Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

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Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby mrandrewv » Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:12 pm UTC

Lo.

In this thread I would like you guys to post your ideas about Eckhart Tolle in general, and his ideas about egoic identification specifically.

Here is the short version: ET believes that people identify with their ideas. That is to say they link their opinions with their self-concept. If this is true (and I am certain that it is) then it explains why some people get so uptight when their ideas are challenged. For these people (and by "these people" I am referring to 99% of all people) having their ideas attacked is like being attacked personally, and admitting "defeat" feels like a part of you is dying.

Eckie also says that most people overly identify with their material possessions and physical appearance as well, thus setting themselves up for horrible heartache later on when the possessions are no longer fun, or their physical appearance starts to fade.

These ideas are pretty straighty forward, but their implications for our society are massive.

What do you guys reckon?

I reckon that it would've been a really good choice to link to some source material.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Malice » Mon Feb 16, 2009 4:37 pm UTC

I reckon that people don't identify with their ideas (and clothes and appearance), as if the ideas were separate things floating around somewhere. Your ideas really are a part of you. Nobody likes being wrong because it means you misunderstood or misjudged the truth of the matter. The same goes for material possessions--these are things you really did choose to pursue and keep. Your physical appearance is the external representation of "you", the personality you; of course it becomes a major part of your identity. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, either--with being connected to the world, with caring about things as well as people. I don't buy into this whole "shed your material possessions" Buddhist monk bullshit*. It strikes me as cowardly. A person should seek integration. There's nothing wrong with the ability to be self-reliant but you shouldn't use that to isolate yourself.

In short, while there may be something wrong with caring too much, there's nothing wrong with caring about these things in general.

*not that I think that's necessarily what you or Tolle are implying
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby mrandrewv » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:29 pm UTC

Lo.

I've got to disagree with you, on several points. I think it is pretty bad that people find it hard to admit when they are wrong for two reasons. Firstly because it blinds them to the truth in situations when they are wrong and someone else is right and secondly because it just makes them unhappy.

I hear what you are saying about people not wanting their ideas to be wrong, but does that really explain the vehemence that some people display when their ideas are challenged? In some circles people won't hesitate to kill if their ideas are questioned. Surely that is out of proportion?

And the problem seems to be endemic. How many times on this forum have you seen someone with the balls to admit that they were wrong, and their "opponent" in the debate was right? Barely a handful.

I think that Tolle would agree with you about the material possession thing. In fact Tolle reckons that some of the people who have embraced poverty are just as ill as the rest of us, because they end up sitting in their caves thinking "my god I am SO MUCH more enlightened than anyone else. Man I rock!" which is about as unenlightened as you can get. In Tolle's terms these people have simply swapped identification with material possessions for identification with a supposedly superior spiritual outlook.

But my favorite one is those people Tolle calls "people of culture". These are people who display a knowledge of art, literature, opera etc in the same way that other people show off a flashy car, or 6 pack abs. I'm sure we've all had a run in with someone like that, right? ;)

Of course according to Tolle we are ALL like that, in one way or another, and I think he is right.

About the body thing: well the problem with tying your identity to a body is that you don't have anywhere to go (cognitively) when your body starts to fail, cause it will. I mean if you look at the hideous lengths people go to in order to stay "pretty" it really is quite horrifying. People starve themselves close to death, put carcinogenic fake tan on, and then inject bocilism toxin into their lips.

And the reason why all of this is bad is pretty easy to see: they are unhappy. All of these attempts to identify with pointless things come from a psychological position of horrible unhappiness. Is Paris happy? Fuck no, she is a bundle of insecurities, I mean my god she pretends to be stupid in order to make people like her more, how tragic is that? :(

And even if these so called beautiful people are happy, it's temporary. No matter how much plastic they spoon into their ass a day will come, and relatively soon, when it just stops working.

My point is just that if you want to identify with something then at least make it something benevolent, and positive.

