'I think, therefore I am.’ Sound familiar? It does to me. In today’s information and opinion-centric world, most of us have literally become absorbed in the contents of our minds. We even define ourselves and others based on these thoughts, using them to delineate between ‘you’ and ‘me’ or ‘us’ and ‘them.’ This is our reality. But according to spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle: This reality is a chronic delusion that results in widespread suffering.
And there is a way out.
Being present is your key to personal happiness and a better world
In his book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart explains how the delusional egoic mind prevents us from living in the now. When we are cut off from the current moment, we are also cut off from our true selves where inner peace and happiness await. Much of the emotional pain we experience, as well as the violence that humanity has unleashed (onto ourselves, and most of all, other life forms) can be attributed to our inability to SIMPLY. BE. PRESENT.
But there is even more to it. When we overcome the ego and enter the now, we have access to the most extraordinary of truths: We are literally one and the same with everything that exists! We are never alone, and always whole.
Pretty profound stuff, huh?
Like me, you may be a very skeptical person. ‘Spiritual’ might not be the first word that you’d use to describe yourself. Still, I was able to find value in Eckhart’s teachings. Many of them rang true and actually seemed fairly logical, even if they did leave me with some questions. Most of all, I can see how his practical words of advice (if applied – no easy task for most) can help people transcend their suffering as well as rid our species of some of its trademark destructiveness.
I should point out that when I first came across The Power of Now, it didn’t click with me at all. I didn’t really like it and quickly gave up reading it. It was only many months later, during a difficult point for me, that I ended up coming across this book again…and saw it with entirely new eyes. So do bear in mind that his teachings may not make sense immediately, but perhaps later on they will.
Without further ado, let’s delve more deeply into The Power of Now.
The time traveler in your head
Have you noticed that as soon as the mind generates a thought, you feel an emotion? Often these thoughts can be negative, and by extension, the emotions will be as well. Worse yet, it can seem impossible to shut these thoughts off as they quickly run towards the future or the past, mercilessly dragging you along. Far, faaaaaaar away from the now.
But the now is the only thing that exists or ever will exist – making it the absolute most IMPORTANT thing that you'll ever have.
‘I wish I could just turn off my mind and STOP THINKING!’ You’ll hear yourself say. But we need our minds, don’t we? And removing our minds (if that was even possible) equates to being dead, RIGHT?
And the answer is…[drum roll please!]
Eckhart makes an important distinction. There is the practical mind which utilizes ‘clock time’ and the egoic mind that compulsively dwells in ‘psychological time.’ The former is a tool that helps us function in this world; maneuvering us through our daily lives, enabling us to learn, understand, and do what needs to be done. The latter, well, that’s a whole other story!
So what exactly is the egoic mind?
Ego is ‘a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.’ Hence we can refer to the mind as the ‘egoic mind’ when we identify with it. For the majority of people, this is the voice inside their head that tells them the story of who they are. They believe they are hearing themselves, and they believe the story this false self is telling them. The egoic mind literally depends on the concept of the past to survive. Without it, it is nothing. A novel without a story, for example, isn’t a novel anymore. This actually puts the egoic mind (or you – when you identify with it) in a state of resistance to the present, because it knows that through the present it dies. It tries to find salvation in the future: ‘One day, I will be fill in the blank and then I’ll be happy.’ But the future doesn’t exist (only the present moment does, remember).
The egoic mind is in a perpetual state of resistance – a non-forgiveness – toward the present.
When being present becomes impossible, suffering becomes inevitable
For many people, there is little wrong with the present moment, and much of what’s wrong comes about because of what we perceive (i.e. when we label things ‘good’ or ‘bad’ via the egoic mind). If you are feeling negative, than your mind is likely hijacking the present. For example, feelings of anxiety and stress mean that your mind is on the future, whereas feelings like guilt and anger indicate that your mind is preoccupied with the past.
This suffering is what Eckhart coins the emotional ‘pain-body.’ He defines it as 'a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind…the dark shadow cast by the ego.’ The pain-body can lay dormant until a trigger brings it forth. But some people actually spend most of their lives – if not ALL of their lives – living through their pain-body.
