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

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
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did not like it
bookshelves: myth-religion-folklore, self-help, total-crap

It would be easy to dismiss this book as a fruit-salad of New Age and pseudo-buddhist clichés, mashed to a fine purée of nonsense and sold as a cure for what ails you in our age of secular alienation. In fact, that is what it is and that is what I'll do.

The book opens with what readers of religious texts, the erowid archives and Huxley's The Doors of Perception will recognise as a classic mystical experience, epiphany or trip:

"One night not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread... `Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the `I' and the `self' that `I' cannot live with." "Maybe," I thought, "only one of them is real."... I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words "resist nothing," as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void... Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all."

After this experience, Ulrich Tolle became a vagrant mystic for a period, rechristened himself Eckhart (presumably after 13th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart) and eventually became a spiritual teacher, author and talk-show guest with extraordinary success.

The primary thesis of the book is quite sensible, if unshattering. We exist only in the present; our past and the future are mental constructs. It is a shame that our enjoyment of the present is so often ruined by regrets about the past and worries about the future. By being more intensely focused on the present, we can be more content and more fulfilled.

As this doesn't fill 229 pages we are treated to, among other things, lengthy discourses on the "pain-body", an interesting theory of menstrual flow as a means to enlightenment and the surprising finding that as a member of the human race, I carry personal complicity and responsibility for all crimes and genocides of the twentieth century including those carried out before my birth.

The style is generally chatty, though Eckhart occasionally uses a faux-dialectic to bring up obvious objections to his line of thought, to which he responds with withering scorn. One helpful feature is the use of a pause symbol (§) to indicate points at which "you may want to stop reading for a moment, become still, and feel and experience the truth of what has just been said".

The text is interspersed with brief analyses of quotations from various religious traditions, apparently garnered from many weeks studying fridge-magnets.


I am glad to have read the book, if only to have gained a greater understanding of contemporary popular New Age/spiritual literature. If this book changed your life, please do not attack me but have compassion for my ligatures to mind and pain-body which impede my understanding of it.

This is (unfortunately) one of my most-liked reviews. I'd just like to add that I don't automatically hate all writing on these themes. I would warmly recommend Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Shunryu Suzuki), The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh) and The Courage to Be (Tillich) among others.
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Reading Progress

March 16, 2014 – Started Reading
March 16, 2014 – Shelved
March 16, 2014 – Shelved as: myth-religion-folklore
March 16, 2014 – Shelved as: self-help
March 17, 2014 – Shelved as: total-crap
March 17, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 54 (54 new)

message 1: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis ugh.... how did you even....?

howl of minerva see warwick's review of paolo coelho's the alchemist. same deal.

message 3: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis howl of minerva wrote: "see warwick's review of paolo coelho's the alchemist. same deal."

I see. But even so. I mean, with that giant "Spiritual Enlightenment" hanging at the gate! And that green!

Someone recently pressed that Proof of Heaven book (NYT best) into my hands. I didn't make it past the cover.

howl of minerva I think it's good to have a feel for the Zeitgeist, even if it means reading things you hate.

message 5: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis We exist only in the present; our past and the future are mental constructs.

Not true. Not true.

message 6: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis howl of minerva wrote: "I think it's good to have a feel for the Zeitgeist, even if it means reading things you hate."

No here I'll put out my peacock=feathers of ignorance and strut proudly.

howl of minerva Are you saying the present is a construct too??

message 8: by sologdin (new)

sologdin many weeks studying fridge-magnets.

are you turning into a surly anti-magnet hipster or something?

message 9: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis howl of minerva wrote: "Are you saying the present is a construct too??"

"Construct" is an obscurantist word. I don't think I can be accused of using it.

No, Dasein always ex=ists ; projecting in the future and recovering the past. Sein und Zeit is very important for this one. Only things exist only in a present-at-hand kind of way. Dasein is always beyond itself.

howl of minerva As I live in Montreal I feel more more like a surly hipster-magnet.

message 11: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope I was surprised you were reading this.

message 12: by sologdin (new)

sologdin is it a useful prop in the seduction of wealthy nonagenerians, maybe?

howl of minerva It's worth a try. At some point he says if you are sufficiently in the now, you'll look and feel younger. Give it a go!

message 14: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye A challenge: write a 500 word story beginning with that epiphany.

message 15: by Warwick (new)

Warwick Brilliant. I love your opening para.

message 16: by Manny (new)

Manny I must use the pause symbol more. I didn't even know it could have that meaning.

howl of minerva Kalliope :) All flippancy aside I am genuinely curious about any book that many hundreds of thousands of people say has helped them deal with their lives. And more generally about what we're substituting for religion these days.

Warwick, thanks! Very much in the vein of your excellent Coelho review.

