Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power of Now

Author:      Eckhart Tolle
Published:  2004
Publisher:  Hachette Australia
Paperback: 224 pages
Readers in India:

Forget the past, don't worry about the future, focus on the present and that's the key to your  inner peace and that is enlightenment. This is the core message of the book by one of the well known spiritual teacher of today - Eckhart Tolle.

To the readers well aware of the eastern philosophy of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc. there is nothing new in this book. However the way these esoteric concepts are explained in a manner which makes it intelligible to readers uninitiated in this school of thought is perhaps what has made this book an international bestseller.

Eckhart Tolle follows on the footsteps of  great spiritual masters like Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Ramana Maharishi, Rumi and states that the dominance of ego and the analytical mind in one's psyche is the root cause of all the pain in this world.  One can subdue this ego by being alive to the present moment by intently observing the workings of the mind i.e. watching the thinker and one's emotions. He then proceeds to discuss how this can be achieved.

The book set in question-answer format is a must read for anybody who values peace of mind and contentment more than anything else in this world but assailed by many doubts and struggles to achieve the same.

Key Extracts:

1. What is the power of  Now?
None other than the power of your presence, your consciousness liberated from thought forms. So deal with the past on the level of the present. The more attention you give to the past, the more you energize it, and the more likely you are to make a "self' out of it. Don't misunderstand: Attention is essential, but not to the past as past. Give attention to the present; give attention to your  behavior, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears, and desires as they occur in the present. There's the past in you. If you can be present enough to watch all those things, not critically or analytically but nonjudgmentally, then you are dealing with the past and dissolving it through the power of your presence. You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.
2. Enlightenment - what is that?
The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form.
3. And how do I get to that point of realization?
When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. You do not need it anymore. Presence is the key. The Now is the key.
4. How will I know when I have surrendered?
When you no longer need to ask the question.

Genuine and Pragmatic Questions/Doubts  
I strongly recommend reading the book to find out Eckhart Tolle's answers to the following genuine and pragmatic questions/doubts on various issues raised by earnest seekers:

Mind and Thoughts

  • What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?
  • What exactly do you mean by "watching the thinker"?
  • Isn't thinking essential in order to survive in this world?
  • Why should we be addicted to thinking?
  • I don't want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn't mind learning to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don't want to lose my mind. The gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be another species of animal.
  • It seems almost impossible to disidentify from the mind. We are all immersed in it. How do you teach a fish to fly?
  • Is it not possible to attract only positive conditions into our life? If our attitude and our thinking are always positive, we would manifest only positive events and situations, wouldn't we?

Pain and Suffering
  • Nobody's life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn't it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them?
  • You mentioned fear as being part of our basic underlying emotional pain. How does fear arise, and why is there so much of it in people's lives? And isn't a certain amount of fear just healthy self-protection? If I didn't have a fear of fire, I might put my hand in it and get burned.
The Illusion of Time
  • I can see the supreme importance of the Now, but I cannot quite go along with you when you say that time is a complete illusion.
  • But without a sense of time, how would we function in this world? There would be no goals to strive toward anymore. I wouldn't even know who I am, because my past makes me who I am today. I think time is something very precious, and we need to learn to use it wisely rather than waste it.
  • Aren't past and future just as real, sometimes even more real, than the present? After all, the past determines who we are, as well as how we perceive and behave in the present. And our future goals determine which actions we take in the present.
  • But the belief that the future will be better than the present is not always an illusion. The present can be dreadful, and things can get better in the future, and often they do.
  • I don't see how I can be free now. As it happens, I am extremely unhappy with my life at the moment. This is a fact, and I would be deluding myself if I tried to convince myself that all is well when it definitely isn't. To me, the present moment is very unhappy; it is not liberating at all. What keeps me going is the hope or possibility of some improvement in the future.
  • It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it is what makes me unhappy.
  • In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?
  • Even if I completely accept that ultimately time is an illusion, what difference is that going to make in my life? I still have to live in a world that is completely dominated by time.But I still have to pay the bills tomorrow, and I am still going to grow old and die just like everybody else. So how can I ever say that I am free of time?
  • I can see the truth of what you are saying, but I still think that we must have purpose on our life's journey, otherwise we just drift, and purpose means future, doesn't it? How do we reconcile that with living in the present?
  • How can we drop negativity, as you suggest? But if you call some emotions negative, aren't you really saying that they shouldn't be there, that it's not okay to have those emotions? My understanding is that we should give ourselves permission to have whatever feelings come up, rather than judge them as bad or say that we shouldn't have them. It's okay to feel resentful; it's okay to be angry, irritated, moody, or whatever - otherwise, we get into repression, inner conflict, or denial. Everything is okay as it is.
  • Couldn't a negative emotion also contain an important message? For example, if I often feel depressed, it may be a signal that there is something wrong with my life, and it may force me to look at my life situation and make some changes. So I need to listen to what the emotion is telling me and not just dismiss it as negative.
  • When you become this detached, does it not mean that you also become remote from other human beings?
  • I always thought that true enlightenment is not possible except through love in a relationship between a man and a woman. Isn't this what makes us whole again? How can one's life be fufilled until that happens?
  • Why should we become addicted to another person? Can we change an addictive relationship into a true one?
  • I suppose that it takes two to make a relationship into a spiritual practice, as you suggest. For example, my partner is still acting out his old patterns of jealousy and control. I have pointed this out many times, but he is unable to see it.
  • Are the obstacles to enlightenment the same for a man as for a woman?
  • When one is fully conscious. would one still have a need for a relationship? Would a man still feel drawn to a woman? Would a woman still feel incomplete without a man?
  • In the quest for enlightenment, is being gay a help or a hindrance, or does it not make any difference?
  • Is it not true that you need to have a good relationship with yourself and love yourself before you can have a fulfilling relationship with another person?
Acceptance, Surrender and Inner Peace
  • In that state of acceptance and inner peace, even though you may not call it "bad, " can anything still come into your life that would be called "bad" from a perspective of ordinary consciousness?
  • I have been practicing meditation, I have been to workshops, I have read many books on spirituality, I try to be in a state of nonresistance - but if you ask me whether I have found true and lasting inner peace, my honest answer would have to be "no." Why haven't I found it? What else can I do?
  • You mentioned "surrender" a few times. I don't like that idea. It sounds somewhat fatalistic. If we always accept the way things are, we are not going to make any effort to improve them. It seems to me what progress is all about, both in our personal lives and collectively, is not to accept the limitations of the present but to strive to go beyond them and create something better. If we hadn't done this, we would still be living in caves. How do you reconcile surrender with changing things and getting things done?
  • I can see that if I am in a situation that is unpleasant or unsatisfactory and I completely accept the moment as it is, there will be no suffering or unhappiness. I will have risen above it. But I still can't quite see where the energy or motivation for taking action and bringing about change would come from if there isn't a certain amount of dissatisfaction.
  • Letting go of resistance is easier said than done. I still don't see clearly how to let go. If you say it is by surrendering, the question remains: "How?"
  • What about people who want to use me, manipulate or control me? Am I to surrender to them?
  • I am in a situation at work that is unpleasant. I have tried to surrender to it, but I find it impossible. A lot of resistance keeps coming up.
  • Is nonresistance also to be practiced in the external conduct of our lives, such as nonresistance to violence, or is it something that just concerns our inner life?
  • What about nonresistance in the face of violence, aggression, and the like?
  • If someone is seriously ill and completely accepts their condition and surrenders to the illness, would they not have given up their will to get back to health? The determination to fight the illness would not be there any more, would it?
  • I read about a stoic philosopher in ancient Greece who, when he was told that his son had died in an accident, replied, "I knew he was not immortal." Is that surrender? If it is, I don't want it. There are some situations in which surrender seems unnatural and inhuman.

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