The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now

Summary of the book The Power of the Present Moment – A Guide to Spiritual Awakening: It is possible to live without suffering, but to reach this state of awakening you must put an end to your identification with the mind, it is by being totally in the here and now that you will be able to open yourself to the transformative power of the present moment.

By reading this article you will discover that you can find enduring happiness by living fully in the present moment.

You will also learn to:

  • Use your mind and free yourself from the present moment;
  • Find the key to living in the present;
  • End needless suffering;
  • Improve your relationships with others; and
  • Let go.

At the age of 29, Eckhart Tolle had an experience so profound that it completely transformed his life and lifted him out of a long period of depression. It was the start of an inner journey that led him to become a spiritual guide. In his book, The Power of Now, he tells his story and shares how you, too, can liberate yourself from the thoughts that weigh you down, free yourself from your mind, and be happy.

Tolle notes that he uses words such as ‘Being’, ‘presence’ or ‘enlightenment’ as guides; a means of explaining an undefinable truth. If these words don’t resonate with you, you can replace them with others, or just continue reading without getting caught up on them. Their meaning will become more clear as you progress through the book.

Your mind is not you; don’t let it control your life

Are you like the beggar who searches everywhere for the riches he already possesses?

The true treasure is hidden within you. To find it, you must enter a state of enlightenment; a state in which you access your true nature and feel at one with Being. Tolle uses the term Being – which he sees as an open concept, and preferable to ‘God’, which is a closed concept – to describe what you really are: your deepest self, beyond the understanding of intellect. Only by quieting the mind and being in the present, can you experience enlightenment.

As human beings, our inability to stop thinking has meant that peace and freedom elude us. A complex screen of thoughts, made up of concepts, words, and judgements, prevents us relating to each other and keeps us from feeling at one with all that exists. Being at the mercy of the mind is the road to madness; however, it is possible for us to break free of our identification with the mind.

Instead of being a slave to the compulsive chatter of the mind, it is important to listen to it. In other words, observe your thoughts and notice the way they disappear, one after the other. These moments during which the mind is empty – which will, at first, be very short – but will become longer and bring a sense of calm and of peace. In those moments of stillness, you are becoming aware of Being. To become fully conscious, the key is to remain aware and in the present moment.

Meditation is one method of freeing yourself from the mind. All you need to do is decide to put your mind on pause, focusing all your attention on the present – the moment you are in, right now. For example, as you wash your hands, enjoy the sensations that accompany this simple act, which then becomes an end in itself. From this moment of presence, inner peace can emerge.

We believe, incorrectly, that if we stop thinking, we no longer exist. We mistakenly allow the ego to feed on the past and future, unaware that only the present can free us from the mind. A quiet mind is the state of consciousness from which thought takes on a constructive power. Conversely, the misused and disconnected mind becomes a destructive force.

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What is the mind really for?

Its purpose is survival; it collects and analyses information. In addition to this survival function, it participates in creative impulses, but it isn’t creative in itself.

What of emotions – the bodily expression of the workings of the mind?

By identifying with thoughts, instead of remaining a simple observer of them, you give strength and power to those emotions. Becoming an observer of our thoughts means observing the body’s reactions so that what has previously been unconscious, is brought, little by little, to consciousness.

Emotions (from the Latin for ‘disturbances’) are a reflection of our thoughts. They often create suffering, and the ever-active mind attempts to rid itself of that suffering, succeeding only in creating more pain, as it is inherent to the problem.

According to Tolle, love, joy, and peace are not emotions, but three profound states of Being, at our core. These three states have no opposite of pleasure, which is fleeting, and depends on things outside of us, which only exist by turns with suffering.

Emotional pain (anger, hate, guilt, and jealousy) is unavoidable, while you identify with your mind. It brings with it a feeling of being incomplete; this is why many spend their lives chasing money or power. Their ego (or false self) identifies with these material things.