Or better yet: don't identify with anything. Just be your self, and be happy for what you have ;)
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Bassoon » Mon Feb 16, 2009 9:21 pm UTC

mrandrewv wrote:Or better yet: don't identify with anything. Just be your self, and be happy for what you have ;)


But being yourself involves thinking for yourself and coming up with a set of morals for yourself. These morals are concepts or ideas that you identify with. I think it's completely fine for people to identify with what they believe. There also needs to be that dying feeling when you admit defeat; it's a built-in effect of evolution. Admitting defeat in a physical fight could very well mean death, so the body probably warns you against defeat, even if you're quickly deteriorating. It's perfectly understandable that people are reluctant to admit defeat. I'm perfectly fine with the fact that some people can't take defeat well. But it only becomes a true problem when a person refuses to face the truth at all, let alone agree with it. You can deny the truth all you like; it's another thing to ignore it as if it didn't exist.

I think the identification of your image of yourself with your physical appearance is an important manifestation of your self-image. It's hard enough to get a mental picture of who you are, but if you remove the body factor, it becomes nearly impossible to try and express yourself to others. The body isn't merely a thing to be preened and shown off. It's also a medium of communication and creativity. I also think it's perfectly okay for people to identify with their self-image at a certain time in their life. That time in their life is probably when most of their memories occurred, so a change in physical appearance is scary because you're losing a part of the memory of the time.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby the_stabbage » Tue Feb 17, 2009 5:37 am UTC

This reminds me of the (post-)Marxist idea of ideology - a belief so integrated into someone's psyche that they don't think of it as a belief, but a truth.

I've often come across an idea that is so different from what I hold to be true and right that it's hard to even grasp the logic of it. For me the problem is Marx's ideas. Being born in a communist country I'm not a big fan of that system, so it's hard to try to work out how Marx reasoned out the ideas he had.

On the other hand, if, in a debate, I repeat my opponent's view in slightly different words, and then say my side, I get treated like I'm a master of empathy. People get a lot happier than if I were to listen to them nodding and smiling until they shut up and and then I say "Well, in my opinion..." So I guess if you "empathize" with their ideas people feel like you have a connection with them.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby ducknerd » Wed Feb 18, 2009 6:15 am UTC

Our ideas are the basic way we make sense of the world. Personal identity is 80% context and 100% ideas. The reason losing an idea is so jarring is that your world literally begins restructuring, and by extension your identity. Tolle is right but I think he's just grasped the little toe of a much larger beastie.

80% + 100% = ?

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby poxic » Wed Feb 18, 2009 6:28 am UTC

I suspect that the most valuable part of education is teaching students to not cling so tightly to their ideas. If you are a scientist, ideas must be nothing more than tools, used to better understand the world. If an idea is proven false, it must be abandoned in favour of another, one that fits the facts better.

Not identifying with ideas has been one of the hardest lessons I've learned over my life. I'd like to say that I'm pretty good at separating myself from my beliefs now, but there are still not many occasions where I'm comfortable saying, "You're right, I'm wrong. Thank you for teaching me." Getting to the point where I'm as comfortable saying that as saying "hello"... I'll either be a buddha or an idiot.

Maybe there isn't so much difference between the two as I'd think. :|
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Indon » Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:45 pm UTC

What about people identifying with non-physical, non-ideal attributes, such as intelligence, luck, poker-playing ability, etc?

For instance, I'm incredibly awesome. Being incredibly awesome is a part of my identity.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby poxic » Thu Feb 19, 2009 4:43 am UTC

Identifying your self with anything that is basically a *thought* will fall into this classification. If I frequently experience luck, then decide that I am lucky, that is a thought (idea) that I've had. When that experience changes, the idea will need to change if I am to remain realistic about myself. This can cause a lot of problems, for example for people who think they are the smartest people they know. They join Mensa, expecting to rule the roost, and find that they're lost in the middle of the pack there. Or they might learn that people in the club value social skills more highly than scores on IQ tests.

To your other point... I've met several people in my life whom I'd describe as awesome. If I could pick one single identifying feature, one trait they all shared that I could use to find more people who are also awesome, it would be this: they never describe themselves as "awesome". :mrgreen:
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby InstinctSage » Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:47 am UTC

So... What is Tolle's answer to this "Everybody is unhappy" line of thinking?

