Monday, 3 December 2012


I guess objectivity is something about being able to see and appreciate the nature of things – how things are.

They say about 93% of the mass of our bodies is stardust.  And well over 99% of an atom is made up of empty space.  This means, at the very least, that the nature of things is surprising and mysterious and inherently not what it seems.  So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised  when objectivity turns out to be shy and elusive.

I find the writing of Eckhart Tolle to be the most practically helpful in day-to-day living of anything I have ever come across.  Reading his work reminds me of what I really know, recalibrates my thinking, sets me back on track, and improves the quality of daily live more than I can say.  Every now and then I get stuck on something he’s written – maybe I’ve been eating it too fast and I’ve got something that needed chewing more thoroughly stuck in my throat.

Here’s an example.  I have on my bedside table his “A New Earth” inspiration cards – sound-bites from his book of the same name (A New Earth).  I don’t turn up a new card each day, because it takes me ages to think about each one.  I’ll probably be about a hundred by the time I’ve read them all.  One I’ve been thinking about for a very long time said this:

Very unconscious people experience their own ego through its reflection in others.  When you realise that what you react to in others is also in you (and sometimes only in you) you begin to be aware of your own ego.

If I am reading this correctly, he is saying (I’ve often heard this) that what annoys us in other people is always present in ourselves.  This is evident in families.  If a parent takes a singular dislike to one child, it’s usually true that the child in question is particularly similar to that parent.

I notice it myself in conversations.  For instance, I might be visiting with someone who talks at length about their wonderful experiences and achievements, lovingly describing what they said and did, telling me where they got this new sweater and what a bargain it was, what an interesting time they had in London last week, why their political view was influenced by how they grew up which gives them a special insight into aspects of life that no-one else can possibly know, why their particular home is exceptionally well-appointed and contrasts very favourably with the homes of all the neighbours etc etc etc.  After a while I start feeling annoyed.  Why?  Because I feel overlooked.  What about my bargain purchases, my political views, my achievements in house décor, the trips I made this week, and so forth.  In other words, I am basically uninterested in anything about the other person and am viewing the conversation simply as taking turns to show off and be admired.  I’m prepared to give the other person a go in the spotlight, but only providing it doesn’t persist for too long and I get my chance to preen and be the important one.  Oh dear, how childish, shallow and depressing. 

I can certainly detect, with no difficulty at all, the workings of the ego in my increasing sense of irritation during the course of such one-sided conversations.  If I had learned to quieten the voice of my ego, I’d be able to listen with complete tranquillity to what the other person had to say, without feeling the need to interrupt or upstage them.

But I have been puzzling over the sources of annoyance that don’t seem to fit that category.  Let me give you some examples.

My daughter takes part in a regular meeting of mothers and babies.   She sometimes takes her knitting along, to work on while they chat.  On one occasion, while she was making hot drinks for the mothers, one of them (uninvited) picked up her (my daughter’s, not her own) knitting and progressed it by several rows.  As her work included a lot of mistakes, my daughter had later to unpick the friend’s contribution to salvage the project.  On another occasion a lady observing my daughter knit took the opportunity to hold forth at some length about how much faster the work would have gone had she been doing the knitting – why, the needles would have fairly flown; she would have got along much quicker.  My daughter said nothing grumpy or rude to either lady, but she found both these interventions extremely irritating.

Second example.  Sometimes when I am at church, someone nearby – perhaps alongside or in the row behind – sings the hymns badly, sliding the notes, flattening out the syncopation, and singing so loudly as to send themselves off-key and be unable to correct it because their own volume is too great for them to hear their neighbours singing. This really annoys me.  Ruins the hymn.  I get cross.

Third example.  Years ago a friend of mine – let’s call her Joanne – had a friend who we’ll call Muriel.  Muriel invited Joanne to dinner two or three times over a period of about two months: then sent her a bill for her share of the food.  Muriel was learning to drive, and for practice needed to be accompanied by someone with a driving license.  She asked Joanne (who readily and kindly agreed) to do this for her, and the two of them spent a number of long afternoons touring the English countryside so Muriel could improve her skills as a driver.  After some weeks of this, she sent Joanne a bill for half the cost of the petrol (gas, US).  I think that behaviour is objectionable, offensive, inexcusable, and outrageous.

