Eckart Tolle
The Power of Now

The Power of Now

A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

by Eckart Tolle, 258 pages

Finished on 12th of June
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The past and future are imaginary products within our brains and all we’ll ever have is the present moment. So far, so good. But what else is there in this bestseller book? How can its wisdom be applied and is it wisdom, even?

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Since the present moment is all we ever get to experience as human beings, we should attach more significance to it and think less about the past and worry less about the future but not disregarding both.
  2. Letting go of regrets and anxieties helps us to live a more fulfilling and happy life, less identification with our own thoughts and the pain from our past help us find a deeper connection to our selves.
  3. Accepting the present, reducing resistance to unchangeable life situations, and the positive meaning of surrender as being active engagement with unfavorable surroundings will bring peace and clarity.

🎨 Impressions

This is a book from the category of somewhat esoteric self-help. And it’s such a weird and unusual one, I was increasingly perplexed it sold five million copies as I read on. For my taste, this is a 2/5 stars book at best. It has one single point and its advice is mostly of the type to “just get over your problems” – in the sense of saying to a person suffering from depression to just stop being depressed. Great, thanks.

It was first published in 1997, nearly thirty years ago, so it has been a while and the genre has had seen lots of improvements over the years. Looking up the author did not make me feel better about the book, unfortunately. Eckart Tolle is a German-born Canadian with a mixed past of some academic success but also some questionable life choices.

Why was the book this successful? Five years after its initial publication, a person named Oprah Winfrey got her hands on it, read it, and for some reason, loved it. When she embraced the book publicly, millions followed her. So this is a strong reason for the high number of sales and maybe doesn’t reflect the contents of the book perfectly. It might have been more of a viral moment.

The book has a spiritual core and that’s not wrong or bad in any way if it’s done in a modest way that’s focused on helping people. The first time I raised my eyebrows was when Tolle started taking a few quotes from well-known philosophers and just disregarded them in an unpleasant arrogant way. For example, he just takes Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead.” quote out of context and just claims Nietzsche didn’t understand and wasn’t as smart as himself. Or Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” which gets the same treatment as some of Freud’s quotes, bits of Jesus and also Einstein. He then just goes ahead and describes the way meditation is done while sounding like he just invented it himself. At that point I found him insufferable and delusional.

What’s weird as well is how he uses his updated Foreword of the book to say that over the years the critics who described the book as full of “mumbo jumbo” just didn’t get it. That’s a bad argument. I think if so many people say what you’ve written sounds like mumbo jumbo, you didn’t do a good job writing it. And after having read about 10% of the book, I do mostly agree that there’s a high percentage of mumbo jumbo. Made-up redefinitions for words, long sentences which sound grand but have absolutely no substance to them, and many situations where he just casually dismisses ancient wisdom like the classic Buddhist statement “life is suffering”. Then he tells you that you can’t and shouldn’t make sense of some bits he just said, because it can’t be done. What is that? Seems to be pointless then to say it at all.

The inspiration for writing this book hit him suddenly over night, he claims, and he just started seeing everything clearly and was deeply at peace suddenly. Sounds to me like the origin story of many cults. Thou shalt not have any other gods except for Eckart Tolle!

Here’s an example of a sentence that doesn’t have any real meaning in my opinion. But maybe I just don’t get it, who knows.

So if you take your attention deeply into the inner body, you may reach this point, this singularity, where the world dissolves into the Unmanifested and the Unmanifested takes on form as the energy stream of chi, which then becomes the world.

Do with that what you will.

For me, reading this book was especially challenging because I just came from reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus”, a highly rational book about our current and projected state of science in the fields of consciousness, medical advancements, and societal trends. One of Harari’s points is that scientists currently have accepted that there is no evidence for such a thing as the “mind” or the “soul” – human brains are just machines which run highly complex algorithms. There are several interesting experiments which show this to be true, as far as we can say right now. Sure, there’s always a bit of doubt – humans have been wrong before – but what Tolle does here is just claim things and dismiss others without any evidence whatsoever. If that’s not an exercise in cognitive dissonance I don’t know what is.

