According to the Ekchart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, all our problems come from living in the future or living in the past.
The only thing that can defeat us is our mind – if we let her that is!
So many of us suffer from addiction, anger, anxiety, depression, and obsessions. This is because we’re too busy worrying about the future or past. We think about what you could have done better or differently, about what we don’t have or what we have lost, and we spiral out of control that way. The only way to gain back control is to focus on the now.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a guide to spiritual enlightenment and a perfect book for this fast-paced world. The mind is a powerful tool, but you give it too much power, it takes over the show. We have been given the tools, power, and resources inside ourselves to combat all the externalities – if these tools and resources don’t end up controlling our life.
Focusing on the now is about forgiving yourself for decisions that you’ve made in the past and understanding that now you can make different decisions. No matter what is going on, no matter what types of challenges you have, life is always evolving. Panta Rei the ancient Greeks used to say – everything flows.
So, you never have to worry about what has already happened and how that’s affecting this moment or about what will happen and how that will affect your life. The present is the only time existing, the only life really happening for you. The author also talks about understanding in each present moment where you can make a better choice by listening to and following your heart. Everything might as well happen for a reason. But you also must take ownership of your actions. A big part of that means understanding that you have the power. You make the decision. Things will start working for you when you stand up and trust yourself.
Tolle writes that there are two things in our lives that cause pain – the pain body and the thinking body. In the pain body, you experience pain in your life. It can be emotional pain or physical pain. But experiencing pain doesn’t mean you need to identify yourself with it and let it become who you are. The same thing with the thinking body, you don’t need to identify yourself with your thoughts and let your thoughts controlling you.
You don’t need to identify with your mind if it keeps spiralling out of control. You can separate yourself from it by focusing on the now.
It’s tough to do this in today’s society because our whole lives are built up that way: planning, achieving, being measured on goals etc. When you’re young, you’re worried about getting to college, getting a good job, what family you’ll live in and so goes on in adulthood with mortgages, debts, children, sickness…
As Tolle puts it:
“We’re not human becoming. We’re human beings”
You don’t have to worry about the fruits of your actions. You must worry about the action. If you put your effort and attention into the action, everything that comes after it will be what you want it to be and if not, you’ll know you have done your best and have no regrets.
“The source of abundance is intention. What you put out is what you will receive”
So instead of worrying about what you cannot do and not be fully present now, give your attention to what you can do. The power of now is about doing what you can, being aware of what you have and understand your inner strength and resources.
The underlying principle is the ability to disconnect from the mind. By freeing yourself from the mind and its tendency to relive the painful past and worry about the future you can achieve this. Tolle suggests practicing present listening, observing, and listening to the mind itself. The more you listen to your mind, the easier it shall be to recognize when she is the one in control rather than you.
Most human pain is self-created and therefore unnecessary. The past has no power over the present moment, but our mind keeps going back to it. Studying your mind in the present will give you an immense sense of awareness.
Once you start becoming aware of the mind as it creates the ego, the false self it uses to replace your true being, you become free. Being free from the ego is essential to experiencing the now and being happy. The ego has a ceaseless string of needs which he creates out of fear. It lives in a constant state of need, material and psychological.
Further, to end the delusion of time, we must stop identifying ourselves with our mind and the compulsion to experience our lives through memory. The now is the only point that can take you beyond the limited confines of the mind. Your only point of access to the timeless and formless realm of being – according to Tolle, the key to spirituality.
So, the key here, is you are not your mind. You are the observer of your thoughts.
So how can we benefit from the thinking mind? The most obvious one is meditation. You can become present by focusing on all the minor details of the mundane things around you such as your breathing, sensations, and sounds you hear, things you normally wouldn’t pick up on. If you give those your full attention, you stop using your mind because it’s impossible to be thinking about something when you’re focused on something else.
When your body is here in the present moment, which is always, and your mind is not in the present moment but projected in some future moment that doesn’t truly exist, you create a gap between your body being here and now and your mind being elsewhere. Tolle calls this the anxiety gap.
Another key point in this book is what Tolle calls the pain body – the accumulation of the pain and mental suffering that we’ve built up in our lives. The problem comes when you identify with this pain, which becomes a part of your identity because subconsciously, you don’t want to let go of that pain. It is because it would mean ruining your entire identity, letting go of who you are.