You can end your suffering, whether it comes from the present or the past

Human beings suffer from past issues that are kept alive, or from pain experienced in the moment. The latter is a form of resisting what is; the more you identify with your mind, the greater your suffering. The mind cannot be in the present, as it is anchored in another time – past or future. It avoids the timeless present moment, hiding behind the past and future to retain control.

How can we human beings stop creating this suffering from our journeys in time?

Simply by putting all your attention on life as it is in this moment; allowing yourself the odd jaunt into the past or the future when necessary. Even if the present moment feels painful, the only way to find peace is to accept it as it is.

The pain from the past that haunts us exists within us as a negative energy field. Tolle calls it the “emotional pain-body.” It is dormant 90% of the time. Certain pain-bodies are innocuous, whereas others destroy people; a pain-body that wakes and becomes active takes hold of you and lives through you. From then on, without realizing it, you are either a victim or a torturer. There is no use fighting it, but you can stop it from recreating itself by observing it directly, in a state of “presence” – your inner strength. Focus on the pain-body within you; accept it, do not judge it, do not analyze it. As you remain present, you become a silent witness to what is happening within you.

It can be difficult to dis-identify with your suffering, for fear of losing your identity – that unhappy, but familiar, self. In each moment, we have the opportunity to observe the resistance that has taken hold, but it is up to us to take that opportunity.

Where does the component of emotional suffering that we call fear come from? What is it? It is a psychological fear – a fear of what might happen. Fear is brought to life by the ego facing its own death, wanting to be right at all costs, and making someone else wrong, is its way of refusing to die. It is the ego’s fight to exist, but it is also the way conflicts or wars are created.

There is a key to living in the present

If you are looking to realize your true self, forget your mind. All you will find there is your ego – a dangerous and needy thing that causes pain and takes control.

The first key to living in the present is to break free of the past and future, both of which are illusions. The present is more precious, as it is the only place we can have any experience of life. The past, on the other hand, is a memory, and the future is a projection of the mind. Both are illusory. Only the present is real – it is the only place from which we can access the spiritual dimension.

Secondly, it’s important to make the distinction between “clock time”, which lets us manage practical aspects of life, such as appointments, planning, or deciding on a goal to attain – and “psychological time,” which is the identification with the past and projection into the future. As an example, a lesson we learn in the present, from an error committed in the past, uses “clock time.” However, when you go over and over it, feeling guilty about it, you are in “psychological time.” Tolle considers being stuck in “psychological time” a mental illness, responsible for the birth of ideologies and rigid religious beliefs. If you feel there is no joy, no lightness, no ease in what you’re doing, you are under the control of “psychological time.” To get out of its grip, you have to give as much importance to the “doing” (the means) as to the end result.

Often, the future makes us repeat mistakes of the past, but if you can live in the present and focus enough energy there, you will find the past will disappear. Otherwise, you will continue to make the same mistakes; you will only feel free in the present moment.

Another path Tolle suggests for living happily in the present lies in the distinction between life, a present and real moment, and your life situation, which is time-bound and problematic.

How do you access life?

We access life by using your five senses; by paying attention to your breathing, to the energy circulating in your body. In doing this, you will fall naturally into the present moment.

But how should we react to the problems we encounter?

Again, by living in the present moment, you’ll find situations to navigate, rather than problems to solve. Problems are a function of the mind – they need the past and present to exist. In the present, even living or dying is not a problem, because in the immediacy of the present moment there is no question to be answered.  

The mind’s strategies to avoid the present

To be free of time is to fall into timeless consciousness. Most people never do this, or they do it without realizing. When they do, they vacillate between various levels of unconsciousness, progressively coming and going between consciousness (presence) and unconsciousness (identification with the mind), until presence triumphs.

What are the different levels of unconsciousness?

In the same way, the sleeper shifts between dreaming and not dreaming; the person who is awake alternates between ordinary and profound unconsciousness. The first depends on the mind, the ego; we experience ordinary unconsciousness as unease, nervousness, and continuous background noise. It exists because we are in denial of the “here and now”. The second transforms this dis-ease into more intense suffering, such as anger or depression.

