A New Earth, Chapter 2 Workbook Questions

By · Monday, March 31st, 2008

As part of Oprah’s online class, my wife and I are working through Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, together by reading and answering the weekly workbook questions. Following are my answers to the questions posed in the Chapter Two workbook:

Pay attention to any repetitive thought patterns, particularly negative ones about yourself, your life, or other people. Write down any such repetitive thought patterns that you detect.

I’ve looked at this question for a while, and feel that my response may be different from most others. The 20-plus years that I have served in prison have conditioned me in ways that are different from people who live without so many restrictions. In order to endure this separation from society and from the people I love, I have had to purge negative thoughts. The alternative would have been to drown in negativity of confinement. God blessed me with a power to forgive and a power to understand the motivations of others. That has helped me transcend the limitations of this artificial world. Because the only repetitive thought patterns that flow through my mind are positive, I have been able to feel grateful for the blessings in my life. That adjustment has enabled me to progress through my prison term productively and grow in myriad ways. Although I began serving this term when I was 23, I now have educational credentials, a wide network of support, and a magnificent marriage that I work to nurture every day. None of those blessings would have been possible unless I was able to purge negative thoughts from my mind. A positive disposition and optimism has helped me grow.

Do certain things induce a subtle feeling of importance or superiority? Do you casually mention things you own or show them off to increase your sense of worth?

As a prisoner, I do not own much of anything in the way of material possessions. That said, I feel a sense of distinction, or superiority, because of credentials I have earned and accomplishments I have made. I seek and create opportunities where I can speak in front of an audience. This speaking is part of my ongoing effort to prepare for release. When I speak, I frequently authenticate myself by mentioning that I have earned two university degrees, that I have published six books, that national publications cite my work, and that I have a thriving marriage. Part of the reason I say such things is that I want my audience to believe in me, but another part, on a more base level, is to convince my audience that I am different from others who have served so much time. It’s been an ego booster, one that this book and others I am reading have made me conscious about.

Does the lack of them make you feel inferior to others who have more than you? Do you feel resentful and somehow diminished in your sense of self?

Since I do not live in a world of material possessions, I am not deluged with images of what I’m missing. In prison, we’re all living with the same conditions. We wear the same clothes, sleep in similar quarters, and eat the same food. None of us have homes or cars to show off, at least not that we can see. In this world, my focus is more on how I distinguish myself with what I achieve in my world rather than what I accumulate. Still, achievements can feed the ego just as well as possessions and I recognize the importance of guarding against arrogance or vanity. This is an area in which I must work.

“There are people who have renounced all possessions but have a bigger ego than some millionaires. If you take away one kind of identification, the ego will quickly find another.” What do you think this means?

As I wrote in response to question two and three, my own ego has relied upon any and every distinction I could acquire, as I wanted to distinguish myself from other prisoners. I have felt as if my identity has been ripped away with my prison sentence, and the responsibility has been mine to create an identity that would imply I am more than a prisoner. Possessions may not have been the source of my ego, though my ego, or arrogance at times, has been substantial. These spiritual readings have helped me identify more with the world around me and with my responsibility to live as one with all living beings.

“Close your eyes for a moment and see if you can feel the life energy inside your hands. This is your “inner body.” Record your experiences.

This habit of feeling my inner body has been a technique I have relied upon over the years to pull through difficult times. When stressful situations arise, I can cope sometimes by thinking about all of the inner workings of my body. I can focus on a minute part, like my toenail, or one of the hairs on my chest. By training my mind to focus all of thoughts there, I can come back to a more balanced state. It is helpful at night, too, when I am struggling with insomnia.

Many people try to fill their life with food, drink, drugs, or other addictive behavior. The next time you find yourself reaching for something you think you want, get in touch with your inner body and see what happens. Record your experiences here.

Again, this freedom to reach out to satisfy the “need for more” is not really an issue for a long-term prisoner. I am not able to rely on such superfluous luxury, as living in prison really limits me. Perhaps I should reserve my response for this question when I am released, and when I will have to contend with an insatiable urge to reach for more with my wife. Yet after 20 years of imprisonment, I do not think that I will resist the urge and rely on my essence identity. No, I’m quite sure I’ll be reaching for my wife.

Have you had an experience of loss that you resisted? Have you had an experience of loss that you yielded to? What happened?

When I was 23 years old I lost my freedom. I have been imprisoned for nearly 21 years because of my criminal convictions. Yet I found it therapeutic to yield to the loss, to accept that I had broken laws and that no one was responsible for my predicament besides me. I had made the decision to sell cocaine as a younger man, and the responsibility was mine to respond to the sanction. Because I did not resist, I was able to feel my consciousness open. That adjustment was what enabled me to focus on a strategy to emerge from this sentence stronger. My surrendering made it natural for me to forgive, accept, embrace. I could confront challenges with more confidence, feeling certain they were strengthening me. Even now, as I look back on all of the years that I have served, I can say that my yielding to my loss has been of immense help to my adjustment.

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