Now then, I do grasp that we each have our own point of view.  Even the paranoid schizophrenic’s point of view makes sense if we can look carefully enough into the whole scenario to understand their perspective (and history).  So I understand that to Muriel it seems reasonable and fair to send out those demands for payment, to my daughter’s friends it seems companionable and constructive to appropriate someone’s craft work or compare her prowess unfavourably to one’s own, and the singer in church is worshipping joyfully, doing what they’ve been taught to do – “Sing up!”

But I think they’re – objectively – wrong.   I don’t just think that I personally see it differently – in the same way that I like purple and my mother hates it – no; I think they’re wrong.   Furthermore, I can’t see how this view of mine is generated by an identical characteristic in myself; because I don’t sing loudly in church to upstage other people (most of the time!) and I wouldn’t dream of billing a dinner guest, and I would never start tinkering around with someone else’s work.  So . . . how can it always be the case that “what you react to in others is also in you (and sometimes only in you)”?

Here are some other things Eckhart Tolle says, that I think shed some light on this dilemma:

“The pain-body’s unhappiness is always clearly out of proportion to the apparent cause.  In other words, it is an overreaction.  This is how it is recognized, although not usually by the sufferer, the person possessed.  Someone with a heavy pain-body easily finds reasons for being upset, angry, hurt, sad or fearful.”

Oh.  Okay.  So maybe the pain-body not the ego is the problem here?  Maybe the subjectivity lies in the degree of reaction – maybe a reasonably objective response to the loud off-key off-tempo singer in church would be minor disappointment at the spoilt hymn, rather than the homicidal rage that seizes me?

Maybe the balanced response to Muriel’s breath-taking nerve would be musing on the possible causes for her lack of social skills and maybe amusement at her inappropriateness – rather than the white-hot indignation and outrage that I feel even though I hardly know the woman and it all happened to someone else?

Eckhart Tolle also says this (I hope he’s pleased with the publicity here and not planning a copyright lawsuit!!):

“Nothing strengthens the ego more than being right.  Being right is the identification with a mental position – a perspective, and opinion, a judgement, a story.  For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.  Not only a person but also a situation can be made wrong through complaining and reactivity.”

Wisdom indeed.  But . . . this loops back round to my original perplexity; can one, then, never be actually right?  Is it only perspective that says my noisy neighbour has ruined the hymn?  Is it just as good if we all sing too loud to hold a true note or hear each other, off key and out of time?  Is it only a matter of opinion that the Vienna Boys’ Choir can do better?

Eckhart Tolle writes:

“Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment.  It is part of the is-ness of the Now.  You can’t argue with what is.  Well, you can, but if you do, you suffer.”

Again, wise.  Really wise.  I can take from that a really helpful way forward with managing my own response.  To notice it, accept it, permit it – “no fight, no blame” as the Tao says; just allow it to be.  Not stoke it or wrestle with it.  Just let it evaporate. 

And yet – still the question comes back – is my response purely subjective?  Is it only my problem?  Doesn’t it matter how people do things – if one adheres to the traditions of courtesy and learns the skills of singing in tune and in chorus?  Or perhaps it does matter, and objectivity is about seeing that it matters but not reacting disproportionately, caring but not going ballistic?  Determination and persistence, not rage.  Holding to a course without feeling the need to launch a blistering attack on those who want to take a different way.

Eckhart Tolle says:

“Listen to people’s stories, and you’ll find they could all be entitled ‘Why I Cannot Be At Peace Now.’  The ego doesn’t know that your only opportunity for being at peace is now.

I guess that’s the nub of it.  It’s a straight trade, isn’t it?  Surrendering one’s peace in exchange for irritation, indignation, outrage.  Is it always a choice?  I’m tempted to say “no”, but I suspect in fact the answer is “yes”.  

