Book Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” Especially so, methinks, when it comes to the business of getting enlightened.

The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle was a book I had heard about on and off but never got around to it. But I am ever so glad I did. It is in a question-answer format based on the authors talks and the questions he was asked. The few main concepts appear repeatedly throughout the chapters only to drive the point home so the reader really gets it. Tolle, from time to time, quotes from the New Testament, Zen, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism asserting that his teaching is nothing new and is already present in the teachings of the major world religions.

I listened to the audiobook that worked best in my situation where taking time out specifically to read was not working out. The authors calm voice would even put me to sleep, if I was listening lying down after the days work! Ha! But the best part of  an audiobook is I play it over and over while I’m doing work around the house as against picking up the book to read all over again.

The Main Ideas:

1) You are NOT your thoughts
This plants a seed in us of the concept that thoughts are an independent thing separate from the One who is observing them.

I found it interesting how the mind (and the thoughts it generates) were significantly dwarfed in comparison to the much higher concept of its Owner. The mind is more or less like a limb or the eyes, very important, yet but a part of the whole. Unfortunately, a majority of the world is suffering from the epidemic of “incessant thinking” and the mind has taken over its Master, the Self.

2) Time and the mind is one and the same thing
Imagine the Earth devoid of human life, inhabited only by plants and animals. The question “What time is it?” or “What’s the date ?” would be quite meaningless. The oak tree or the eagle would be bemused by such a question. “What time?” they would ask. “Well, of course, it’s now. What else is there?” The predominance of mind is no more than a stage in the evolution of consciousness. We need to go on to the next stage now as a matter of urgency lest the human race destroy itself.

The eternal ‘Present’ is the space within which ones whole life unfolds. Life is now. The past is a memory trace stored in the mind of a former Now. The future is an imagined Now and when the future comes, it comes as the Now.

3) All teachings are but signposts
All spiritual teachings only point to the one Reality that can not be described in the realm of words of any language. People might talk endlessly about ‘God’ without ever knowing or experiencing the Reality that the word points to.

Reminds me of how it is said beautifully in the Tao Te Ching about the Tao (the mysterious Way of the universe): those who know do not speak of it, those who speak do not know!

4) Emotional Pain Body
This is an autonomous entity in itself residing in us that is formed by pain experienced and accumulated the past and present. It feeds on pain and wants to survive by either suffering or inflicting pain on oneself or others. To acknowledge and observe it in oneself is the beginning of its end. A nice piece in the Huffington Post here.

This concept is of significance (and could be very helpful) in intimate relationships, as that’s where one can see the pain body awaken and create trouble.

5) Inner Body
In the past seekers have held the body as a hurdle to getting to enlightenment. Like the Buddha himself, who subject his body to extremes for six years trying to transcend it and realized that it was futile. Tolle says that the body is in fact the key to getting to the Pure Consciousness or Being through what he calls the Inner Body, which is the energy field within that gives life to the physical body. He gives some ways to connect with the inner body: observing the silence without that takes you to the stillness within, concentrating on ones breath, paying total attention to routine mundane activities.

My take:
Tolle has put some abstract concepts into words skillfully. The best part about the book is that enlightenment, or ones journey towards it, does not necessarily have to be something in the distant future only after years of meditation. He shows how to experience eternity right now, as now is all there is. I really found it quite encouraging.

I experienced that ‘shift in consciousness’, if you will, when I felt that eternity in the Now with my complete presence and the absence of any thought mostly with and around Nature. It truly is beyond thoughts or words – the peace, the ecstacy. That was the coolest part. Though it might last for a short time before a thought barges in to label this ‘state’. I think we all have glimpsed it, aware or unawares, one time or the other. I have been doing meditation, or attempting it for some time now, and honestly, I don’t know what exactly am I to do with my eyes closed. I’ve read a lot of literature on it. But only a handful of times have I come out of it and felt close to how it ‘should be’. That said, being fully present every moment is meditation without having to sit in solitude, cross legged and eyes closed- something impossible for me with preschooler and a toddler!

