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.

Book Review: The Continuum Concept

This is a must read for all parents to be.
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff

The Continuum Concept is a book that blew my mind; I had read nothing like this before! The author Jean Liedloff spent two and a half years deep in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians of the Yequana tribe. This experience demolished her Western preconceptions of how we should live, and led her to a radically different view of what human nature really is. She shows us how we have lost much of our natural well-being and suggests practical ways to regain it for our children and for ourselves.

The continuum theory: “In order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings, especially babies, require the kind of experience to which our human species adapted during the long process of our evolution.”

Parenting:
That said, the book brings forth ideas in stark contrast to the prevailing practices in the western world. I have to write this: there were some excerpts which were quite unsettling to me that I had to stop, collect myself and with all the courage go back to reading it; who wouldn’t be vulnerable to the idea of babies suffering? The worst part is, this ‘mistreatment’ happens at the hands of parents/ caregivers with much misguided ideas. And that is precisely why it has become my mission of sorts to strongly recommend this book to new mothers or mothers to be.

The book gives some basic practices during the initial moments, weeks and months after a child is born: constant physical contact with the mother/caregiver, co-sleeping, breast feeding on cue (and not trying to ‘discipline’ the baby at this stage by feeding at intervals that you set for them), carrying the baby around in arms, immediately responding to the child’s signals and so on. Is this not something that a mother would instinctively do, only if she is allowed to do so and not ill-tutored otherwise? Of course! However, we have some popular theories to care for the newborn that are just the opposite!

Postpartum depression: The moment the baby is born, the mother is keyed in to hold the baby, nurse and caress it. If this stimulus is not met with this right response and those moments missed, then when hours or even minutes later, the baby is finally brought to her, the mother has already gone into a psycho-biological state of mourning. The result is often that she feels guilty about not being able to ‘turn on mothering’, or to ‘love the baby very much’ as well as suffering the classic civilized tragedy called normal postpartum depressionjust when nature had her exquisitely primed for one of the deepest and most influential emotional events of her life! How unfortunate is that!

It was after reading this book that I could make sense of the what was going on with me after my first child was born (more about it in another post here).

Ancient postpartum care:
Some olden cultures have practices that are very much in line with the continuum, like the ones prevailing in India for a few thousand years (though the ‘modern’ winds are changing these ways for the worse). The mother is exclusively available for the newborn as she and the baby are assigned and confined to a room that’s not too bright (so as not to inconvenience the newborn, I guess) for 40 days. She nurses him on cue, co sleeps with the baby, gets her daily body massage, not allowed to use cold water, served fresh off the stove nutritious meals (fresh hot food is much easier to digest, especially when the new mothers digestive system is still weak) and she is assigned no housework. Elderly women – be she a distant relative, friend or even a neighbor – would come to live with them and assist the household with chores, caring for the baby and the new mother, and offer a wealth wisdom for the two. What a fantastic system it used be in the olden days! Anyway, that’s a topic in itself.

Some important continuum ideas:
The book talks about several concepts like: what the baby feels before he can think is a powerful determinant of what kind of things he thinks when thought becomes possible, and how the child’s general outlook towards life and living is shaped. Many psychological patterns, addictions, attitude, including possibly homosexuality, Liedloff believes, have their roots in the treatment of the child during their stages of infancy and childhood. Its remarkable how the Yequana treat their children that shows inherent respect and intrinsic trust. It’s all so wonderful and gives us a hopeful solution for our entire society.

The book spoke to my heart. Theories come and theories go. But what is important, I think, is that parenting in general should never be influenced by these external hypothesess, but always be guided by one’s instinct within. Be assured, with it you’ll be right on the money!

Important questions to ask oneself:
Am I (like perhaps most others), a victim of incomplete childhood? Is there something missing that I am continually looking for – an innate sense of well being and happiness-‘a natural state of being’- that seems elusive (e.g. the idea that ‘being in love would make it all right’)? Is there some emptiness that doesn’t seem to fill me up? I found some amazing perceptions that I never found in the myriad spiritual and self-help literature I’ve read for over two decades. The book put to rest some questions that had plagued me forever.

My last word:
I strongly recommend this book for two groups: those who are going to be new parents and those who have been babies at one point or another. I can’t emphasize enough- it’s a book not worth passing.

Resources to check out:
The website: http://www.continuum-concept.org/index.html
The super excellent forum: http://www.continuum-concept.org/forum/index.html (the wealth of wisdom from Continuum mothers/parents here is outstanding)