what’s it about?
The Power of Now (1997) offers a specific method for putting an end to suffering and achieving inner peace, living fully in the present, and separating yourself from your mind. The book also teaches you to detach yourself from your “ego” – a part of the mind that seeks control over your thinking and behavior. It argues that by doing so you can learn to accept the present, reduce the amount of pain you experience, improve your relationships and enjoy a better life in general.
About the author
Eckhart Tolle is a German-born resident of Canada who was depressed for most of his life until he had what he called an “inner transformation.” In the wake of this, he became a spiritual guide and wrote the bestselling self-help bible, The Power of Now.
You can dramatically enhance your life by focusing solely on the now — and disregarding the past or future:
Many of us aspire to improve our lives and attain inner peace. We’re looking for enlightenment, in a word, but we’re not sure how to get there.
The initial step, though, maybe simpler than you think.
We have a propensity to live in the past and the future. We can be reminiscing or regretting one minute and planning or worried the next. Meanwhile, we overlook the one time in which we have complete control: the present.
Only the present is significant because nothing happens in the past or future; everything occurs in a continuous stream of present moments.
Because your senses can only provide you with information about this exact instant, you are experiencing it in the present whenever you feel something. So when we say something happened in the past, we’re not entirely correct: it happened at a single, current moment.
Indeed, what we refer to as “the past” is a collection of moments that existed but have since passed. Similarly, “the future” is made up of yet-to-happen present occurrences.
There are no benefits to worrying about the future or wallowing in the past, but there are numerous benefits to living “in the now,” as this implies. If you succeed in doing so, you will have no major issues, only minor ones that can be dealt with as they emerge.
For example, a difficult assignment, such as drafting a scientific paper, may appear excessively huge and difficult to complete. You’ll get nowhere if you’re worried about the remaining work or regret missing opportunities to work on it in the past. However, if you focus on one little difficulty at a time — gathering data, designing a structure, and writing the first chapter – you’ll be able to complete it more quickly.
So make an effort to stay in the now! Stop clinging to the past and fearing the future, and you’ll be surprised at how much better your life will be.
A portion of you requires pain to survive, and this part of you causes the majority of the pain you feel:
Let’s pretend you’ve mastered the art of living in the moment and without worrying about the past or future. What happens if you are then in pain? How do you deal with both bodily and emotional suffering if the pain is sensed in the present moment?
Pain is nothing more than a self-inflicted internal resistance to things you can’t change. When you’re unhappy with the way things are but don’t feel powerful enough to alter them, you feel agony. On an emotional level, this manifests as an unpleasant feeling.
You have little power to change many things you are dissatisfied with since you focus so much on the past and future but can only live in the present. As a result, you develop an internal resistance to the current state of affairs, which you perceive as pain.
The “pain-body,” a portion of the self that requires you to feel the pain to survive, is another facet of self-created suffering.
The pain-body grows and strengthens anytime you feel pain since it is made up of your painful experiences. As a result, it will strive to make you unhappy and depressed.
This cycle can go on for a long time until the pain becomes an integral part of your identity: you will have identified with your pain-body. Because suffering will have become such a vital part of your existence by then, you will be scared to let it go for fear of jeopardizing your identity.
When something irritates or frustrates you, for example, and you feel yourself becoming enraged, your pain-body has taken control. Anger impairs your capacity to think and behave rationally, which adds to your suffering.
Even when it appears that all pain originates from outside sources, it is, for the most part, self-created: it originates from within. The good news is that, because it’s self-created, you have control over it, as you’ll see in the next paragraphs.
The “ego” is a portion of your mind that prevents you from experiencing happiness:
Have you ever wondered why certain people appear to self-sabotage? Why are so many people sad, even though no one wants to be unhappy?
The ego, a component of your mind that directs your thoughts and conduct without your knowledge, is to blame.
Most people are unaware of how their ego influences their lives since it is difficult to observe. If you think back on a disagreement you had with someone, you may see (and possibly regret) that you overreacted. Yet, in the heat of the argument, you were completely unaware of anything influencing or guiding your thoughts and actions.
Why does the ego behave in this manner? It relies on your sorrow to survive, so it works against your best interests by obstructing enjoyment at every point.
