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The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

March 3, 2018

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I first read this book in 2008. I reread it again as a part of a group reading assignment at work. On second reading, I completely agree with my 2008 assessment. This book is about 25% empowering brilliance and 75% New Age gibberish, wrapped in a package that is pretentious and condescending.

The central premise—that most of our pain comes from living in the past or future vs being present in the moment—is life-changing if one can really internalize it and put it into practice. The ability to control our minds and keep our thoughts from running to distracting or dark places can bring an inner stillness and peace that can transform our health and our outer presence in the world.

But the pull of the past and the future are strong. We live in the past because it is so tied to our identity. Without the past, who are we? Thus we relive moments, fill our minds with regrets, second-guess our decisions. In reality, there is nothing to be done about the past. And many of the things we associate with our identities—our religion, work, social status, possessions, nationality, accomplishments, past experiences—are ephemeral. Furthermore, there is evidence that reliving painful moments can have the same physiological effects as the original experience. By conjuring the painful memory, we are experiencing all the stresses and pain of the experience again. The past is gone, if we can just let it be gone in our minds.

We live in the future because it is where we are potentially headed. But it often becomes a source of worry and pain. The dread we carry for an experience that may not even happen is unnecessary pain. Even if it does happen, the extra fear only serves to make the overall pain worse.

This is all easier said than done, of course. But the central premise is that time is an illusion. The only thing that is real is the present moment. And our greatest gift to ourselves and to the world around us is to be present in this moment. To listen to others with our being, not our wandering mind. To recognize that “compassion is a deep bond between ourselves and all creatures.”

Control over our inner thoughts is central to many eastern practices and religions. In the west, it’s often more a matter of therapy, though the practice of mindfulness is becoming more prevalent. If this book helps popularize the notion, it should be celebrated. But the format of this book and its length is irritating—not something you want in a book about finding inner peace. It has an unnecessary question-and-answer format and the author comes off as insufferably arrogant. I’m currently reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Sit, which I find much better.

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