So with the singer in church, I could hear the discordance, and still choose peace – choose not to get involved at a visceral level.  In theory, anyway.   But, is this choosing of peace always passively accepting?  Or might choosing peace mean not getting irritated but next time sitting elsewhere in the church?   And the other situations?  How to quell the knee-jerk ‘How dare she? The nerve!!’?   I don’t know.
Eckhart Tolle writes:

“There are three ways in which the ego will treat the present moment: as a means to an end, as an obstacle, or as an enemy.”

That seems to apply helpfully.  So maybe in the church situation I might focus on what the other person came here to do (praise and worship God) rather than insisting on a perfection of musical performance.  Maybe after initially boggling at Muriel’s outrageousness I might begin to imagine how the world looks from her point of view, and learn to communicate successfully with her to achieve a better outcome (hypothetically, I mean; she wasn't my friend in the first place and I haven't seen her for decades).  Maybe I might muse on why people compare their knitting skills and want to eat off each other’s plates and meddle with each other’s handiwork – perhaps they are less ASD and more community-minded than I am?

I think if I did all these things, and engraved upon my heart all Eckhart Tolle’s advice, then without a shadow of doubt I would certainly be a better person.

Even so, that still doesn’t solve my original conundrum: what is the role and where is the place for objectivity?

Does it even exist?


365 366 Day 338 – Monday Dec 3rd  
(As in, this)

I loved this rosary – but though I like the idea of praying the rosary and I liked the rosary as an object, in fact when I pray I just talk to God.  And sometimes remember to listen.

 365 366 Day 337 – Saturday Dec 2nd  

Interesting book.  Interesting subject.


Heidi said...

Yes, I think it does exist. I read Tolle a few years back and was very much influenced by him, but I do think he takes "the whole ting" a bit too far and presents a sort of relativism that for one isn't compatible with Christianity. I still benefit from his thoughts on the pain body and being present, but sometimes people are just plain wrong and it doesn't have anything to do with your own pain body or ego.

Unknown said...

I don't think I could read Tolle. He sounds like he would give me indigestion ~ if I could get him to make sense. ☺ Obiously I'm not as smart as you.

However you were asking about objectivity...

Firstly scripture is pretty objective starting with the 10 commandments & working its way forward to Pail's advice to honour others above ourselves, which pretty much seems to take care of how we are to respond to others.

As I often have trouble with the key people pitch their music in I have a fellow feeling for your off key singer & have always taken great comfort from scripture telling me to make a joyful noise [rather than a tuneful noise] to the Lord. lol

Secondly a lack of detachment is not necessarily a bad thing ~ though it can be misdirected on trivialities. We should [I think] feel outrage over things like child slavery, peadophilia, rape, wanton violence.

I knee jerk to situations too ~ when in the long run most of it doesn't matter. Much of life is trivial & to get in a pother about it is a waste of energy. I am trying to save my angst for the things that actually matter & direct my energy there. Not doing so well there. I have 50+ years of unlearning to accomplish! ☺

Julie B. said...

One comment and one promise: I am probably a bigger egomess than I ever imagined. :)

I promise never to eat off your plate when we share a meal together someday. ;)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hiya Heidi :0)
I find Tolle entirely compatible with Christianity - but maybe that's because things really are relative - so my understanding of "Christianity" might not be exactly the same as yours. I'm sure Tolle would say people are sometimes wrong - but what I'm not sure of is to what extent one's reaction of annoyance might be justified by the wrongness (if you follow me).

Hi Ganeida - very taken with your comment "much of life is trivial & to get in a pother about it is a waste of energy". This is one of the things reading Tolle has helped me to see. On my desktop at present I have a quotation from him, "Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be." I find that statement startling, challenging, liberating.

Hi ho Julie B - such a relief to hear that. I will allow you ONE chip (er - french fry) x

Heidi said...

I agree - an action and our reaction to it isn't one and the same.

I should admit that I went through a sort of New Age period where I called myself a Christian while believing things that I no longer think are compatible with Christianity, with the Apostle's Creed at the centre. Like Tolle, I didn't believe Jesus to be divine (not any more so than anyone else), and not a saviour, but a teacher teaching personal enlightenment. Tolle also says we shouldn't personalize Christ, for instance, and his monism doesn't really leave room for a personal god - just this Universe-thingy that makes me a bit cranky (ego, I know).

