Guardians of Being

Oprah guru Eckhart Tolle shares lessons from the higher masters: the animals.

Guardians of Being By Eckhart Tolle New World Library 119 pp., $18

If you are one of those organized people interested in completing your holiday shopping as quickly and unerringly as possible, I have a suggestion for you: Pick up a copy of Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle with illustrations by Patrick McDonnell. In fact, while you’re at it, you might just as well grab a copy for everyone on your list, because this is a book likely to speak to dog lovers, cat lovers, art lovers, spiritual seekers, those who like to read, those who don’t like to read, and pretty much anyone interested in the art of life.

Tolle, of course, became a household name after Oprah Winfrey tapped his book “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” for one of her book club picks – and then went on to build an online course around the text.

The book has since sold many millions of copies. Tolle, an intellectually eclectic writer and thinker who says he draws his inspiration from – among other sources – the New Testament, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, and the teachings of Buddha, preaches the importance of learning to live in the present and squelching the human ego. Who better to teach us such lessons than the animals? Take pets, for instance.

“The vital function that pets fulfill in this world hasn’t been fully recognized,” writes Tolle in “Guardians of Being,” which pairs drawings of animals with sparse lines of text. “They keep millions of people sane.” (In the accompanying illustration, a small dog commands his person: “Heal.”)

Tolle’s gentle admonitions to stop, learn, and listen to the world around us are rendered positively irresistible by the illustrations of McDonnell, the creator of the comic strip MUTTS, and an elegant and playful evocator of all things canine.

Tolle’s text guides us to turn off the mental noise and escape “the prison of our minds,” even as McDonnell’s creatures scamper and glide across the pages to demonstrate the happy result of having done so.

Whether it’s a dog leaping joyously after a butterfly or a cat curled blissfully in the lap of its person, the messages are clear: “Life is good!” and “Enjoy the here and now!”

Those of us who live with animals already have these lessons before our eyes daily. But “Guardians of Being” serves as a wake-up call to the greater wisdom that continually surrounds us. “I have lived with many Zen masters,” writes Tolle, “all of them cats.”

He and McDonnell have both obviously learned their lessons well. In sharing them with us, they offer a lovely gift.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

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