This is the first part of a seven part series exploring seven books that have literally changed my life. You know those books so powerful that the wisdom of the author seeps through the pages and osmotically deposits itself into your hard wiring? These are the books where you look up after reading a line, a page, chapter, and know that something fundamental has shifted inside of you – for good. What is known cannot be unknown.
In this series I will be sharing with you the things that I have learned from these books. It isn’t a summary of the book – you can get that anywhere. This is the gaining of wisdom made personal – a sacred journey if you will. This is wisdom directly applied and worked on over years – these are books that have had profound effects upon me.
And now, for the first book:
The Power of Now
I first read this book in 2006. I remember very clearly walking into a bookshop in Bellingen and buying it, with the knowledge that I needed to read it. It must have been perfect timing, because I drank that book in like cold lemonade on a hot day. It has been wonderful to look back over the book eight years later and see just how deeply the lessons have embedded themselves into my life.
Presence: Before I read this book, I didn’t have a concept of the value of the present moment. It’s like this: both the past and the future exist only in our imagination. The only thing that is real is Now, the present moment. Our mind will continually want to pull us out of the present (reality) and land us somewhere else, whether it is fretting about the past or worrying about the future. Our task is to continually return to reality.
Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing ever happened in the future; it will happen in the Now.
Acceptance of Reality: Have you noticed how we humans refuse to accept reality? Something happens that we decide that we don’t like. Oh no! Why is this happening to me? I don’t like it, I don’t want this to happen, this is not how I planned it. And so on.
To complain is always non-acceptance of what is.
By coming into the present moment, Tolle is asking us to accept reality. Like everybody else, I was desperately trying to control as much of life as I could, and like everybody else, I was constantly dismayed at the results. Accepting reality means that when a situation occurs – stop freaking out, come back from the past (where you are thinking about the last time something like this happened) or the future (where you are imagining things that might happen) and rest in the Present. Yes this situation has happened. Am I okay, at this very moment? Yes I am. Okay, what now? This has been and continues to be of profound benefit to me, every day.
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you have chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. make it your friend and your ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.
What I have come to understand through accepting reality, however it comes and how unexpected it is, is that I do not have access to all the information. Things happen a certain way because they need to. By accepting reality, I let life unfold in all its innate wisdom and grace. I let life do what it does best. This does not mean that we just lie there accepting whatever life throws at us. What it does mean, is that we accept what has happened. We then have three choices:
If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it or accept it totally. All else is madness.
Using your body to access the Now.
One of the very best techniques Tolle taught me was how to come into the Present Moment by bringing my attention to my Inner Body. Be in the body – feel it from within. Can you feel how alive you are? Do not think about it, feel it.
The Inner Body lies at the threshold between your form identity and your essence identity, your true nature. Never lose touch with it.
As I began to practice shifting my attention to my Inner Body, I realised that my focus was a gift. With this gift, my very cells come alive. As I practice, I become more and more aware of the subtle energy that fills my physical body and gives me life. This feeling is my doorway into the Divine. This is meditation. Centered, grounded, present, aware, awake.
Transformation occurs through the body not away from it.
This is why yoga is so powerful.
Taming your Mind.
Your mind is an instrument, a tool. It is there to be used for a specific task, and when the task is completed, you lay it down.
I am not cursed with a a hyperactive mind thank goodness, but like everybody, my mind thinks it’s higher up on the ladder of importance than it actually is. Tolle teaches that over-activity of the mind – the mind that chatters ceaselessly all day and half of the night – has not only made us entirely insane as a species, but is actively blocking us from our true essence, our Being. Our inability to separate ourselves from our mind (we are not the thinker, sorry Descartes) traps us in anxiety, regret and every type of self-inflicted suffering.
Learn to use your mind instead of it using you – and know the difference.
That is why every Spiritual Master will tell you to learn to meditate, and then practice meditation every day. That is why bringing your attention to your Inner Body is so effective – it takes your attention away from your mind.
Creating a space between perception and thought.
The best way to explain this concept is as a story.
