When 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.