So, how can you tell what level of consciousness you’re in?

The way you deal with life’s challenges will let you know whether you are conscious or unconscious. If you can’t remain present even in normal situations, it will be difficult for you to be conscious in a truly critical situation.

It is possible to eliminate ordinary unconsciousness – sometimes difficult to spot as it seems so normal – through self-observation. For example, if you are angry with someone, the best alternatives are to tell the other person how you are feeling or ignore the negativity created by the mind. By forcing yourself to resist what is, the present becomes the enemy and poisons the mind. On the other hand, accepting your anger or resentment means there is no need to externalize them and project them onto others.

Tolle cites stress as another example of ordinary unconsciousness to eliminate. Feeling stressed is an indicator that you have an internal conflict from wanting to be in two places – in the present at the same time as in the future. Instead of projecting yourself into the future or resisting the present, throw yourself into your work and savor all the strength and power that is released in you at this moment. You will no longer be stressed, as you are “whole.” The thought “I’ll get there one day” presupposes that the present is never good enough. Pinning your happiness, or peace of mind, on a future destination or outcome is the best way to create permanent dissatisfaction.

Ask yourself: what is the goal of your life – your personal journey?

You’ll find that, actually, there are two goals: the external and the internal. The first is about arriving at a destination. It implies a future that exists in the horizontal dimension of space and time. The second concerns the deepening of Being; it is experienced now, in a vertical dimension. It’s the one that leads you to yourself.

The power of the present moment is the power of consciousness freed from the mind. In giving the present your full attention, it will be easier for you to face the past and let it go.

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Presence is a state

You’re not present when you’re thinking. Presence is a space in which all thought, dreams, memories, and projections fall away – the space where inner and outer beauty manifest. This gateway to the sacred – to essence – is borne of silence.

Furthermore, everything that exists – whether animal, vegetable, or mineral – possesses a Being. Consciousness is hidden in these physical and mental forms. Freed from the form, it becomes pure consciousness.

We see this in the example of Christ, who is our divine essence: our self. In the timeless realm, Christ is neither man nor woman, simply a divine presence.

Differentiating the physical body from the subtle body slows the ageing process

The visible body – a kind of envelope – cannot lead to Being, unlike the subtle body, which is invisible and formless. To become aware of the subtle body, simply close your eyes and sense its existence inside you.

Spiritual seekers often make the mistake of denying the body. That is a fight you can never win – a struggle against your own reality. On the other hand, by keeping your attention on your subtle or energy body, you anchor yourself in the present, disassociating yourself from the mind, and becoming grounded. Feeling unease or resentment means that the emotions are still there. They are like parasites that feed on your energy. You will never find the path of the subtle body when you haven’t forgiven others or yourself.

Being fully conscious of the energy body slows the aging process of the human body and strengthens the physical and psychic immune system. It follows that most diseases will take hold when you are not present in your body, just as the negative energies of others will contaminate you when you are caught up in the past or the future.

Tolle suggests a simple method for strengthening the immune system: just before sleeping or getting up, lie flat on your back with your eyes closed and focus on different parts of your body for fifteen seconds at a time. Then, let your attention wander over your whole body, from head to toe and vice versa, for one minute. Keep this sensation of a total energetic field for several minutes.

Another advantage of having an awareness of the subtle body is that you can listen more deeply to others. Instead of interacting mind-to-mind, you give space to the other person, and in that space of true connection, any potential conflicts are dissolved.

There are several ways of accessing Being – the formless

What is the formless? It is the source of chi, the energetic field of the body. Chi is the link between our outer shell – the form – and Source, the formless, which is unchanging.

How do we access the formless?

  • In deep, dreamless sleep;
  • By stopping thought, through mediation and presence;
  • Letting go (casting off all mental and emotional resistance to what is);
  • By putting our focus on silence and the void; the nothingness. Silence only exists in contrast to sound, and we can only be conscious of space when there are no objects to occupy it. This space is the formless externalized; the ‘body’ of God. The stillness and vastness that are the genesis of the universe, exist in space and in the self (the empty mind); and
  • Through death of the physical body, when our essence carries on.

