Don’t Leave Your 2021 Goals to Your Future Self
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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
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Publisher: New World Library
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Translated into more than 30 languages and sold in over 3 million copies in North America alone, “The Power of Now” is one of the most influential spiritual books of our time. A mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, mysticism, and New Age philosophy, Eckhart Tolle’s magnum opus states that – paradoxically – most of your anxieties in the present come not from things that are happening to you now, but from things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future. Fortunately, this is something you can – and should – immediately change. Get ready to discover how!
One night not long after his 29th birthday, Ulrich Tölle woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. It wasn’t a new feeling – he spent most of his life up until that moment living in a state of “almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” However, this time the intensity of the sensation was overpowering.
He remembers it vividly: “The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of a passing train — everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery? Why carry on with this continuous struggle?”
Before too long, a devastating thought appeared in his mind, one which he couldn’t stop repeating to his inner self: “I cannot live with myself any longer.” But then, quite all of a sudden, the very same thought became a source of astonishment and the turning point that would pivot his life to balance and wellbeing. “With whom can I not live?” – he started wondering. “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,” he determined, “only one of them is real.”
The absence of an answer stopped Ulrich’s mind into a conscious, thoughtless state, sucking him into an inner void, a vortex of unimaginable energy! He couldn’t really grasp at the time what was happening to him, but, when the sun awoke him the next morning, tears flooded his eyes at the realization that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. “Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence,” remembers Tolle. It felt as if he had just been born, as if his past self – with all of its heaviness and problems – had dissolved and collapsed into nonexistence. The only thing that its metaphorical death had left behind was an ever-present observer in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss.
The feeling of utter calm remained with Ulrich for the next several months, during which he blessedly watched the idyllic world go by him. He changed his name to Eckhart and removed the umlaut from his surname to mark the depth of his transformation. His parents thought him irresponsible – and even insane – but many of his friends wanted to attain his level of serenity. To those who would ask him how they can get what he has, Tolle would answer: “You don’t have to get anything: you have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.” Freeing yourself from this noise is the first step toward attaining enlightenment.
“This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being,” writes Tolle. “It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering.” This was the second self of Tolle’s fateful question – the one he couldn’t live with. Nobody can, in fact: we are prisoners to our thoughts, and one of our most fundamental mistakes is our belief that we can free ourselves from them through thinking.
Descartes was wrong: “I think, therefore I am,” isn’t an expression of Being, but an expression of our separateness from it. Our natural state is that of “felt oneness with Being,” and it is our thoughts that sever this connectedness with the immeasurable and the indestructible “I” and create one with the mind-made self that is the source of all fear and suffering.
Enlightenment is “a state of wholeness, of being ‘at one’ and therefore at peace.” Thinking, on the other hand, is a state of fragmentation, of being more than one – and therefore in a constant struggle against the other. To put an end to this pointless fight, you must disidentify from your mind – that is, the thoughts streaming from it.
Become a witness instead of a victim: start watching your inner thinker instead of allowing yourself to be annihilated by the delusion that the thinker is you. Think of your thoughts as scenes from a movie: by making yourself a viewer instead of a protagonist, you rob your thoughts of their power. Living through the events of a horror movie is scary; however, observing it from the safety of your cinema seat provides the necessary distance to feel the pleasure and the beauty of the experience. It is this distance, this crack between you and your thoughts, that allows the light to get through the seeds of enlightenment planted in your heart at birth. Without it, they will inevitably wither away in darkness.
When you become a listener to your own thoughts, you will start experiencing a discontinuity in your mental stream, a sort of gap between thoughts – during which you will become aware not only of your thoughts but also of yourself as their witness. Tolle refers to these pauses as gaps of the “no-mind,” which he defines as “consciousness without thought.” Even a brief connection with your no-mind brings inner stillness and a true experience of being. Furthermore, as most artists know, the no-mind is the source of all creativity: the noisy mind just gives form to the visions and insights that can only be born in tranquility.
