treatment in favor of a strictly spiritual approach to healing, although my Christian Scientist friends tell me that they are by no means forbidden to seek medical attention. In any case, the New Thought movement emerged in the late nineteenth century making rather less noise about doctors and healing; today’s Unity Church is part of the New Thought legacy.
I have not included the much-loved classic The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, as part of this tradition because Peale emphasizes faith, hope, resilience, and the miraculous intervention of a loving and very personal God, whereas authors and philosophers from Mrs. Eddy to Eckhart Tolle employ, to varying degrees, the vocabulary of science and math, using syllogistic reasoning. (Marianne Williamson is an anomaly; she combines old and new spiritual practices in a way that is graceful and lovely to behold. I’m a big MW fan.) I have found Dr. Peale’s work comforting at times, but it doesn’t deal much with the darker emotions. For that, God, in Its wisdom, gave us Carl Jung and beautiful Debbie Ford, another Hay House author. That said, Peale’s work brought hope to millions and his legacy is huge; it includes the phenomenal Guideposts organization and its many publications and ministries.
If you haven’t yet (I take that back — even if you have) found a guru who speaks your language (you might read something out of Chopra that resonates with you in a way Tolle’s writing does not), try Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings (2005), by Rob Brezsny. I have at least $10 worth of little sticky notes marking the pages of my copy of this book. In fact, there are probably more marked than unmarked pages, which kind of defeats the purpose, but, oh, well…. What does it say about the author that the seeds for Pronoia (more than a book; it’s a movement) were sown at Burning Man and that one of the more conventional synonyms he uses for God is the Divine Wow? I’m just grateful that he’s on our side and that we are on everyone’s side.
Christian Science ’round the clock
The numerous Christian Scientists of my acquaintance are blessed with great generosity of spirit. Even so, they tend to bristle, I’ve observed (and they have every reason to do so), when hearing Mrs. Eddy’s complex yet practical message reduced to mere “faith healing” or “positive thinking.” Visit the incredibly generous Christian Science website and sample the wealth of this woefully misunderstood body of wisdom.
People with sonorous voices and perfect pronunciation read from Science and Health 24/7 on streaming audio. If, when encountering the word unerring, the readers were to say un-AIR-ing rather than the preferred un-URR-ing, I wouldn’t be able to listen — the word comes up rather a lot. As it is, I believe I’m healthier for falling asleep to passages from Science and Health being read so expertly, and so is my computer. No joke. According to Christian Science (with apologies to realChristian Scientists where I might be getting it wrong),
- God (“Divine Mind”), being perfect, creates only perfection
- Human beings, as God’s divine ideas, are not susceptible to sickness, sin, or death
- All reality reflects God’s attributes: It is loving, spiritual, eternal, intelligent, joyful, harmonious, and so forth
- Matter is nothing but a manifestation of thought; it is insubstantial and illusory
- It is “mortal mind” (“error”) that produces the appearance of anything other than well-being
- Negative emotions proceed from the false beliefs of separation from God and the reality of matter
- Jesus had a perfect understanding of the divine nature, thus manifesting the “Christ principle”
- You and I, attaining that level of understanding, would also manifest the Christ principle
- Thus, poverty, cancer, and war are manifestations of the “lies” of lack, illness, and disharmony
Compare these tenets to the “mind-body” metaphysics of modern adherents; I think you’ll find more similarities than differences.
Recommended Reading Off the Beaten Path
- Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911). This children’s classic reveals Burnett’s interest in Christian Science as well as Spiritualism and Theosophy.
- Florence Scovel Shinn, The Game of Life and How to Play It (1925). Shinn’s writing reportedly contributed to Louise Hay’s healing wisdom.
- Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light (1947). Wife of an Episcopal rector, mother of a Jungian analyst, and daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Sanford is referred to as the “mother of the Inner Healing Movement,” a “grassroots counseling movement among Christians of various denominations” whose leaders also included Ruth Carter Stapleton, Leanne Payne, and Charles Fillmore. Sanford died in 1982, but the Agnes Sanford website lives on.
- Joshua Loth Liebman, Peace of Mind (1946). When I settle in a place where there’s room for books again, this is one of the first I’ll reacquire. According to Wikipedia, “Peace of Mind held the top position on the … New York Times nonfiction best-sellers list… for a total of 58 (non-consecutive) weeks, and spent more than three straight years on the list.” Sadly, Liebman died two years after the book was published.
Hay House Radio
You could think of it as thousands of dollars’ worth of therapy. Or you could get real confused. For the most part, the authors who host Hay House Radio programs sing in harmony. Then there’s the occasional discordant note. Louise Hay is the undisputed Empress of the Affirmation, but at least one host is openly skeptical of the benefits of chanting “Life Loves Me” day in and day out. There are authors who warn you away from sugar and caffeine, while others are unabashed chocolate-lovers. Some tiptoe around the word God and shun prayers of petition and intercession. Others offer spontaneous on-air prayers for callers particularly in need of miracles. Caroline Myss (pronounced CARE-oh-linn MACE) is in a category of her own. She’s probably best known for her work with archetypes, though she freely offers her opinion on everything from neighborhood gossip to the state of the planet (dire). She is controversial and at times abrasive. On her Hay House Radio program, callers love and fear her. She can be sharp-tongued one minute, gentle and comforting the next. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Caroline Myss doing a lot of mirror work, à la Louise Hay.
Peggy Rometo, on the other hand, is invariably charming but never saccharine. Her psychic skills are impressive without flash or fuss (like I’d know). She’s always well prepared with remarkably practical suggestions for listeners who want to sharpen their own intuition. With call-in visitors she is patient, perceptive, and respectful — and a better woman than I. After the fourth or fifth caller in a row complains that, despite having made superhuman efforts to move forward in the job or project or relationship at issue, he or (usually) she is “stuck” or is “being blocked,” I’m throwing paperback books at my computer monitor and yelling, “You’ve gotten to the swamp and you’re afraid of the snakes. Quit whining and soldier on. Twit!” And I’m way off the mark because I’m describing my own trepidation, but Peggy has been listening, and she gives thoughtful advice tailored to the caller, not a rehash of suggestions offered to Milksop #2 or #3. Listen to her program, Intuitive Insights, on Thursdays, 2 to 3 p.m. (PDT); and buy her book, The Little Book of Big Promises (2010), for a treasure chest of useful knowledge, guided meditations, and lively prose.
Hay House Radio offers the highest production values and the easiest accessibility I’ve found on the Internet, and I’m including the BBC and NPR in my comparison. Here’s a partial list of hosts; the authors whose names appear in bold face have weekly call-in programs: Michael Bernard Beckwith Gabrielle Bernstein Joan Z. Borysenko, Ph.D. Gregg Braden Sonia Choquette, Ph.D. Alan Cohen Dr. Wayne W Dyer Debbie Ford Carmen Harra Esther and Jerry Hicks John Holland Barbara Marx Hubbard Mark Husson Deborah King Loral Langemeier Denise Linn Caroline Myss Michael Neill Dr. Christiane Northrup Robert Holden, Ph.D. Michelle Phillips Diane Ray Cheryl Richardson Peggy Rometo Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D. Eldon Taylor Sandra Anne Taylor Iyanla Vanzant Doreen Virtue Dr. Darren R. Weissman Marianne Williamson davidji