Tolle shines a light on our relationships with others

Salvation is here and now. It is the state of being yourself without depending on anything else; it is peace and life in the present moment. It’s the freedom of letting go of fear, of suffering, of feelings of lack, of all wanting, need, or attachment. To attain this state of liberation we must first let go of the psychological need that forms when we attach to the past or the future; as we let go of need, we detach from time.

What about feelings of love and hate towards others?

A love relationship wavers between love and hate in a form of balance and co-dependence. Relationships implode when negativity rears its head in the form of jealousy, possessiveness, or anger. At the beginning of a relationship, two people in love feel a sense of intense completeness, but from this intensity also come dependence and need, as if the feeling is a drug. As the effects of the drug wear off, love turns into hate.

Why is there this co-dependence?

First, it arises because the individual feels physically incomplete. Sexual union allows both men and women experience a sense of completeness. Secondly, we feel psychologically incomplete when we identify with the mind, as the idea of our ‘self’ comes from outside: from our social role, physical appearance, successes, and failures. This ‘false self’ leaves us feeling vulnerable and unsatisfied.

The love relationship gives the person the impression of no longer being alone, although the feelings of incompleteness or lacking don’t disappear. They resurface as soon as the partners fail to meet the needs of their respective egos, and each attributes the intense suffering and fear they feel to the other person.

Dependency (on drugs, alcohol, food, or a person) is an unconscious refusal to face our own suffering; we use something or someone to cover it up.

However, it is possible to turn a dependent relationship into a true one by being present, here and now. By quieting the chatter of the mind, we allow space for peace, for love, for the absence of judgment of self and others. True love, just like presence, is an inner state. It isn’t exclusive, and its intensity can vary. That’s why, even in a dependent situation, true love can emerge – for example, at the birth of a child, or during a serious illness.

In a dysfunctional relationship, self-awareness is vital. When we notice and accept the fact of feeling anger, jealousy, or any other emotional suffering, we can simply recognize the problem rather than reacting to or judging it. Partners who decide to make a spiritual practice of their relationship will truly express themselves and listen to each other. However, the practice becomes more complicated when one partner continues to identify with the mind, as their ego reacts to the threat it perceives.

Tolle asks the question: why are women closer to enlightenment than men?

He suggests that it is because they are more at home in their bodies. Women are more open to letting go, to non-judgement – to life – than men.

So, if that’s the case, why is the pain-body more of a problem for women than men?

There are two aspects: the individual and the collective. Each woman, as long as she is not conscious, carries them within herself. The collective pain-body of women is made up of the pain of generations of women reaching back through millennia – the pain of male domination, exploitation, and childbirth etc. The emotional and physical pain of the menstrual cycle is the pain-body making itself known. Rather than identifying with the pain-body, an energetic field trapped within them, Tolle advises women to become aware of it. Through observing it and feeling its energy, the pain-body becomes a transformation – the birth of a new consciousness.

What of the relationship with ourselves – is that necessary?

According to Tolle, the answer is “no”. By “being in relationship with ourselves,” we divide ourselves into “I” and “myself” – subject and object, and, once again, the mind creates a duality in which there is none.

Beyond happiness, there is peace

The circumstances of our lives can be seen as positive or negative. If we think of it another way, they simply are. They are neither good nor bad (qualities that don’t really exist).

Tolle makes an important distinction between happiness and peace. Faced with the death of a loved one, for example, it would seem impossible to be happy, whereas it is entirely possible to be at peace and to feel completely serene as we sit with what is, without resisting. Through accepting what is, we forgive, and we find inner peace. Unfortunately, most people are unaware that they are immersed in the dysfunction created by their ego, and live out their personal dramas as if they were real. If they were to become fully conscious, they would stop being in conflict with others and themselves.

