I heard about Eckhart Tolle before Oprah made him popular in 2008.
About ten years ago my pastor mentioned The Power of Now in a sermon. I bought the book, put it on my “read soon” bookshelf, and didn’t read it for over a year. I kept meaning to read it, but then some other recommended book would jump ahead of it in line. I took it with me on a planning retreat, and as I was unpacking the large bag of books I had bought, something told me, “Read this one first.” I read it straight through with hardly a break.
Tolle claims that human unhappiness is rooted in our addiction to thinking. He observes that the ego has no life in and of itself: it only “lives” when it forces us to think about the past (which produces guilt) or the future (which produces anxiety). The key to enlightenment, he tells us, is to live in the present.
He offers simple exercises like “watching the thinker.”
Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I call “watching the thinker,” which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.
Jesus once said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Tolle argues that the “narrow gate” is living in the now.
I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to stay in the present moment. I’m always being pulled into the past or pushed into the future, regretting what has happened or anxious about what may happen.
The great Zen master Rinzai, in order to take his students’ attention away from time, would often raise his finger and slowly ask: “What, at this moment, is lacking?” A powerful question that does not require an answer on the level of the mind. It is designed to take your attention deeply into the Now.
The answer to the question, “What, at this moment, is lacking?” is always, “Nothing.” And that is the point.
If Eckhart Tolle’s writing is a little too dense for your taste, I understand. So I offer you the same message by a different author.
I bought a cheap watch from a crazy man
Floating down canal
It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands
It always just says now
Now you may be thinking that I was had
But this watch is never wrong
And If I have trouble the warranty said
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On
Jimmy Buffett wrote “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On” after hurricane Katrina. He’s saying pretty much what Tolle says. And what Jesus says. The treasure you seek is hidden under your feet. Focus all of your energy on right now.
If you’d prefer the message in movie form, check out Peaceful Warrior.