Being wrong or losing an argument is embarrassing. It is universally perceived as a sign of ignorance, foolishness, or lower intelligence in society. It is therefore taken as a form of social rejection. Different people have different sensitivities to rejection and the anxiety it causes. Of course, the context of the rebuff is also highly important. Being proven wrong about the train timetable by a train conductor is a minor embarrassment. Having your ideas on efficient transportation infrastructure shot down by your love interest would cause significantly more embarrassment.

To me, Eckhart seems to be suggesting that while these feelings are natural, they should not cloud your judgment. That's fine, but he's got a rather roundabout way of putting it.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby poxic » Thu Feb 19, 2009 7:21 am UTC

InstinctSage wrote:Being wrong or losing an argument is embarrassing. It is universally perceived as a sign of ignorance, foolishness, or lower intelligence in society. It is therefore taken as a form of social rejection. Different people have different sensitivities to rejection and the anxiety it causes.

Imagine talking with someone who says, "...since the Sun goes around the Earth, therefore...." Hearing that, you correct the person.

Scenario 1: the person says, "Um, no, it's definitely been proven that the Sun goes around the Earth." You can't convince the person otherwise.

Scenario 2: the person says, "Oh, sorry. I didn't know. Okay, so the Earth goes around the Sun, therefore, um..." and a lot of backtracking needs to be done around the point the person was making.

Scenario 3: the person says, "Really? Hmm. Where would I look to learn more about this? ... Okay, I'll go read up on this. Fascinating." <insert Spockian eyebrow raising if you like>

I aspire to the third approach, when I'm the one whose knowledge is challenged. Since I don't usually know (apart from obvious cases) whether I'm being told truth or fancy, I try to assume that I can learn from anyone. Maybe all I will learn is that I should know better. :wink:

More to the point, if I'm the one who (I believe) is right, I would probably have more respect for someone who answered me with the third response. The first would annoy me, and reduce my opinion of the other person (your "ignorance" argument); the second would make me worry that the person doesn't really get it, that their opinion would change just as easily to anything else they were told (your "foolishness" argument). If the apparently-wrong person listens with interest to my objection and treats it as neutral, as new information to be processed in good time, that person strikes me as having sufficient intelligence and not much foolishness. It does indeed take a different sensitivity to strike the (simultaneously bold and humble) pose of "Maybe I don't know, maybe you do". I'd like to hit that balance one day.

/until then, I'll keep being an idiot. It's worked so far.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Indon » Thu Feb 19, 2009 3:57 pm UTC

poxic wrote:Identifying your self with anything that is basically a *thought* will fall into this classification. If I frequently experience luck, then decide that I am lucky, that is a thought (idea) that I've had. When that experience changes, the idea will need to change if I am to remain realistic about myself. This can cause a lot of problems, for example for people who think they are the smartest people they know. They join Mensa, expecting to rule the roost, and find that they're lost in the middle of the pack there. Or they might learn that people in the club value social skills more highly than scores on IQ tests.

Great. So what does this guy think of people changing such self-identification based on experiences? Do I die a little inside if I think of myself as unlucky then win the Powerball?

poxic wrote:To your other point... I've met several people in my life whom I'd describe as awesome. If I could pick one single identifying feature, one trait they all shared that I could use to find more people who are also awesome, it would be this: they never describe themselves as "awesome". :mrgreen:


So what you're saying is... they're awesome, but not very perceptive.

Edit: Also, what instinct said. This is an interesting paradigm for analyzing human behavior, but it seems to have quite a few epicycles, as it were.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Feb 19, 2009 4:06 pm UTC

I think people, and especially people on this fora, need to be able to not only believe in something and defend it, but realize that it does not actually define them, that opinions are not facts and not everyone needs to share yours, and that admitting you are wrong is a virtue that not only bespeaks of integrity and honor, but maturity and intelligence.

I think this unlinked shmoe is stating really obvious facets of the human experience, and my first reaction to the OPs statement about said dudes theory is 'Yeah, and?'