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello friends :0) Good to hear from you

Yes - that's so interesting - Heidi, I think you know more about the details of Eckhart Tolle's faith than I do. I should make that *I* am a Christian (though maybe there are Christians of different theologian complexion who would say I can't be a Christian because some of my beliefs differ from theirs) whatever Eckhart Tolle is, and that, like Jenna, I find Tolle's writings illuminate the teaching of the Bible for me.

Monism - gosh, I had to look that up! Wikipedia gives me three choices: monism, dualism, pluralism. Of the three, monism best fits my personal belief structure. Some say that is not a biblical faith, but I think it is. There are two strands of thinking in the Old Testament, the monism of Abraham and the dualism of Zoroaster. Isaiah champions Abraham's monist world view and challenges Zoroaster's dualism (see especially chapter 45) I think the dualism in Christianity has come from the ubiquity of the Zoroastrian influence in the ancient world, and that the thread of Abraham's faith petered out in the Christian church. Dualism is more useful for controlling people, because you get both a carrot ad a stick, and in the Christendom of the High Middle Ages control became a big issue.
How I see and experience God is very much how Tolle describes God. I hadn't read anywhere him saying one shouldn't personalise Christ, and I'm not quite sure what that means because Jesus is a person, and Jesus is the Christ. Certainly "Christ" is cosmic, divine and universal where "Jesus" is personal, human and individual; but that's the heart of our Christian faith - it's why it has a cross at the centre, why Jesus died on a cross. His incarnation, life, passion and death, resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost are the unfolding of what is meant by "Jesus Christ" - the fusion/blending of the two terms.

About God being personal - I do my best to be cautious about defining God because God is larger than our intellect so inherently beyond definition - God is mystery, we will always only touch the tip of the iceberg. I am a person, and I as a person can know God. I can love God and be known and loved by God. I am in God and in Jesus Christ - "my life is hid in Christ" as St Paul said - and it follows then that God can be described as personal, but that is God's immanence. There is also God's transcendence, which is more than a dimension, it is limitless. And because of Jesus and the cross, the transcendence resides in me (Holy Spirit) and I in that transcendence (vine and branches; "abide in Me"), which is the part I find in Eckhart Tolle's writing.

Ooh dear, I could go on all day - I spend my whole life thinking about this - so sorry to deluge you with words, so grateful to find others interested in the same wonders!

Thank you Heidi for introducing me to the word "monism" (I mean, I'd heard it but never looked it up and didn't know what it was); and thanks Jenna from adding it that point I missed out in my blog post and was thinking only last night I should have put in - that Tolle doesn't think we should just be passive and put up with things we object to, just learn not to over-invest in them emotionally. Not that we are meant to be indifferent, just not waste our time here chasing our emotional tails.


Heidi said...

The line about not personalizing Christ is in The Power of Now. Basically any enlightened person is Christ, and the only thing that makes Jesus "special" is his enlightenment.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment so thoroughly, by the way. I don't think Christianity is fully dualistic nor monistic. I have developed a panentheistic world view - God is in all things, but he is also separate from the world. And it's that separateness that allows me to have a relationship with God. Tolle describes the workings of the Holy Sprit very well I think, but when God = the Universe, "the Holy Spirit" is all there is, and you could be still with God (which is lovely), but that's it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks Heidi - good thoughts - will come back and think about what you say properly later - zooming right now . . . whizzzzzz!!!

Rapunzel said...

Well this post certainly got me thinking.
The Manimal was enamored of Tolle when we met, so I tackled a couple of his books to get insight on how my beloved's mind was being influenced or something.
I found him occasionally insightful, but kept thinking "He's must be paid a penny per word, he goes all around Robin Hood's barn to get to a thing rather than just coming out and saying it."
(Sigh. See? I am pretty wordy myself.)
Off key loud singing annoys me too. I love really good singing. Alas, congregational singing is seldom really good, just as group art projects are seldom really good art. The "everyone can play" factor rather prohibits technical excellence.
It does help to remind ourselves (if necessary with every hymn) that the purpose of singing in church is praise, not performance.
The whole "what I dislike in others is also in me" is a bit sticky, because as you say often we DON'T do the thing that is bugging us. But it can be a matter of degree too. I don't like the way it sounds if I happen to hit a note slightly off, so of course I don't like the way it sounds if someone else hits a note slightly off...or a whole string of notes slightly off...or an entire verse and chorus so far off your can't find their tune anywhere in the hymnal!

The dinners and petrol story is quite a dismaying one, isn't it? You didn't say if Joanne paid Muriel for the dinners, but she must have, or Muriel wouldn't have dared to bill her for the petrol.
The first instance was just a rude lack of social skill. Someone needs to tell dear old Muriel the one who issues the invitation always foots the bill unless it is agreed beforehand to "go dutch treat" (do you use that phrase in the UK?)
The second time Muriel was still doing a rude thing, but this time she was probably operating under the assumption that it was ok. By paying up the first time she was billed, Joanne entered into an unritten contract that "Muriel thinks of something to do together and then we share the cost."
If she doesn't like that contract she needs to renegotiate.

A fellow who I thought at the time to be worldly and cynical once told me everything in human life is based on contracts.
The older I get the more I suspect he was right.

A church may have an unwritten contract saying "We can sing off key and drown out everyone else, they don't mind." Whatever you put up with, you agree to by default.
I once had a sensitive eared choir director renegotiate that particular contract by asking to congregation to please "listen to the others and try to blend your voices with theirs so our song will reach the heavens as one unified voice" and amazingly this worked. He had to issue a quarterly reminder of course, because it seems people who really like to belt out the hymns also have short memories.

As for the "helpful" knitters...Sheesh! Your dear daughter is a saint for not smacking either of them.

Most of what people do is not about us, it's about whatever is clunking around in their own head. And about their propensity to say what they thing even when they're not actually thinking.

The bragging lady apparently thought the important thing in knitting is to get it done quickly and efficiently, therefore seeing her ability to make the needles fly as a virtue. The helping out for a few rows lady may have seen getting-it-done as a priority, or perhaps she just wanted to knit and couldn't resist the temptation.

Middle Child had a friend in her elementary school years who fancied she had 'learned to knit' and who "helped" me on a project (unbidden), and I'd come home from work and have to rip back a few holey rows and reknit them. After a few bouts of this Middle Child began to announce "K__ is coming over, let's hide your knitting!"
Huge Sigh....I'm rambling. See what you get for making me think?

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, I love this blog. It's like coming home to find really good, really interesting letters waiting on the mat.

"Whatever you put up with, you agree to by default."

That's so interesting and so helpful. I shall remember that. I think I had kind of groped my way to a grasp of that principle, but having it expressed in one pithy sentence like that makes it easier to remember and hang onto. Thank you! x

Paula said...

Pen, I am offering you something that is not related to this blog post, but that I feel might feed you. It is a new blog, written by a Philadelphia Friend named Marcelle Martin. You can see it here:

Even the name moves me.
Thy Friend Paula

Pen Wilcock said...

Looks excellent! I've published this comment here anyway, so others can go and take a look. x

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I'm one of people who can't sing in tune at all. I was living in ignorance of this fact until my new(ish) husband informed me of how tuneless I really am (it's okay, I still love him!).
BUT this has meant that now I feel unable to fully take part in the singing part of worship because of my paralysing embarrassment. I usually mime, unless I'm sitting at an unusual angle turned away from the congregation and then I 'll 'sing' very quietly. However, when I'm in the shower or in the car on my own, then I sing my heart out! :)
I've been aware lately of God working on my personality. I asked Him to change some aspects of my character and He's certainly been doing so. One of the biggest differences I've noticed is that I'm becoming much more tolerant. Things that used to irritate me to the point of frustration, well maybe they still irritate me a bit, but I'm more aware of a peacefulness infiltrating my mind and helping me to see the person beyond the irritation.
However, I don't want to become so passive that I become liberal in my theology - some things are definitely non-negotiable.

Katrina Green said...

What fascinating reading!
Hi Pen!

