The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is about our relationship with our own minds, time, and fate.
The foreword to the book starts the book by telling us about three myths.
Myth 1: Humanity has reached the pinnacle of its development.
Tolle cites Michael Murphy, who argues that humans have the potential to reach advanced levels of development, which include body awareness, perception, intuition, vitality, love, personhood, communication, and volition.
Myth 2: We are completely separate from each other, nature, and the Kosmos.
The myth of “other-than-me” is behind wars, rape of the planet, and all forms of human injustice. Stan Grof, in his research of extraordinary states of consciousness, says that “the psyche and consciousness of each of us is, in the last analysis, commensurate with “All-That-Is” because there are no absolute boundaries between the body/ego and the totality of existence.” Era-3 medicine and mind-body medicine is well supported by scientific studies.
Myth 3: The physical world is all there is.
Traditional science is built on the foundations of materialism — the worldview that says that anything that cannot be measured or tested in a lab or experienced by human senses or technological tools cannot exist. So, reality has been reduced into mere physical reality. Spiritual, or nonphysical reality, has no place.
This clashes with the “perennial philosophy,” that philosophical consensus spanning ages, religions, traditions, and cultures, which describes different but continuous dimensions of reality. These run from the most dense and least conscious what we’d call matter” to the least dense and most conscious, which we’d call spiritual. Interestingly enough, this extended, multidimensional model of reality is suggested by quantum theorists such as Jack Scarfetti who describes superluminal travel. Other dimensions of reality are used to explain travel that occurs faster than the speed of light the ultimate of speed limits. Or consider the work of the legendary physicist, David Bohm, with his explicate (physical) and implicate (non- physical) multidimensional model of reality.
To further corroborate this idea, Tolle refers to the Aspect Experiment in France which took place in 1982. Two once-connected quantum particles that we separated by a large distance remained connected, somehow. If one particle change, the other changed instantly. Scientists do not understand the mechanics of how this “faster-than-light-speed-travel” can occur. Some theorists suggest that this connection happen through doorways into higher dimensions.
So contrary to what those who pledge their allegiance to the traditional paradigm might think, the influential, pioneering individuals I spoke with felt that we have not reached the pinnacle of human develop ment, we are connected, rather than separate, from all of life, and that the full spectrum of consciousness encompasses both physical and a multitude of nonphysical dimensions of reality.
Tolle recalls going through a difficult period in his life, where he ceased to see the point of struggling for life. He had a deep longing for annihilation or nonexistence. It was after that moment, that Tolle began his spiritual journey. Through meditation, he learned that he was being hijacked by his mind. And he noticed that he was not alone.
The problem of humanity, according to Tolle, is deeply rooted in the mind itself (or the misidentification with mind). Our awareness drifts, and we take the path of least resistance by not being fully awake in the present. A void is created, and the time-bound mind, which was designed to be a good servant, compensates by taking the role of the master.
The modern mind is too distracted by its own creations. These creations involve things that have happened in the past, and things that we anticipate in the future. The reason why we are so invested in these thoughts is because we falsely believe that they are us. But they are not us. They are an illusion, a false “I”, generated by the unconscious.
In order to experience the real “I”, we must learn to switch off the mind, and concentrate our attention on the present moment. And the present moment is the only experience we have that is real. It is hard for us to remain in the realm of the real because the thoughts we have consist of all the things we care about. We unconsciously think about things we are attached to — relationships, money, career, health, ideas. But these attachments are dangerous to our psychic health.
The more we allow ourselves to be sucked in by our thoughts, which relate to our attachments, the less we can appreciate the beauty of the present, and the joy that can be experienced from within, as we learn to accept the present. Joy, by the way, is internally generated while pleasure is externally induced. As a society, we have become used to chasing after pleasure, while ignoring joy. We are less spiritual, and more materialistic. We are less joyful, and more unhappy.
The other thing that Tolle warns about is incurring too much psychological time rather than clock time. Clock time is time we use to deal with practical concerns. Psychological time is worrying about things that have happened or are likely to happen, which we have no control over. In a way, psychological time is lost time. It merely puts stress on us, without giving us any relief. It is just an obsessive cycle of thoughts that serve to move us out of the present moment.
If there are a few ideas that can summarize this book, they would be: 1) Adopt a stoic way of living. 2) Dissociate from your thoughts. 3) Acknowledge the importance of space. 4) Be present. 5) Do not be attached.
Below are some highlights:
Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.
I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment as “the end of suffering.” There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering.
But what’s left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you’ll have to find out for yourself.
He uses a negative definition so that the mind cannot make it into something to believe in or into a superhuman accomplishment, a goal that is impossible for you to attain. Despite this precaution, the majority of Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them, at least not in this lifetime.
The Thinking Disease
Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate “other.”
Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance. For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body, but when this process continues in disregard of the total organism, cells proliferate and we have disease.
The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.
Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by “watching the thinker,” which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.
When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door.
When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream a gap of “no-mind.” At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind.
With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being. It is not a trancelike state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth having.
The term ego means different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it who are you? It constantly projects itself into the future to ensure its continued survival and to seek some kind of release or fulfillment there.
Thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.
All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.
Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within. The very thing that gives you pleasure today will give you pain tomorrow, or it will leave you, so its absence will give you pain.
Nobody’s life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn’t it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them? The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self- created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.
Are you a habitual “waiter”? How much of your life do you spend waiting? What I call “small-scale waiting” is waiting in line at the post office, in a traffic jam, at the airport, or waiting for someone to arrive, to finish work, and so on. “Large-scale waiting” is waiting for the next vacation, for a better job, for the children to grow up, for a truly meaningful relationship, for success, to make money, to be important, to become enlightened. It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.
When you are unoccupied for a few minutes, and especially last thing at night before falling asleep and first thing in the morning before getting up, “flood” your body with consciousness. Close your eyes. Lie flat on your back. Choose different parts of your body to focus your attention on briefly at first: Then let your attention run through the body like a wave a few times, from feet to head and back again. This need only take a minute or so. After that, feel the inner body in its totality, as a single field of energy. Hold that feeling for a few minutes. Be intensely present during that time, present in every cell of your body. Don’t be concerned if the mind occasionally succeeds in drawing your attention out of the body and you lose yourself in some thought.
Another exercise: Pay very close attention to your next thought. You will notice that it takes a long time to appear. When you are alert and present, your unconscious thoughts are slow to appear.