When we identify with the egoic mind, we allow the negative emotions that it generates in our bodies to take over. We hear that egoic voice, we feel the emotions that it stirs, and often times, we actually act on them. We ‘become’ this pain-body. This trans – a deep, pervasive identification with the egoic mind and its emotions – is what Eckhart calls ‘unconsciousness.’
Little me against the WORLD
Aside from the egoic mind’s pull into often worrisome past and future circumstances, when we identify with it – a unique little narrator – we feel like mere vulnerable little fragments. Being small and alone, and hence constantly under threat, we experience a myriad of negative emotions. Many of these, if not all, are manifestations of fear. But the egoic mind is a clever little bugger and comes up with elaborate schemes to try and protect itself. How? By serving and building itself up.
The hunger for power, wealth, and fame (among other ambitions) can all be attributed to the egoic mind’s need to feel more validated. But such things are only satisfying temporarily, so it is perpetually in search of the newest, most promising experience to try and fulfill it. Every moment becomes a means to an end (the future), where, perhaps this time, salvation will be found.
But there is more you should know...
Through identification with the egoic mind, conflict can easily come about. If somebody says something disrespectful toward you, for example, they didn’t hurt you – they hurt your ego. But since you believe that is who and what you are, you feel threatened and attack to protect that false self. This can translate into an obsession to always be the one that’s ‘right’.
Addictions of all sorts can also be a result of the egoic mind’s vulnerabilities. For many people these vulnerabilities can actually manifest as a desire for relationships. Eventually, problems develop (likely due to the dysfunctional nature of the ego) and the euphoric effect of the ‘love’ wares off. Anger and disappointment kicks in because the other person is not the salvation that they were looking for. Such ‘love/hate’ relationships merely unearth the misery that had always been there due the ‘egoic state of consciousness.’
Eckhart points out that the many problems and conflicts that arise in our lives due to ego-identification are actually required for the ego to maintain its separate identity. This not only puts us in a defending or attacking mode, but also makes many people attached to ‘their’ issues and the suffering that results from them. Deep down, they want and need problems to feel like ‘themselves.’
No peace within = No peace without
Eckhart explains that the ego on the micro scale of the individual can also be seen in social, political, and economic structures. The need to constantly grow bigger, stronger, and more ‘developed’ as a society can be attributed to it. Think about war, fixation on economic growth, and the formation of collective egos through nationalism. Things like racism, sexism, speciesism, and classism have come about due to a deeply instilled sense of ‘this is the superior me/us and this is the inferior you/them.’
Environmental destruction can hence be attributed to humanity’s seeming inability to live in the now. Attached to our egoic entity, we refuse to appreciate the present – and all that lives within and through it. We are disconnected from nature and seem to have no problem utilizing it as the means to our delusional ends. Unsurprisingly, nature –and to a great extent non-human animals – are truly in a state of presence (a major part of why it can feel so good to stroll through a forest or interact with an animal companion). Living in a way that is in direct opposition to this presence has resulted in unspeakable atrocities:
Image courtesy of Mercy for Animals
Almost half of the Earth’s trees have been removed since the beginning of civilization. Two hundred species go extinct everyday. 56 billion animals (yes, BILLION…with a b!) are tortured and killed every year in factory farms and slaughterhouses (this is not even including marine life!). And global warming continues to go unchecked.
The list goes on.
If I’m not my egoic mind, than what am I?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel in all of this. What you really are cannot fully be grasped by the limited intellect – it is too profound. But the way that Eckhart describes it is an essence, a ‘conscious presence’ which he refers to as Being. The invisible Source of this Being is the ‘Unmanifested.’ The Unmanifested is an ‘eternally present…state of oneness and perfection’ – a truly unfathomable creative power – from which all things spring.
Everything that exists has consciousness – or Being. To reconnect with this, you have to become aware of the egoic voice inside your head and step outside of it – into the present moment in which Being is always deeply anchored.
(Excuse me for quoting Eckhart so much in the following paragraph, but he articulated things so perfectly that I just couldn’t help myself!)