Manny, I definitely think you could adopt it in your reviews. Especially the ones about deep and grand themes like "Why are we here?", "Why is gravity so weak?" and possibly related, "Why am I not wearing anything?".

howl of minerva Ian, your challenge exceeds my very modest gifts. If anyone would like to have a go I'd love to see the result...

message 19: by Manny (new)

Manny Thank you, howl. Next time I write about quantum nudity I will definitely use it.

Daniel I'm responding to your review as someone whose life was changed in a positive way by this book. (I'll be kind!) You say that you are glad to now have an understanding of the typical New Age feel-good self-help book, but it sounds like your reading of the book confirmed the expectations you had for the genre before you began. It also sounds like you didn't come away with an "understanding" of his teachings, and that's okay. Let's talk about it.

In my reading of the book, it seemed that the "now" was just the gateway into the rest of what Tolle was talking about, which is the real challenge, because everything on the other side of that door is nonverbal and impossible to convey in words. As he says, it must be felt. The fundamental drawback here is that the entire teaching medium is words. I had a good experience with this book in part because I listened to the audiobook recording, in which there were several speakers (Tolle narrating most if it, with various interlocutors to ask the dialectical questions, complete with the chiming of a bell at the end of each major section for good measure). I also came away grateful to the book because I entered it with open-minded skepticism--nothing he says can do me any harm, and the teachings are as good as my efforts to see if they're real or not. If I don't experience what he's talking about, fine--maybe later, maybe not for me, or maybe the teacher's wisdom is a crock of you-know-whatty.

My responses to your review:

1. We're all free to speak from our experience, so I forgive Tolle whatever triteness emerges from his story of awakening. I'm just glad to be reading a story of awakening in the contemporary world. I acknowledge that Tolle's female-directed suggestions for practicing presence before menstruation sound a bit out-of-line because he's a man, but it's plausible that his teachings are sound (try it for yourself) and came from his experience supporting women throughout his life...and his wife is a woman and spiritual teacher, and I doubt she'd let him put something asinine and sexist in his book.
2. I see your comment on his tone being scornful toward his interlocutors. Tolle's tone in the audiobook is anything but, if you'd listen to a moment of it (check YouTube). In fact, as an emerging audiobook narrator myself, I haven't thought of a way that another leading professional narrator would have done as good a job as Tolle did recording his own book. His tone, warm and firm and patient (to me), really carried his intent well.
3. Tolle uses his language fairly precisely. The pain-body is a piece of jargon that he explains in the book, and the comment you make about it here, in which you misrepresent Tolle by misrepresenting the pain-body to make Tolle sound ludicrous, comes across only as a derogation of Tolle rather than evidence of Tolle being false or out-of-touch. I grant you that many reluctant women will probably bristle at Tolle's attention to women's special needs in the book, but I see this attention as compassion. You lose nothing by welcoming his suggestions and rejecting them if they don't work.
4. In one of his books, Tolle says something like "Over the course of history, there has only ever been one spiritual teaching." Who knows if that's true? But I think it's significant that he's drawing together several major religious traditions, and being bold enough to say that they have been watered down over time in favor of dogma rather than personal experience, and telling us what he thinks the truthful similarities are among them. Also, I think if there's something in us that intuits the value of these questions, we have nothing to lose by being open-minded and humoring the author/teacher for the metaphors they use to convey their wisdom. Again, the mistake of the student (Tolle says) is to try to understand these teachings mentally. This is precisely the problem, he says ;)
5. Many people found his book to be very accessible and very powerful. That sounds like a good result to me, as alienated as we can feel from anything real. Do you think Tolle taught anything harmful? In contrast to the major bandwagon religious movements around the globe, I don't see any harmful side-effects of this book on human behavior. Can it do anything but increase the general level of consciousness among the masses who read it and benefit from it?
6. Just because you haven't yet experienced a certain phenomenon doesn't mean that other people won't or can't do it either. It's impossible to confirm the nature of another person's experience.
7. Consider the challenge Tolle faced in writing this book (if you can suspend your disbelief at his story). Dude was brave!

Best wishes for you in the Now,

howl of minerva Hi Daniel,

Thanks for your thoughtful and polite comment.

I am quite willing to admit that any misunderstandings stem from my failings as a reader rather than the failings of the book. Of course the book has won a large popular audience and anything that has helped people is great. I'm not denying anything about Tolle's experience or the experience of others who have read the book.

I can just say the tone and style didn't work for me. I am very interested in meditation and mindfulness and found, for example, Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind Beginner's Mind and Thich Nhat Han's (sp?) Miracle of Mindfulness useful and interesting.

Daniel Thanks for continuing the discussion on a by-now open-and-shut book. I'm glad you found other books you like better. I may give them a try myself.


message 23: by Bloodorange (new)

Bloodorange A while ago I thought I might read it since it's so frequently referred to around the Internet. Abandoned it, early and happily, to alight on much better authors. So in this respect it was a useful experience:)

message 24: by Elie (new) - rated it 1 star

Elie Lebbos I enjoyed your review! Spot on.

message 25: by Elias (last edited Jun 03, 2017 06:57AM) (new)

Elias Dude reading your review cracked me up. Even the little pause § sign you put. I see what you did there. Well played man.. Well played. (cracked me up = i was laughing hehe)

message 26: by Emilia (new)

Emilia You are super funny

message 27: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Corrie A very amusing review, and almost certainly what I would have thought of it had I read it. But as you say, the primary thesis is a sensible one (and has been treated in many places as well as this one).

message 28: by Tenonic (new)

Tenonic Thank you for this review, it was an immense pleasure to read it. As well it reflects my exact feeling about this book, only expressed without profanity in a beautiful language I'm trying to tame.

message 29: by Thor (new)

Thor "The text is interspersed with brief analyses of quotations from various religious traditions, apparently garnered from many weeks studying fridge-magnets."

Yup, that pretty much sums it up. And in a better written way than the book itself...

David Shelfed as “total-crap” made me lol. I wanted to like this book. And there were a couple passages that I found insightful. But mostly struggled through it. I’m happy to see I’m not the only one. Great review. Better writing than the book.

David Meant to say. Thanks for the recommendations!

Craig Thank for that fabulous review. Sitting here crying.

message 33: by Edward (new)

Edward Ferry How depressing to reach out for guidance and have to weed though so much crap.

message 34: by Kit (new) - rated it 1 star

Kit White Best. Review. Ever

howl of minerva :) very kind, thanks!

Wayne Sutton Spot on review

message 37: by Lala (new) - added it

Lala This review made my day, and this summary has saved me time.

'The primary thesis of the book is quite sensible, if unshattering. We exist only in the present; our past and the future are mental constructs. It is a shame that our enjoyment of the present is so often ruined by regrets about the past and worries about the future. By being more intensely focused on the present, we can be more content and more fulfilled.'

howl of minerva Lala wrote: "This review made my day, and this summary has saved me time."

Glad to be of service :)

Aleesha Wood I always enjoy reading 1 star reviews for books I rate 5! They often help me see things I've missed, or was just ignorant to. Yours definitely helped me see it from a very different angle and lens, but from where I've acquired the message, I can't agree with you.

The book helped me immensely be more at peace and the entire "pain-body" bit; well that was a very simple way of describing the trauma I carried around and identified with as me, so much revolved around it.. if only I found this book sooner.

Glad you wrote your opinion though and I will check out your recommended books! :)

howl of minerva Thanks for your very even-handed comments Aleesha! I don't like to be snarky about a book that thousands (millions?) have read and found useful but it rubbed me the wrong way. I'm glad it was beneficial to you!

message 41: by Michael (new)

Michael This review is not only brilliant, but also complete (references works that áre worth reading). I hope you have not triggered any pain-body reactions in Eckhart himself

howl of minerva Thanks! Eckhart's laughing all the way to the bank. Many a poor soul will find a copy of this under the tree I'm sure...

message 43: by AZPaule (new) - added it

AZPaule i have to advise you that in "liking" your review doesn't mean that I agree with it or actually "like" it, only that it has provided me with one of numerous perspectives in considering whether to read or not read the book.

howl of minerva Awesome, cheers!

message 45: by Mike (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mike Schoonderwoerd Hahahaha, epic review! Read it 1/3 5 years ago, tried it again this year and came half way.. you’re review is spot on (i guess that’s why it’s the most viewed 😉) and discribes (in words at least) the best way how I felt laying off this book, that took very nice principle (respect the power of the now) but wrapped so much crap around it that it become useless. Thanks for the tips to read, Zen Mind is waiting to be read, so I’ll just invest my precious ‘now’ time and stop my painbody from enduring pain and be happy again 😂

Best of luck!

message 46: by Shane (new) - added it

Shane P Thank you for this review! I’m debating whether or not to read it, just to have a reference frame for understanding my friends who love the book. Would you recommend reading it for this purpose?

Marisa Fernandes I totally agree with you. For me the four chapters are ok at the beginning. It was useful, but after that... I only wanted to finish the book!

message 48: by Netlin (new)

Netlin There is another book on similar topic. Book name is: "A Timeline of Wandering Thoughts" by Shakeel Ahmed Shah. I request you to read preview of that book on Amazon kdp and review.3

howl of minerva I'll add it to my to-do list.

message 50: by Kane (new)

Kane Feel exactly the same way and I have read your recommendations previously and they do the topic of mindfulness way more justice.

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