A New Earth – Chapter One: The Flowering of Human Consciousness

By · Wednesday, March 19th, 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 One workbook:

Why did you decide to read this book?

My wife, Carole, sent me Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth. I chose to read the book for that reason. Carole and I have an unusual relationship in that I have been incarcerated for the entire duration of our marriage. We have never lived in the same house, or slept in the same bed, despite that we’ve been married for five years. Because of those complications, I deem it essential to build upon our intimacy through creative ways. One way is by writing to each other frequently, discussing our plans and constantly evaluating our progress. Yet another way is by reading books simultaneously and discussing them. Such projects give us the privilege of learning more about the other thinks.

Another project on which we worked together was Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. I especially welcome the opportunity to explore spiritual teachings with Carole. As a prison couple, we must abide by all of the rules of the institution, which means that we have severe limitations on how much time we can spend on the telephone, and how much time we are allowed to visit. Reading a spiritual book together and participating in this opportunity to respond to the same questions allows us to know each other’s thoughts better, and the book spawns further discussions that bring the promise of more intimacy. Those are the reasons I decided to read this book: I wanted to build upon my spiritual awareness, and I welcomed the opportunity to work through a project that will bring me closer to my wife.

Are there specific areas of your life that you think will benefit from the lessons of A New Earth? How can you incorporate the book’s teachings in your life today?

Reading A New Earth will help improve my relationships and communications with others. I appreciated the lessons on what the author called our pain bodies. By understanding the connection between pain bodies and the ego, I will have more skills to recognize breakdowns in communications. In a later chapter, he suggested that we pause when our own pain bodies are activated. He also suggested that the first step toward overcoming insanity is to recognize the insanity. That same lesson can apply to our communications, as by recognizing the drive or motivation behind hurtful words helps us to give them the value they are due. We can disregard hurtful words when they are expressions of the pain body to further the ego. That lesson of understanding others is going to help my communications and interactions with others.

I can incorporate the book’s teachings into my life today in many ways. As a long-term prisoner, I’m also a teacher of others in my environment. I have taken extensive notes from the book, and I will use those notes to help spread the author’s message of peace, enlightenment, and the importance of expanding our consciousness to others around me. This work will enrich my life, my community, and contribute to this new earth we all must work together in building.

Think about the question on P.5: “Can human beings lose the density of their conditioned mind structures and become like crystals or precious stones… transparent to the light of consciousness?”

A) What makes you feel more alive and open, less dense, less bogged down by heavy thoughts and feelings?

I feel most alive and open when I am working in the moment, when I am not consumed with the rigidity of my life. During those moments when my mind drifts to the 20-plus years I’ve served in prison, to the five more years I’m expected to serve, and to all of the limitations my predicament imposes upon me, that is when I feel the most bogged down with heavy thoughts and feelings. To free myself I need to let go. I become less dense, more open, when I realize the blessings of my life.

For me, the key to staying calm throughout this adversity is to focus on empowering opportunities that I can enjoy now. I find fulfillment in my writings not because of what they may bring to me or prepare me for at some point in my future. Rather, I feel as if these efforts to communicate with others are bringing meaning to my life. The thoughts that go into each sentence have a life of their own. I know that through them, I am contributing to the thoughts of others, of people I have yet to even meet. I can find peace and comfort in the act, and hope comes with it for a broader reach, or more expansive connection with others.

When I am exercising, communicating with my wife, reading or writing, I feel as if I am totally in the moment. That means I can lose the oppression that has been a part of my life since 1987. The key to feeling stronger, and I believe in willing more opportunity into our lives, is finding gratitude in the blessings we have received.

B) Could this be the beginnings of what A New Earth is pointing toward?

Yes, I think the author’s message is that we should open our minds to possibilities of what we can become rather than accepting the concrete structures that others have poured. We need to be realistic about where we are in life, but we cannot dismiss optimism, enthusiasm, and passion for what we can become. As human beings expand their levels of consciousness and tolerance, we will give life to this new earth and realize more fully our connection with God and all of God’s creations.