It is here, in the present moment, that you become aware that ‘you can improve your life situation, but you cannot improve your life.’ This means that when we identify with the egoic mind and become preoccupied with accomplishments, we are trying to fulfill an outer purpose. Our inner purpose, however, is already complete. There is only one step to it: to simply be! Eckhart also points out that ‘Being energy is…infinitely more powerful than mind. The mind runs our civilization, whereas Being is in charge of all life on our planet.’ This state of Being is the true you, and is ‘the eternal One Life underneath all the forms of life.’ One may be inclined to call it God. You experience love when you ‘feel the presence of that One Life deep within yourself and within all creatures.’
Each person is always connected to everything and everyone that exists on this planet (and the entire universe, for that matter). It’s precisely why we do our work here at MalaForest: mala jewellery not only serves as a physical reminder of positive intentions, but 100% of proceeds go toward planting trees to stop environmental degradation and end poverty. We are not little fragments, but rather drops of water in a vast and beautiful river. Everything differs in form (and the egoic mind likes to attach to it), but at the heart of all of these many forms is the same thing: the eternal One Life, as Eckhart calls it.
By severing our connection with the now, the egoic mind carries out an enormous disservice.
Practical techniques for living in the now
There are many methods of connecting with the present, but it is always something that you access from within (you should never try to seek outside of yourself, or somewhere in the ‘future’). One method that has become very popular is meditation. You can check out our Breath Awareness Meditation Guide for step-by-step instructions.
Two ways that Eckhart advocates in The Power of Now are: paying full attention to your senses and witnessing your thoughts through conscious awareness (i.e. Being). In the latter process, you reconnect with yourself as ‘the Watcher’ – that consciousness that is simply there, sitting quietly, ever presently, existing peacefully in the moment. This is the part of you that can listen to the voice in your head. When you pay attention to your thoughts (and the feelings they instigate), watching them without ANY judgement at all, you automatically bring presence. You are able to see the mind for what it is – a story – and stop ‘becoming’ your mind by buying into that story and allowing the emotions to take hold of you. You are no longer identified with the story as being YOU.
Doing this can be particularly difficult when an intense pain-body has been triggered. When it has, you can quickly find that you lose ‘consciousness’ and ‘become’ the egoic mind again. The trick is to be attentive and bring alert presence BEFORE the emotions have taken hold, often a small window of opportunity. When you bring consciousness to these emotions, they can finally begin to dissolve.
When it comes to your senses, think of them as anchors to the present. By fully tuning into them – really paying attention – you actually experience what is happening to you in real time (as well as the world around you). It’s good to get into the habit of devoting your full alertness to the senses during moments that are severely underappreciated. You know, those means to end type of activities where we might completely tune out and maneuver on auto-pilot. This can include washing our hands before dinner (or the dishes after a meal), folding laundry, putting shoes on, or walking through a hallway to get to the next room, etc.
Next time you wash your hands, for example, how does the water feel against your skin? Can you smell the aroma of the soap? Or when you walk through a hallway, can you feel the light breeze glide against your face? And what about the thud in your feet as they hit the floor?
There is also a technique where you tune into the sensation of each of your body parts – and feel Being. Start with your hands. Devote all of your attention to them. If you closed your eyes and couldn’t see them, how would you know they are there? Can you feel that warm, tingly, buzzing sensation of energy – the aliveness? What about just your pinky fingers, or just your thumbs? And now, what about your feet….your legs…your back…the back of the head…the lips…and what about the tip of your nose (can you feel a pulsing)? Tuning into your body in this way helps you tune into the now.
Eckhart recommends learning to maintain a connection to your inner body at all times. It is a means of connecting to the present – to Being – and preventing the mind and other external matters from taking over. It also makes the practice of dwelling as the Watcher of your mind a whole lot easier.
The more you practice using these two techniques – creating consciousness-filled gaps in which you are fully devoted to being present – the less powerful the egoic mind becomes. You are tapping into a deep inner peace and depleting the egoic entity of its beloved fuel source: identification. The negative, false self-generated effects on your life will diminish. Ultimately, if enough people learn to live in the now, so will the negative effects on the world.
I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating topic! If you have any questions of comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them down below.