The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle teaches enlightenment and spirituality through meditation.
I find it really good.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Real Life Applications
- Separate yourself from the overthinking mind
- Remove the negative influences of the past and the future: focus on the now
- On the immediate present, in the now, there’s rarely any suffering
The Power of Now is a very difficult book to summarize. It’s very ethereal and since it’s very outside the normal realm of what we’re used to, it’s not easy to grasp and explain.
But here’s me tryin’:
Forget Past and Future
A central teaching of Tolle’s enlightenment is, you guessed it, to focus on the now?
But why should we focus on the now?
Well, The Power of Now makes the case that lots our suffering and pain happens because we allow the past and the future to poison our present.
Which makes no sense to Tolle, because past and future don’t even exist.
Now is All There Is
Past and future are mental construct that bare no reality. Things only happen in a continuous stream of present moments.
When you feel something about the past you are feeling it now. So it’s not true that you are feeling some pain from the past: you are experiencing it in a success of present, “now moments”.
Our feelings indeed can only give you information about the now, about this specific moment.
What we call the past is nothing but a collection of once-present moments. And the future is made of present moments that have yet to materialize.
The Power of Now
Dwelling on past pains and future worries does nothing good for you.
If you deal with them in the now instead you will only be dealing with smaller problems that you will be tackling without any future worries.
For example, you might have a huge project you are running behind schedule. Most people project the future worry of not making it on time or having to face an angry boss on the now, which does nothing good neither for them nor for the completion of their project.
If you tackle it instead in the now, you can focus on doing all the actions that need be to taken now free of future worries.
Pain is Focus on What You Can’t Change
Eckart Tolle says that we experience pain when are unhappy about things we have little control on.
The past for example, or future issues we don’t feel like we can fully control.
It’s because we focus too much on the past and the future but we only have the present to tackle them. And the present cannot always fully tackle future events and it can hardly rewrite the past as well (albeit Tony Robbins shares a few technique to change your past memories).
We Create Pain – And We Can Erase It
As much as past and future are our own construct, so is pain. It might feel like external circumstances bring pain to us, but that’s not true: we create our own pain.
The Power of Now doesn’t deny that some pain are unavoidable. Death of loved ones, for example, will always be painful.
Tolle says that you should accept unavoidable pain for what it is: a part of life that cannot be changed. And you will avoid needless suffering.
Accepting means that you stop wishing it weren’t, or that you stop blaming yourself for any possible contribution.
The idea of accepting the pain is also a concept in When Breath Becomes Air.
After all, being present in the now is not strictly about avoiding, suppressing or ignoring all pain and negative feelings.
But it provides with the strength to accept them.
Ego & Thinking Are The Enemy
We equate our ego with the thoughts in our mind.
The problem with that is that our mind always projects into the future to secure its survival.
This is why you cannot find the present moment as long as you are in your mind.
For Tolle indeed the enlightenment is to stop the incessant thinking our mind is always engage into.
He says that Descarte got it wrong with his famous “I think therefore I am”.
He made the typical mistake of equating thinking with being and identity with thinking.
Artists and Creation
Tolle says that all artists, whether they are aware of it or not, create from a place of no mind (=no constant thinking).
Path to Enlightenment: Separation & Observation
To reach an enlightenment state you need to separate yourself from your constantly thinking mind and observe it as you’d observe a third party.
Tolle proposes several different ways to do that:
- Ask yourself “What will my next thought be?”
When you fully focus on that question your mind will stop its background humming for a while and you will create a gap in the flow of thinking.
- Listen to your mind without judging
Judging is an act of your mind, so when you allow your mind to judge its own thought you are allowing it free reins.
So for example if in the middle of something you feel like taking a break outside, follow that impulse instead of deeming it unrealistic.
Conversely, if you’re outside taking a break, listen if your thought says “you should be working instead of wasting time” but don’t judge it. Just acknowledge it exists.
This “listening without equating yourself to your emotions and thoughts” is the same concept of the equally spiritual the Untethered Soul.
- Full alertness
A great to focus on the now is putting yourself in a state where you are awaiting for something important to happen.
When you in a state of tense awaiting all your body and mind is fully alert without any spare resources for worrying about the past and future.
Active waiting can also be a tool you can use to enter a state of flow, for example before an exam or before a race (for more on flow read: Grit, The Talent Code and Relentless).
This is why, Tolle says, Jesus answered to the disciples who asked him how to live a good and peaceful life:
Be like a servant waiting for the return of the master
The servant, fully alert, is living in the now.
Relationships In the Now
Living in the now can be of great help for your relationship.
