Eckhart Tolle writes that negative states are contagious, toxic, cause illness and misery, yet we take pleasure in them like a drug—echoing what Maurice Nicoll wrote decades earlier. 

Much of what bestselling spiritual author Eckhart Tolle tells us about negative states was described earlier by Fourth Way teacher Maurice Nicoll.

In his Psychological Commentaries published in the early 1950s, Nicoll suggests negative states are more infectious than germs, toxic, drain our energy, and make us ill.  Unlike natural survival instincts, they’re unnecessary, yet we enjoy them like a drug—despite the misery and harm they bring. They may be subtle or obvious; inner grievance monologues can sustain them.  To start breaking free of them, we should observe and take responsibility for our negative states regardless of any external causes, he explains.

Not only does Tolle make all these points and more, but in quite similar ways, at times with comparable language, terms and examples. He never mentions Nicoll in his books though.

I’ve arranged side-by-side comparisons of similar statements in tables below. This is part four in an article series summarising correspondences I’ve found in my comparative analyses of their work. As before, I’ve bolded and underlined text in places to emphasise commonalities, but italics in quotations are original to the sources. More articles like this, with comparison tables on other topics, can be found here.

Negativity infectious/contagious—a psychic poison/pollution

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
‘Negative emotions . . . are extremely infectious.’[1] ‘The negative mental-emotional force fields of others . . . are highly contagious.’[2]
‘A person who is thoroughly negative . . . can infect people in a much more dangerous fashion than bacteria or viruses.’[3] ‘Any negative inner state is contagious: Unhappiness spreads more easily than a physical disease.’[4]
‘A really negative person can infect twenty, thirty, or even a hundred people with negative emotion and if speaking in public many more.’[5] ‘[A negative emotion] infects the people you come into contact with and indirectly, though a process of chain reaction, countless others you never meet.’[6]
‘The expression of negative emotions . . . only leads to a worse situation. . . . You must remember that those expressed negative emotions travel round to people and excite their negative emotions in response and eventually come back to you.’[7] Negativity is never the optimum way of dealing with any situation. . . . Anything that is done with negative energy will . . .  in time give rise to more pain, more unhappiness. . . . Any negative inner state . . . triggers and feeds latent negativity in others.’[8]
‘All negative states . . . [are] poison to us.’[9] ‘What pollution is on the outer level is negativity on the inner.’[10]
‘When we are negative we poison ourselves and we poison our bodies—and indeed, we poison other people.’[11] ‘Your unhappiness[12] is polluting not only your own inner being and those around you but also the collective human psyche.’[13]
Negative emotions . . . produce all the unhappiness that exists in people’s relationships to one another.’[14] Negativity . . . is a psychic pollutant, and . . . vast negativity . . . has accumulated in the collective human psyche.’[15]
‘One of the greatest forms of dirt is negative emotions and habitual indulgence in them. The greatest filth in a man is negative emotion. . . . All negative emotions are dirt.’[16] Unhappiness is an ego-created mental-emotional disease that has reached epidemic proportions. It is the inner equivalent of the environmental pollution of our planet.’[17]
‘Become more conscious of yourself. . . . A fully conscious man cannot be violent. . . . We have to become hermetically sealed towards negative emotions, towards the ordinary events of life.’[18] ‘The more consciousness you bring into the body,’ the more ‘your psychic immune system is greatly enhanced’ which ‘protects you from the negative mental-emotional force fields of others.’[19]

Read Comments

Negativity is “extremely infectious” or “highly contagious” Nicoll and Tolle respectively say, much more so than “bacteria or viruses” or “a physical disease.” A person in a negative state can infect “hundreds” or “countless others.”

Using negative emotions to deal with a situation only makes it worse, they explain, as it will excite or trigger negativity in others.

Nicoll and Tolle describe negatives states an inner “poison” or “pollution” respectively, contaminating our own psyche and body as well as other people.  Nicoll calls it inner filth or dirt, while Tolle calls it the inner equivalent of outer pollution. Both describe it as a major contributor to unhappiness in people and the world.

By becoming more conscious of ourselves, we can become somewhat impervious to the negativity around us and stop becoming so negative ourselves, they suggest. Nicoll indicates this is achieved through being “hermetically sealed” while Tolle describes this protection coming from being psychically “immune.”

