When you drill down on the ideas in the book, there are really only a few essential ones, but they are genuinely life-changing once grasped.
Here is my rundown of the perspective enhancing ideas and statements from A New Earth, although I definitely encourage you to read or listen to the book yourself.
1. Be aware of your Pain Body keeping you stuck
“Because of the human tendency to perpetuate old emotion, almost everybody carries within his or her energy field an accumulation of emotional pain, which I call the ‘Pain Body’.”
The Pain Body is an important concept in A New Earth. Basically, the idea is that we all carry around unprocessed negative emotions. This situation keeps past events live, instead of our attention fully being on the present moment. Things happen and our Pain Bodies are activated which affects how we respond, taking us out of the present. In this way, we are defined by our thoughts and emotions about the past.
(By the way, you might not be conscious that you are stuck in the past; it is your emotional reactions which are the clues to the existence of your Pain Body).
“Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?”
Tolle encourages you to try to observe when your Pain Body is being activated, and accept your negative emotions. This is what creates freedom from the Pain Body.
“Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissolve. It leaves behind a remnant of pain.”
(Read this for a guide to acceptance.)
2. Become aware of your thoughts and emotions as they happen, and you will be free
The subject of ego can be a little incomprehensible, but Tolle’s ideas help you to understand this complex aspect of our psychology.
“To become free of ego is not really a big job but a very small one. All you need to do is be aware of your thoughts and emotions – as they happen. This is not really a “doing” but an alert “seeing”.”
What Tolle is describing here is mindfulness, which is the ultimate ego-observation habit.
Tolle explains that not all thought and emotion are ego, but they turn into ego when we identify with them, they take us over completely and become our ‘I’.
“The ego is not only the unobserved mind, the voice in the head which pretends to be you, but also the unobserved emotions that are the body’s reaction to what the voice in the head is saying.”
So how do we free ourselves of ego?
Tolle says it’s all down to cultivating Presence. He says “most people have moments when they are free of ego. Those who are exceptionally good at what they do may be completely or largely free of ego whilst performing their work. This means that their state of Presence is for the time being confined to one area of life.”
For a guide to becoming aware of your ego, read this.
3. Knowing about yourself is different to knowing yourself
Tolle distinguishes knowing the content of ourselves – our pasts, our personalities – and knowing ourselves, which really just means being unidentified with anything.
“There is nothing wrong with psychoanalysis or finding out about your past as long as you don’t confuse knowing about yourself with knowing yourself. Whatever you learn through psychoanalysis or self-observation is about you. It is not you.
It is content, not essence. Going beyond ego is stepping out of content. Knowing yourself is being yourself, and being yourself is ceasing to identify with content.”
4. Everyone’s primary purpose is to awaken
Tolle says that we all share a common internal purpose which is to awaken, and that our external purposes are secondary to that.
“Outer purpose alone is always relative, unstable and impermanent. They need to be connected to an inner, primary purpose.”
Here are a few other cool things he says about finding/discovering the activities that bring us purpose:
“You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present, any activity that is not just a means to an end.”
“The foundation of greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.”
“Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.”
“When you are present, when your attention is fully in the now, that Presence will flow into and transform what you do. There will be quality and power in it. You are present when what you are doing is not primarily a means to an end, (money, prestige, winning) but fulfilling in itself, when there is joy and aliveness in what you do. And of course, you cannot be present unless you become friendly with the present moment. That is the basis for effective action, uncontaminated by negativity.”
5. Shoot for ‘awakened doing’: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm
Awakened doing is what Tolle describes as the outer aspect of the next stage in the evolution of consciousness. He says is not what you do that’s important, it’s how you do it.
“In any situation and in whatever you do, your state of consciousness is the primary factor; the situation and what you do is secondary. “Future” success is dependent upon and inseperable from consciousness out of which the actions emanate. That can be either the reactive force of the ego or the alert attention of awakened consciousness.
All truly successful action comes out of that field of alert attention, rather than from ego and from conditioned, unconscious thinking.”
Tolle identifies the three modalities of awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm.
Performing an action whilst in the state of acceptance means you’re at peace when you’re doing it. He says if you can’t accept what you are doing, you should stop doing it, as to do otherwise means not taking responsibility for your state of consciousness.
With enjoyment, Tolle says you will enjoy any activity that isn’t just a means to an end. Enjoyment of what you are doing, combined with a goal or vision you are working towards, becomes enthusiasm.
So that’s it: my summary of the life-changing ideas in A New Earth. I encourage you to read it and to see which of what he says resonates with you.
It’s a profound book that ought to be on every wakeful person’s reading list.