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Understanding The Power of Now

abracad, · Categories: books, consciousness, purpose, reviews, self help, spirituality
The Power of Now

First published in 1999, Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now has become an international bestseller. Written as a series of questions and answers, it presents a radical analysis of humanity's current state and offers a revolutionary route back from unhappiness to enlightenment, which this article attempts to give the merest flavor of. If you read just one Spiritual book in your life, The Power of Now is a very strong contender to be that book.

Eckhart Tolle describes how, after years of suffering anxiety and depression, one particularly bad night he noticed himself thinking "I cannot live with myself". This implication that he was somehow two beings (the self and whatever couldn't live with it) sparked an intense Spiritual experience in which he was taken within himself. That experience marked Tolle's re-birth as a Spiritual teacher and ultimately inspired the Power of Now.

Mind - The Root of Suffering

The human mind is responsible for much of the suffering currently experienced on both an individual and global level. This may seem absurd given the enormous technological achievements we all enjoy, but Tolle refers to the mind's incessant, meaningless thought processes which obscure our true nature, or "Being". By constantly re-playing the past, or envisioning an idealized or troubled future, the mind prevents attention being focused where it belongs, ie Now, which is the only true reality. The ability to still the mind at will and indentify with one's true Being is termed "Enlightenment".


The "ego" is defined as the false identification of mind with self. The ego employs all manner of devices to perpetuate its sense of importance, but since it is ultimately illusion its strategies are doomed to fail at the cost of suffering at both personal level, and collectively from the "drama" created when egos clash - eg persecution, conflict, war...

Achieving Presence

By standing outside the mind and observing it non-judgmentally, "watching the thinker", we can disidentify from it and recognize we are not our mind. A similar effect may be achieved through the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, ie focusing on whatever we are doing at the present time. The aim is not to extinguish the mind but to subordinate it to our true Being, to recognize the mind as a powerful tool to be engaged when needed. What remains after the mind is relegated to its proper place is called "Presence". Presence is felt when we are truly absorbed, and is required to be truly absorbed, in the wonders of nature.

Emotion, defined as "the body's reaction to your mind", may also be observed (and neutralized) by directing one's attention to the body's inner energy field. Tolle provides the interesting observation that where there is apparent conflict between mind and emotion, the emotion reflects the truth of mind at the time.

The Pain-body

Most people, ie the unenlightened, have a "pain-body", the accumulated pain afflicting mind and body that demands yet more pain either for ourselves or others. Unchecked the ego may identify with the pain-body, and resist letting go of this false sense of self.

In addition to a personal pain-body we also inherit one or more collective pain-bodies consisting of the accumulated pain of our race, gender, nationhood... Women in particular suffer from the feminine pain-body created from millennia of suffering, much of it at the hands of men.

The stronger our pain-body, the more we are drawn to pain. But the more unpleasant the experience, the greater the incentive for escape (enlightenment). As with mind and emotion, the pain-body (individual and collective) is transformed through impartial observation and its energy made available for our true Being.

The Delusion of Time

Difficulties largely result from the delusion of time. Our minds exist in the past and future, fiercely avoiding the only true time of Now. We rely on the past for our identity, often dwelling on guilt and regret. We place blind hope in finding fulfillment in the future. But Now is all that really exists.

Tolle distinguishes between "clock time" and "psychological time". Clock time describes the concept of time necessary for practical life, eg making appointments, absorbing lessons, setting goals... but recognizing the action from these must occur in the present. By contrast psychological time is obsession with the past and/or future, as a means of escaping the present.

The Power of Now differentiates between life situation and life. Our life situation describes the fleeting circumstances in which we find ourselves, while our life is the underlying reality. Our life situation is a frequent cause of unhappiness, in this case we can do one of three things: i) leave the situation, ii) change it, or iii) accept it. Even acceptance of the unalterable will banish unhappiness.

Coping With Problems

By focusing one's attention on now, problems cease to exist. You have no problems now, you might have them in 10 minutes, 2 hours, or 10 years; but since the only reality is now, problems are illusory. Instead we have situations of two types, those which can be dealt with - now; and those which must be accepted.

To be ruled by the mind is to be unconscious of our true nature. Most of the time this is mildly uncomfortable, but we become used to it and cease to even notice. But when faced with a challenge our normal unconsciousness shifts to a deep unconsciousness as a means of escape. In contrast those who live consciously shift to a more intense consciousness to deal most appropriately with the crisis.