The strange enjoyment of negative states

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
‘No one can fathom the delight people take in making themselves miserable and in enjoying their negative states.’[20] ‘Whenever you are in a negative state, there is something in you that wants the negativity, that perceives it as pleasurable.’[21]
People love their negative emotions. They will not let go of them easily. . . . Has it ever occurred to you that there must be something in negative emotions comparable to a fascinating drug? A drug gets a hold on a person.’[22] ‘There are many people who are always waiting for the next thing to react against, to feel annoyed or disturbed about—and it never takes long before they find it. . . . They are addicted to upset and anger as others are to a drug.’[23]
Negative states . . . always lead to internal unhappiness. No one who is negative can have any real feeling of happiness except from love of being negative.’[24] ‘[Psychological] suffering or negativity is often misperceived by the ego as pleasure. . . . Such states are indeed pathological, are forms of suffering and not pleasure.’[25]
‘The enjoyment of negative states must be observed sincerely.’[26] ‘People identify so much with their states. . . . But if you want the [negative] state and enjoy it in this curious way that we do . . . then how can it disappear?’[27] ‘You may encounter intense inner resistance to disidentifying from your [emotional] pain. . . . Observe the attachment to your pain. . . . Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy.’[28]

Read comments

In Gurdjieff’s early lectures recounted by Ouspensky, he taught that people are attached to their inner sense of suffering and don’t want to give it up. People must sacrifice this for inner development.[29] On this Ouspensky would later write:

It is said on the subject of the struggle with negative emotions:
Man must sacrifice his suffering.
‘What could be easier to sacrifice?’ everyone will say. But in reality people would sacrifice anything rather than their negative emotions.[30]

Readers of Tolle’s work would note how this bears comparison to his notion that people can have a “victim identity” they don’t want to give up. I’ll revisit this in the comparisons on grievances further on.

But alongside the idea that people don’t want to give up their suffering and are attached to their negative states, it’s also said that people actually enjoy negativity. Nicoll greatly expounds this idea in his Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

‘People love their negative emotions. They will not let go of them easily. Is it strange that there does not seem at first sight to be much in life that can replace them? Other emotions become dull, compared with the curious delights of being negative, such as planning revenges. Also, being gloomy or bad-tempered, or self-pitying and bemoaning, or tart and stinging, or maliciously vexing, are so easy. Have you reflected on this? They go on by themselves. Has it ever occurred to you that there must be something in negative emotions comparable to a fascinating drug? A drug gets a hold on a person. It cannot be shaken off without great difficulty.’[31]

‘You must realize that people love being negative, feeling they suffer, and so on. That is all that can be said. But you have to see it. A great struggle is needed over a long period to begin to dislike being negative. It is so easy to be negative—that is the trouble. Only you yourself, in your deepest thought and understanding and feeling, can extricate yourself from the pit of negative states, by the light of consciousness and aim.’[32]

We can see this same idea in Tolle’s work: there is tendency to take negative states and unhappiness as somehow pleasurable, he explains. And all unhappiness is synonymous which negative emotions according to Tolle: “There is a generic term for all negative emotions: unhappiness.”[33] While Nicoll calls this tendency to enjoy negative states “curious,” Tolle calls it “peculiar.” And like Nicoll, Tolle compares this habit to a drug addiction.

We cannot experience genuine happiness or pleasure while enjoy or take pleasure in our negative states, the authors suggest. Both point out that we must observe this tendency in ourselves if we are to be free of it.

Negativity wastes energy, is toxic, promotes illness

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
When a person allows inner talking to go on and on in himself he is losing force. . . . This . . . mental mumbling drags a person down very much because it is basically negative. . . . All negative states drain force from us uselessly.[34] ‘I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful.’[35]
‘See for yourself by direct observation how a negative state drains force from you.’[36] ‘[Negative] inner talking weakens us. . . . It is a continual source of leakage, of force.’[37] ‘Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. [Negative thinking] causes a serious leakage of vital energy.’[38]
‘[Negative emotions] take so much energy and waste it uselessly that people often become ill as a result. . . . If a person has well-marked negative thinking and negative emotions, it is a very dangerous state to be in.’[39] ‘Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease.’[40]
‘[Negative emotions] will animate a new sickness or re-animate old typical illnesses. . . . [A] wrong distribution of energy that takes place in a person who is negative.’[41] ‘All [negative emotions] disrupt the energy flow through the body. . . . Even mainstream Medicine . . . is beginning to recognize the connection between negative emotional states and physical disease.’[42]
‘Something that should be merely temporary, some form of illness . . . if it comes on a negative background that has never been faced … [then] the condition may persist or become exaggerated.’[43] ‘Needless to say, those people who experience a strengthening of the ego in illness take much longer to recover. Some never do, and so the illness becomes chronic.’[44]
‘A person with very well-developed negative states . . . will be inclined to have his or her general powers of resistance to illness diminished.’[45] ‘[The emotional pain-body] leav[es] behind a depleted organism and a body that is much more susceptible to illness.’[46]
[Negative] states are, so to speak, toxic, beginning in the psychological sphere and working down to the grosser sphere of the physical matters of the body.’[47] ‘What is a negative emotion? An emotion that is toxic to the body and interferes with its balance and harmonious functioning.’[48]
‘Sometimes these psychological diseases [caused by negative states] work out into the body and express themselves in various physical disorders.’[49] ‘The [negative] emotion still lives in him or her unrecognized and manifests indirectly, for example, as anxiety . . . or even as a physical illness.’[50]
‘Recurrent attacks of [psychological] suffering . . . are the source of so much physical illness.’[51] Emotional pain . . . is also the main cause of physical pain and physical disease.’[52]

Read comments

Nicoll and Tolle suggest that people are often plagued by habitual, persistent and useless negative thinking which is detrimental to their wellbeing. Both describe how negative thoughts and emotions drain our energy or force—causing a continual/serious “leakage.”

Negative thoughts and emotions not only bring us down psychologically, but the resulting energy loss can lead to illness and disease to the body, they claim. Energy is not just drained, they say, but its normal flow or distribution is somehow disturbed—a factor that can also cause or aggravate illness and disease.

An illness that would otherwise pass fairly quickly might persist much longer, worsen or become chronic if we’re steeped in negativity, they suggest. Generally speaking, negativity makes us more prone to getting an illness in the first place too, as our “powers of resistance to illness [are] diminished” writes Nicoll, or, as Tolle puts it, we are “much more susceptible to illness.”

Negativity doesn’t just cause or worsen illness by energy loss or disruption; it is itself “toxic” to the body, the authors write, having a direct, detrimental physical effect by its very presence. Negative emotions or states may even come to directly express or manifest themselves as a physical disorder or illness, they claim.

Both suggest psychological suffering or pain, caused by such negativity, is a major source or cause of physical illness/disease overall.

Grievances, our sad personal songs/stories and inner forgiveness

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
‘The more of a grievance you hold against life in general, the more you feel . . . things should have been different for you, the more frequent and habitual your inner talking will tend to become.’[53] ‘A grievance is a strong negative emotion . . . kept alive by compulsive thinking, by retelling the story in the head or out loud of “what someone did to me” or “what someone did to us.”’[54]
‘All inner talking is personal and is directed against a person. This person may be God, but then you are regarding him as a person. You feel neglected, you feel wrongly treated, you feel you have not had a chance, and so on.’[55] ‘If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God.’[56]
‘One of the most frequent forms of internal considering is thinking what others think of us, and how they treat us. . . . A man may feel he is not valued enough and this . . . makes him suspect others and . . . develop . . . a distrustful and hostile attitude. . . . A man begins to feel that people owe him, that he deserves better treatment, more rewards, more recognition. . . . Such a man begins to pity himself so much.’[57] ‘Who you think you are is also intimately connected with how you see yourself treated by others. Many people complain that others do not treat them well enough. “I don’t get any respect, attention, recognition, acknowledgment,” they say. “I’m being taken for granted.” When people are kind, they suspect hidden motives. “Others want to … take advantage of me. Nobody loves me.”’[58]
‘A good [psychological] singer . . . is a victim of his own account-making. . . . He cannot get beyond what he is—i.e. crippled by sad songs. . . . He begins to pity himself, or gets furious, and feels . . . not understood, and so on. And then he begins to sing, either softly to himself or to others, especially to people who will listen. . . . Often a person makes friends with another person only because it is easy to sing his or her song to him or her. . . . A good singer . . .  prefers to sing the song that he is misunderstood.’[59] ‘A very common role is the one of victim, and the form of attention it seeks is sympathy or pity or others’ interest in my problems, “me and my story.” Seeing oneself as a victim is an element in many egoic patterns, such as complaining, being offended, outraged, and so on. Of course, once I am identified with a story in which I assigned myself the role of victim, I don’t want it to end. . . . If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself . . . and feel sorry for myself.’[60]
‘These often not openly expressed songs . . . such as the classical song called “Poor Little Me” . . . , which are so dangerous, so sweet, and so useless, constantly re-infect their inner state.’[61] ‘Who they think they are is this: “I am a needy ‘little me’ whose needs are not being met.” This basic misperception of who they are creates dysfunction in all their relationships.’[62]
‘Now if a person internally considers all day long, secretly or openly, and is full of accounts against other people . . . this . . . leads to so many negative trains of thought and feeling. . . . Everything that happens in life will cause inner resentment . . . and so loss of force. One will be simply identified with everything in life. . . . If a person always thinks that he is neglected or badly treated he will be in a continual state of internal considering.’[63] ‘The voice in your head will be telling sad, anxious, or angry stories about yourself or your life, about other people. . . . The voice will be blaming, accusing, complaining, imagining. And you are totally identified with whatever the voice says, believe all its distorted thoughts. At that point, the addiction to unhappiness has set in. It is not so much that you cannot stop your train of negative thoughts, but that you don’t want to.’[64]
‘This . . . inner talking in myself—a sort of inner muttering and complaining and brooding . . . will go on and on by itself . . . a sort of perpetual secret grievance that may spread over and darken all one’s inner life.’[65] ‘An emotion can survive inside you for days or weeks. . . . So . . . check whether your mind is holding on to a grievance pattern such as blame, self-pity, or resentment that is feeding the emotion.’[66]
‘This Work demands inner sincerity. . . . It is about what goes on in you—inside yourself, in your thoughts and feelings. . . . We must handle a person . . . as carefully and as consciously in our inner thoughts and feelings as we do externally.’[67] ‘It requires honesty to see whether you still harbor grievances, whether there is someone in your life you have not completely forgiven. . . . If you do, become aware of the grievance both on the level of thought as well as emotion.’[68]
‘A man in the Work can only grow through the forgiveness of others. . . . Feeling you are owed, feeling debts, stops everything. You hold back yourself and you hold back the other person. This is the inner meaning of Christ’s remark that one should make peace with one’s enemy.’[69] Forgiveness happens naturally when you see that [a grievance] has no purpose other than to strengthen a false sense of self, to keep the ego in place. The seeing is freeing. Jesus’ teaching to “Forgive your enemies” is essentially about the undoing of one of the main egoic structures.’[70]
‘One must . . . sacrifice one’s suffering. All self-pity . . . all inner accounting . . . and complaints, must be burned up in the fire of increasing Consciousness.’[71] ‘With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”’[72]

Read comments

Earlier we looked at the idea that people enjoy their negative states like a drug addiction, and are very attached to them.

One of the persistent forms of negativity people cling to, according to both Nicoll and Tolle, is the grievances they carry, and all accompanying self-pity and resentment. They describe, in very similar terms, grievances become entrenched in one’s thoughts and feelings through self-pitying narratives about one’s life that one repeats to oneself and others. These sad “songs” or “stories” can be strongly identified with. Both suggest that observing and giving up these up will bring us increased consciousness or presence, and suggest the inner forgiveness of others is essential to making this change possible.

While their similarities are self-evident in the comparisons above, it is helpful to understand some background to the concepts Nicoll is explaining, and go through the ways Tolle mirrors his descriptions.

Nicoll defines this grievance process, in Fourth Way terms, as forms of “internal considering” and “making accounts.”

Internal considering, according to Ouspensky, is “when we feel that people do not give us enough, do not appreciate us enough.”[73] It is “a state in which man constantly worries about what other people think of him; whether they give him his due, whether they admire him enough and so on, and so on.”[74]

Closely connected with this is “making accounts,” which is storing up grievances out of feeling “you are owed by other people” for not considering you enough. A person records these “in a psychological account-book, the pages of which he is continually turning over in his mind,” Nicoll writes.[75]

When a person expresses lamentations, drawn from these accounts of their supposed sufferings, it is called “singing one’s song.” Nicoll describes this as follows:

Let us speak today of that aspect of a person called in the Work “Singing your Song”. This is psychological, not physical, singing. It is based on internal considering—making inner accounts—that is, feeling what you are owed and recording it in memory. Everyone has a song to sing in this respect. If you really want to know what kinds of inner accounts you have made throughout your life, begin to notice the typical “songs you sing”. . . . Sometimes people sing their songs without any encouragement and sometimes, after a few glasses of wine, they begin to sing openly. They sing about how badly they have been treated, about how they never had a real chance, about their past glories, about how no one understood their difficulties, about how they married wrongly, about how their parents did not understand them, about how nice they really are, about how they have been unappreciated, misunderstood, and so on, and all this means how everyone is to-blame except themselves. All this is making inner accounts, or rather it is the result of making accounts. This is one form of internal considering.[76]

When these psychological “songs” are sung privately in one’s thoughts as “inner talking,” Nicoll calls them “inner secret songs” and explains this is just as harmful. In any case, the songs and complaints we voice externally are usually sustained by “inner talking” as well.

In the comparisons above we can see Nicoll and Tolle covering much of the same ground when describing this phenomenon. Tolle also coincides closely when explaining how to become free of this process.

Nicoll and Tolle describe how sense of “grievance” is sustained by “inner talking” or “the voice” respectively—their terms for our inner thought monologues which are often negative. (I’ve looked at their similar descriptions of this inner monologue separately here). They point out we may, in our thoughts, spin a narrative where we consider ourselves badly treated by other people or even “God.”

In quite similar passages, they describe how someone becomes preoccupied with thinking about how others treat them—which is never good enough—and feels underappreciated, owed or taken for granted, wanting more “recognition.” A person suspects and distrusts others, and generally feels sorry for themselves.

Such a person, feeling angry and neglected, mentally constructs and repeats their own “songs” or “stories” about their life in which they’re hard done by. They will narrate their “sad song” (Nicoll) or “sad story” (Tolle) to anyone who “will listen,” or just to themselves while steeped in self-pity. Curiously, Nicoll uses the phrase “poor little me” (after an actual song) while Tolle uses the phrase “needy little me” to describe these kinds of self-narratives. “Negative trains of thought” (Nicoll) or a “train of negative thought” (Tolle), about “other people” and one’s own life will often fill the mind, and a person is extremely identified with the whole process. This grievance monologue, and the accompanying emotions, will typically go on and on.

Both tell us we need to observe and become conscious/aware of our negative thoughts and feelings occurring in this process if we’re to come out of it, and this requires inner sincerity/honesty.  They describe how forgiveness of others is also necessary, which is an inner cancelling or letting go of one’s grievances towards other people. Both say this is the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching about making peace with or forgiving one’s enemies.

Nicoll writes of the need to “sacrifice one’s suffering” and for all one’s inner accounts and complaints to be “burned up in the fire of increasing consciousness.” Tolle similarly suggest that “your victim identity dissolves” when it is brought into the light of “Presence.”

This last point relates to a previous topic. As I’ve shown before, both describe “the light of consciousness” being cast inward during the act of self-observation, and suggest all our unconscious attributes must be brought into this light in order to be changed.

Background negativity

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
‘We indulge so frequently in negative emotions, obvious or less obvious, cruder or subtler, open or concealed.’[77] ‘Apart from the obvious ones . . . there are other more subtle forms of negativity that are so common.’[78]
‘[Aim] not to feel always this background of tears, discontent, of being not appreciated.’[79] ‘Most people’s normal state … [is] an almost continuous low level of unease, discontent . . . a kind of background static.’[80]
‘You smile—bravely—you all know that brave smile—and it is all lies.’[81] ‘Happiness is [often] a role people play, and behind the smiling facade, there is a great deal of pain.’[82]
The slightest thing counts in regard to mechanical reaction to ordinary daily life—the slightest negative reaction matters.’[83]Unobserved petty feelings . . . build up endless negative systems in us.’[84] ‘Even the slightest irritation is significant and needs to be acknowledged and looked at; otherwise, there will be a cumulative build-up of unobserved reactions.’[85]
Because ‘big things begin from little things’ one should observe the ‘slight negative feeling[s] of discontent’ occurring in ‘little daily things.’[86] If you observe ‘ordinary’ ‘unease [and] discontent’ in ‘normal circumstances’ then ‘it will be much easier to deal with deep unconsciousness.’[87]
‘An explosion of negative emotions is the result of making, half-consciously, inner accounts over some time. It is not the apparent immediate irritation that causes them. That merely fires off the accumulation of them.’[88] ‘In ordinary unconsciousness, habitual resistance … creates the unease and discontent that most people accept as normal living. When this … becomes intensified through some challenge or threat … it brings up intense negativity.’[89]
‘An over-sensitive reaction to the ordinary events of life can charge us up with negative emotions which come through this self-pitying view of life that we take.’[90] ‘Depression, breakdowns, and overreactions are common when unhappiness is covered up.’[91] ‘Even a minor situation may produce intense negativity.’[92]
‘This constant unconscious way of taking everything . . . can become so exaggerated that everything, all day long, upsets us and makes us feel miserable.’[93] ‘The unease of ordinary unconsciousness turns into the pain of deep unconsciousness—a state of more acute and more obvious suffering or unhappiness.’[94]
‘We [ordinarily] accumulate a lot of internal accounts every day and build up a dragging past, a sick past.’[95] ‘We can learn to break the habit of accumulating and perpetuating old emotion . . . and refrain from mentally dwelling on the past.’[96]
‘[One should] observe [this tendency in] oneself practically because it can lead to a much stronger level of being, by making it conscious.[97] Make it conscious. Observe the many ways in which unease, discontent, and tension arise within you.’[98]

Read comments

Nicoll and Tolle tell us that negative states are very commonplace and can be both “obvious” and “subtle.” There is an underlying “discontent” going on in the “background” in many people all the time, although it may be hidden behind a smile.

We need to observe even “the slightest” negative reactions in us, otherwise there will be a “build-up” of negativity. Observing the small signs of “discontent” in everyday situations makes it easier to deal with or prevent more pronounced forms of negativity. If we don’t address these smaller aspects, they will just lead to larger outbursts eventually.

Even a relatively minor or ordinary event can trigger a major negative reaction if underlying, everyday negativity has been going on in us unobserved, the authors suggest. Our unconscious everyday negativity inevitably leads to more conspicuous forms of misery and suffering if it continues unchecked.

Breaking the habit of accumulating negative emotions and thoughts about the past is something we can do to prevent this from happening. That involves observing our negativity and making it conscious.

Taking responsibility for one’s negativity

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
‘If you are negative towards someone else, no matter what is the external cause, the fact that you are negative is your own fault from the Work point of view.’[99] Negative states . . . are not recognized as negative but as totally justified and are further misperceived not as self-created but as caused by someone else or some external factor.’[100]
If you are in a negative state, it is always your own fault, from the Work point of view. No matter what happened, what someone said, what someone did, we have to become responsible for our negative states—ourselves.[101] ‘A victim identity . . . is the belief that other people and what they did to you are responsible for who you are now, for your emotional pain. . . . Realize that you are responsible for your inner space now—nobody else is.’[102]
When people indulge habitually in negative states without . . . seeing what enormous harm they are causing to themselves, they have no idea about their own responsibility to themselves.[103] ‘Take responsibility for your life. Do not pollute your beautiful, radiant inner Being nor the Earth with negativity. Do not give unhappiness in any form whatsoever a dwelling place inside you.’[104]

Read comments

In the previous topic, I showed how Nicoll and Tolle maintain that taking responsibility for our inner states, regardless of what may happen in life, is essential to attain inner freedom and peace.  In the comparisons above, they express this idea with respect to negative states specifically.

Ultimately, if we’re negative, we to have to stop blaming it on what “someone else” did or any other “external cause” or “external factor” they respectively tell us, and should realise the negativity itself comes from us. No matter “what someone did”/”what they did” we must be responsible for any negative state or emotional pain in us. Both point out that negativity is inwardly harmful—and as we’ve previously seen, they describe it harming others too—and they advise us to take more personal responsibility to address it.

Negative emotions unneeded, unlike instincts

Maurice Nicoll Eckhart Tolle
“All negative emotions are unnecessary.”[105] Negativity is totally unnatural.”[106]
‘There is instinctive fear . . . present in us and in all animals. . . . This fear is stimulated only by the direct sensory impression of danger. It excites . . . the adrenal glands and . . . activates the muscles—either for attack or for defence.’[107] ‘Human beings experience instinctive responses in the same way that animals do. In the face of danger . . . the heart beats faster, the muscles contract, breathing becomes rapid in preparation for fight or flight. Primordial fear.’[108]
While ‘instinctive fear’ is roused by ‘direct sensory impression of danger,’ ‘emotional imaginative fear’ arises from ‘undirected imagination’ that’s ‘negative’ and ‘not based on an actual sense-given situation.’[109] ‘An instinctive response is the body’s direct response to some external situation. An emotion … is the body’s response to a thought.’[110] ‘Psychological fear is . . . of something that might happen, not . . .  that is happening now.’[111]
Negative states discussed include:
hatred,[112] anger (and rage, irritation etc.),[113] fear,[114] resentment,[115] depression[116] or discontent,[117] jealously,[118] envy,[119] dislike,[120] anxiety or worry,[121] violence and destructiveness,[122] self-pity,[123] grievances.[124]
Negative states discussed include:
hatred,[125] anger (and rage, irritation etc.),[126] fear,[127] resentment,[128] depression or discontent,[129] jealously,[130] envy,[131] dislike,[132] anxiety or worry,[133] violence and destructiveness,[134] self-pity,[135] grievance.[136]

Read comments

This commonality is fairly straightforward. Nicoll and Tolle tell us that emotional or psychological negativity is unnatural or unnecessary.

They distinguish emotional negativity from natural survival instincts, which, unlike negativity, can actually serve a practical purpose. Instinctual fear is a direct response to danger, a trait shared with animals, making the heart beat faster and preparing the muscles to help us survive they explain. But emotional or psychological fear—a negative emotion—is produced in response to thoughts or imagination, not a direct response to an actual threat. That kind of emotional fear serves no useful purpose.

Throughout their writing, they designate the same kinds of emotions and states as “negative,” such as hatred, anger, fear, envy, self-pity, resentment and so on.

On the point that negativity is unnatural, Nicoll writes elsewhere that the psychic means to express negative emotions is not “naturally there” at birth but “acquired.”[137]

This idea that negative emotions are unnatural and unnecessary is key concept in the Fourth Way—which, readers here will know, Nicoll had studied under the esotericists G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky before teaching it himself. In the extracts below, Ouspensky provides further background on this idea:

‘The term ‘negative emotions’ means all emotions of violence or depression: self-pity, anger, suspicion, fear, annoyance, boredom, mistrust, jealousy and so on. Ordinarily, one accepts this expression of negative emotions as quite natural and even necessary. Very often people call it ‘sincerity.’ Of course it has nothing to do with sincerity; it is simply a sign of weakness in man, a sign of bad temper and of incapacity to keep his grievances to himself. Man realises this when he tries to oppose it.’[138]

‘These [negative] emotions are a terrible phenomenon. They occupy an enormous place in our life. Of many people it is possible to say that all their lives are regulated and controlled, and in the end ruined, by negative emotions. At the same time negative emotions do not play any useful part at all in our lives. They do not help our orientation, they do not give us any knowledge, they do not guide us in any sensible manner. On the contrary, they spoil all our pleasures, they make life a burden to us and they very effectively prevent our possible development because there is nothing more mechanical in our life than negative emotions.’[139]

‘If negative emotions were useful or necessary  . . . and if they were a function of a really existing [natural] part of the emotional centre, man would have no chance because no inner development is possible so long as man keeps his negative emotions.’[140]

I’ll revisit this notion that negative emotions are somehow unnatural and therefore changeable and removable—unlike natural instincts which are inbuilt—in more detail in the next article of this series. It will summarise Nicoll’s correspondences with Tolle’s “pain-body” concept—a topic I’ve written extensively about here.

Concluding comments

It’s clear there is a strong correspondence between Nicoll and Tolle in how they describe negative states, their adverse effects and how to address them. However, since Tolle never mentions Nicoll or any Fourth Way sources in his bestselling books, and given Nicoll is a comparatively obscure figure, most of Tolle’s readers would not be aware of this.

To summarise, both define negative states in much the same way. They are non-essential thoughts and emotions which, unlike survival instincts, are not helpful in anyway.   They cite the same kinds of examples of negative states throughout their writing such as anger, fear, hatred, self-pity and so on.

Both say we strangely enjoy or take pleasure in negative states like a drug addiction. They poison or pollute us inside, and adversely affect others too, because negativity is highly infectious/contagious—spreading to many others more easily than regular germs. Our negative states make any situation worse, bring unhappiness into our relations, and rouse negativity latent in others. Other people’s negativity will also trigger ours, unless we are conscious enough to resist this.

They point out that negativity drains us, causing a “leakage” of energy, and disturbs the body’s energy circulation, making us more prone to becoming ill and aggravating any existing diseases; a short-term illness may become intensified and prolonged as a result of negative states. A negative state is also toxic to the body, and may even directly express itself as a disease. The emotional pain and suffering it brings is a prime cause of many physical disorders, they claim.

Negative states, they tell us, can be obvious or subtle: there’s very often underlying discontent going on in the background in our daily lives, concealed behind a smiling exterior. We must notice even “the slightest” negative reactions, as our unobserved commonplace negativity builds-up towards larger outbursts. If we don’t deal with subtle, unconscious discontent in everyday situations, we become prone to overreactions which can be triggered easily.

One of the common forms of negativity they direct us to observe is the process of creating and renewing grievance narratives. These are sad songs or stories we tell ourselves about our lives, based on self-pity and resentment towards others, even God, for what they did or didn’t do. We may express these monologues over and over in our thoughts, and aloud to anyone who will listen. This keeps the sense of grievance alive, fuelling negative emotion like anger and suspicion, and a person is typically very identified with the whole process—not seeing that the cause of their misery is within themselves. Observing our negative thoughts and emotions towards others, inwardly forgiving them and giving up the attachment to our suffering is essential to break free of this grievance cycle, the authors explain. Both link this to Jesus’ teaching about forgiving or making peace with one’s enemies.

Ultimately, both direct us to take full personal responsibility for our negative states. For this we must recognise they are self-created and stop blaming them on what “someone did” or any other external cause/factor. Only by having inner responsibility and honestly observing and addressing our negative states can we hope to become free of them.

This article, which is part 4 in a series summarising commonalities I’ve found in these authors’ work, draws from and condenses my comparative analysis from an earlier, more extensive, article from last year called Shifting Perspective on Life. My previous post, part 3 of this series, was on gaining the “Power of Choice” to change one’s inner reactions to outer life, and drew from the first half of that article. This post looks at the second half about negative states, and, as previously, I selected the most similar passages I found and presented these in a format better suited to direct textual comparison.

However, when it comes to Nicoll and Tolle’s views negative emotions, I’ve still only covered half the story here. They also have comparable views on the inner psychic mechanisms behind them. As I wrote in Shifting perspective on Life:

‘Nicoll and Tolle both claim that we carry some kind of psychic factor inside us expressing negative emotions and bringing unhappiness.

In Tolle’s work, the “pain-body” is the culprit. This is said to be an energetic parasite accruing the residue of all our unconscious emotional pain, which grows within us from childhood. It generates negative emotions throughout our lives to feed on their energy to renew itself. It is “the living past in you.”

Nicoll, decades earlier, described the “negative part of the emotional centre” as an unnatural psychic disease acquired by infection in infancy and growing within us thereafter. It gives rise to negative states which nourish it—feeding upon and storing their energy. This emotional suffering is also stored in our “time body” which carries our “living past.”’

I compare and analyse these similar concepts in detail in my article: Eckhart Tolle’s “Pain-Body”: A Deep Dive into its Hidden History. I’ll outline those commonalities, in the format used here, in my next post.

Note that their correspondences extend into other areas too. You may want to read the previous parts of this series where I present direct textual comparisons on other topics:

I’ve also written an article in this format comparing Tolle’s words to similar, prior statements by three different authors (one being Nicoll) on the theme of the present moment:


Notes and references

Return to top