Lord Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita tells Arjuna to put in the best and 100% in any work (fully present), not expecting the fruits of it (not thinking) but surrendering it to The Lord. This can happen when one is fully present. Conversely, being fully present brings a sort of loving detachment with the work done, as prescribed by Lord Krishna. Well, at least I see it that way!

Most of us are book hoarders in varying degrees. It gives a sense of “owning” the wisdom in them. But the best way is really to take the concepts from great books, internalize them (i.e. go beyond the intellectual stimulation and academic discussion), and most importantly practice to make them a part of you. That would be, in the truest sense, owning them forever. The Power of Now is a great book with wisdom that comes from experience.

A handshake with heights…

The other day, as we were about to leave from the gym after a workout, Prabhaker pointed to the wall-climbing section. We went over and observed the walls and admired a girl climbing up and down the wall. Clearly, and as Prabhaker informed me, it is not about the legs, but the strength of your arms that it takes for this sport. He casually asked me why dont I try it out. I have always found it a good practice to  avoid saying “no” instinctively. So here I was, all set with the suspension cord (or whatever it is known as – but a real life saver to me!!) belted around me after a brief 7 min crash course and “dos” and “don’ts” of wall-climbing from one of the instructors.

I, like many I know (comfortingly so), suffer from acrophobia! But I had chosen to try it out (why in the world!?!). I climbed half of the wall, halted and laid my eyes below. That was it! I had a strong spasmodic sensation. I knew this feeling; in water parks rides with those crazy heights or in those nightmares as if falling off some tall tower in some endless pit! Phew! Prabhaker was constantly observing me and was trying to push me to go further up. But I gave up. Now that wasnt the end of it! This decision entailed the “part II” – I had to come down! For that, I had to let go of my grip on the wall, push myself away with my feet  suspending myself in the middle of … nothing! The cord (controlled by “hydraulic system”) would bring me down without jerks, the instructor had said . But I could NOT get to doing that. There was a constant battle in my mind. I was trying to tell myself that this is a reliable cord based on “scientific” principle, that I wont fall and die, that people have been doing this ever since the gym had ‘wall-climbing’, that people have been ‘wall-climbing’ even before this chain of gyms started, that even if I fall the floor had a thick layer or rubber shaves that would cause me no harm… Oh my endlessly “creative” mind!

As I was processing all this, it was a long period of my “mind -time” but a few seconds otherwise. I looked down at Prabhaker, heard his words echo “just let go, push yourself away and do not look down”. I ordered myself to obey, and I let go! One baby step towards facing my fear that was sitting there for three decades! Yes, the cord did hold me and I plunged vertically down, with two little pauses, and I touched the earth! Prabhaker smiled at me  with a sense of appreciation and applause.  “You did very good for the first time ” he said. Made me feel good, especially as I felt he meant it. I was so glad deep down to see how Prabhaker encouraged me. It seemed like he cared. That he understood I had this fear and that I must face it in order to get over it.  He didnt rule it out saying something silly as ” why are you scared like a little kid” or “come on, be a sport” or something.  This kind of genuine concern is rare, like a very close friend or a sibling or a parent would display. It helped me. He pushed me to go again. And I conceded, albeit with instinctive reluctance somewhere deep down. This time it was a little more. Then again I went telling myself, I am going to climb naturally, like a …er… monkey (whatever works, you see)!. I didnt look down this time around and went further up. Every climb brought me face to face with my fear as I reached a height. And each ride down, I dared, and let go (as if I had a choice!!).

Jokes apart, the danger wasnt outside, it was rather inside. Our fears, phobias, limitations, issues – be it anything- are nowhere in circumstances or people, as we might often attribute them to; they are all in our minds. The wise thing to do is to know it. To face it… head on!

Next time (sometime!), I know, I am going to myself volunteer to go wall-climbing and offer to extend a friendly handshake to my phobia. Acrophobia.. here I come!