While we remain unconscious, ie identified with the mind, we do not really have free will. It is only through consciousness of our true Being that we gain true choice.

Tolle speaks of humanity approaching a critical point at which its very survival hangs in the balance. Only by becoming more conscious as a species can we stop damaging ourselves and our environment and ensure our continued existence. By seeking to raise our individual consciousness, and to emanate this sense of Being to others, we can play a vital role in this process.

Purpose - Inner and Outer

The Power of Now distinguishes between Inner and Outer Purpose. Our outer purpose refers to the external goals we set in order to determine our present direction. It's good to have an outer purpose, but our inner purpose, the purpose of now, is what's really important. From this perspective it doesn't matter whether our external goals are fulfilled or not, all that matters is the inner purpose of now.

Reaching the Unmanifest

The physical body, subject to age, disease, and death, is but a misperception of our true Being. It is through the Inner Body, the energy that animates the physical body, that we may access our essential nature. This is achieved by focusing attention within the inner body; feeling the energy, power, stillness and peace of the great eternal force of which we are all part. Tolle advises maintaining awareness of the inner body as far as possible throughout daily life and suggests some benefits may be a slowing of the ageing process and strengthened immunity.

A number of portals are described, of which any one may lead to experience of the Unmanifest. The main portal is presence in the Now. The cessation of thought is another, as is absolute surrender - the cessation of resistance - to what is. Further portals lie in silence and space, two variations upon a theme; without sound we cannot know silence, and without form we cannot know space. If we can appreciate "nothingness" we shall know true reality.

Yet another portal is that of "conscious death", which opens up at the moment our physical body ceases to function. Frequently described in near death experiences it is the pathway into the light that marks our return from physical incarnation to source. Many fear death because we fear the loss of the illusory self or ego, but the true self or essence is indestructible.


Many people seek fulfillment through relationships with others, in particular the male-female relationship. The inherent incompleteness of the male or female body explains the thirst for wholeness and the desire for physical union that fuels the procreation of life. However, many male-female relationships fall short of true "love" and descend into a cycle of love and hate, dependency and addiction.

Even flawed relationships can reveal glimpses of true Being, eg in physical union. But the true opportunity for salvation comes through the awareness and knowing of the negative energies (eg anger, jealousy, impatience...) of one's partner and one's self. If one party can achieve that state of consciousness it becomes immensely difficult for the other to remain both unconscious and in the relationship.


We spend much of our effort trying to reach a state of "happiness", which may be defined as the perception of positive external conditions. But our concept of positive and negative are illusory.

The physical universe is inherently impermanent. Our conditions constantly change, as do our selves. There are cycles of growth and destruction at every level from the universe itself down to the changing fortunes of each moment Whatever we achieve ultimately fades away, or even loses its value for us while we still have it.

The key to dealing with impermanence is acceptance of whatever is. By acceptance, through Being, we cease to judge conditions as good or bad and allow ourselves to grow in response to them, whatever they may be.


The concept of Spiritual surrender should not be confused with the giving up on everything attitude that comes with deep depression. In Tolle's context surrender means yielding to the instant of now, accepting what 'is', and then taking action with what lies within one's control. This "surrendered action" is positive and driven by Being, rather than the negative action resulting from futile resentment, fear, anger etc with unalterable circumstances.

For some people, extreme circumstances can force their surrender. When a disaster occurs that shatters their pre-existing world view, what Tolle calls a "limit-situation", surrender can be the only option. From this collapse a new, more conscious, world emerges.

Applying the Lessons of The Power of Now

The Power of Now works on two levels. For the majority of readers it serves to place time in perspective. However much we may have been damaged by the past, or however much damage we have done, it's futile placing our attention there since we can't alter by one iota what is gone. It is equally futile placing our hopes on the future, eg I'll be happy when this, that or the other happens. Or being so scared of the future, eg what if this disaster or that happens. The only time have, the only time we can alter, is Now. Sure we should have hopes and plans, but the only way to realize them is by taking the right actions Now.

On a more radical level, and one perhaps only a minority of readers are ready to fully embrace, the Power of Now challenges the objectivity of the physical world: "your perception of the world is a reflection of your state of consciousness. You are not separate from it, and there is no objective world out there." At this level our purpose is to quell the egoic mind and to reconnect with the true Being that lies deep within ourselves.

Recommended Reading (by Eckhart Tolle)


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