The presence of a destructive component of your mind that causes unhappiness would explain why so many people suffer, even though no one intentionally wants to be sad. Some people, for example, choose to stay in extremely damaging and traumatic relationships to destroy their happiness.
The ego drives you into circumstances where you conflict with others and make you unhappy with your existing situation to control your behavior and thinking.
When two or more egos collide, drama occurs, as witnessed in small offices or houses. While people may want to live in peace, their egos irritate them and cause them to overreact to minor irritations. Suppose you find yourself suddenly engaged in a heated dispute over a little matter such as who cleans the kitchen or whether a television program is excellent or not. In that case, it’s most likely the result of the ego’s activity.
The ego is a portion of the human mind that is detrimental. It aspires to be the essential part of you and has no bounds, so allowing it to take control will cause you a great deal of pain.
Separate yourself from your head and focus on your body if you desire a richer, nearly painless life:
The ego’s strength is simply one of many reasons why it’s crucial to disconnect from your head and pay more attention to your body. Many great teachers have emphasized the necessity of concentrating on the body rather than the thinking.
The mind is to blame for suffering.
It causes agony by bringing up old memories or planning for the future, filling your entire existence with regretful recollections and anxiety-inducing future scenarios. As a result, you are unable to live in the moment.
As a result, because you can’t change the past or the future, you’re continually concerned about things you can’t change. As a result, there’s a lot of suffering.
We must discover a technique to lessen the mind’s strength and influence.
We may do this by transferring our attention from the mind to the body.
Your body has a good sense of what is ideal for you. You can obtain a very clear sense of what is important in your life by listening to your body. “Your body is a temple,” Jesus said several times, and he used it in various proverbs and allegories; for example, “Your body is a temple.” His body was missing from the grave, and he ascended to heaven with his body, not simply his mind or soul, according to the stories of his resurrection and ascension to heaven.
Nobody ever attained enlightenment by focusing solely on the mind and ignoring the body.
The Buddha’s six-year fasting and abstinence (including fasting) to remove himself from his body serves as a striking image. What’s the result? He felt detached from his body, but he didn’t feel any more at ease or enlightened. He only attained enlightenment after abandoning these techniques and reuniting with his body.
The easiest method to detach from your mind and thereby liberate yourself from pain is to observe it without judgment:
It would help if you disconnected yourself from your thoughts once you understand it gives you grief and prevents you from genuinely living in the moment.
To be able to divorce yourself from your mind, you must first become completely aware of it and the power it wields over you; otherwise, you will never comprehend the innumerable small and subtle ways it affects your thinking and behavior – and thus your happiness.
If you wish to examine your thoughts, for example, ask yourself, “What will be my next thought?” If you concentrate completely on that subject, you’ll notice that the next distinct thought takes a long time to appear. You’ve managed to create a pause in the flow of thought by watching.
If you do it often enough, you’ll begin to notice how much of your time is generally taken up by the mind’s constant flow. And you’ll have discovered the most important instrument for interrupting and thereby separating from your mind.
The second option is to examine your thoughts without condemning them. Judging is a mental act in and of itself, so when you judge anything, you’re back to utilizing your mind.
If you feel like running in the middle of your task, for example, follow your body’s desire. Go outside and run; your body knows what it needs.
Then pay attention to that tiny nagging voice inside your head that says, “Right now, you should be working, not running around or wasting time!” But don’t pass judgment on that voice, whether it’s good or terrible, and don’t try to follow the advice. Just smile and embrace the fact that it exists. You’ll be able to notice your thoughts without having to follow them to wherever it wants to take you.
Attempt to maintain a constant state of awareness:
While you work on detaching yourself from your thoughts, you might want to try another technique: active waiting.
This is a distinct type of waiting, such as when you’re aware that something significant or life-threatening could occur at any time. In this state, your entire focus focuses on the present moment.
When you’re in a state of active waiting, there’s no time for the normal distractions like fantasizing, planning, or remembering. For example, while taking an exam, you should stay present and pay attention to the work before you rather than think about the outcomes. You can achieve this by entering a condition of active waiting immediately before and throughout the exam.
You must also pay attention to your body when in this stage since it must be prepared for everything that may occur. This emphasis on the body, as we’ve seen, is also critical to living in the present.
Zen masters, for example, would sneak up behind their pupils, who had their eyes closed and attempt to strike the student who was waiting. Because the pupils were forced to focus entirely on their bodies while waiting, they were able to detect the approaching masters and avoid their “attack.”
Many spiritual instructors advised their students to wait in this state because they believed it would lead to a happier existence. When his followers inquired what they should do to have a pleasant and serene life, Jesus urged them to “be like a servant waiting for the master’s return.”
Because the servant has no idea when the master will arrive, he is always on the lookout. He doesn’t make big plans for the future and keeps a close eye on his surroundings to avoid missing the master.
Although living in the now can be difficult for your partner, it can also benefit your relationship:
You can now live in the moment and are no longer fully reliant on your intellect after completing the previous steps.
But how would this affect your daily activities? Take, for example, your relationships.
Sharing one’s life with someone who lives totally in the moment is incredibly challenging for a “regular” person. The non-present individual’s ego thrives on issues, whereas the present, calm, and at ease is perceived as a threat. The ego of the non-present person reacts by causing further issues, such as insulting the other, disputing a small matter to shatter the peace, or constantly referring to past episodes to pull them out of the present.
Why would they do something like that?
This is best answered with an analogy: just as darkness cannot survive in the presence of light, it is impossible for a person still dominated by the ego to remain in the presence of someone living in the present for lengthy periods. Strong opposites cannot coexist in the same space. When you light a candle in the dark, the darkness vanishes. When you put water on a fire, the flame goes out.
On the other hand, living in the present can considerably improve your relationship if done correctly: you’ll be able to stop judging, condemning, or trying to change your partner and instead perceive them as self-sufficient individuals.
Furthermore, the awareness gained by living in the present can be used to break otherwise endless cycles, such as never-ending discussions. Being present gives you the inner calm that allows you to listen to your partner without passing judgment.
If you live in the present, your partner may find it challenging to live with you. It might even turn into a new relationship test. However, in the long run, it might provide a fantastic opportunity for good development — for both you and your partner.
Surrendering to the moment does not imply avoiding unpleasant or harmful feelings:
Even if you live completely in the now, sadness and pain are unavoidable.
But what are you supposed to do with them? Just ignore them and act as though everything is fine? That does not appear to be a good idea.
While it’s true that we cause most of our misery, we don’t cause all of it. The anguish inflicted on you by individuals who are still governed by their toxic thoughts is a good illustration of inevitable pain. Another example is a loved one’s death. Because you can’t bring everyone around you to enlightenment, and you can’t stop death from happening, this anguish is unavoidable.
So, what are the options?
When you have a horrific experience that gives you significant pain, you can accept it for what it is. For example, if a loved one passes away, you will understandably mourn and be sad. However, if you can accept this as something that cannot be changed, you will save yourself from unnecessary misery.
Sadness is a natural emotion for which you should not feel guilty or ashamed. Everything is how it is. Accepting this means you won’t be wanting for things to be different all of the time.
You will be able to escape most of the pain in your life by being present, but not all of it. Furthermore, living in the moment does not imply that pain should be ignored or suppressed. Instead, it gives you the inner power to deal with life’s unpleasant and painful realities.
Surrendering to the present does not imply a life of passiveness:
Inner serenity is a good thing to have, but it’s not worth much when your outward living condition is poor.
Is it true that embracing the present entails a passive way of life in which you are unaware of or unwilling to change anything that bothers you?
Living in the moment is an internal process of sensation and awareness that does not need you to adopt a passive outward attitude. When you’re trapped in the mud, for example, you don’t convince yourself that you’ve always wanted to be stuck in the mud. Instead, you might try to break free from it without panicking.
Living in the present can even supply you with fresh resources and problem-solving techniques. Living in the moment can surely provide you with new levels of strength and drive because you aren’t wasting your inner resources on difficulties. In reality, living in the present allows you to see no difficulties at all, merely discrete, manageable situations that you can deal with one at a time. You will be a lot more effective as a result of this.
Living in and accepting the present does not imply that you choose to live a passive existence or choose not to try to improve it. Instead, by focusing on the present and putting the past and future in their proper places, you will be better able to perceive what is genuinely wrong at any given time and have the strength to change it for the better.