The “Required Reading” series has evolved directly as a consequence of my obsessive note-taking on every book that I have ever read. The stated aim of these posts is to distill some of the main ideas found in a multitude of groundbreaking and fascinating books, across disciplines, and across boundaries. My full notes are available to anyone at any time by simply requesting them via email at email@example.com.
THE POWER OF NOW
Parts of this book I found difficult to read, as it just seemed as though Eckhart Tolle was making this stuff up as he went along. Some of it is esoteric, speculative, and downright weird. So why is it required reading?
The underlying premise is so vitally important to everything you are doing and will ever do in your entire life. Staying present, in-the-moment, and finding fulfillment in the here and now is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself, and Eckhart Tolle unpacks many fundamental insights on this idea.
The present moment is all that there ever was , is, and ever will be. Nothing ever happens in the past, and nothing has happened yet in the future. It’s all done HERE and NOW. Pulling yourself away from this very moment is crippling you. Let me and Eckhart explain…
*The past doesn’t exist anymore, and the future will never exist: You’re undermining your own effectiveness if you try to pull back something from your past, or edit it in any way. Likewise, you’re giving away all your present-moment power by looking to the future to solve your problems. The effort happens today, right here, right now.
*Become intensely conscious of the present: The human brain can process only a very small amount of the information that is presented to it at a given moment. We have to actively pay attention, or we’re going to miss something crucial. Turn your awareness to your breathing, your sensations, auditory and visual perceptions…everything that so often slips by unnoticed. You will find something there to be grateful for, to utilize, or to avoid. But the present moment has valuable information that is ignored at your own peril.
*Disidentify with your mind: You are not your thoughts; you are not your emotions; and you are not your body. All these things limit you if you let them. You are literally a part of the universe (this is where Eckhart splits from the comfort zones of some readers), and the universe is more than your mind.
*Ask what is going on inside you at the present moment: Most people are unaware of what they’re feeling while they’re feeling it. This becomes dangerous when emotions like anger and jealousy begin to take over. Recognize them for what they are, and for what they can do to you. Armed with this information, you can act to replace them with a better response.
*Almost everyone you know lives in a state of fear: Fear is ubiquitous. Everyone is affected by it at some point in their lives, but the problem for many is that it becomes their resting state. Their default position. Not only can you recognize and uproot your own fear, but you can deal more kindly with others when you begin to recognize that they are fearful as well.
*Death is a stripping away of all that is not you until you realize that there is no death: If you are not your body, your thoughts, your emotions, or your mind…then what are you? Death will take away your possessions, loved ones, your life experiences, your likes, your dislikes, your fears, your everything. But none of those things were you in the first place. You are part of nature, and you return to nature in the end. Our days here are an unimaginably precious gift.
*All mind-connected pleasure will eventually turn to pain: There is a wonderful expression that I love, and it’s this: “If you are what you do, then, when you don’t, you aren’t.” If you derive your self-worth from anything in the world, then, when that’s taken from you (which it inevitably will be), you will be left with pain. So derive meaning from something timeless, like the present moment.
*Accept and then act: Since nothing can be brought back from or changed in the past, and the future is uncertain, all that remains to be done is to accept things as they are. But this doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. You can accept that this is the situation you find yourself in, and you now have the responsibility to fight for what you believe.
*All problems dissolve in the absence of time: There are no problems in the now. The present moment is by definition perfect, and nothing that is happening is bad. Nothing is good either; it just is. You get to decide what the quality of this moment will be.
*Be aware of the silent presence of each thing and the space that allows it to be: Every form in the world takes up space. An incredibly meditative practice is to observe the space that those forms take up. In front of you is a screen. There is a space that allows that screen to be. Contemplate that, and find peace.
*Listen to the silence underneath and between the sounds: Want to never be bored again? Listen to the silence that allows sounds to be. Listen to the notes that the musician ISN’T playing. It’s very peaceful and never boring. If you do it right.
*Create no more pain: The world is suffering enough. You don’t need to create any more of it, and you have a responsibility to be aware of the externalities you are causing or imposing on others. Vow to not cause any more pain for anyone else.
*Learning from a mistake makes it no longer a mistake: Everything that happened in your life up until this point had to happen for you to be here. Actually, everything has EVER happened has needed to happen for you to be here. Your mistakes too. Where you are right now is perfect, and those mistakes served you well. Listen to what they can teach you.
*Die to the past every moment: Mahatma Gandhi used to die every night and be reborn the next morning. This change in thinking lets you release your past. It’s all about coming back to the present moment.
*Consciousness is the universe expressing itself in form: Quite simply, as long as we’re the only form of intelligent life in the universe, we are how the universe thinks. We are the universe experiencing itself. That’s where we come from, and that’s what we’re experiencing. Think about that for a few minutes.
*Do not making living and dying into a problem: They’re not problems to be solved; they’re experiences to be lived. My favorite existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus, says to “Live to the point of tears.” There are no problems, and life and death are not problems either.
*Become like a deep lake: Whatever is going on at the surface, the bottom of a lake is always peaceful. People can be yelling at you, cars can crash around you, and what we think are problems can arise. None of that can penetrate to the bottom of the deep lake that you can become.
*Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures: If everyone comes from the same universe, everyone can be seen as perfect and good. Everything that so commonly divides us is nothing compared to what unites us.
*Life and death is the total equality of all human beings: These are two features of our existence that we share with everyone. Realize this, and you can find more common ground than you might think.
*You do not need the world any more: There is nothing “out there” that you need to be, or have, or own in order to be happy, or to be fulfilled, or to be considered “a success”. You need only the present moment.
*Do not pollute the earth with negativity: Much the same as with airborne pollution, negativity is killing us. Not all of us of course, but enough of us. We don’t need to be part of that, and we can choose to spread positivity where there is negativity.
*Reside forever in the NOW: This moment has no beginning and no end. This moment is timeless, and this moment is everything. You can be totally present today, and you don’t have to let superficial problems get to you. That’s the main take-away from this essential book.
You can see why some people might have a difficult time reading a book like this. It was a little too off-the-wall for me too at times. But I was able to take dozens of useful notes that I still peruse from time to time, and that have become incredibly important to me.
The main idea is very simple, but you can spend a lifetime practicing it. Staying present isn’t going to happen all at once by just deciding to live in the present moment. I don’t think anyone on earth can do that. But returning to the present moment has benefits that we’re just starting to realize.
I hope my notes and explanations of them were helpful to you.
THINK ABOUT IT:
Don’t just skim this article once and forget about it. You’re not going to retain much that way. And certainly not for long. Repeated exposure to ideas is part of what makes them stick, and you have to return to the ideas in this book that have been helpful to you if you want them to become a part of your life. Please, take notes of your own and review them from time to time.
“The reader lives 1,000 lives before he dies; the non-reader lives but once.”
Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, label exec, and social activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes he cares about, as well as helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates.