Author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, seventy-something-year-old Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual guru who’s good buddies with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, and is arguably the most “spiritually influential” man in the modern world. I’d also like to add that despite being in his seventies he appears to be in his fifties… what is this trickery?
The basis of Tolle’s teachings is that we confuse reality with the racing thoughts in our heads. He encourages people to shift their awareness away from this white noise and into “the now”, stating that is all there ever really is.
“When people value the next moment more than they value what is, they are dissatisfied with what is, but they are hoping some other future moment is going to free them from this dissatisfaction,” he explains. “But the other moment never actually comes because when the so-called future comes, it appears again as the unsatisfying present.”
It all seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? In fact, when I read The Power of Now in 2015, I was quite annoyed by the obviousness of it. I was having a super shitty time and wanted instant enlightenment, thank you very much. Not discussions on concepts I’d already considered. But conceptually understanding isn’t enough to change anything, is it?
In my case, I was always planning for the future: thinking of the next thing I could accomplish to make myself useful; how to better plan my days; how I could do bigger things; and how I could get away from my current situation. And while there’s nothing wrong with all that in reasonable amounts, I was whiling away my life with striving and thought, and was never fully present.
But I wondered: did I really need to be?
I wasn’t sure, but I thought I’d give it a shot. When you’re like me and have a mind that loves living in the future and thinks that all happiness resides there, at first “practising presence” is pretty shitty. I tried being fully present while washing up and found myself thinking: “So this is my life now? Am I supposed to enjoy this? Whoopdee-friggin-dee!” (Please visualise me aggressively washing up).
Despite my initial protests, I persisted. That baby-faced jerk couldn’t have written so much about the wonders of the present moment for nothing, could he? I decided to go a bit easier on myself and started by simply paying attention to my thoughts rather than trying to skip straight to Jedi Master.
I noticed my thoughts were very ad hoc – not just future planning, striving, and worry, but a lot of imaginary future conversations. I don’t have them as much anymore, which is sad, because in my imagination I am charming and vivacious. And I win every argument.
It didn’t happen instantly, but my life did undoubtedly become more peaceful through observation of my thoughts alone. I started to ease into the realisation that I didn’t have to earn my place here: I was actually allowed exist without striving or worry. Even washing up wasn’t so bad… my mind had just made it that way, because it wanted to do something “meaningful” all the time.
I still have my ups and downs. I sometimes default straight to worry and striving simply because it’s what I’ve always done. But I seem to find my way back to normality a little quicker these days, and lose myself less often. The old saying that “life is a journey not a destination” is a terrible cliché, but true. I figure I may as well be present for it, washing up and all.