A modern masterpiece of spiritual writing, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment was first published in Canada. Released in the United States, it became a sleeper hit and made Eckhart Tolle into a sought-after teacher.
While the majority of spiritual and New Age writings contain ethereal concepts for 'achieving transcendence' and working towards 'enlightenment', The Power of Now is intensely focused on the problems you have today and the person you are at this moment. It is perhaps the most practical of any self-help, success or spiritual classic because it denies our usual tendency to imagine some bright future without ever really coming to grips with the present.
The book is also a masterful synthesis of ideas from Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism and other traditions, satisfying our twenty-first century desire to think outside the boxes of conventional religion, and recognizing that ultimately it all says the same thing.
Tolle's immersion in spiritual texts came only after he had glimpsed their truth in a flash of enlightenment at the age of 29. His recounting of this scene in the first few pages, reminiscent of some of the great spiritual autobiographies, leads us into the work, which takes the form of questions and answers. The author's sudden transformation from self-loathing to lasting inner peace and joy may be difficult to believe at first, but it is worth reading on.
You are not your mind
Our civilization is built upon the achievements of the mind, Tolle says, and many of them are remarkable. We are naturally apt to confuse the mind, in its constantly thinking state, as being us. However, there is a 'Being-ness' behind the mind, he discovered, which really is the 'I'; by getting in tune with it, we can control our thoughts and put our emotions into perspective.
Until you have control of your mind, it controls you. The mind has continual conversations with itself that are difficult to turn off. It has lots of opinions, but they are all based on what has happened in the past. This makes it difficult to experience things afresh in the present. Today is never as good as the great times to come, or the ones that were.
You have probably come to believe that this constantly thinking voice is 'you' but in fact it is only part of who you are. We are addicted to thinking, Tolle says, because by getting us to think all the time the ego gives us a sense of identity. Yet continual thinking prevents us from enjoying simply being, of enjoying the moment.
How do we free ourselves of compulsive thinking? Begin by putting the mind into perspective by 'watching' what it says and thinks, being a witness to the rolling seas of thought and emotion that you experience every day. You will of course continue to use your thinking mind to solve problems and survive, but by getting some objectivity from it and embracing the 'you' behind it, Tolle says, you are taking the single most important step towards enlightenment. When you can be still and shut off your thinking mind, if only for a moment, you will get a burst of appreciation for the present and for everything around you, and you will feel whole.
A new life of now-ness
Given the way our minds usually work, to access the state of 'now' may seem very difficult. However, just the acknowledgment to ourselves that it does exist will help us to increase the amount of time we are fully 'awake'. We can admit to ourselves that, for example, in the last hour we were totally swept up by an emotion or thoughts of worry or regret. We can admit that we couldn't 'turn off'. Every time we recognize we were not living in the present, the chances that we may in the future increases. Tolle suggests that you get more into the 'now' through the routines of everyday life: washing your hands, sitting in your car, walking up steps, breathing - be aware of all of these movements. If they are mechanical and automatic, you are not fully experiencing the present.
Tolle's basic law is that the more we resist our current situation, the more painful it is. Obviously, if we are thinking "This can't be happening", the fact that it is makes it unbearable. Waiting and looking forward to the day when you will be happy or prosperous, for instance, only makes resistance to the present situation stronger. The thought that we could be somewhere else, be with someone else, doing something else can turn our life into a living hell. Is there a way out? The author provides a paradoxical solution: you have to forgive the situation and accept its right to be; even if you hate the situation, accept your hatred as part of it, but don't keep saying to yourself, 'This is not happening, this can't be'.
The present moment, Tolle dares us to consider, is actually problem-free. Problems need to exist in time, so the more you live in the present the less life you give them. He asks us to withhold judgment about situations, so that instead of an event being good or bad it just is. Hold the fear and loathing for a second, and you will find that a solution emerges.
Relationships of presence
In a chapter on enlightened relationships, Tolle observes that "most 'love relationships' become love/hate relationships before long". It is considered normal that we switch suddenly from love and affection to savage hostility and back again; as the saying goes, can't live with a person, can't live without them. We believe that if we could just get rid of the negative states all would be well, but Tolle says this can never happen. Both polarities of love and hate are dependent upon each other, merely "different aspects of the same dysfunction."
When we are in love, the other person makes us feel whole, but the downside is a growing addictiveness to this individual and the horror of any possibility of losing them. The purpose of real, long-term relationships, Tolle says, is not to make you happy or fulfilled; they are to bring out the pain within you so it can be transmuted. They can make you more conscious, and if you can accept this you can move to another level, and the relationship will flower naturally, free of your unreal expectations. If your current relationship seems like an 'insane drama', instead of trying to escape from it, go into it more deeply and accept the fact. Accept Tolle's assertion is that close relationships have never been more difficult that they are now, yet they also present possibly the greatest opportunities for spiritual advancement.
Rather than presenting some grand scheme for success, The Power of Now asks us to be more present in the minutiae of everyday life, to see if we can make every moment mean something. What is regret but that we were not more fully present in a situation, to see the way things were moving, or to be more 'there' in a relationship now lost?
Some forms of mental illness involve an inability to shut off internal conversations. In contrast, a person in the fullest mental health will have the ability to quiet the mind, and from this stillness access the true state of Being which offers up perfect solutions to our problems. Though it has the style of personal revelation common to many spiritual classics, The Power of Now seems new, even revolutionary, and amid all the contemporary self-help, success and spiritual classics it is one of the most practical books for changing your life in a sustainable way.
Be sure to read this book, if you acquire it, more than once. The writing style is beautifully clear, so on first reading you may think you have 'got the message', but the work is only fully realized when its teachings are put into practice.