Eckhart Tolle, Global Warming, and the Coronavirus

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Someone asked Eckhart during one of his Youtube performances, “What is the purpose of mental illness?” Now to understand the question we first have to accept the guru’s premise that there is “purpose” in everything. And his answer was something to the effect that mental illnesses were aberrations in consciousness, blockages to achieving true consciousness. And to understand this we need to accept the premise of collective consciousness seeking to be both one and enlightened. But he couldn’t help himself from commenting that someone in India going through and achieving this level of consciousness might be revered as a spiritual teacher while the same person in the Western world might be locked up in a “Mental Home”. Then he back-tracked a little on that one, but continued his basic premise that all this suffering (he brought in the millions killed by other humans in the past hundred years) was, collectively, just part of the human struggle to full collective enlightened consciousness.

The news today and last night was all about the Coronavirus, Covid – 19. Calming words, frightening words, cautionary words, conspiracy words. And I am struck by the fact we know, can know, almost instantly, the number of new cases reported overnight in countries all over the world, along with the opinions of both the informed and uninformed. I am struck with the fact that this information being available to us, along with ice melting in Antarctica, deserted streets in Wuhan, Turkey unleashing killer drones in Syria, the words of the Ayatollah in Iran, in such breadth and volume, is a new thing. Not new to the kids born after 1990 perhaps but new within my life time, and very new in the evolution of Homo Sapiens.

My dogs and all other animals are programmed to recognize danger and to react. If they see, smell, or hear it coming, they can communicate this to their immediate pack. Perhaps a whale can warn distant pods, and birds pass the warning along.

But we humans are the only species that evolved to the point we can imagine and anticipate danger in the much larger environment, explain it in words, spend much time thinking about it, planning or worrying about it, and communicating these facts and fears widely and quickly. Obviously this has provided us with a great evolutionary advantage, as well as the tragic opportunity for those fears being exploited or misdirected.

And only in the last 50 years or so our imagination, our awareness, has expanded to the point of truly being conscious of our world as but a fragile ball orbiting a burning sun within a galaxy, within an unfathomable universe, and then suddenly this: – instant unfiltered communication between all humans on this planet no matter the distance.

I’m sitting in a clinic waiting room now and a large screen TV is scrolling stock market reports. But along with the market prices I count seven distinct areas of rapidly changing news being covered in separate boxes on this screen. These include the coronavirus and Super Tuesday.

Eckhart would have us give up the egoic mind as he calls it, to settle into a here and now collective, passive, and enlightened consciousness. And no doubt a little mindfulness practiced now and then can be a calming influence. But that is really not the problem.

Every advantage evolution has given us has come with a cost and a danger. The ability to imagine threat in our near and far environment has, along with our need for organization and predictability, in extreme, brought us anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. The ability to imagine threat combined with mass communication has brought us confusion, more anxiety, conspiracy, misplaced fears,  panic, and a petri dish for delusions. The ability to imagine threat combined with mass communication and an unscrupulous leader has brought us war and genocide.

So here’s the deal: Yes, Eckhart, it would be good for each of us to achieve the ability, now and again, to allow our minds to give up the worry narrative, the egoic as he calls it, and enjoy only the moment, the beauty of the sunset or a streetlamp and the person (or dog) by our side. To give up, for that moment at least, our striving to control.

Still, our greater task is to ensure our evolutionary advantages and our clever inventions are used, at least mostly, to improve our lives and the life of the small planet we share, with the occasional time-out to enjoy the sunset and the sunrise.

And then this moment in time: Our “new” ability to imagine the world as a single eco system, coupled with our evolved ability to imagine threat, coupled with our amazing scientific advances, coupled with instant mass communication, means we can follow the spread of a virus around the world in real time, do everything reasonable to prevent further spread and ameliorate the consequences, especially for the vulnerable, while waiting for this pandemic to run its course and waiting the requisite year or so to develop a vaccine, or, or, or, we can panic  and make matters much worse.  And this current pandemic could turn out to be an excellent wake-up call for global preparedness for the next one.

4 thoughts on “Eckhart Tolle, Global Warming, and the Coronavirus

  1. A Dean of Medicine many moons ago on this campus, told me quite affirmatively, that biology was always one step ahead. This I remember clearly was said in the context of not much reverence for belief in sociology, which he argued was a soft science. This Dean was heavily invested in basic science. He clearly believed that it was on that front that medicine would benefit human beings most. Not to discount all sides of sociology, we must however hand it to that Dean, that this present virus will trump any attempt to be controlled by the unmeasurable notions mentioned above.

    As for Ekhart and his “enjoy the moment” mantra, he might want us all to stick our heads in the sand while everything goes to hell in a hand cart. Some of us can’t, shouldn’t, and won’t.

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  2. Some things don’t change. The cholera epidemic in Hamilton, Ontario of 1832 and 1854 holds some interesting lessons for us. Cholera came to us from India due to the “globalization” of trade and immigration of the British Empire. The world has been interconnected for a long time. Just as in those epidemics the immigrants and poor bore the brunt of it, so today our Native people living in 3rd world crowded conditions on Northern reserves, in prisons, and in poverty in the cities, will suffer the most. In 1832 the death rate in Hamilton from cholera was 18% and people were buried in mass graves. By 1854 a little more was known about the disease, therapeutics were less brutal than the blood letting of 1832, and the death rate was 4% (perhaps higher). In 1860 finally we built the Pump House (currently Museum of Steam and Technology) to bring clean water to the city. Since then cholera still affects 3rd world countries and disaster zones, but with a much lower death rate of under 1% because now we know oral hydration and improving sanitation is the remedy to that particular killer. What is the real answer to managing pandemics in the modern era? We have to refrain from racism and the blame game, care more about people than we care about the economy. I’m not sure we are there yet.

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  3. The history of “instantaneous” information transfer goes back to the period 1850-1880, when the world became interconnected with a system of submarine cables. Thus important news was published within a few hours in newspapers, which until the 1970’s were published in several editions daily, both morning and evening, even in small towns such as the one I grew up in New Zealand. TV was not introduced there until 1962 or so, and before 1970 there was no live TV feed (e.g. by satellite) to New Zealand.The TV tape of Apollo 11 in 1969 was brought to New Zealand from Australia by Canberra bomber. News broadcasts on the radio occurred three or four times per day, and people didn’t talk about the news much. I learned of President Kennedy’s assassination when my brother handed me the evening newspaper… my dad had not mentioned it to me earlier, perhaps to not distract me from my assisting him in horse riding lessons, knowing how fascinated I was by JFK. That paper (which I still have) had a grainy photo of Jackie on the trunk reaching for … you get it. It was the first wire photo that paper ever published, using a machine they had just purchased and assembled that day.

    We were just as fully informed as people living in far away America, but our minds were not polluted by all the noise of non-stop TV (made much more severe when CNN appeared about 1980). Looking at old newspapers, I would say that the fast dissemination of extensive information worldwide goes back at least to 1880, and to the 1850’s within highly developed nations, but only in the last forty or fifty years has it become a 24/7 unfiltered torrent, thirty-five years since the Internet sprang up, and about twenty-five years since the Web appeared, and anybody could say anything to everybody all the time. Are we actually better informed than folk in 1880? Are the endless comments on news portals any better or more influential than were carefully crafted Letters to the Editor of daily newspapers?

    We may feel much more strongly after watching filmed reports (thank you, Clarissa Ward), but still photographs, such as that of the drowned Alan Kurdi in 2015, can still move nations. They were doing that in newspapers as far back as the 1880’s, by wire in the 1920’s.

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  4. Of the claim that diseases are diseases and that some things have not changed, there can be no doubt. But the social circumstances, institutions and arrangements that define and determine the eventual resolution of the current COVID-19 pandemic have changed mightily since 1832, 1919 or even the recent SARS and H1N1 events.

    Each one invited us to think more seriously about the ethics of hoarding toilet paper, the cultural consequences of postponing the NBA Championships, and the collective value of professional public servants versus the austerity-driven impulse to cut public spending. Now, perhaps, we will pause a moment to reconsider the value of international travel and to ponder what wealth really is.

    For instance, depending on the news source, I have learned that some number of trillions of dollars have evaporated due to precipitous declines in the value of shares in corporations listed and traded on various international stock markets. What can this even mean?

    I know (a little at least) about stock market trading and the virtuality of wealth as it pings and pongs across markets from Hong Kong to London to New York and back again – bulling and bearing its way to ever higher (or lower) measures of productivity, gains, losses, and “corrections” – but my point cuts deeper.

    Whatever “capitalism” is (or thinks it is, or was, or is becoming) – whether “corporate,” or “monopoly” or “crony” or “zombie” or “casino” or “crisis” or “cancerous” or just plain “late” – a great deal of the anxiety bordering on or pushing beyond the several stages of grief or the sudden panic of people whose “gig” jobs (already precarious) have simply stopped – lies not with the fear of disease and dying themselves as much as with the ways in which the social consequences that are imagined in the disruptions of what has been passing for ordinary life.

    I have heard that the Chinese calligraphers express the concept of “crisis” by conjoining the characters for two other words, “danger” and “opportunity.” Perhaps the current COVID-19 “crisis” provides just that. It is plain that current methods of dealing with the problems of the production and reproduction of material prosperity, the social relations and the ideologies that sustain them don’t work anymore (if they ever did).

    Could this be the transformative moment (the chance at last to kick in a rotten door) that Karl Marx and his associates envisioned? Or is it a moment of collapse threatening a new “dark age” after the implosion of the new Rome? Or where between the utopian and dystopian poles of breathless optimism/pessimism we should position ourselves are all questions for better minds than mine to consider … sometime.

    Are these serious questions? As Sarah Palin, the witless wonder of a past American election and the symbolic center and/or the cultural crossing point of passing through the postmodern divide, so eloquently put it: “You betcha!”

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