Spend some time in the presence of something you consider beautiful-a flower, a gem, a piece of artwork. As you look at the object, try to see it without naming it mentally. When we appreciate beauty in this manner, a window opens into the formless and into a state of gratitude. See if you can experience that. Write your experiences here:

Every day I walk out of the concrete and steel building in which I am confined. After descending the stairs, I walk along a white concrete pathway that cuts across a lush green lawn. I come to a dirt running track and take my first steps on what is usually a ten-mile run. As I’m running, I completely lose sight and perception of where I am. During those moments I am not in prison at all. Instead, I am in the midst of God’s abundance and all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon me. I feel as if I am free during those exercise periods, as if I am exactly where I am supposed to be. That is the state of gratitude that carries me through every day, week, month, year, and decade of separation from those I love. Because I can see and feel so much beauty around me, I always feel a sense of empowerment, as if more will soon come my way and the way of those around me.

Do you consider yourself a religious person? What about a spiritual person? Is there a difference between the two?

I do not consider myself a religious person because I do not abide by the rituals or hold all the beliefs of organized religion. I find it inconceivable that God would not listen to a prayer because a person isn’t facing the “right” direction, because he hasn’t eaten the “right” food, or because he hasn’t work the right clothing. Similarly, I cannot believe that our all-loving God would condemn a person to a lifetime of damnation and torture. That seems preposterous to my understanding of love and forgiveness; frankly, it sounds much more like something that would have come from the cult of the Republican Party. Because I believe in a much more inclusive and tolerant love, my faith is much more “spiritual” than religious.

As a person who strives to build upon his spiritual awareness, I find many of the Eastern teachings more consistent with the faith inside of me. Culturally I feel Christian, and I find myself praying to both Jesus and God without distinction. Yet theologically, I know that my beliefs are not consistent with the teachings of Christianity. I am convinced that God invites and encourages many pathways to providence. Because I reject the concept of Hell and damnation, I cannot say that I buy into the religious doctrines of my youth. At the same time, I pray many times every day and feel God working within me. That makes me spiritual and eager to grow closer to God. The difference between religion and spirituality, to me, is that as a spiritual person, an individual is not limited to all of the rigid rules and dogmas and cults that organized religions dictate. The spiritual person strives to understand the oneness with God and rejects the judgmental approach of religions.

“Humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die… If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up recreating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction” (p. 21-22).

A) Are you aware of this dysfunction?

This is the ocean of dysfunction in which I’ve been trying to swim since my imprisonment began. During my term of imprisonment I’ve read of so many world developments. I’ve read of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the start of both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I’ve read about the fall of the former Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. In our own country, I’ve seen terrorists, both foreign and domestic, conspire to tear us apart. Recently I’ve read that more than 1 in 100 Americans are incarcerated and that the rate is more than 1 in 9 for blacks. We as a people have a dysfunctional infatuation with force, with hard power. Because of our intolerance, we see the structures of the human mind unchanged, and we recreate the same struggle, the same evils, and the same unhappiness.

B) Where is it most apparent in your own life and in the world?

As a prisoner, the love for hard power and control and rigidity is a part of my daily life. Administrators do not question whether it is right to keep a nonviolent, contributing person incarcerated for bad decisions he made more than 20 years ago; they say that justice requires more than five more years to pass. The concept seems absurd and ridiculous to me, a continuing thread of the rigid and dysfunctional practices of our so-called enlightened, kinder, and gentler land of second chances. It is in my everyday life that this dysfunction is most apparent.

In the world, I see it most apparent in the sphere of politics. Although our leaders are supposed to be advancing these thoughts and leading us to new and better lives, the leaders in power concern themselves with preserving the status quo. They thrive on perpetuating a system that brings about the same dysfunction.

C) Do you think humanity is ready for a transformation of consciousness?

Yes, I certainly feel as if we are in a time of transformation. I am especially optimistic with the hope that comes from the possibility of a Barack Obama Presidency. His leadership is inspiring our citizens to question the dysfunction that has become endemic to our society. As of this writing, he has not secured the nomination of the Democratic Party, much less won the White House. Nevertheless, the hope that he has inspirited is promising and I am confident that it shows humanity is growing more receptive to the possibility for this transformation of consciousness.

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