Also, I'm totally hotter then all of you all, will never get old, and have the coolest stuff in the land.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby PhatPhungus » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:07 am UTC

InstinctSage wrote:Being wrong or losing an argument is embarrassing. It is universally perceived as a sign of ignorance, foolishness, or lower intelligence in society. It is therefore taken as a form of social rejection. Different people have different sensitivities to rejection and the anxiety it causes. Of course, the context of the rebuff is also highly important. Being proven wrong about the train timetable by a train conductor is a minor embarrassment. Having your ideas on efficient transportation infrastructure shot down by your love interest would cause significantly more embarrassment.


When this is true, people are having the wrong type of argument. Ideally, an argument about a philosophical or political subject, both people come out with a more advanced understanding of the reasons behind two different ways of thought, and the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. If it is an argument about something more simple (the train schedule), somebody might show that someone else is wrong but say "but that's the schedule on Thursdays, and this is Wednesday" to show an understanding of the other point of view.

If your only purpose in arguing is to prove someone wrong, you're doing it wrong.



Regarding personal attachment to ideas, I think that most people do become personally attached to their ideas, but this is something to avoid because it normally makes people blind to another persons reasoning for a different opinion. Ideas should be worked out without thought for self, then applied to the self as well as possible.

Edit: I agree that it seems kind of obvious.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby InstinctSage » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:54 am UTC

It's merely an illustration of being wrong, not an illustration of the intent of proving someone wrong. The 'being wrong' part is what causes the embarrassment, as a person feels they appear foolish, ignorant, or unintelligent, whether the other party intended this or not.

You don't need to be malicious or improper, nor do you need to be arguing in an attempt to prove someone wrong for them to feel as though they are being made to appear foolish.

People can aspire to consider and accept new points of view, but on some level there will always be a sensation of anxiety when you do because it requires that you were incorrect previously. As i said, in different contexts this might be unnoticeable, or it could seem intolerable.

To put it another way... When a person's actions and principles no longer match, they feel inner conflict which can only be resolved by changing their actions or changing their principles. When you accept a new point of view, you are changing your principles, but your actions thusfar haven't matched.

This sort of stuff is covered in anti-fundamentalist arguments as well as social psychology. I've never looked at Eckhart Tolle before but I'm not finding anything really new or enlightening.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby mrandrewv » Sun Mar 01, 2009 6:14 pm UTC

Lo again, sorry I've been out so long, been working on my literature review (and it isn't going well! :( )

Anyway I agree with PhatPhungus and Izawwlgood that these ideas should be pretty obvious. Unfortunately they aren't. Look at the posts on this thread alone, there are plenty of people who buy into the idea that there is something wrong with losing an argument.

Remember how much crap Darwin went through because the scientists and theologians of the day had identified with a belief system that was at odds with his? Many of the people on this board claim to be scientists. If they truly are then that means they should welcome being proven wrong. Look at me:

I am passionate about being as right as I can be, on as many topics as I can be.
For this reason I LOOOOVE being proven wrong.
Because if I am proven wrong then it means that up until that moment, when I was proven wrong, I WAS wrong, which is much worse. Being wrong is much worse than being proven wrong. Now that I have been proven wrong I am free to alter my beliefs to match those of the person who "beat" me, so that my beliefs grow more robust.

And although it's quite mean I must say that it is really satisfying to lose an argument to someone and have them expect you to be uncomfortable with it. The phrase: "yes, you were right and I was wrong. Is there anything else?" is one of my favorites ;)

I understand why many people view this as "losing", but I think that they are missing the point. Tolle's point is that if people identify with their ideas then they attach an emotional component to them, and when the ideas are threatened they themselves feel threatened. I'm sure we are all familiar with how this happens, so there's nothing earth-shattering there. But what Tolle is saying that is important is that if you are comfortable enough in yourself then you don't HAVE to feel this way.