It allows you to listen without an ego and without judging. And you will have no need to possess and restrict your partner.
However, it can also make your relationship difficult when only one partner lives in the now.
Eckhart Tolle says that light and darkness cannot coexist.
The non enlightened partner will always try to bring you back to the pains of the past or the worries of the future.
Addiction & Relationships
The author says that any addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Being addicted to one person is like being addicted to any other substance.
The addictions, states the Power of Now, stems by personal refusal to address personal pain.
Relationships With(out) Yourself
When you are enlightened, says Tolle, you won’t have a relationship with yourself anymore because you move beyond equating yourself with your ego.
Mind & Body
The author says that many spiritual got it wrong in trying to transcend from the body. But trying to repress the body is not the way to enlightenment.
Buddha only find it when he stopped his 6 years abstinence. Jesus always embraced the body: he ascended to heave wit his body and told the disciples that “your body is a temple”.
Interconnectedness of Everything
Eckhart Tolle says that he cannot tell you anything which you don’t already know, deep inside.
And when you reach a certain stage of interconnectedness you will recognize the truth when you hear it.
When you reach a high level of interconnectedness you will realize that God is everywhere around you. That’s why Jesus said:
Real Life Applications
Accept it as you chose it
Ryan Holiday calls the acceptance of what we cannot “amor fati” (The Obstacle is The Way).
The Power of Now goes even one step further suggesting you accept all that you cannot change as if you had chosen it yourself.
Use clock time
I really loved, loved, loved the idea of using “clock time” instead of “psychological time” for the future. Such as when you need to set deadlines for the future, only treat it as clock time instead of allowing the pain and worry to take over in your present.
Goals & Drive VS In The Now
Some people might use The Power of Now as an excuse not to plan, make strict goals or push themselves through suffering.
I have a different approach: keep making goals and deadline, but actively weed out all the worries the future brings into your present.
Plan in advance and enjoy your journey in the now.
What if past and present bring positive
While Tolle mostly focus on the past and the future as harbinger of pain, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if the past and present instead mostly brought us good feelings and sensations?
In The Power of Positive Thinking for example Norman Vincent Peale talks about the powerful benefits of positive thinking, and that can come from either past, present or future.
I think indeed that while we can leverage the power of now, we can also leverage the power of past and future, if we need so.
We can’t stop thinking because…
… Because we believe that we stop being if we stop thinking.
I find this answer quite bogus to be honest. How can he say that for sure? I think our mind doesn’t stop because that’s how it’s biologically wired instead.
Superficial “guilt-tripping” on humanity
Eckhart Tolle answer a question saying (I paraphrase for brevity):
Of course there’s something wrong with you, and you are not being judged. Don’t you belong to the human race who killed over 100 millions members of its own species in the 21st century alone?
I don’t like that attitude. I find it very superficial and I don’t see what kind of value it can add.
Superficial guilt tripping on men
The author talks about “collective female pain body” as due in large part to collective male violence and repression on women throughout the planet over the millennia.
I personally disagree, but it’s also factually wrong as patriarchal society is not “global”. Plenty of societies have been matriarchal.
If you’re interested in the topic also check Men on Strike and The Feminist Lie (but the latter goes way overboard).
Poor relationship theory
Especially after having read top and scientific resources on relationships I found some relationship analysis in The Power of Now to be a bit shallow.
If you’re interested in improving your relationship, check my relationship meta-summary.
Simplistic view on addiction
The Power of Now says that an addiction is always the refusal to address a personal pain.
That’s not completely true in my opinion and can be deceiving.
Today we know that some personalities are more prone to addictions than others, called addictive personalities.
The concept of living in the now is extremely powerful.
Mouthpiece for meditation
The Power of Now, with its millions of books sold can really help people embrace a bit more spirituality in their life.
And I think that’s good.
Soothing Voice for Meditation
The great voice inflection from Tolle makes it perfect to enter a meditative spirti even as you listen to the book.
As a matter of fact, I meditated with it and it was one of the fastest times ever for me to reach an alpha state.
This a video where Tolle “popularizes” the main concepts of The Power of Now. Consider that it’s not quite as deep or broad as the book, but if you’re struggling to grasp some concepts this can help.
I listed a lot of cons because I feel it’s even more important to properly dissect and analyze both the very popular ones and the very good ones.
And The Power of Now is both: wildly popular and very, very good.
I meditated a couple of nights ago with The Power of Now playing, and it was the fastest time I’ve ever reached an alpha state.
Very powerful, I’ll try that again.
Also, I feel this is a book that I will need to re-listen to again to understand it even better. But I feel it’s already helping me mentally, so I can only recommend it.