Last week I was on my way to Antwerp for the annual European zoo conference. In the airport I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth.” Tolle is the most recent to be anointed as one of Oprah’s telegenic gurus of the month.
Can you hear my ego speaking through that catty last phrase? Tolle’s book is an exploration of the ego - in fact I find it a rather shattering exploration. It’s one of those books in which I see myself on each page and have those realizations like “oh…that’s why I am so often such a doink.”
I like Tolle’s writing because it is non-spiritual. He draws from the Buddhist and Christian worlds, as I often do, with a smattering of the Hindu world, as I do. But there’s no talk of sprits or deity so much as “consciousness.” I certainly like spirit-talk, and I find myself translating what Tolle is saying into shamanic language because I love those images. In my experience shamanic work is mostly about the ego, in just the way Tolle describes it in different words. People come to shamanic work for the magic, but if they stay it’s for the ego work. And when I say shamanic work, I mean any practice with the drum, whether its journeys to the other world or playing rhythms that are a little difficult for you, or merely having the drum group leader ask you to play your djembe a little softer. It’s all ego work and the drum is a master teacher.
Here is one of the things Tolle says:
Although the body is very intelligent, it cannot tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. It reacts to every thought as though it were a reality. To the body, a worrisome, fearful thought means “I am in danger” and it responds accordingly, even though it might be lying in a warm and comfortable bed at night. The heart beats faster, muscles contract, the breathing becomes faster.
He goes on to say there is a buildup of energy, but since it is a mental fiction rather than a real threat, there is no way to dispel the “fight or flight” energy that has been built up—you really have nothing to fight and nothing from which to flee. So the body feeds that energy back on the mind which then generates more anxious thought. If you are like me, you sometimes (or frequently) encircle yourself with rather poisonous thoughts: replaying battles you had or should have had, setting people straight who misunderstand you, triumphing over those who have slighted you or taken you lightly. These thoughts don’t come into the real world because we rarely act on them and they are overwhelmingly thoughts located in the “otherworld” of the past and the future. But the energies from these thoughts lodge in our “now” body.
This Friday we meet to drum and to learn some ways to dispel those energies. We will drum ourselves into a place beyond thinking. We will consider the ego in some very simple ways that I hope may be profound or useful for you. Early autumn is a fine time to do this kind of spiritual work, when the world of delightful days and blossoming flowers gives way to the decay and darkness and death. The ego hates all of that and I think it’s one reason why melancholy is my major daily feeling during autumn. It is not me, but the ego who feels melancholy because it doesn’t like the idea of something else –like nature --having power over it.
So, on Friday we will ask the drum to clear away the thought-toxins…the Thoxins. Hey, I coined a word! Oprah, choose me! Hey! Oprah!