According to Eckhart Tolle, the ability to disidentify with the mind is the single most vital step in the journey towards enlightenment. Though this may sound rather vague and grandiose, it’s actually a simple (albeit profound) idea. What’s more, it bears the ability to radically transform our day-to-day lives.
It comes as a central message in The Power of Now, a book which has, to date, sold upwards of three million copies and has been translated into over fifty languages. The book follows a question and answer style of format in which Tolle explains how to live a more grounded and peaceful life by harnessing the present moment.
Overall, it’s a powerful, thought-provoking read – undoubtedly, one of the most influential spiritual books of our time. You don’t need a rock garden to get something out of it, but it does call for an open mind; a openness to new ideas and a willingness to learn from one of the world’s most highly sought spiritual teachers.
Is the voice in your head really you? Tolle argues that it’s not. Instead, he labels it ‘the thinker’ – the voice belonging to your conditioned mind which, itself, is simply an accumulation of your past history and inheritance. The mistake, he writes, is choosing to identify with the thinker as, in doing so, we derive a false sense of self.
Unfortunately, this is a deeply rooted human issue. For some, the thinker is a critical, often tormenting voice in their head; for others, it may be less so. In any case, Tolle describes compulsive thinking as a dreadful affliction which the majority of us suffer from.
Rather than getting entangled in the incessant mental noise, he proposes a simple, though challenging, solution: be present as the watcher. This, in essence, is the basis of meditation. By watching our thoughts we create space between ourselves and the mental chatter; we’re able to observe the inner workings of our mind without being enslaved to it.
“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”
In our egoic mind, or the false self, Tolle says we are trapped in ‘psychological time’. This, he writes, is a “compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation.” Rather than honor and acknowledge the present moment, we fluctuate between thoughts from our past or projections for our future.
We mistakenly assume that if external circumstances were different, we’d find the piece (or peace) currently missing from our lives. Thoughts of a better future may offer us this comforting image, though as Tolle points out, they are an illusion. He explains, “the only place where true change can occur and where the past can be dissolved is the Now.”
In a similar vein, these mental projections are described as the origin of our fears. “You are here in the now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap,” Tolle writes.
Ultimately, The Power of Now isn’t a refusal to use time in the practical aspects of our life, nor is it a means to reluctantly accept that which we have the power to change. However, it is the awareness that, alongside every external pursuit, there is a parallel inner journey which lies in the present moment. “It has nothing to do with the future but everything to do with the quality of your consciousness at this moment.”
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
To accept the now is, in Tolle’s language, to harness the power of presence; to bring full attention to each passing moment, without judgement. Many people are drawn to adrenaline-fueled experiences for this very reason. In these moments, the mind’s internal dialogue is automatically silenced and they become fully present. In this state no suffering or negativity survive as one yields to, rather than opposes, the flow of life. “There is no longer any clash between the demands and expectations of your mind and what is,” he writes.
The purpose of The Power of Now is to note that this same presence is available to us all, throughout the day and in anything we do. Meditation can be a great way to slowly reintroduce it in our lives, but as Tolle suggests, it can be practiced by simply giving any routine activity our full attention. In this way, it becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to one.
In day-to-day life, acceptance of the now translates to greater peace and less reactivity. It doesn’t mean that we suppress our emotions when something goes wrong – conversely, it means to fully observe the feelings that arise in any moment, to act as the witness. With time, this becomes more natural and Tolle explains that ‘the watcher’ gradually becomes stronger and the mental formations become weaker.
All in all, The Power of Now is an important and worthwhile read. The lessons, I’d argue, are particularly relevant in today’s world, where, not only is it easy to identify with the mind, it’s now possible to curate it’s very own online profile. I say this not to bash social media, but to highlight how distracting it can be (for us all).
The Power of Now serves as an important reminder to return to the present moment and to drop self-inflicted suffering in the form of anxieties, worries, guilt and so on. By putting Tolle’s advice into practice, I believe we can live more joyful lives which will seep into, and transform, just about everything we do. I’ve made it a point to come back to this book whenever I feel distracted and caught up in my head.