I am walking along my road in the early morning. I am facing west and see the colours of the sky start to change, telling me the sun is coming up. I turn around and see a glorious sunrise. The sky glows vivid with colours of every hue of pink and red, the golden crescent of the rising sun shining golden, plump with anticipation of the day. All of a sudden, the colours dim, and my head is filled with a voice: Ah! Red sky in the morning is the shepherd’s warning! I wonder if it will rain today, we need the rain, oh, but I need to get my washing dry. Hmmm! Look, is it getting redder over there, or is it more pink? Look at that bird! Oh, it’s one of those currawongs I’ve been seeing around lately…and on and on and on.
Sound familiar? I’d never noticed it before reading The Power of Now. Seriously. I am a writer, so it’s natural for me to convert the things that I sense into words – but this is ridiculous! What Tolle taught was that as soon as your mind starts having a commentary on the sunset (or whatever you are perceiving), you have stopped perceiving the sunset as it actually is, and started perceiving the sunset as what you think it is.
So, I started to notice what happened when I perceived something. Sure enough, there was a split second (or less) of perception, followed by a description in my mind of what I was seeing. Why is this necessary? It’s not. It’s just the mind trying to make itself more important than it actually is.
Ever since that moment, my practice has been to catch myself in the act of perception, still my mind, and absorb whatever it is through my senses – with no inner dialogue about it. Later, if I want to tell someone about it or write about it, I can access that information quite readily in my memory. Until then, there’s really no point bringing the mind in.
The longer and wider you can keep the space between perception and thought, the more profound will be your experience of what you are looking at, as well as your understanding of Presence and Being.
The release of worry.
This was HUGE for me. I was a worrier, probably born that way. My first words? Oh dear. As a child I worried about everything: the environment, the baby seals, world peace, the burning oil wells in Iraq, the weather, global warming, the hole in the ozone layer – everything.
Tolle taught me that there are no problems, only situations that we have projected our own ideas onto – positive or negative. If we have decided that this is a negative situation, we need to ask ourselves – can we change this situation? The only answers can be Yes, no, or not now. If it’s yes, then change it. If it’s no, or not yet, then accept it and sit with it. In the moment of acceptance, there is great power. Acceptance opens the doorway to miracles and grace.
Let me tell you another story:
Not long after I had read The Power of Now, I was hurrying home from work to pick up my son from school. I had been held up on the highway, my mobile was flat, and I had no way of contacting the school to tell them I was going to be late. I immediately started imagining horror scenarios in my head: Nick would be worried and upset that I was late. The teacher would be upset and angry with me, and would yell at me for being a bad mother and inconsiderate to boot. I was starting to feel panicky – my heart was pounding, I was sweating and my face was hot. All of a sudden I stopped and asked myself: What is actually happening right now? Um…I’m driving along in my car. Okay. Are you alright? Yes. Okay. Can you change this situation? No. Okay. Is worrying and imagining scenarios going to change anything? Er…no. Okay, quit it. So, I did. I brought my attention to my inner body, accepted that I could not change the situation, and continued to drive. I arrived at the school about 20 minutes late. I walked into the school and found Nick and his teacher watering and weeding the school garden. When I approached, the teacher looked up and smiled at me. “Look Nick – here’s your mum. We thought she must have been running late from work.” My eyes pricked with tears. “Don’t worry Mum, we’ve been having a lovely time playing in the garden haven’t we?”
This simple story with its grace and forgiveness was a milestone for me in letting go of worrying. It doesn’t solve anything, will definitely make things worse for you, and may actually make things worse in reality (worries are prayers for the things you don’t want).
When you create a problem (out of a situation), you create pain. All it takes is a simple choice, a simple decision: no matter what happens, I will create no more problems. Although it is a simple choice, it is also very radical. You no longer contaminate the Earth, your inner space and the collective human psyche with the negativity of problem making.
Phew! 2000 words later omg :) It shows how important this book is, and what a profound effect it has had on me. If you haven’t read this book yet, do. It’s like the handbook for Earth School. Seriously. It makes life easier. And if you have read it: what did it teach you?