48 pages 1 hour read

Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1997

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Power of Now is a 1997 spiritual self-help book by Eckhart Tolle. This work launched Tolle from obscurity to world fame, as it quickly became popular after its first printing by Namaste Publishing in Vancouver, BC. After being recommended by Oprah Winfrey, The Power of Now became a bestseller and has been published in 30 languages. Tolle explains how to attain contentment and enlightenment by quieting the noise of the thinking mind and the ego and living in the “Now.” Tolle claims that he learned this accidentally during a time of intense depression that caused his ego to dissolve, leaving him with only his “true nature” (5). He explains how anyone can access joy and inner peace, which he says exists in everyone’s true self. This guide refers to the Kindle E-book edition of this book.

Content Warning: This guide mentions suicidal ideation.

Summary

In the Preface, written six years after the book’s original publication date, Tolle reflects on his book’s rise to fame and shares that many readers reached out to him with messages about how his work changed their lives. While he feels that his book was generally positively received, he also responds to criticisms of his work, commenting that it will naturally prompt “egoic reaction, resistance, and attack” (169). In the Introduction, Tolle shares the personal backstory of his revelation about the ego and the true self. He remembers being severely anxious and depressed in his 20s, which culminated in a transformative experience at the age of 29. Tolle felt himself drawn into a “void” within him and felt his fear dissolve. The next day, he woke up with a new appreciation for everything around him, which felt “fresh and pristine” (4). Tolle argues that his extreme emotional pain and psychological distress “must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from its identification with the unhappy and deeply fearful self,” leaving him with only his “true nature” and his inherent contentedness (5). He then explains that the book will explore the difference between the ego and the “true nature” and show readers how to change their mindsets and experience inner peace.

Tolle’s first chapter, “You Are Not Your Mind,” introduces readers to his argument that negative feelings and actions are the result of over-identifying with one’s mind. He connects the mind to the ego and claims that its compulsive thinking can become a kind of “addiction” that causes harm to oneself and others. Tolle then contrasts the mind with people’s “true natures” or “Being,” which he says anyone can access by living in the “Now,” or the present moment. In Chapter 2, Tolle builds on these ideas by introducing the concept of the “pain-body,” which he says can manifest as physical or emotional pain. The mind fuels these pain-bodies with negative thinking: regret or resentment from the past; fears about the future; or hatred toward other people. Tolle argues that pain-bodies can be very destructive and ruin one’s mental and physical health if left unchallenged. He advises readers to observe their thoughts non-judgmentally and live in the present to minimize their pain-bodies.

In the third chapter, Tolle explores the notion of time, claiming that it is an illusion that is essential to the function of the ego. Without a past to inform the sense of identity and a future to seek fulfillment in, egos cannot survive. For Tolle, only the “Now” is real and deserving of energy. For this reason, he distinguishes “clock time,” in which people can call the past or project into the future to help inform their current decisions, from “psychological time,” which involves ruminating on the past or stressing about the future. Psychological time robs one of the present and is, therefore, a destructive manifestation of the thinking mind.

In his following chapter, Tolle addresses how the mind tries to avoid the present moment. He claims that one of the best ways for people to bring themselves into the present is by honestly observing their own responses to criticism and to being challenged since these kinds of experiences often trigger immediate negative thought reactions. In Chapter 5, Tolle argues that everything on earth—even inanimate objects like rocks—is alive and has a kind of “God-essence.” He claims that there is no need to try to understand this phenomenon intellectually since the mind simply cannot comprehend it; it can only be felt. Tolle claims that Christianity’s message should be interpreted as a plea to live in the Now, and Christ’s second coming is actually a revolution in the way people think and experience consciousness.

In Chapter 6, “The Inner Shell,” Tolle argues that paying attention to the body’s feelings and sensations can help bring people into presence because bodies have an invisible “inner shell” that can function as a portal to the “Unmanifested,” or the source of all life. He laments that many cultures and spiritual traditions create stigmas about the body, particularly regarding sexuality, and try to achieve enlightenment by punishing the body through fasting or self-harm. Instead, he argues that personal transformation is possible only by working with the body, not by neglecting or punishing it. In the following chapter, Tolle expands this argument and urges the reader to meditate with bodily awareness to take advantage of the body’s portal. He claims that other portals to the Unmanifested are the dream life, which is only ever temporary, and the portal that is encountered right after the body dies.

In Chapter 8, Tolle discusses the role conscious presence can play in relationships, especially romantic relationships. He claims that using relationships as a way to seek “salvation” or enlightenment will end in “disillusionment.” He believes that many so-called love relationships are actually based on addictive cycles of pain and pleasure that are based on egoic minds trying to fulfill their needs. Conflict with partners can trigger pain-bodies as people unconsciously act in jealous, accusatory, and defensive ways that entrench them in their egos. Tolle warns that a person who becomes conscious may separate from their partner “like oil and water,” as the unconscious ego will continue to seek conflict and drama. Alternatively, the other party may be positively influenced by their partner and discover how to live in the present. Tolle recommends that couples view their relationships as a form of spiritual practice that helps them better understand their own unconscious thoughts.

In Chapter 9, Tolle explains the difference between happiness and inner peace, claiming that happiness is possible only when a person’s life’s conditions are positive, but inner peace is always possible through consciousness. He believes negativity is a product of the human mind, and he looks to other species—such as cats and ducks—that live in the present and do not seem to attach themselves to negative feelings. He argues that as humans gain consciousness, other beings will benefit from their peace. Finally, Tolle concludes with a chapter called “The Meaning of Surrender,” which further explains his advice to surrender to the present moment. He specifies that surrender is an inner experience that requires acceptance of the present without generating negative feelings or judgments about it, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Tolle teaches that it is possible to surrender to the present while still taking the necessary positive action to change one’s situation as needed. He concludes by reiterating his main teaching to embrace the “Now” since it is the “key” to becoming conscious.

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By Eckhart Tolle