Once you get this, I mean really get it, your day to day existence gets alot more enjoyable. Someone cuts me off in traffic? Doesn't bother me, because I recognise that either they made a mistake, in which case it's just my bruised ego acting up, or they are trying to be an asshole, because they are identifying with their idea of themselves as "king of the road", or something. If you buy into this view, as I do, then they no longer seem like a threat to your self image. They mostly just like weak and sad.

Someone points out some silly mistake I've made in an argument, and now everyone is laughing? I laugh along with them. Just because my argument has fallen apart doesn't mean I have. Just because the people in the room may now view me as less intelligent doesn't mean that I AM, and their opinions of me are less important than my opinion of myself (as it should be with all of you guys).

Oh one last thing: I also doubt that these ideas are new, Tolle certainly never implies that they are, I brought him up specifically because I find that his way of explaining these issues reasonates strongly with me, and perfectly fits my views on human psychology (I'm a Psych Intern). Although he also has spiritual views that I am not quite ready to buy, yet.

On awsmness: hey look, maybe you are, doesn't really matter. But if the "awsmness" you identify with is linked to something transitory like good looks, intelligence, popularity, health, wealth, etc. then you may be setting yourself up for a fall. Because all of those things fade, in one way or another, and if your identity is based on them then at that point your life is going to suck, or at least it may seem to you as if it does.

And congratulations, so far in my life everyone I've met who considered themselves awsm was completely wrong (including myself, 10 years ago), so if you are the only one who is correct in their assumption, then good for you :) One of a kind is always special.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Xachariah » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:52 pm UTC

I find it funny that you invoke Darwin as an example, when my biggest skepticism about Eckhart Tolle tends to come from my trust in evolution.

In 'The Power of Now', Ecky describes our egos as dangerous things which make us unhappy. We identify and wrap our sense of self with all sorts of things: Ideas, looks, possessions, job, friends, accomplishments, etc.. Every human being (barring a small handful who've chosen to rewire themselves) has this identification mechanism in them. This isn't coincidence; we evolved egos for some kind of reason. It's ludicrously unlikely that that it is just a maladaptive trait that happened avoid being selected out. While our egos do provide an impediment to happiness, I argue that this is a good thing. Happiness is not a pre-requisite to survival.


In shedding your identification to ideas, you also shed your survival instinct. Nature doesn't need us happy, it needs us alive. No country, religion, or ideology on the face of this planet survives without people who identify their egos with it and willing to murder for it.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby mrandrewv » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:58 am UTC

Hi Xachariah.

Well I agree with pretty much everything you said, but not with your conclusions.

Yes, there are very good reasons why we evolved egos. Being constantly consumed with an unhappiness that drives us to fruitlessly strive to improve our situation (pausing only to manifest our psychic dysfunction with bouts of violence) certainly does have a high selection value.

But just because it's good for the species doesn't mean it isn't bad for YOU.

I mean human beings also evolved to lose a lot of their reasoning ability when they become sexually aroused, to become repetitively pregnant and to settle arguments with murder. These aspects of our 'psycho-biology' are not accidentally selected. They were selected because they improve our chances of survival.

But our social evolution has moved passed these stages. These days the traits I've described above are recognised as being maladaptive, and thus we resist them. Just because they were necessary for our survival 5000 years ago doesn't mean they are necessary NOW.

I also think you are mischaracterising Tolle's conception of idea identification. Tolle isn't say "don't want anything, don't strive for anything, just sit there". He is saying "feel free to go and do whatever you want, just don't bundle your identity up in it".

In other words it's fine for me to want express my opinions about Tolle in this forum, as long as I don't get so wrapped up in it that when people disagree with me it makes me all sad :wink:

Lastly you said: "happiness is not a prerequisite for survival".
Well unfortunately that's true, but I don't get why you are so stuck on what nature wants. I'm sorry dude, but if nature wants me to knock up my girlfriend to continue the species and be constantly unhappy with my life then nature can forget it! The discussion kinda touched on this before. Just because society wants us to do something, or nature wants us to do something, or our own egos want us to do something doesn't mean we have to do it!

