Rob's Reviews > The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
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bookshelves: existentialism, 2016, philosophy, non-fiction

The central thesis behind this widely-read book is the idea that the mind has taken over human beings and is the root of most of our ills in its attempt to maintain its power, and that it doing so it blinds us to the power of true being (which expresses itself in the present), by instead forcing us to focus too much on the past and the future, in which the mind holds all the cards and can distort our sense of reality. There is something to this, as anyone who remains clinging to the past or focused obsessively on the future may have found: we often forget to breathe properly and appreciate the truth that is really in front of us.

Using a combination of religious, New Age and philosophical sources, particularly Buddhism and some elements of the Bible, often convincingly re-examined, Eckhart Tolle argues for the concept of higher consciousness being a process of relegating the mind to its rightful level as simply a superior tool, and not allowing it to be the sole arbiter of our understanding of reality. While we take steps to focus on the realities of where we are and what we are doing, the mind is forced to tag along with all the other senses and connections within us. There is something to be said for this, given that so much of our manifested pain is focused on earthly woe (whether reactive or existential), which in reality we can supposedly minimise if we allow our pre-existing connection to an infinite force to render such earthly concerns insignificant. In this way the death of loved ones is seen as no more than their movement into a next manifestation of their life force, while we can see loss of love or money are simply cases of our mind convincing itself of something it deserves and then bemoaning the situation when that thing is no longer there in the expected form.

"Accept then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life."

"All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry all forms of fear are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence."

However, there is a major issue here, which I'm starting to find in many "self-help" books that build upon an essentially Buddhist structure. The Western focus on the individual gets underlined in a thesis on subjective reality (i.e. we all create our own version of reality). And that, in static terms, could work. I have the power, therefore, to reassemble the terms of the reality in which I am living, promoting my own happiness and seeing "beyond" the shallow veneer of reality that is being papered over the deeper truths of the universe.

However, there are many people with different interests and - presumably - with different realities, all of which need to somehow dovetail in this papered veneer we are accepting. Here, there is a dynamic factor involved: my happiness is x, but your happiness is y, and they're evolving at different rates. Tolle's suggestion is that "very few" people have reached higher consciousness, lending a rather disagreeable patina of superiority to the observation that when we manage to see ourselves from the outside, we will see just how others are incapable (he says 'as yet', to be fair) of doing the same thing. But then their "petty" and possibly short-term interests have to coincide and jostle with our presumably deeper and more conscious interests.

It is perfectly true that we allow the mind too much leeway in interpreting events with a focus based on past and/or future rather than the present. But is it necessarily true that relegating the mind to the mere tool it should be will give our life in the here and now the capacity to deal successfully with the patchwork of different levels of consciousness that are unleashed?

"So anyone who is identified with their mind and, therefore, disconnected from their true power, their deeper self rooted in Being, will have fear as their constant companion. The number of people who have gone beyond mind is as yet extremely small, so you can assume that virtually everyone you meet or know lives in a state of fear. Only the intensity of it varies…"

Unfortunately this can lead to a sense of solipsistic navel-gazing becoming a shorthand for "higher consciousness", when actually I think the opposite is true. We become more conscious about ourselves and indeed our underlying force by interacting with other expressions of that force (i.e. other people). That's not to say there isn't plenty of truth to be found within ourselves or this particular emanation, if we're going to go small screen, as Tolle suggests:

"As you become more conscious of your present reality, you may suddenly get certain insights as to why your conditioning functions in those particular ways; for example, why your relationships follow certain patterns, and you may remember things that happened in the past or see them more dearly. That is fine and can be helpful, but it is not essential. What is essential is your conscious presence. That dissolves the past. That is the transformative agent. So don't seek to understand the past, but be as present as you can. The past cannot survive in your presence. It can only survive in your absence"

But in this small screen version of the vision, our focusing on the smaller elements of the behaviour makes us peaceful and non-resistant to the other person's input and this is no bad thing:

"When you live in complete acceptance of what is, that is the end of all drama in your life. Nobody can even have an argument with you, no matter how hard he or she tries. You cannot have an argument with a fully conscious person. An argument implies identification with your mind and a mental position, as well as resistance and reaction to the other person's position. The result is that the polar opposites become mutually energized"

Although beware, because the mind is still in there as a spoke in our wheels:

"You are cut off from Being as long as your mind takes up all your attention. When this happens and it happens continuously for most people you are not in your body. The mind absorbs all your consciousness and transforms it into mind stuff. You cannot stop thinking. Compulsive thinking has become a collective disease. Your whole sense of who you are is then derived from mind activity. Your identity, as it is no longer rooted in Being, becomes a vulnerable and ever-needy mental construct, which creates fear as the predominant underlying emotion. The one thing that truly matters is then missing from your life: awareness of your deeper self - your invisible and indestructible reality."

Obviously this "invisible and indestructible reality" is somehow allowing the mind rather too much leeway for some reason. What could the mind possibly be offering us that allows us to accept its recipe for pain? Is it just that we have what we might term 'original laziness'? There's an element of portraying the mind as Satan offering illusions, as a shyster, as a politician… This "you" that is being spoken to, is it really the indestructible "you" that is truly present here and now, or the corrupted, benighted "you" that has succumbed to all the blandishments of its shallow-breathing, short-termist mind?

"One of the most powerful spiritual practices is to meditate deeply on the mortality of physical forms, including your own. This is called: Die before you die. Go into it deeply. Your physical form is dissolving, is no more. Then a moment comes when all mind-forms or thoughts also die. Yet you are still there the divine presence that you are. Radiant, fully awake. Nothing that was real ever died, only names, forms, and illusions."

"Why does the mind habitually deny or resist the Now? Because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future, so it perceives the timeless Now as threatening. Time and mind are in fact inseparable."

"All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry all forms of fear are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence."

The distinction is made, however, between your "life situation" (the things you do or don't achieve within this particular subdivision) and your "life" (the ongoing reality that is preyed upon by that mind):

"You can still be active and enjoy manifesting and creating new forms and circumstances, but you won't be identified with them. You do not need them to give you a sense of self. They are not your life only your life situation. "

Thus you will not define yourself by your achievements and or attractions, but rather by the extent to which you have been able to see beyond these things and project yourself into the true reality that lies beyond all of this.

"The wider the time gap between perception and thought, the more depth there is to you as a human being, which is to say the more conscious you are."

Then there is a gender element to this which, while undoubtedly possessed of some kernel of greater truth in the sense that the constructs of male methods of control are often imposed and domination-intensive, leads us to question again the underlying concept of "the mind" being peddled. If the mind is so male, and so subjective, and so focused on the past and future to the detriment of the present, why has it succeeded with so many females and, as I wondered above, not been sidelined by the forces of "true reality"? The mind starts at this point to seem a little like a convenient scapegoat rather than a truly identifiable obstacle:

"What does remain true, however, is that the energy frequency of the mind appears to be essentially male. The mind resists, fights for control, uses, manipulates, attacks, tries to grasp and possess, and so on. This is why the traditional God is a patriarchal, controlling authority figure, an often angry man who you should live in fear of, as the Old Testament suggests. This God is a projection of the human mind."

Now, I am firmly of the belief that enlightenment and consciousness are a journey we all undertake (or don't) and that the central tenet of living in the present is vital. But the renunciation of dynamism and embrace of solipsism that seems to be the simple corollary to this worldview to my mind is not the answer. That doesn't mean I have the answer - far from it - but it does mean that my scepticism is only partial and manifests itself as a healthy questioning of supposed "immutable truths". Because THAT is I think where the problems in our psychological makeup usually lie: the concepts we are told to take purely on trust and never question, that show themselves at certain points to betray the very principles they are supposed to instil. Or put another way: don't just let someone tell you what it is, go and find out for yourself. Which, to be fair, Tolle does actually say from time to time in here, although I fear many will stay on his tree branch rather than going off to find their own.
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Reading Progress

March 29, 2016 – Started Reading
March 29, 2016 – Shelved
May 7, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016
May 7, 2016 – Shelved as: existentialism
May 7, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 7, 2016 – Shelved as: philosophy
May 7, 2016 – Finished Reading

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