Book review

The Power Of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment

by Eckhart Tolle


When I was a child, I always admired tightrope walkers on television and in movies. I used to walk along the kerbstones beside roads, upgrading in due course to branches in trees, to build my skills. I fell off a lot. Had I persevered, I would I’m sure I’d have improved. However, I doubt I would ever have reached the levels necessary to walk a rope between tall buildings, perhaps stopping at a carefully balanced chair to sit down, or juggling fruit as I went.

I feel a bit like this about meditation. I’ve meditated, on and off, for most of my life. But I am still very far from the levels that Eckhart Tolle describes in this marvelous book. I fall off a lot.

His level of equanimity comes, by his account in this book, not from years of meditation, but rather from one extraordinarily challenging experience that happened to him as a young man – a true dark night of the soul – from which he emerged fully formed. Perhaps this is my problem: rather than trying to sidle up to enlightenment, it perhaps needs to come upon one suddenly, with full sturm und drang. Regardless, it’s an extraordinary achievement, and resonates with the accounts that many others have of similar states. His account is lucid, with some metaphorical language that won’t gell with all readers (“higher vibrational energies”, etc), but by and large it is simple, direct, and compelling, and very readable. This is definitely somewhere that many of us would want to get to, and he describes some of the obstacles holding us back, and ways we might get around them, as well as what it’s like when you get there.

I don’t think one can doubt the sincerity of his description of his state, either. He lives simply, by all accounts, and has devoted much of his life to teaching others and sharing with them his approach. Not for him the clutter of fame or endless material possessions. To watch him speak on his many online videos is a joy: he is a smiling Yoda-Buddha figure, full of joy and mischievous fun, replete with wisdom and beautiful long silences. Find some, and watch them, and you will read the book in his accent and pauses, too, which definitely added to my enjoyment.

Again, his approach is that of immediate access to the Now, to enlightenment, to God-hood, to whatever your spirituality calls it. If I were to compare it to a Buddhist meditative approach (the spiritual path with which I’m most familiar), it would be with the Dzogchen approach, where enlightenment can be achieved in a moment – if the mind is ready. His philosophical approach might be loosely described as pan-psychism, wherein everything, every last blade of grass and stone and star, participates in some kind of Consciousness, and that’s what we, too, can find in the Now.

Although I still am mostly falling off, on a good day I can feel at least the edges of the state he’s talking about. This book is an account of that moment, written as a series of questions and answers, with suggestions of how to get closer.

It’s real, I’ve been there, albeit briefly: the Eternal Now, where time is suspended and one’s inner voice is quietened, and one is held like a fly in amber, hyper-aware of everything, senses wide open, in a moment of joy and calm, regardless of the chaos or the pain of surrounding circumstance. I’ve felt it on a busy train, in the quiet of nature, and during chemotherapy. At least until I fall off, 60 seconds later. But I know it’s there, I’ve seen it, and it’s my life’s work to extend those moments, until at last I can walk on the tightrope across the Victoria Falls, stopping now and then to admire the beauty and the thunder and the majesty of the world – and perhaps juggling some fruit. See you there.

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