“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is the ultimate self-help book in which you are encouraged to bring your mind to consciousness, the present moment and to let go of the illusions of past and future. After all, you only really ever get this moment. I am glad I read this book and am already practicing honing in on the present but I will be completely honest the thought never crossed my mind to pick up this book until I had seen it on a list of the twenty-five best self-help books. I am glad I did though and can honestly say “The Power of Now” has the power to change your life and the way you view it.
Tolle explains that there are two levels to your pain that you are harboring: the pain you create now and the pain from the past. He believes you can eliminate this pain and suffering by accepting what is:
“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgement. On the emotional level it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment…The mind always seeks to deny the Now and to escape from it…The more you are able to honor and accept the Now, the more you are free of pain, of suffering” (Tolle 33) Tolle outlines the cause of emotional pain and suffering as a resistance to the present moment.
People will continue to suffer this emotional burden of pain if they continue to cover up the present moment with the past. People tend to “ignore or deny that precious moment or reduce it to a means of getting to some future moment, which only exists in the mind, never in actuality” (Tolle 34). The main cause of emotional pain is the fixation on the past or future which do not exist. How many times have we wallowed about what has been instead of focusing on what is? I know, I for one, have gotten caught up in my past and my failings such as the loss of a job or relationship and do not accept it for what it is and let go. I hold on to that pain because it’s what I know. It’s a comfortable pain since I can expect it and depend on it but rather I could be focusing on the Now, the potential of this moment. I could be doing something positive for my life circumstance in the present such as researching schools and reapplying to programs in the area, instead of getting caught up on my past of being forced to drop out from University years ago.
The past is an illusion, it’s already come to pass and so it no longer exists. The future is also an illusion that simply exists in the mind and never actually coming to fruition. I could become anxious about the future and how maybe I will fail again at school so easily, overcome by dark fantasies. The fact of the matter is that has not happened and save me the “yet” because it very well may never. The only thing that matters is the present because it is in the present that you can take action. There is no sense being anxious about a situation you have literally created in your head, now that’s just insanity.
The following statements from Tolle are a bit of a mind-fuck but it illustrates my point and he says it better than I could ever get it across myself: “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now. What you think of the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind of a former Now. When you think about the future, you do it now” (Tolle 50).
Tolle also discusses doing things in the Now without looking for a future reward and simply enjoying the moment. He claims that when you do this your attention will be more focused on the task at hand and therefore you will carry it out more effectively: “As soon as you honour the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve , and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love – even the most simple action” (Tolle 68). When you do something for the sake of doing it, you no longer add the pretense or pressure of a future outcome from it. Simply doing becomes more enjoyable and brings an inner peace not found before. When you focus and hone in on the present moment, you are living your life to its fullest potential and doing so with grace.
Tolle states that: “When the compulsive striving away from the Now ceases, the joy of Being flows into everything you do. The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. Neither failure nor success has the power to change your inner state of Being” (Tolle 68). By accessing the Now, you access peace, peace from emotional suffering. You become more in tune with yourself and less run by your incessant thoughts. Failure no longer has power over you because you accept what is and move past that. You become whole.
The book itself is posed in a question and answer format with questions from Tolle’s seminars, meditation classes, and private counseling sessions. The answers are provided obviously by Tolle. The question that struck me the most while reading this book was the following: “In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?” This question raises a good point because if we were truly content and “whole” why change the moment by striving for something more?
Tolle’s answer is profound: “Of course, but you will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy. As far as your life situation is concerned, there may be things to be attained or acquired. That’s
the world of form, of gain and loss. Yet on a deeper level you are already complete, and when you realize that, there is a playful, joyous, energy behind what you do. Being free of psychological time, you no longer pursue your goals with grim determination driven by fear, anger, discontent, or the need to become someone. Nor will you remain
inactive through fear of failure, which to the ego is loss of self. When your deeper sense of self is derived from Being , when you are free of “becoming” as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends on the outcome ” (Tolle 69).
