I have been reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now recently, originally championed by the very popular Oprah Winfrey. (My acquaintance with the book is also a little belated, since it was first published in 1997, by Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, Canada). I’ve even been watching the author on YouTube, and I’m pleased to say he comes across with wisdom and soft-spoken compassion – a guru for our times (is ‘guru’ the right word, even?). The point is that he’s a genuine phenomenon; better still, what he’s teaching has nothing of the quick-fix, Law-of-Attraction message that we get from the likes of Joe Vitale, nor is it as dry and detached as, say, Jiddu Krishnamurti.
In person, Eckart Tolle combines a rich experience of Buddhist-like teachings with a quiet warmth and accessibility. What matters most is his ability to get them across to other people . Each question from the audience is answered thoughtfully, slowly and with reverence for the questioner’s own life struggles. Tolle does his best to reach out, putting others at their ease, with an answer that comes from a much more sublime place. He thinks carefully before answering. Some would say the gap between question and answer is a little long. He seems a little lost in silence. But that answer is always worth the wait.
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 all of the very real issues like overpopulation and the refugee crisis? What about the unenlightened ones beyond this lecture hall who are contributing to all of this? What about all the wars and suffering out there in the world?
Tolle more or less tells the assembled audience that suffering is sometimes the only way to get humanity to wake up, and that the example of the last (relatively recent) two world wars resulted in a united Europe trying to ensure that such things would never happen again. (I can hear the angry shouts of Brexiteers from here when they hear the phrase ‘united’ Europe’.) Thus, does humanity very 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 complacency) about about human evolution and the gaining of wisdom may be difficult for some to absorb. Despite parts of the world being plainly awful, some will say, can we really believe this is all meant to bring us to greater Consciousness? I can imagine the snorts of derision from certain quarters when Tolle, from his chair up there on stage, declares the earth to be an intelligent being. Should the earth’s population get seriously out of control, 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 the population down to a manageable size.
I agree, though, that the earth is an intelligent entity, that indeed, that Nature is infused with a Soul. And when we get to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I find little to disagree with at all. Given all the hype surrounding its publication, I was at first surprised that it 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. One relies on Americanised Positive Thinking literature, the other 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 mention Buddhism, Jung and a few Christian mystics as having influenced him.
Clearly, though, 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 found a wide audience because a) many people are indeed stressed and unhappy; b) they are looking for a solution with real substance. And 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 suggests anyone can put into operation, and he’s particularly good on how to still the mind of its racing chatter and stray, unwanted thoughts (these are 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 bring into being this underlying Awareness of the Present, and live life from that perspective. And the point is this – it doesn’t have to be difficult! The Now is is all there is! I prefer to call it the Silence, after the Helen Rhodes Wallace’s book, How To Enter the Silence.
We are 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 so. All we have to do is let go and be in the present moment. (The emotional and spiritual benefits are enormous.) But how could something so simple be so devastatingly powerful? Life’s full of little ironies, isn’t it? Read this book now!
Cover Image (fair usage) from Wikipedia; author image (PD) from Wikimedia Commons