Book Review

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle, New World Library, Novato, CA, 1999; 193 pages, ISBN 1577311523, hardcover, $22.95.

This practical guide provides understanding and techniques to help people live increasingly in the "Now." It points out forcefully that we are not our ever-changing thoughts and feelings, although we generally identify ourselves with them. The full extent of our consciousness is much deeper, but in order to experience these further reaches of our being, we must be able to control our mind and stop our habitual thinking when we wish to and have no need for it. The ego or limited sense of self forms itself largely of thoughts, feelings, and judgments about a conjectural past and future, and avoids the present moment when all life is experienced. In fact, there is nothing other than the present, though we often fill it with expectations, worries, imaginings, and feelings about things that are not presently going on. The author holds that our "problems" are illusions created by this egoic, time-bound mind:

Focus your attention on the Now and tell me what problem you have at this moment.
I am not getting any answer because it is impossible to have a problem when your attention is fully in the Now. A situation that needs to be either dealt with or accepted -- yes. Why make it into a problem? . . . "Problem" means that you are dwellling on a situation mentally without there being a true intention or possibility of taking action now and that you are unconsciously making it part of your sense of self. You become so overwhelmed by your life situation that you lose your sense of life, of Being. Or you are carrying in your mind the insane burden of a hundred things that you will or may have to do in the future instead of focusing your attention on the one thing that you can do now. -- pp. 53-4

When we are able to stay in the here and now, we spontaneously come in touch with our true self or wider consciousness, a process which is very threatening to the false self or ego. In addressing the comment that the "present moment is sometimes unacceptable, unpleasant, or awful," the author responds:

It is as it is. Observe how the mind labels it and how this labeling process, this continuous sitting in judgment, creates pain and unhappiness. By watching the mechanics of the mind, you step out of its resistance patterns, and you can then allow the present moment to be. This will give you a taste of the state of inner freedom from external conditions, the state of true inner peace. Then see what happens, and take action if necessary or possible.
Accept -- then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life. -- p. 29

Not written from any theological standpoint, though occasionally using examples from the world's religions, the book seeks to restate the "one timeless spiritual teaching, the essence of all religions" (p. 6). Based on the author's experience and the comments and questions of his students, it is a personal and fresh restatement, and readers may find helpful ideas and approaches to consider or apply. -- Sarah Belle Dougherty

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)

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