I was first introduced to the writings of Eckhart Tolle when my mom, who had read his book numerous times, explained to me how it changed her life for the better. She described how it allowed her to appreciate the present, not get bogged down by memories of the past and not distract herself with hopes for the future. I figured if this man was able to help my own mother calm her incessant anxieties and enjoy life for what it has to offer, I would give this metaphysical text a shot and see what this guy has to say. Yet, upon reading the introduction of The Power of Now, my curiosity and skepticism have been simultaneously sparked and I can’t help but question what is the difference between having a religious experience and having a hallucination?
Eckhart Tolle begins his first book by claiming he experienced a moment of enlightenment after years of dealing with bouts of depression and anxiety. While torturing himself with relentless negative thoughts, Tolle had a realization that there were two entities that he belonged to: himself and his thoughts. This epiphany unraveled a moment of clarity in Tolle, and he claims that he heard a voice in his head telling him to ‘resist nothing.’ After being knocked out by a ‘vortex of energy,’ he woke up and saw a diamond in front of him and then began walking around as if he had just been born into the world.
Now, I’m not very religious and I want to believe that this guy genuinely can help people with anxiety and depression. But how is this man’s enlightened experience any different from a hallucination, whether it be from doing drugs or having a mental illness? If Eckhart Tolle can go around writing books on how to take advantage of the present after having a minor hallucination, why is it that the rest of us are deemed crazy and told that we have to go on medication for our mental incapacities? And why does this guy get to capitalize off his insanity?
Moreover, how is anyone’s “enlightened” or “religious” experience ever a variation of the truth? What makes having a religious experience any different than having a manic episode or having a hallucination? People who experience manic episodes have religious enlightenments all the time. They claim that they can talk to God or say that they have discovered the secret to the universe. Yet, instead of being able to write a book about it, they are cast away in a stereotype of being crazy and told to invest their money in anti-psychotics.
Therefore, I can’t help but wonder, are religious and metaphysical texts written by people like Eckhart Tolle telling a version of the truth, or are they actually people with mental illnesses? Considering political leaders including Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt were all bipolar, there is no doubt in my mind that many religious leaders in the olden days were either schizophrenic or bipolar as well. Diagnoses did not exist back then, and there sure as hell wasn’t any medication for them to go on either. So maybe, just maybe, these texts were written by people who were having manic episodes or hallucinations.
I am in no way denouncing religion or invalidating these religious texts. I am merely opening up the discussion for you to examine for yourself. Why is it that people are so quick to believe what is written in the Quran or the Bible but are not open to hearing what someone who is having a hallucination or a manic episode has to say?