Recently, I’ve been researching for a book on the subject of depression and its connection to so-called spiritual awakening. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle’s best selling book from 1997 (originally championed by Oprah Winfrey) comes in quite handy, here. Can one overcome existential depression by practising mindfulness techniques, by remaining in the eternal now? It turns out you can or, at least, it’s possible to arrive somewhere beyond the pain and fear that trigger it.
Anyway (along with some Alan Watts), I started watching YouTube’s videos of Eckhart Tolle: the veteran, soft-spoken, tank-topped guru (is ‘guru’ the right word, even?) for the twenty-first century. I learn that the author of The Power of Now is quite a phenomenon these days, better still, that what he’s teaching has nothing of the quick-fix, Law-of-Attraction hard-sell that we get from the likes of Joe Vitale, nor is it quite so dry and detached as, say, Jiddu Krishnamurti. No, in person, Eckhart Tolle combines a clearly profound experience of Buddhist-like teachings with a likeable warmth and accessibility.
Of course, what matters most is his ability to get his ideas across to others. Each question from the audience is answered thoughtfully, ponderously even, and with due reverence for the questioner’s own plight. Mr Tolle thus does his best to reach out, putting others at their ease, and with a reply coming from a much more sublime place. Some would say the gap between question and answer is a little long. This has been a source of sniggering mirth for some, his being a little lost in silence whilst the questioner waits. But the answer is always worth it when it comes.
To be sure, all of this is pretty much what we would hope for, but it’s when questions of a more ‘worldly’ nature – let’s say – arise, that maybe Tolle’s Achilles Heel is on show. In one lecture he was asked about humanity in general – how do we deal with real issues like overpopulation and the refugee crisis? What about the unenlightened ones beyond this lecture hall contributing to all of this? What about all the wars and suffering out there?
Tolle more or less tells the audience that suffering is sometimes the only way to get humanity to wake up. That the example of the last (relatively recent) two world wars resulted in a united Europe trying to ensure that such things never happened again. (I can hear the angry cries of Brexiteers from when the words ‘united’ and ‘Europe’ are mentioned in the same breath.) Thus, does humanity slowly become more enlightened (he mentions women’s rights and equality, too, as being a fairly recent example of developed human intelligence.)
This kind of idealism (some might say naïvety) about the gaining of wisdom may be difficult for some to absorb. Despite parts of the world being replete with human suffering, can we really accept this is all meant to bring us to greater Consciousness? I can hear snorts of derision, too, when Mr Tolle declares the earth to be an intelligent being. Should the earth’s population get out of control, he says, the earth (as an expression of the One universal consciousness) would take steps to regulate this, somehow. If one were cynical, one could add that world wars (and suicide) were but nature’s way of keeping populations down to a manageable size. This is why there are detractors when it comes to the Power of Now. It’s a matter of perspective. (My own is that the earth is indeed an intelligent entity; that the Universe is ‘Mind-like’. Check out the philosophy of Pan-Psychism.)
THE POWER OF NOW: THE VERDICT
Given all the hype surrounding its publication (and the usual sandstorm of ignorance from certain critics), I was at first surprised to find The Power of Now isn’t just another bandwagon-jumper in the Mind, Body Spirit category. That it has depth and understanding, and yes, wisdom. If Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret is the tails, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is the heads of the coin when it comes to mindfulness studies.
One is Americanised Positive Thinking about the much maligned and misunderstood ‘law of attraction’, and which promises the earth; the other takes its cue from the Wisdom of the East and makes no promises at all. Like a modern successor to the works of the late, great British philosopher Alan Watts (himself, a great exponent of Zen), The Power of Now seems wholly wrapped up in its creator, more like a set of short personal memoirs and reflections. This is not to say The Power of Now is totally original, Tolle himself has mentioned Buddhism, Jung and various Christian mystics through the ages as being of seminal influence. It’s a draught on which he has drawn deeply.
But The Power of Now has something of great import to convey – how to live fully and with true awareness in the Present Moment without complaint, anxiety, worry, suffering etc. This has naturally found a wide audience because: a) many people are indeed stressed and unhappy, and: b) are looking for a solution with real substance. And therein lies the rub – the proposed solution must really work. But, take it from me, you can do little better than Buddhist Vipassana teachings, whose ethos about living in the eternal now is communicated simply and practically in Tolle’s book.
The techniques he puts forth anyone can put into operation, and he’s especially good on how to still the mind and be free of its racing chatter, its river of stray thoughts (all part of the ‘false self’, or surface ‘i’ beneath which lies the True Self ). It’s our goal to try and stay with, and manifest, this underlying awareness of the Now, and live life from that perspective. To enter into simple be-ing. And the point is this – it doesn’t have to be difficult.
The Now is always with us. The Now is all there is, pure and simple. (I prefer to call it the Silence, after the Helen Rhodes Wallace’s book, How To Enter the Silence.) We’re taught to believe that if something is truly worth having, we must strive hard to achieve it. Tolle’s book shows that this isn’t always so. All we have to do is let go and be in the present moment, and the emotional and spiritual benefits are considerable. Some, of course, will ask: how can something so simple be so devastatingly powerful? Life’s full of little ironies, isn’t it?
My website is www.astro.nu
Cover image (fair use) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TPON_Cover_LG.jpg
The Power of Now can be obtained here.
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