Introduction: The Origin of the Book
The origin of this book can be found in Eckhart’s story of transformation. Up to age 30, Eckhart lived in a state of nearly permanent anxiety and occasional suicidal depression.
One evening, during an especially intense period of psychological suffering, Eckhart awoke to a familiar feeling of dread and fear. He loathed the quality of his existence and couldn’t find a way out of his internal suffering.
He repeated in his head, “I can’t live with myself any longer!” when he was struck by the peculiar thought of “Who is the “I” that I am referring to, and who is talking to that person? Am I one person or two?” This marked the beginning of his spiritual transformation: the simple yet powerful recognition that there was a voice in his head, and there was also the listener or watcher of that voice. At that moment, he thought that maybe only one was real and the other was not. An intense wave of emotion washed over him. Fear. Lots of it. Followed by an inner voice that said, “resist nothing”. So he did what the voice insisted and stopped resisting the wave of emotion building up inside of him. Suddenly, the fear in him evaporated, followed by a blankness — he doesn’t remember what happened next.
He woke up in the morning to birds chirping and the sun gleaming through the curtains. He felt a deep calm and love that emanated from the light. He felt a connection to something much greater than himself in that moment. It was as if he had been born again. Everything seemed fresh, amazing, and blissful.
At first, Eckhart didn’t understand what happened to him, but he knew it was unique. Inspired by this sudden and profound experience, he started his spiritual journey of reading ancient texts and meeting spiritual teachers to understand the shift that had happened to him. That’s when he discovered the truth of what had experienced. The false part of himself, which was the voice in his head that identified so closely with suffering, had suddenly been unplugged. As Eckhart described it, “What was left then was my true nature as the ever-present I am: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.” By form Eckhart is referring to the physical body, or the physical experience in what we call reality.
A time came where he no longer had anything left of his old life on what he calls “the physical plane”. No relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity. “I spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of the most intense joy.” The intense joy slowly faded over time, but the undercurrent of peace remained.
Over the next several years, Eckhart began studying ancient philosophy and spirituality and studying under various spiritual teachers, which further nurtured the new way of living that began since the infamous night where he first felt his ego dissolve under the pain of his psychological suffering.
People would ask him for what he had (referring to his palpable sense of peace and happiness), and he would respond: “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.” The next thing he knew, Eckhart was writing about his experience and insights and a new identity emerged. No longer was he the depressed, anxious and fearful person that lay in bed each night suffering emotionally. He was reborn as a spiritual teacher.
In his view, there is only one fundamental teaching to be learned and it lies within us. It isn’t something that can be learned through external institutions, such as through formal religion. Religion, in his view, has been mired in so much extraneous material that the original and essential teaching has been obscured by it. You no longer get access to direct truth with the artifice of institutional religion.
There is no need to go elsewhere for the truth. You already have it in you. And when you encounter truth, the inner knowing within you will create a feeling of “Yes, I know this is true.” Eckhart’s work is entirely focused on helping you turn off the noise of the thinking mind and reconnect with the inner knowing that we’ve lost touch with. And to do so requires learning how to experience the power of Now.
Chapter 1: You Are Not Your Mind
The first chapter of "The Power of Now" is called "You Are Not Your Mind". It starts by pointing out that most people are trapped in their own minds, constantly thinking and worrying about the past or the future. The mental chatter in your head prevents you from experiencing the present moment fully.
He emphasizes that you are not your thoughts, and that you can learn to separate yourself from them, but that it takes practice to do so. He suggests that the first step to doing this is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. By observing your thoughts from a distance, you can begin to recognize that they are not an accurate reflection of who you are. It's as if someone is living rent free in your head and dictating your emotions and behaviors without your approval.
As Eckhart puts it:
“Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationships. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate ‘other.’” You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is.”
The chapter goes on to discuss the concept of the ego, which Tolle defines as the false sense of self created by the mind. He suggests that the ego is the source of all human suffering, as it creates a sense of separation from others and from the present moment. Tolle argues that by recognizing the ego and learning to let go of it, you can free yourself from suffering and experience a sense of inner peace.
The chapter concludes with an exercise in which you are asked to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, simply allowing them to come and go without attaching yourself to them. Tolle suggests that this practice can help you to become more present and less caught up in your own thoughts, ultimately leading to a greater sense of inner peace and fulfillment.
“All cravings are the mind seeking salvation or fulfillment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being.”
So don’t seek to become free of desire or “achieve” enlightenment. Become present. Be there as the observer of the mind. Instead of quoting Buddha, be Buddha. Be “the awakened one”, which is what the word Buddha means.
Overall, the first chapter of "The Power of Now" lays the foundation for the book's central message: that by learning to live in the present moment and letting go of the mind's constant chatter, you can experience a greater sense of peace and fulfillment in your life.