Along those same lines, the author also warns not to identify with a mental position in an argument. If you do this, your mind-based sense of self will be destroyed if you lose the argument. As long as you don’t tie your self-worth into opinions, you can be OK with being wrong.
“The past and future are like the moon. They have no true light but only reflect the light of the sun”
The now is all we have. It is the source of everything. Then the past and the future are simply a reflection, as the moon is only a reflection of the sun’s light. If you’re experiencing unease, anxiety, tension, stress, or worry, you’re thinking too much about the future.
If you’re experiencing guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, or non-forgiveness, you’re overthinking in the past. If you depend on the future for fulfilment and satisfaction, you are overthinking in the future.
Neither failure nor success can change your inner state of being. You have found the life underneath your life situation as there is a big difference between life and life situations.
You live in a family have a car, have a job, but that’s not your life – just your life situation. Whenever you’re tapped into presence, whenever you are here and now, feeling the aliveness in your body, that is your life.
“When your deeper sense of self is derived from being exactly where you are, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends on the outcome and there is freedom from fear”.
Learning to be more present will help you eliminate the perpetual discontent that characterizes ordinary unconsciousness. First realize your inner purpose, and then the outer purpose becomes a game you play because you enjoy it. Every outer purpose is bound to fail somehow due to the law of impermanence. Don’t try to find fulfilment from your outer purpose such as getting the job you want or buying a bigger car.
Presence isn’t something that you can mentally understand. It’s something you have to feel and experience. The opposite of being present would be to identify yourself with your ego-mind. incidentally the collective ego-mind is the most dangerously insane and destructive entity ever to inhabit this planet, think of genocides, terrorism, and war. If we were truly present and truly rooted in the now and loving each other the way we should be, none of that stuff would happen.
So here he’s reemphasizing the fact that being present is very important. It is because if you’re not, you’re going to be ruled by your primitive mind (also called emotional or unconscious mind), and you’re going to act in inappropriate ways.
Being in the present is finding stillness. To find stillness, a good way is to listen to the silence underneath and in between the sounds. When meditating, many people listen to the sounds, not the silence between the sounds.
“Learning to listen to the silence in between the sounds”
Normally, you think that if you have a thought, you are that thought. But if instead, you see yourself as this blank canvas through which that thought came, you can observe it without judging it and let it go. That will make your life so much easier.
He also says that too many people identify themselves solely with their physical and psychological images, which are unstable and temporary – causing them to live in fear. For example, we have this false sense of self based on what job we have. Those things are all forms and in one way or another, impermanent. Something could happen to them. We could lose that job or crash that car… The world of form and material things is all a distraction out there, enlightenment is to transcend it.
Physical and emotional violence is common in many romantic relationships and that’s because deriving your sense of self from others is dangerous. It can be hard for a normal person to live with a fully present person because the ego feeds on problems, meaning that the peaceful person is a threat.
The ego-driven person will debate trivial issues to disrupt the peace or continually refer to past incidents to pull them out of the present. However, it’s OK even if one person becomes more enlightened than the other in a relationship. At least that enlightened person learns to stop judging, criticizing, and trying to change the other person. They also end up disrupting otherwise endless cycles like debates that never conclude.
Beyond happiness and unhappiness, there is peace and that’s what we should seek. You can’t be happy when a loved one dies, but you can be at peace by not resisting it and accepting it. Everything on Earth is impermanent and comes in cycles, which is another reason not to attach your self-worth or happiness to external forms. Here’s another great analogy.
“Be like a deep lake. The lake’s surface is your life situation, sometimes calm, sometimes rough, and affected by the environment. However, the lake is always undisturbed”
Being enlightened changes the world. You become the light of the world and give off good vibes. If there’s one more enlightened person out of a group, a fight isn’t going to go anywhere because the enlightened person will diffuse that situation.
You must see mind identification as an illness that most people have with varying degrees. That way, you’ll never resent them. The only appropriate response is compassion. So the lesson here is pretty much that we are all unenlightened to some extent. We all make our mistakes, and we need to be aware of that and treat each other with compassion and not judge each other.
Eckhart Tolle: born Ulrich Leonard Tölle, is a German-born spiritual teacher and self-help author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. After being recommended by Oprah Winfrey, his first book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, reached The New York Times Best Seller list in 2000, which was followed eight years later by the book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.