Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth is one of my all time favourite authors and speakers. I discovered Tolle a decade or so before I became a counsellor and his books were tremendously therapeutic for me.
In this article I want to share a personal example of how Tolle’s message impacted my life and then provide an overview of his books' major themes.
A personal example:
When I first discovered A New Earth I recall being very stressed about my finances. I followed Tolle's advice in the book and made a plan to bring my attention to the thought patterns that were causing so much stress and loss of sleep.
All I had to do, according to Tolle, was notice the thought patterns whenever they came up. Whenever those worries came up as thoughts I would say to myself, “there’s the worry about my finances.”
The first thing I noticed was how often this thought pattern of “financial worry” came up. It was literally hundreds of times in a day - while waking up and having breakfast, while driving, while at work, while playing with my children and of course while trying to sleep. Those thoughts even came up while I was sleeping, they haunted my dreams. I was shocked.
I also noticed that when the thoughts came up, it made me feel a sense of dread and fear. No wonder I was so stressed; my body was reacting to every fearful thought as if it were a real and present danger!
What I noticed whenever I identified the thought pattern was that it disappeared almost immediately. I would say to myself, “there it is again,” and it would recede like the memory of a dream after waking up. That was amazing as previously the thoughts would continue for some time as my mind explored every possible angle about the issue. When you include the future, every possible angle includes an unlimited amount of angles.
I noticed that most of the time when the thought pattern came up, there was no possibility of taking any action about my financial problems. But I did need to take some real world action - and I did. I talked to a banker, a family member and a friend. I sought advice and once I got it I made a plan to deal with my problem. I set my plan in motion and so I didn’t have to think about it often, a part of my plan that I would only have to review my finances once a month and make sure everything was moving smoothly.
I continued to notice the thoughts coming up. Eventually I started chuckling to myself when they came. It was comical because they had no business appearing when they did and how often they did. It was just purely a habit at this point and the thoughts were just phantoms without any substance or power over me. But they kept coming for quite some time.
After about 3 months of noticing these thoughts and putting a real world plan into place, the thoughts just stopped coming. I still had relatively the same problems but I was no longer stressed about it. I just had to follow my real world plan and there was nothing much to think about.
I felt incredibly thankful to Eckhart Tolle for giving me this key of mindfulness.I had meditated before, but this was practical - it targeted the specific challenge I was facing and I could feel the positive impact on my life. It seemed so simple really, but it worked. Without the thought pattern torturing me day and night, it went from feeling monstrous and soul crushing to just a problem that I needed to take care of.
As a counsellor, I know that mindfulness is a major part of modern therapeutic practices. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for example contains a core of bringing mindfulness to thought patterns, feelings and behaviors. Other forms of therapy include bringing awareness to the body in an intentional manner.
I still have copies of The Power of Now and A New Earth that I read often. I don’t read them as a story, but as meditative reading - a page or two every day as a reminder to stay present with my thoughts and emotions.
Beyond dealing with a negative thought pattern, this practice has given me moments of complete freedom from thinking. Whenever my mind starts running away into the past or future, this teaching gently guides me back to this moment where life is always quite simple and manageable and often enjoyable.
Here’s a quick overview of some key concepts from Eckhart Tolle’s books. If this piques your interest, I encourage you to read or listen to Tolle for yourself.
The power of the present moment:
Tolle emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or constantly projecting into the future. He believes that true peace and enlightenment can only be found in the present moment, as it is the only moment that truly exists.
Tolle suggests that many of the problems we face in life are a result of our minds being preoccupied with the past or future. By directing our attention to the present moment, we can fully engage with our experiences, find joy in simple things, and develop a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.
Identification with the Ego:
Tolle argues that the ego, or the false sense of self, is the root cause of human suffering. He explains that the ego is built upon thoughts, beliefs, and identifications, and it constantly seeks validation, control, and a sense of identity.
According to Tolle, when we identify too closely with our thoughts and emotions, we lose touch with our true essence, which is beyond the ego. This identification leads to a sense of separation, fear, and unhappiness. Tolle encourages individuals to observe the workings of the ego without judgement and realize that they are not their thoughts or emotions.
Mindfulness and presence:
Tolle teaches the practice of mindfulness and presence as a means to transcend the ego and find inner peace. He suggests that by observing our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without attachment or judgement, we can become more aware of the present moment.
Mindfulness involves bringing conscious awareness to the present moment, accepting it without resistance, and observing our experiences without being consumed by them. Tolle emphasizes that true presence is not achieved through effort but through surrendering to what is, allowing the natural flow of life to unfold.
Dissolving the pain-body:
Tolle introduces the concept of the pain-body, which is a collection of accumulated emotional pain from past experiences. He explains that the pain-body seeks to perpetuate itself by creating negative situations and reactions.
The pain-body feeds on negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger, resentment, and fear. Tolle suggests that by becoming aware of the pain-body within ourselves, we can break free from its grip. Through presence and non-identification, we can dissolve the pain-body's energy, leading to emotional healing and liberation.
Tolle emphasizes the illusory nature of time and how our constant mental time-travel keeps us from fully experiencing the present moment. He encourages individuals to free themselves from the psychological time and embrace the timeless dimension of Now.
According to Tolle, our minds are conditioned to dwell on the past or anticipate the future, which creates psychological time. This constant mental activity prevents us from fully engaging with life and finding inner peace. By letting go of the attachment to time and redirecting our focus to the present moment, we can access a state of timelessness and experience the depth and richness of life.
John Woychuk is a Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional. Feel free to contact us to book an appointment.