Pen Wilcock said...

Kay, how interesting! That raises lots of questions for me. I had always assumed the important part of worship music was the song, if you see what I mean, rather than the singing - that the singing is for the song rather than the song being for the singing. I see from what you say that this too is merely a perspective.

Katrina - hiya! Waving!


Buzzfloyd said...

Although I am a singer, I don't mind when people in church sing out of tune. But I do mind when they push their voice to be as loud as they can, drowning out other people around them.

There's nothing wrong simply with being loud enough that others can pick out your voice, especially when everyone else is singing up too, but singing aggressively is not worshipful and makes it difficult for others to sing.

Singing together is an important human activity and - to my mind - necessary in worship and in congregational life. When you sing in a way that feels competitive in what should be a congregational setting, you undermine the group activity, in the same way that in a group art project you would be creating a problem if you splashed paint everywhere without regard for what others were trying to do. It's not the quality of performance but the preventing of others from being able to participate that is a problem.

And this is why it's also a problem to make people feel that their singing is not good enough. I have found that, if one feels the need to comment at all, to find a way to do so gently and positively is by far the best. If I can't do that, I bite my tongue and try to hide my disappointment at not being able to engage in the one part of worship that I am currently able to (given that I spend the prayer and Bible reading time trying to keep a small child quiet and the sermon time in Sunday School).

Pen Wilcock said...

Buzzfloyd - yes, I'm with you exactly. The singing out of tempo usually happens through singing too loudly to hear what others are singing. The singing off-key is not a big problem if others are also audible - and the singing tends to be better in tune when the voice is not pushed. I also find the sliding notes irritating (and unnecessary), but I accept that can be an age-group thing - it's a style of singing popularised by romantic crooners (Irish tenors!!!)in the 40's & 50s (I think) and it didn't go out of vogue again until the 1970s when the crisper sounds of baroque music came back into popular consciousness. Still annoys me.
If you see what I mean, I don't mind that it irritates me. It does - so do a lot of other things - but so what?

Pen Wilcock said...

Martin Baddeley, principal of the Southwark Ordination Course where I trained for ministry, used to say we should sing loud enough for those near us in church to hear us, and quietly enough for us to hear them.

Buzzfloyd said...

I like Martin Baddeley's idea as a sort of thought experiment, but I'm not sure it always works - or, at least, not for everyone.

For most of my adult life, I've been one of a handful of singers in the congregation who are often required to help lead others in singing. Most people are unconfident in singing and are buoyed up by the leadership of good singers. Unless the hymn is well-known, if the more confident singers sing quietly, everyone else sings even more quietly, and the whole thing spirals. Yet it's often the case that I can't hear the individual voices of people singing around me in church, because I am singing fully and they are half speak-singing.

Pen Wilcock said...


Donna said...

Worshippers in our part of the world have this peculiar expectation for worship music to sound pleasant. I've studied religious chants and music from various tribes and traditions around the world which include wailing, grunting, yelling, anything but pleasant melody. I love beautiful music, but I think the right to make a joyful noise is very important. An actual joyful noise, that is, not a "Hey everyone, hear what a wonderful voice I have? No? Then I'll sing a bit louder so you can't help but hear..."
Heidi,I think of myself as a panentheist, but my understanding of the term is a little different. Rather than "separate", I would say "greater". I find it easier to have a relationship with God because of the lack of separation.
I have a problem when faced with the questions "Do you believe in God" and "Are you a Christian?" My answer: "By my definitions yes, but you may well disagree!"

Jenna said...

Ember, I find I have been pestered by the Spirit since posting here. I need to recant my opinion of Tolle that I expressed here. While Tolle's writings contain the appearance of truth and contains truthful things, it doesn't match up with the WHOLE truth as expressed in the Bible--much like that little problem in Eden. The teachings are not supported and they also echo other deceptive teachings and religious systems. It's like chocolate-covered carion--tasty on the outside, corruption inside. I was wrong to recommend him to you and your readers. If possible, please delete my previous comment.

Pen Wilcock said...

Righto, Jenna. I can certainly go back and delete your earlier comment. That's fine. x