The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

IMG_2808When I first picked up The Power of Now, last Easter, I thought it was impenetrable New Age gibberish. I  couldn’t understand how it had become a number one best-seller, loved by everyone from Oprah (of course) to Meg Ryan, Annie Lennox to, er, Paris Hilton (who took it to jail with her, along with the Bible). In fact, I couldn’t understand it, full stop.

Despite being determined to prove that I have a greater – or at least an equal – reading ability to Miss Hilton, I gave up at around page twenty.

Sentences such as ‘It is a misperception of your essential reality that is beyond birth and death, and is due to the limitations of your mind, which, having lost touch with Being, creates the body as evidence of its illusory belief in separation and to justify its state of fear’ were too much for me.

Then there was talk of things called ‘Pain bodies’. I mean, come on, ‘Pain bodies’- what does that even mean?

Anyway, fast forward nine months and how things change. I’m now inclined to agree with Oprah when she says that Eckhart Tolle is a prophet for our times and every weirdly worded sentence reads like the truth. Actually, I might capitalise that, just for effect: ‘The Truth.’ Oh, yes.

This either means that I am now profoundly deep and ready to see the light, or I have totally and utterly fallen down the self-help/spiritual rabbit hole and will soon be chanting and clutching crystals. Maybe a bit of both.

The Power Of Now in a nutshell 

Some of you might know the story already but German-born author Eckhart Tolle was a 29-year-old graduate student living in a bedsit in North London, when he had his ‘spiritual awakening’ in 1979.

On the night it happened, he was planning to kill himself. As he puts it: ‘I couldn’t live with myself any longer.’ But it was in that moment that Tolle had an epiphany: ‘If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with. Maybe, I thought, only one of them is real. I was so stunned by this realisation that my mind stopped. I was conscious, but there were no more thoughts.’

The next day he woke up and everything was different – he was in a state of ‘uninterrupted deep peace and bliss’. That morning, he writes, ‘I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born.’

For the next two years that state of bliss remained – he gave up his studies and slept on park benches – and when his thoughts did return, they never bothered him again; he was able to step back for them, and realise that he was the ‘consciousness’ that was watching his thoughts.

He wrote the The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenmentmany years later, in 1999, and it went on to sell tens of millions of copies and be translated into thirty-odd languages. He travels the world giving lectures and eleven million people signed up to watch his online seminar series with Oprah.

His book doesn’t promise the same kind of dramatic transformation that he experienced – although it might make you want to sit on a park bench for a while – but offers us a way to step back from our thoughts, which are the cause of all our unhappiness, according to Tolle.

Why our thoughts make us unhappy

Tolle argues that most of spend most of our lives with a constant ‘voice in our heads’, that judges and interprets reality, and determines our mood. That voice in our head is often living in the past (raking over past resentments, regrets, family stories etc) or concerned about the future (we are either dreading it or looking forward to it – hoping that we’ll be happy when it’s the weekend/when we get the new job/when we find love). This voice is like a gramophone record, playing the same old songs, over and over again.

As a result, we never live in the NOW.

But Tolle argues that now, this present moment, whatever you’re doing, is the only thing that exists and that the only way to find peace and joy. These ideas will be familiar to a lot of you – it’s the essence of Zen and buddhism and a lot of other approaches, including Mindfulness.

He say that unhappiness comes from not accepting the present moment, thinking that it’s not good enough, skipping through it to get to the next thing. Or ruining it by worrying about the next thing.

But Tolle says that if you ask yourself ‘Do I have a problem right now, this minute?’, nine times out of ten the answer will be no. You might be worried about bills, about your job, about finding love but RIGHT NOW you are having a cup of tea and the house is warm and there is no problem.

He says that we might think we’re too busy to ‘focus on the moment’ but actually, it’s by slowing down, that we tap into our deeper selves and have our best ideas and make our best connections with people.

3 WAYS TO BE IN THE NOW

So how to be in the NOW? The first step is to really focus on whatever you’re doing, feel your body and breathe. Tolle suggests a few simple exercises to try today:

  • Every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement…even your breathing. Be totally present.
  • When you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sensory perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap and so on.
  • When you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence.

He says that every time we really focus on our body and what we’re doing, we are breaking those endless thought loops, and that the more often we break them, the more easily we can disassociate from our thoughts and the less power they have over us. This is a practice that we can work on for the rest of our lives. Every time we feel ourselves getting lost in our thoughts, take a deep breath, feel your body and focus on what you’re doing. It brings you back.

There’s a LOT more in the book – stuff about ego, stuff about why we hold on to negative feelings. There’s also the bigger spiritual picture about how we are all connected, all part of the same consciousness – ideas that my head struggles with at the best of times, let alone when delivered in Tolle speak, and yet it feels so comforting and true, I keep re-reading and underlining new passages.

They say that the right book finds you at the right time – and this time is definitely the right time for me. I hope you feel the same way.

Love to you all. Happy hand-washing/step-walking… Happy Now. I’m on a train to Yorkshire to write a story for Metro newspaper. We’re going through field that are dusted with snow and the sky is the clearest blue. The trees are naked and brown and beautiful. All is well. In the now.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenmentxx

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9 thoughts on “The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

  1. Anne Thorn

    Wow this really resonates with me. It is interesting to read his story which I didn’t know and it is similar to other great teachers such as John Parkin and Byron Katie. Both of them were are rock bottom and had complete break downs before having an epiphany which changed their lives and millions of others. I think it is in my bookcase sitting unread. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to follow your journey on the self help highway and so glad you didn’t just dismiss it all as rubbish and throw in the towel. I never would have survived my son’s death so well without such wisdom as this. I will definitely search the book out and read it now. Thanks and enjoy your trip

    Reply
  2. Stella

    This book worked for me too, Marianne, and continues to do so several years after I first read it (although I have the “workbook” version now which is more like a précis of the main points and easier to read for a quick reminder. I usually notice, when I am obsessing over the past or worrying over the future, that I say to myself simply, “Back to The Now!” – and that’s enough to snap me out of those dreary, repetitive and damaging thoughts. It’s an instant cure every single time and I cannot recommend it enough. I love your blog!

    Reply
  3. L

    I have had this on my to read list for months and clearly I am so in need of it. Your abridged version is so much better and so inspiring- it’s too long to explain where I am in my spiritual journey, but I needed to read your post today and I feel like I have had a mini Eckhart awakening of my own. Thank you for sharing your journey in your brilliant witty way. You are reaching so many people AND making a difference. Off to find the book now…

    Reply
  4. bob whittle

    The teachings of the Power of NOW can be very powerful especially when combined with Psalm 23. The problem you may have, is with all your scatterbrained friends and loved ones who may feel that you are being indifferent to their problems.

    Reply
  5. Sam

    Great article. I will have to dig this out the back of the drawer and attempt to read again. I think one of the things that I struggle to understand with this technique is, if we used this technique all the time, then when would we ever aspire to be anything or move forward in life? If everyone had the live in the moment mentality and didn’t focus on anything, nothing would progress. Does that make sense or am I completely missing something?

    Reply
  6. liz

    i am enjoying this book currently but have been struggling with staying in the now while raising toddlers, their “now” often take s me out of my now. i am hoping someone may have some insight that may prove helpful?

    Reply

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