When you are ever present in the present moment you do not hold on to past resentments towards people and things that happened in your life that led you to this moment and current life situation. You will also not idealize the future as some place where you have what you want or think you need for you will be in the moment, accepting that moment for what it is. You are already complete (let that sink in), you are meant to be where you are, in this moment. When you realize this you will feel the joy Tolle is describing or “happiness” as it were.
Tolle also raises a good point that people seem to be in a perpetual state of waiting, waiting to start living their life: “Waiting is a state of mind. Basically it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got , and you
want what you haven’t got. For example many people are waiting for prosperity. It cannot come in the future. When you honor, acknowledge and fully
accept your present reality – where you are, who you are, what you are doing right now – when you fully accept what you have got, you are grateful for what you have got, grateful for what is, grateful for being” (Tolle 86).
You are grateful for Being when you do not look to the future for things that can be attained to make your life seem better. Accept what you have already got and you will be infinitely happier. It’s not a new concept since people have been spouting this perspective for years, decades even – to be grateful for what you have and to not focus on what you do not. I find writing a Gratitude Journal each day helps with this and it doesn’t need to be lengthy. Write down three things you are grateful for today. I’ll start: I am grateful for my ears so I can hear the lovely Russell Brand narrating his book “Recovery” on the audiotape I have, I am grateful for the taste of coffee and appreciate it immensely, and finally I am grateful for the relationships I have currently in my life that have showed me so much love. When you take the time to write three things out, you realize wow, there really are things in my life in which to be grateful even if they are the simple things like the taste of coffee. Another thing is to remember that there is someone out there envying your life. And yes you heard me right! There is someone, somewhere, envying your life no matter how much you think it’s mundane or problem-riddled. At least your love one is not going off to a war you’re unsure they will ever return from, At least you live in a country with basic freedoms and rights. Think about that when you’re busy regretting your past or looking to the future for some ideal life that is but an illusion.
So the question becomes, How do we ground ourselves in the present moment? How do we bring our consciousness to the Now? Tolle offers some advice and strategies for such a thing: “To become conscious of Being, you need to reclaim consciousness of the mind…A very effective way of doing this is simply to take the focus of your attention away from thinking and direct it into the body” (Tolle 110). He further elaborates a way in which you can focus on your body as a gateway to the Now: “Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs and feet – in your abdomen, your chest?…Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start to think about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it , the clearer and stronger this feeling will become. It will feel as if every cell is becoming
more alive” (Tolle 112).
If you connect to your body in this manner and reflect on it, you are brought into the Now. The stream of unconsciousness, or rather your incessant thinking will quiet. Your attention will be on the current moment and what your body is feeling such as the sharp intake of air and exhale of recycled air. This connection to your body is a channel to the present moment. Tolle says that while doing this: “thoughts and emotions, fears and desires, may still be there to some extent, but they won’t take you over” (Tolle 117).
The mind is conditioned by the past and can become stuck in it, denying the Now. The mind dislikes and ignores the present moment because it is caught in a trap of the familiar, the past. Even if the past was full of pain or it brings pain to think about, the mind will continue to focus and re-create it because it is familiar. The mind would rather deal with the known (the pain) than something unknown because that is scary due to the lack of control one has over something unknown. That unknown, however, and embrace of the present moment could be and no arguably is, the gateway to freedom from pain. It is insanity to keep trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So embrace Now, be grateful for Now and who you are in this present moment. Let go of the past and future for they do not truly exist in this moment. They are but fathoms of your conditioned mind. Embrace the Now, because it is truly all you get. Tomorrow may never come and that is a reality some find hard to admit.
I am ending this blog post with the last few lines of “The Power of Now” and which sum up perfectly the point I am trying to get across: “When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. You do not need it anymore. Presence is the key. The Now is the key.” (Tolle 229).