As far as I'm concerned the purpose of life is not to what (insert name here) wants you to do. The purpose of life is to be happy and to make the most of it. And my beliefs are that a lot of that happiness comes from appreciation of the simple magic of just being alive. I mean look around you. Seriously. Turn away from the computer, look around and realise how unbelievably lucky you are to be where you are, to be who you are, and to be able to do what you're doing.

Your ego wants you to say "No! My life is crap! I will only be happy when I get [circle appropriate: a car, more money, prestige, more sex, drugs, free time, a hot body, that promotion, some recognition, a copy of Halo Wars etc., ad nauseum]!"

But just because that's what it wants you to believe, doesn't mean you have to believe it.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Zamfir » Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:33 pm UTC

I'll play devil's advocate here. The ideal that seems to be described here is good if you want to be right, but awful if you want to get stuf done. People who do not identify with ideas can be good analysts, but bad leaders. And it is far from obvious that being right is more important than getting results.

If you want to work towards a goal, and especially if you want to motivate others to do the same, you have to some extend believe in your ideas, and stick to them a bit harder than reasonable. It is of course not good to go too far in this direction, and knowing when to stop and change your mind is important too.

Buit when it comes to things that are really important for you, I would say you should be a bit Tollean once in while, and revise your ideas if needed. But in between, it's good to stick to them with some passion.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby mrandrewv » Sun Mar 08, 2009 2:51 pm UTC

Well the thing is that just because you don't tie your identity up in your ideas doesn't mean you won't defend them. I just think that keeping your ego out of the debating process frees one to be a bit more objective.

Also believing in an idea rationally, rather than egoically can be a highly effective motivational tool. People who genuinely understand an ideology and are rationally in favour of it may not be as motivated as people who are blindly loyal to it, but I would argue that they will be more effective in the long run, because they are not blind to weaknesses in their approach and because they are able to adapt more readily.

In other words zealots are great when you're on top, but as soon as change is needed they are just dead weight.
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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby Zamfir » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:29 am UTC

I think we can all agree that pure zealotism is hardly productive. But I get the impression that Tolle is arguing that normal people in normal debates are already too attached to their ideas, and that he (or you) are arguing for a more detachment in most debates.

I don't really agree that pure objective, detached argument is the ideal we should be striving for. People work better if they feel involved in an issue, if they have an emotional, perhaps not entirely justifiable attachment to their stance. People can emulate detached objective thought, but it is hard and decreases effectiveness.

Look at this site. The people who spend time finding source data and other evidence for their view are usually people who want to "win" a debate, for whatever reason, and they move the debate further. Of course, the same emotions can lead to flame wars without any point, but the optimum is somewhere in between, not entirely on the detached rational side.

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Re: Eckhart Tolle and Idea Identification

Postby setzer777 » Tue Mar 10, 2009 6:38 pm UTC

mrandrewv wrote:Lo.

In this thread I would like you guys to post your ideas about Eckhart Tolle in general, and his ideas about egoic identification specifically.

Here is the short version: ET believes that people identify with their ideas. That is to say they link their opinions with their self-concept. If this is true (and I am certain that it is) then it explains why some people get so uptight when their ideas are challenged. For these people (and by "these people" I am referring to 99% of all people) having their ideas attacked is like being attacked personally, and admitting "defeat" feels like a part of you is dying.

Eckie also says that most people overly identify with their material possessions and physical appearance as well, thus setting themselves up for horrible heartache later on when the possessions are no longer fun, or their physical appearance starts to fade.

These ideas are pretty straighty forward, but their implications for our society are massive.

What do you guys reckon?


If you shouldn't identify with anything that will fade or possibly lead to heartbreak, it doesn't seem like you can identify with anything at all. If nothing else whatever you identify with will likely end at your own death. But trying to immunize yourself to such loss seems to me to be giving into fear and letting it drain some of the pleasure from your life.

I think it's better to strongly identify with something, and to realize and accept that you might lose that thing someday. At the same time, it is good to be flexible and open to incorporating new things into your self-image. That way even if you lose something, you won't lose everything (at least not until you die).
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