One of the most powerful books I've read to date. Before reading this book I didn't appreciate the separation between mind & consciousness. The book had a profound impact on my life by showing me the benefits of disidentifying from my mind and making me realise that constant thought is an addiction like anything else with its consequences.
About the Author
Eckhart Tolle lived in post-war Germany. The sight of destructions induced a sense of fear and insecurity in his mind. At the age of 19, Tolle moved to London. He taught German and Spanish for a brief period. He was troubled by depression, and quit teaching. Tolle enrolled in the ‘University of London,’ for studying literature, philosophy, and psychology. After going through a short phase of depression, Tolle underwent an inner transformation. He attained spiritual transformation and peace of mind, which has stayed with him throughout his later life. He has worked as a counsellor and a spiritual guide. Tolle does not practice any specific religion. He has been influenced by the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Tolle’s teachings have been praised by the celebrated talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
The Premise of the Book
A path to spiritual enlightenment. The focus is on disidentifying from the mind, accepting & surrendering to the present moment and forging a better relationship with the now.
The Book in a Nutshell
Eckhart draws a line between thought and consciousness.
He highlights the dangers of ego and the illusion of past and future, both of which perpetuate human suffering.
His teachings promote inner peace and offer an antidote to the disease of constant thinking through engaging the physical senses.
The Path to Enlightenment
Many see enlightenment as a state achieved by those with superior self-awareness and presence but the Buddha describes it simply as “the end of suffering”.
2. Look Within
“A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember”. “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there”. “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold. I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself”.
3. We Are Separate From Our Mind
Thinking is a small part of consciousness. The difference between thought and consciousness is that the former cannot exist without the latter, but the latter does not need the former (i.e. consciousness exists without thought). Compulsive thinking is an addiction and disease - what characterises an addiction is that we no longer feel that we have the choice to stop. Believing that we are our mind is a delusion. This identification with our mind is what causes thought to become compulsive. Constant thought is an incessant mental noise that prevents us from finding the realm of inner stillness.
4. Our Ego is Destructive
Identification with the mind creates a false mind-made self (ego) which acts as a substitute for our true self (rooted in being), casting a shadow of fear and suffering. As a child, we begin to form a mental picture of who we are based on our personal and cultural conditioning. We call this phantom self the "ego". It consists of mind activity and can only be perpetuated through constant thought. The ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things like accolades and possessions; its survival depends on us constantly feeding and defending it. Therefore the ego must make time -past & future - more important than the present moment to maintain its identity which is why it cannot tolerate the present moment. The ego is a bottomless pit and as long as it runs our life there are two ways of being unhappy - not getting what we want or getting what we want.
5. The Illusion of Past & Future
We often spend our lives constantly thinking about the past (reliving or regretting things) or future (worrying, imaging or hoping), valuing both over the present moment. But time isn't precious at all as it is merely an illusion. What we perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now (the most precious thing of all). The most we focus on time (past & future) the more we miss the Now. So the time is always NOW. Although matter and space exist, time is just matter moving through space (space-time). This serves as a mental construction to "track" the changes in space matter but with nothing to track it ceases to exist. For example, if we monitor time (e.g. 10 seconds) we are doing it in the now. Previous experiences happened but they do not exist in the now - the concept of time is purely mental with the past being a memory that only exists in our imagination.
6. Being in the Now
Being must be felt, it is not something we can grasp with our mind. Don't try to understand it - we can know it only when the mind is still.
7. Love is a State of Being
Love is within not outside of us. We can't experience it as long as we are identified with our minds. Don't search for love find a way to let it enter.
8. The Pain-body
This is a mental and emotional pattern people carry inside. It is the remnants of past traumas and pains we suffered. Once the pain-body is activated it can take control and cause strong emotional reactions.
This is not the same as resigning. We can surrender to the reality of a situation by letting go of judgment while taking steps to change the situation. This will liberate us from being reactive and allow us to make decisions with clarity.
My Favourite Quotes
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life”
“The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind”
“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be”
“You are not the voice in your mind, but the one who is aware of it”
“The single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger”
“You also realize that all the things that truly matter - beauty, love, creativity, joy, and inner peace - arise from beyond the mind”
“Egoic mind has become like a sinking ship. If you don’t get off, you will go down with it”
“The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions”
“Attention is the key to transformation – and full attention also implies acceptance. Attention is like a beam of light – the focused power of your consciousness that transmutes everything into itself”
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up”
“You attract and manifest whatever corresponds to your inner state”
“Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind — or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body”
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is”
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence”
“Don't look for peace. Don't look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender”
Watch the Thinker
Start listening to the voice in our head as often as we can, pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns without judging your thoughts (judgement is another thought)… be there as the "witnessing presence".
2. The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance
Tolle describes the optimal state of presence as permanent alertness. We should adopt an active waiting technique in addition to disidentifying from our minds. Active waiting is being aware that something could happen at any moment which draws our attention into the present moment - it suppresses any opportunities to reflect on the past or worry about the future.
3. Content of Our Mind
Recognising that our sense of self does not depend on the content of our mind will allow you to take it less seriously - “One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child”.
4. Indicator of Our Level of Consciousness
“The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life's challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and a conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare”.
5. Accessing the Present Moment
The great Zen master Rinzai would ask his students “What at this moment is lacking?” A powerful question to draw us into the present moment as it does not require an answer on the level of the mind.
6. The Doorway to Being
Make it a habit to ask ourselves “what's going on inside me at this moment?”. This question will point us in the right direction but don't analyse just watch. Focus our attention within. Feel the energy of the emotion. If there is no emotion present, take our attention more deeply into the inner energy field of our body.
7. The Road to Acceptance
Make a habit of "being" where we are - not lost in thought. If we find that where we are (our "life situation"/circumstance) is intolerable and it is making us unhappy we have 3 choices:
Remove ourselves from the situation
Change it; or
Accept it completely
8. Gaining Freedom From the Pain-body
When emotions arise do not get sucked and resist them, simply observe them without judgement (disidentifying with the pain-body). Over the long term, this will starve the energy pattern so that we can regain control over ourselves - some find this difficult because they may consider certain emotions as part of their identity (either consciously or subconsciously).
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly - you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you”