In two separate chapters, he starts talking about the female menstruation cycle and how it makes women closer to spirituality. Not only is it hard to take if a man who’s not a doctor talks about menstruation, but he’s also clearly confusing correlation with causality. Again, no evidence, he’s just making things up. At that point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he were to sell some sort of electrodes treatment at highly inflated prices or tried to sign us readers up for his new church.

Then, the form of the book. He structured the book in chapters and within those he goes over the topics by asking himself questions he claims he has gotten from people and then answering those. And his answers are sometimes starting out rude, e.g. “No, you’re wrong and clearly don’t get it!” or they are ending with sentences like: “I know what you’re going to ask next!” – what a cheap trick, it reminded me of The E-Myth Revisited, another book written by a delusional author who thinks of himself as a higher being.

Okay, now that I have that criticism out of my system, there is actually a bunch of good life advice in the book which is helpful. It’s cleverly hidden between the number of pages, but it’s there. I’ve highlighted it all for you to enjoy at the end of these thoughts, as always. The good thing is, the quotes stand for themselves and don’t require any additional explanation. That’s definitely a plus.

The focus on making the reader into an actor, someone who can act on their own terms and has the power within them to take matters into their own hands, is a positive aspect that might have convinced a few readers of this book’s message.

There’s a chapter about the vastness of space on the one end and the vastness of relative space at the tiny atomic scale on the other, which is actually scientifically accurately described. Tolle tries to make a point that emptiness and nothingness are prevalent in everything. As far as we know, at the subatomic level, we just have tiny areas of oscillating energy surrounded by vast amounts of nothing, which then makes up matter at the larger scale. This is super weird but actually our current understanding of physics. He doesn’t do anything with that information, though. A possible point to make would have been that everything is mostly empty and meaningless, and since we’re small and insignificant in a universe we don’t really understand we should therefore try to enjoy the time on Earth, do good deeds to care for our descendants, keep exploring, and attach less importance to everything. He doesn’t, though. It’s a missed opportunity.

His points about meditation, awareness and mindfulness – being present for what’s happening right now, definitely also resonate. Even more so these days with the constant distractions around us. His book was published long before the smartphones took over. Maybe he was an early proponent of that, and if so I have to give him credit for it. Is it better though to disregard your past experience and focus less on your plans for the future in favor of always being present in the Now? I don’t think so. In my opinion it’s all tightly connected and it’s actually the special thing about us humans that we can draw so much from our past and do so many cool things if we make plans for the future. Tolle uses this argument the other way around: He says if we look at other animals we can see that the present is all they have, so we should live like that as well. Why? That argument reminded me of the classic meat-eater argument, that because lions eat meat it must be natural, so humans should, too. The lion is a lion, we are humans. If we have the option to decide for ourselves, draw knowledge from past generations and use our imagination to form and then manifest great ideas about the future, why should we just disregard this in favor of living in the present at all times like animals do?

Of course he is right when he’s saying that there is only the present and that’s all there ever can be experienced. The past and future are both imaginary and just reside within our brains. Sure. That doesn’t make them unhelpful per se. The future and past have the power to guide our present decisions, and while he does say this, I think he doesn’t acknowledge the power which that holds in positively influencing someone’s life. I almost feel like someone should write a book titled “The Power of Past and Future”.

📔 Highlights

I understood that the intense pressure of suffering that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from its identification with the unhappy and deeply fearful self, which is ultimately a fiction of the mind.

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.

The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity — the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.

This is the essence of meditation. In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself.

What characterizes an addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure that invariably turns into pain.

You can then allow the emotion to be there without being controlled by it. You no longer are the emotion; you are the watcher, the observing presence.

All cravings are the mind seeking salvation or fulfillment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being.

The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life. Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.

“Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light, and whatever is exposed to the light itself becomes light.” Just as you cannot fight the darkness, you cannot fight the pain-body. Trying to do so would create inner conflict and thus further pain. Watching it is enough. Watching it implies accepting it as part of what is at that moment.

Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.

Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it — don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you.

Once you have understood the basic principle of being present as the watcher of what happens inside you — and you “understand” it by experiencing it — you have at your disposal the most potent transformational tool.