Life is cyclical – every planet, physical body or political system lives and dies. Life is alternately evolution and involution. The cycle of involution is of primary importance for those who want to achieve spiritual self-realization; those who experience great suffering are attracted to spiritual awakening. The cycles of the universe and the “impermanence” of all situations are closely linked, as we see in the teachings of the Buddha or Christ. All things must end, change, or overturn; if the mind attaches itself to them, it resists the changes instead of accepting them. This is negativity; an unnatural state only found in human beings. A flower, a tree, or an animal is never unhappy or stressed. If they are, it is because they are in contact with humans, who seek their identity in the mind.

So how do we get rid of negativity?

By being aware of it and not ignoring it; by noticing but not reacting to an annoying noise – a car alarm, a barking dog, or a hurtful word. In a state of peace, the human being is like a deep lake: calm or agitated on the surface depending on the cycles, and in its depths, completely still. Peace allows us to become conscious of the profound connection that unites us. Tolle calls this compassion, which is made up of two aspects: mortal and immortal. The first is the realization of our shared humanity; being in a physical body that will disappear when we die. The second is the realization of our true nature: Being, which reveals death and the body to be no more than an illusion.

It is possible to let go

How do we let go?

Letting go is the act of letting life flow rather than resisting and accepting the present without conditions. It is important not to confuse letting go, which is a positive action, with resignation.

What happens when we refuse to let go?

The ego gains strength, the physical body contracts, and energy is blocked. Letting go allows us, for example, to say “no” to someone without negativity or upset, by being conscious but not resistant or reactive.

A serious illness, a trauma – any extreme situation – helps us to let go and dissolves the ego. Try to face your suffering; feel it, don’t just talk about it. Feel the fear and the sadness but stay present and attentive. When you sit with your suffering, you enter death consciously and realize that death doesn’t really exist. Only the ego dies.

To let go is to choose, and the more conscious we are, the more choices we have. When we disidentify from the mind, we raise our chances of letting go. The mind of a woman beaten by successive partners, is holding her prisoner, repeating old patterns. For as long as this woman remains attached to her mind and her emotions, she won’t have a choice, and will continue to act in the same way.

What should you take away from this summary?

  • Your mind is not you; don’t let it control your life;
  • You can end your suffering, whether it is rooted in the present or the past;
  • There is a key to living in the present;
  • The mind uses strategies to avoid the present;
  • Presence is a state;
  • Differentiating the physical body from the subtle body slows ageing;
  • There are several ways of accessing Being (the formless);
  • Tolle shines a light on our relationships with others;
  • Beyond happiness, we can attain peace; and
  • It is possible to let go.

Eckhart Tolle invites us to follow him and attain inner peace, to live in the here and now, fully conscious. By succeeding in quieting the ego and throwing off the shackles of the mind, it is possible to live a happier and more fulfilled life. Beyond personal happiness, this quieting of the ego is the key to ridding the planet of violence in all its forms.

Conclusion on the book: The Power of the Moment

When I closed The Power of the Present Moment for the first time, the days that followed were much calmer and more peaceful, even though my daily life hadn’t changed a bit.

I was the one who had changed, I had become aware of something unique, because I knew how to come back to the present moment instead of constantly escaping.

It actually helped me a lot.

I was a student the first time I read The Power of the Moment and I remember feeling more focused and alert in what I was doing, my words were softer and my attitude more confident.

I understood that at any moment I could recreate this state myself, just by making the effort to observe my mind and pay attention to my bodily sensations.

Beware, the book The Power of the Moment is much richer than it seems!

During the first reading of The Power of the Present Moment (in 2003), of course, I began to pay attention to many more things and to be much more present. This is actually a wonderful starting point, but the habits of the mind come back at a gallop if you don’t maintain your efforts over the long term.

Do not let your ego get carried away, the trap into which you may fall and into which I myself have fallen is to want at all costs to give lessons to everyone starting from the teaching of the book.

The power of the present moment invites you to do the things that frighten you with love and to use your suffering as a springboard to awakening. Be careful though, what I forgot to point out is that no matter what situation you are in, this book will bring you what you need most now to move forward anyway.

Get your copy here

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