There is a good reason for this: it is only in these gaps of the “no-mind” that we can truly be ourselves and actually experience the life we’re living. Thinking is the opposite of existing mainly because our thoughts are almost always separate from what we go through at the present. That’s why some of the most beautiful moments in life are moments of total oblivion, a felt-through consciousness without thoughts. If you think about your technique while you’re kissing someone, you won’t get to feel the delight and the contentment of the kiss. Unfortunately, kissing is one of the few things we do in life wholly surrendered to the experience, the moment, the now. Most of the time, we do the exact opposite: we’re obsessed with the past and the future, and we forget that the present moment is all we have.
“Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now?” asks Tolle. “Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now?” The answer is obvious: of course not. This is not some quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo: it is a scientific fact. We cannot live in the past or the future: they don’t have a reality of their own. Just like the moon – which has no light of its own and only reflects that of the sun – our past and our future are only “pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present.”
The past is just a trace of a former now; even worse, the future is a mental projection of an imagined now. Neither of them exists in the reality of the present: both have power over you because you’ve chosen to confer it to them through your thoughts. Give full attention to everything you do in the present moment – no matter how mundane or ordinary – and you will notice how their power will disappear. “Tomorrow’s bills are not the problem,” writes Tolle. “The dissolution of the physical body is not a problem. Loss of Now is the problem. […] Loss of Now is loss of Being.”
Living in the now functions somewhat as an off button for your mind: by redirecting your thoughts to the present, it robs your mind of the power it has over your being. “As long as the egoic mind is running your life,” warns Tolle, “you cannot truly be at ease; you cannot be at peace or fulfilled except for brief intervals when you obtained what you wanted.”
Unfortunately, when your cravings are unfulfilled, they leave behind negative emotional residue that goes on living in the deepest parts of your being, where it merges with the pain from your past. In time, these past pains evolve into an invisible entity with a mind of its own, which Tolle calls “the pain-body” and describes it as “the dark shadow cast by the ego.”
In most people, the pain-body is dormant for nine-tenths of the time and only activated in certain situations; however, in a deeply unhappy person, the pain-body may be active almost constantly. In either way, you can easily notice its manifestations in others: when people start acting alien to their past selves, it’s actually the pain-body awakening from its dormant state.
However, it is far more important to detect the pain-body in yourself. Because just like the mind, it hates being observed – it loses its power when you become its witness and stop identifying unconsciously with it. “The pain-body may seem to you like a dangerous monster that you cannot bear to look at,” writes Tolle, “but I assure you that it is an insubstantial phantom that cannot prevail against the power of your presence.”
Buddha defined enlightenment as the end of suffering; just like him, Tolle discovered that suffering ends with being present in the moment. Neither the past nor the future can survive this – and they are the source of most suffering. If, however, it is the now that seems intolerable, then you have three options: to remove yourself from the situation, try to change it, or accept it totally. Taking responsibility for your life starts with making this choice today – and accepting its consequences, no matter what they are.
“The Power of Now” didn’t become an instant bestseller after its original 1997 publication. But after it was republished two years later – and endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Meg Ryan in 2000 – it became a cultural phenomenon.
Written in the form of catechism, the book blends psychology and spiritualism to give a few old-age Buddhist and Christian ideas an authentic New Age spin, relevant for our times. And it seems that it does quite successfully since its philosophy resonates with readers from start to finish, from the United States to Europe to Japan.
It’s your turn now – read Tolle’s book and see if it resonates with you as well!
The first step toward happiness is overcoming your greatest enemy – your own self. And there’s no better way to do this than by surrendering completely to the present moment and becoming a witness of your “inner thinker.”
Eckhart Tolle – born Ulrich Leonard Tölle – is a German spiritual teacher, widely considered the most popular spiritual author in the United States. At the age of 29, in the middle of his doctoral studies at Cambridge, he went... (Read more)
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