Chapter 2: Consciousness: The Way Out of Pain
Chapter 2 of "The Power of Now" is called "Consciousness: The Way Out of Pain". In this chapter, Eckhart explores the concept of consciousness and how it can help us to escape the cycle of pain and suffering created by the mind.
He explains that consciousness is the fundamental essence of who we are, and that by becoming more aware of it, we can begin to free ourselves from the grip of the ego. He argues that most people are so identified with their minds and their thoughts that they have lost touch with their true nature as conscious beings.
"Consciousness is the one thing that cannot be argued against. The fact that you are aware means that you are conscious. The fact that you are conscious means that you can never be absolutely sure that anything else exists."
The chapter goes on to discuss the different levels of consciousness and how they relate to pain and suffering. He suggests that the lowest level of consciousness is that of the victim, in which a person feels powerless and at the mercy of their circumstances. That should sound familiar given our current cultural climate of victimhood as a source of identity. He suggests that by becoming more aware of your own consciousness, you can move beyond this level and begin to take control of your own life.
He also covers the concept of emotional pain and how it can be caused by a lack of consciousness. By becoming more aware of your own emotional state and recognizing the patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to your suffering, you can begin to break free from these patterns and experience a greater sense of inner peace.
That's when he introduces what he calls the "pain body", which is past emotional pain that has been stored in the body. It's something that I'm familiar with as someone that was previously diagnosed with PTSD. Despite being in a calm and safe environment, there are times when my body is reacting as if it is under threat from an outside force. It's all in response to a subtle environmental cue that triggers my mind (and body) to enter fight or flight mode.
"By becoming aware of the pain-body and observing it, you take away its power over you."
To summarize, the process of identifying and resolving a pain-body reaction is to:
(1) focus attention on your inner feelings
(2) Identify the pain and know that it is pain-body.
(3) Accept it. Don’t fight it. Fighting it empowers it by believing it is real. Don’t judge or analyze it
(4) Continue to observe it, without judgment, and presence will take over.
Naturally, this process also involves becoming familiar with the external triggers that create negative loops of thought, emotion, and reaction.
The chapter concludes with an exercise in which you are asked to focus on the feeling of your inner body, which he often refers to as the "inner energy field of the body", rather than your thoughts or external circumstances.
Moving Deeply into the Now
In this chapter, Tolle discusses the importance of fully immersing yourself in the present moment in order to experience a sense of inner peace and fulfillment.
He argues that most people are so caught up in their own thoughts and concerns that they are unable to fully experience the present moment. He suggests that the key to overcoming this is to become more aware of your own thoughts and emotions, and to learn to observe them without judgment.
“The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities, such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now – that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality.”
However, unlike me, you don’t have to seek intense activities to experience the Now. It can be achieved in other ways. In my 20’s running ultra marathons was one way of forcing my mind into presence via extreme physical effort and exhaustion. Although effective at the time, it wasn’t something that my body could personally sustain so I had to find other ways of establishing presence.
The chapter goes on to describe the concept of presence as "the state of consciousness that transcends thinking". He suggests that by focusing on the present moment and becoming fully present, you can experience a sense of inner peace and fulfillment that transcends the constant chatter of the mind.
“There is a place for mind and mind knowledge. It is in the practical realm of day-to-day living. However, when it takes over all aspects of your life, including your relationships with other humans beings and with nature, it becomes a monstrous parasite that, unchecked, may well end up killing all life on the planet and finally itself by killing its host.”
He also discusses the importance of surrendering to the present moment, rather than trying to resist or control it. He suggests that by accepting the present moment as it is, you can free yourself from the grip of the ego.
The chapter concludes with an exercise in which you are asked to focus on your breathing and bring your attention fully into the present moment. Tolle suggests that by doing so, you can begin to experience a deeper sense of peace and stillness.
“The old patterns of thought, emotion, behavior, reaction, and desire are acted out in endless repeat performances, a script in your mind that gives you an identity of sorts but distorts or covers up the reality of the Now. The mind then creates an obsession with the future as an escape from the unsatisfactory present.”
Mind Strategies for Avoiding the Now
Chapter 4 is titled "Mind Strategies for Avoiding the Now" and delves into how the mind can create obstacles that prevent us from being present and experiencing inner peace. It's exceptionally tricky at getting us to avoid the present moment. By doing so, the mind remains in control of us.
Eckhart points out that the goal isn't to entirely turn off the mind. After all, it's a part of what makes us human. However, the mind must be used intentionally and on the right tasks. The mind is a useful tool for practical matters such as problem-solving and planning, but it can also create mental constructs that lead to anxiety and stress. He discusses how the mind creates stories and beliefs about our past and future that keep us from living in the present moment.
"The ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations."
Tolle identifies several strategies the mind employs to avoid being present, such as worrying, complaining, and blaming. He points out that these strategies can become habitual and may prevent us from finding inner peace and happiness. Sound familiar?
By becoming aware of these mind strategies, we can begin to break free from their grip and learn to live in the present moment. He suggests that the first step is to observe our thoughts without judgment and become aware of how they impact our emotions and behaviors.
