How Eckhart Tolle took me to the brink of suicide
Date: November 15, 2016 02:28AM
Hello everybody. This is my first post here. I wanted to share my experience with the so-called 'teachings' of Eckhart Tolle. I know ET has been discussed on some other threads on here, but those discussions seem to have died down which is why I'm doing this as a new topic. I apologise if that's not the protocol.
This is going to be quite a long, rambly personal account. Again, apologies!
About two and a half years ago, having struggled with depression and anxiety since the age of about 13, being at that time 21, I reached a very low point as a result of which I ended up seeing a psychologist. Her 'prescription' was that I learn some mindfulness meditation practices, following an eight-week course. I was initially skeptical, but gradually as I practised some mindfulness every day and continued to see her, I felt much improved. Things didn't become rosy - by no means - but the attitude of kind acceptance I learned to take towards myself helped me to persevere through difficult moments and find more enjoyment in my life.
Fast forward six months, and a good friend tells me that a mutual friend of ours has had his life completely transformed by this book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. My mum, as it turns out, had also recommended this book to me on a previous occasion, and so hearing it mentioned again I guess my curiosity passed a certain threshold. So, reading it went on my list of things to do.
One morning I woke up after a night of heavy drinking - which, on reflection, I think might have made me more suggestible than usual - and decided to dig it out - I was at my mum's house and she had a copy - and read it. I was immediately captivated. In the book, Mr. Tolle asks you to pause after certain passages and reflect on the truth of what you have just read, and doing this I really did feel it, it was all true, every word. By the time I'd finished reading it, I was convinced of two things: 1) that Eckhart Tolle was enlightened; and 2) that my life from hereon out would be painless and filled with ecstatic joy.
As it turned out, the initial ecstasy that I felt upon reading the book didn't last longer than a couple of days. But I remained convinced of the core message, and of Mr. Tolle's enlightenment and hence also his infallibility. Clearly, if things were happening in my life that did not fill me with the 'joy' of which he spoke, it was my own fault for not maintaining a state of 'conscious presence'. Thus, very subtly, very innocuously, I began to blame myself for anything that went wrong in my life, any moment I didn't enjoy. It was my thinking that made it so. I needed to stop thinking, to never think. For unless I did, I would be contributing to the collective human "insanity", as he calls it, of 'ego', the source of everything evil. What a burden!
In any case, for the next 18 months I lived in the belief that I could make life blissful just by suppressing my thoughts. My mind was my number one enemy, the only real enemy. I continued to meditate, but my meditation became more about suppressing thoughts and chasing bliss than about noticing and being with whatever arose, as it had been before. Generally I lived in a state of ecstatic mania, but there were some big 'crashes' as well. But, rather than investigating what these were, I just tried to erase them. I already knew all the answers. If I was suffering, it was because I was thinking. My manic happiness soon returned after these 'crashes', and I essentially just pretended to myself that they never happened.
Then, about 6 months ago, although I was and remain mostly teetotal, I decided to take LSD at a music festival. I was under some pressure from a friend, but I also believed that I was at such a level of 'enlightenment' that I was incapable of having a bad trip, because I was incapable of suffering - yes, that's how much of a narcissist I'd become. I also reasoned that even if I did have a bad trip - even if it was bad enough to destroy my life - it wouldn't matter, because nothing bad can ever really happen in infinity; the self that suffers didn't really exist, and so it didn't matter what I threw myself into. It horrifies me now that I could have such a reckless disregard for my own wellbeing, and justify it based on some hokey philosophy. But I was in deep.
I did have a bad trip, very very bad. I felt like I had no control over anything: not my thoughts, not my body, nothing. Everything was just happening and I couldn't affect it in any way, just watch. I also experienced the agony of solipsism, of everything and everybody being merely a figment of my imagination. I guess I saw the hellish implication of some of my guiding beliefs, courtesy of Mr. Tolle.
Since that experience, things have remained pretty hellish. I've had almost constant, horrible depersonalisation and derealisation. People look unreal, like they're made out of plastic or something, and sometimes they twitch like images on an old TV with a bad signal. It's so terrifying that I often find it impossible to be in the company of others. I've become very solitary. I had to quit my job because of the fear. I've also been extremely depressed. I've been thinking about suicide a lot.
Through this intense suffering, I've been constantly trying to get back to the state of 'conscious presence', which I know is the answer to all my problems. In desperation, I turned back to some of the most obscure passages of Mr. Tolle's books, such as where he talks about the need to (paraphrasing) "keep some awareness in the inner body at all times". I've been driving myself crazy trying to apply that particular nugget. But whatever I do, my awful suffering remains, making me feel tremendously - cosmically - inadequate.
Only recently, having started psychotherapy and also discovered this forum, have I started to reevaluate the core belief behind this thinking. Why do I think that I am responsible for all my suffering, and that there's something I can do to make it all stop in an instant? The answer I've arrived at is this: because Eckhart Tolle says so, and he's enlightened. How do I know he's enlightened? Because... he says so. Or, to be exact, he says he lives in a state of "continous presence", which in his language is enlightenment.
But if I doubt his infallible teachings - or, 'the' teaching, as he arrogantly calls it - that's my wicked mind trying to deceive me. Isn't it? What a perfect trap Mr. Tolle lays for his victims. They're not allowed to question a word he says, because the very act of questioning is a kind of supreme evil.
Apologists for Mr. Tolle might refer to the passage in the Power of Now where he says not to take his words too literally, but rather to 'feel the truth behind them' or somesuch. Fine. But why the hell go to the trouble to write multiple books and give endless lectures laying out this complex belief system if we're not supposed to take the words seriously? And surely, if he's enlightened, it's reasonable for us to think there must be SOME sense behind his spiels - otherwise why would he be sharing them with us?
Going forward, I'm trying to be more accepting of myself, mind and all. But it's hard. The internalised voice of Mr. Tolle continually rears up and tells me I'm submitting to the evil will of ego, and so sealing my fate. This... person has really done a number on me. Of course, I recognise that it's because of my own vulnerability that I allowed him to take advantage of me in this way. It's my wish to escape from my problems and from the parts of myself that I don't like, that motivated me to believe this garbage. But that doesn't excuse Mr. Tolle, I don't think.
Another big struggle for me at the moment is to separate all these destructive beliefs and assumptions from anything that might be of value underneath. For now, I still practice mindfulness every day, but it's hard to reclaim it from all the perversions of Tolle. I'm starting to think that part of the reason his manipulation is so successful is that he mixes in some sound pieces of wisdom and advice along with all the sick-minded stuff. Nasty trick.
I'm sharing this story to warn other people who might have some of the same vulnerabilities as me - don't give your mind away to this cruel, self-annihilating philosophy! Please, please think critically about it. It can lead you to some truly horrible places.
As a last word, I want to thank everybody who posts on this forum, and everybody involved in the website generally. You provide such a necessary and humane service. I've got a long way to go in my recovery, and to be honest, I'm still not convinced I will make it, but reading some of the posts here encouraging critical thought has given me hope - where before there was none.
Thanks for reading.