If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die.

Power over others is weakness disguised as strength.

Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death.

Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now.

The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities, such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now — that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality.

You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory.

Any lesson from the past becomes relevant and is applied now. Any planning as well as working toward achieving a particular goal is done now.

If you found yourself in paradise, it wouldn’t be long before your mind would say “yes, but. . . .” Ultimately, this is not about solving your problems. It’s about realizing that there are no problems.

Why are you always anxious? Jesus asked his disciples. “Can anxious thought add a single day to your life?” And the Buddha taught that the root of suffering is to be found in our constant wanting and craving.

Either stop doing what you are doing, speak to the person concerned and express fully what you feel, or drop the negativity that your mind has created around the situation and that serves no purpose whatsoever except to strengthen a false sense of self.

Are you polluting the world or cleaning up the mess? You are responsible for your inner space; nobody else is, just as you are responsible for the planet.

Many patterns in ordinary unconsciousness, on the other hand, can simply be dropped once you know that you don’t want them and don’t need them anymore, once you realize that you have a choice, that you are not just a bundle of conditioned reflexes.

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.

If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences. No excuses. No negativity. No psychic pollution. Keep your inner space clear.

So give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting . . . snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be, and enjoy being. If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything.

The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That’s all there ever is.

Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Then become very alert and wait for the next thought.

If it weren’t for alcohol, tranquilizers, antidepressants, as well as the illegal drugs, which are all consumed in vast quantities, the insanity of the human mind would become even more glaringly obvious than it is already. I believe that, if deprived of their drugs, a large part of the population would become a danger to themselves and others. These drugs, of course, simply keep you stuck in dysfunction.

Do not fight against the body, for in doing so you are fighting against your own reality. You are your body.

Every physical object or body has come out of nothing, is surrounded by nothing, and will eventually return to nothing. Not only that, but even inside every physical body there is far more “nothing” than “something.” Physicists tell us that the solidity of matter is an illusion. Even seemingly solid matter, including your physical body, is nearly 100 percent empty space — so vast are the distances between the atoms compared to their size. What is more, even inside every atom there is mostly empty space. What is left is more like a vibrational frequency than particles of solid matter, more like a musical note.

Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain.

[Judge] yourself; then you stop judging your partner. The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way.

Learn to give expression to what you feel without blaming. Learn to listen to your partner in an open, nondefensive way. Give your partner space for expressing himself or herself. Be present. Accusing, defending, attacking — all those patterns that are designed to strengthen or protect the ego or to get its needs met will then become redundant.

A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth. It is the belief that other people and what they did to you are responsible for who you are now, for your emotional pain or your inability to be your true self.

When you have a relationship with yourself, you have split yourself into two: “I” and “myself,” subject and object. That mind-created duality is the root cause of all unnecessary complexity, of all problems and conflict in your life. In the state of enlightenment, you are yourself — “you” and “yourself” merge into one. You do not judge yourself, you do not feel sorry for yourself, you are not proud of yourself, you do not love yourself, you do not hate yourself, and so on.

Seen from a higher perspective, conditions are always positive. To be more precise: they are neither positive nor negative. They are as they are. And when you live in complete acceptance of what is — which is the only sane way to live — there is no “good” or “bad” in your life anymore.

Negativity is totally unnatural. It is a psychic pollutant, and there is a deep link between the poisoning and destruction of nature and the vast negativity that has accumulated in the collective human psyche. No other life-form on the planet knows negativity, only humans, just as no other life-form violates and poisons the Earth that sustains it.

When you accept what is, every piece of meat — every moment — is the best. That is enlightenment.

One of the most powerful spiritual practices is to meditate deeply on the mortality of physical forms, including your own. This is called: Die before you die.

It may look as if the situation is creating the suffering, but ultimately this is not so — your resistance is.

If you cannot accept the external condition, accept the internal condition. This means: Do not resist the pain. Allow it to be there. Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.

When there is no way out, there is still always a way through. So don’t turn away from the pain. Face it. Feel it fully. Feel it — don’t think about it!

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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