"Blame is a favorite pastime of the ego, and it loves to find someone or something to hold responsible for the pain it feels."
The chapter also touches on the concept of acceptance, which Tolle suggests is a key component of living in the present moment. He suggests that by accepting the present moment as it is, we can release the resistance and judgment that prevent us from experiencing inner peace. Resistance to the present moment is the cause of most of our suffering. If we instead accept the present moment as it is, and then move forward with that acceptance, we can free ourselves from much of our unnecessary suffering.
He also applies this philosophy to our relationships.
"The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way."
The State of Presence
In this chapter, Eckhart explains what it means to be in a state of presence and why it is so important.
He defines presence as the state of being fully conscious and aware of the present moment. He suggests that when you are in a state of presence, you are no longer identified with your thoughts or emotions, but are simply observing them from a place of inner stillness.
"Presence is your natural state, before you learned to identify with your thoughts and emotions."
He goes on to argue that being in a state of presence can help you to break free from the cycle of pain and suffering created by the mind. He suggests that by becoming fully present, you can experience a deeper sense of peace and fulfillment, and that this state of being is accessible to everyone.
"The more you live in the present moment, the more the fear of death disappears."
He also spends more time talking about pain-body, which Tolle defines as a collection of emotional pain that has accumulated in your body over time. He suggests that by becoming aware of the pain-body and observing it without judgment, you can begin to release the emotional pain that is holding you back.
"The pain-body is always seeking new sources of pain to feed on, and can even create situations that will trigger it."
Overall, Chapter 5 emphasizes that by becoming aware of the pain-body and learning to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, we can begin to dis-identify with it, and begin to release the pain that the body has been holding.
The Inner Body
In this chapter, Eckhart writes more about the concept of the inner body and how it can help us to experience a deeper sense of presence and inner peace.
Tolle suggests that most people are so identified with their minds that they have lost touch with their bodies. He argues that by becoming more aware of our inner body, we can begin to access a deeper level of consciousness and experience a greater sense of inner peace.
"The inner body lies at the threshold between your form identity and your essence identity, your true nature. Never underestimate the power of attention to get you out of the mind and into the body."
The chapter goes on to discuss energy, which he argues is the underlying force that connects all living beings. He argues that by becoming aware of our own energy field, we can begin to tap into the universal energy that surrounds us.
"By becoming aware of your own energy field, you can begin to tap into the universal energy that surrounds you."
Tolle also discusses the relationship between the mind and the body, suggesting that the mind can create a sense of separation from the body that leads to stress and anxiety. He suggests that by becoming more aware of the body, we can begin to bridge this gap and experience a greater sense of inner peace and harmony.
"Your inner body is the bridge between your form identity and your essence identity."
Portals into the Unmanifested
In this chapter, you'll learn about Eckhart's concept of the unmanifested, which he defines as the formless realm of pure consciousness that underlies all creation.
"The unmanifested is beyond the mind. But you can never be separate from it, since it is the essence of who you are."
He explains that the mind is limited in its ability to access the unmanifested, as it is bound by concepts and mental constructs. He argues that the key to accessing this realm is through portals, or doorways, that allow us to transcend the limitations of the mind and experience a deeper sense of consciousness. And, of course, those portals are only accessible in the present moment.
"Stillness is the only doorway into the unmanifested. Through stillness, you enter into the realm of no-mind."
This chapter also covers the critical concept of surrender, which he suggests is essential to accessing the unmanifested. He argues that by surrendering to the present moment and accepting things as they are, we can release the resistance and judgment that prevent us from experiencing inner peace. Importantly, surrender doesn't mean "do nothing about the current situation." Surrender means to accept the situation exactly as it is, and then act on the situation given an acceptance of it.
"Stillness is the only doorway into the unmanifested. Through stillness, you enter into the realm of no-mind."
In this chapter, Eckhart explores relationships and how they can either hinder or support our spiritual growth, and how relationships can be made better through acceptance.
Tolle suggests that most relationships are rooted in the ego, which seeks to satisfy its own needs and desires. He argues that when two people come together in a relationship, their egos often clash and create conflict and drama.
"The ego tends to equate having with being: I have, therefore I am. And the more I have, the more I am."
However, he also suggests that relationships can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth when approached from a place of presence and awareness. He argues that by becoming more aware of our own thoughts and emotions, we can begin to transcend the limitations of the ego and experience a deeper sense of connection with others.
"The more you are able to honor and accept the other person as they are, the more the fear-based patterns in yourself and the other person will dissolve."
This section of the book goes on to discuss several key principles of enlightened relationships, including acceptance, non-judgment, and surrender. By cultivating these qualities, we can create relationships that are based on mutual respect, understanding, and love. But we must start by accepting the other person for who they are. No exceptions.
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, 'I am ruined' is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. 'I have fifty cents left in my bank account' is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering."