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Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Time Event
9:43p
Maybe I just don't "get it" ...
Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment came very highly recommended to me from people who, I think, should have a better "fix" on things. Once again, this is not a "bad" book, but it's a bit of an odd duck. Of course, warning flags go up when I see something subtitled "A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment", but that's just me, I guess. Perhaps I'm less impressed with the genesis of this book than many others have been. Tolle, it appears, was a pretty "normal" guy, full of anxiety and in and out of near-suicidal depressions (OK, so my version of "normal" may not be everybody's!), who, in his late 20's had pretty much a total break-down (sounds familiar). Anyway, rather than a typical spiral down into substance abuse, Tolle had a "splitting" of his mind from his "essential being", somehow detaching from the former and finding himself living in the latter. Of course, as is usually true in breakdowns, this did not create a particularly good situation, and Tolle spent a couple of years unable to work, homeless, and spending all day sitting on park benches going "WOW!" as he looked at the world through eyes not being filtered by the mind/ego. Somehow he transitioned from "crazy guy on the park bench" to "seminar leader" (the book is rather hazy on how that happened), and had a new career telling people about living in a timeless "now" state. Also sketchy is Tolle's "background" ... some have talked of his "synthesis" of "ancient teachings" but his most frequently referenced work is A Course In Miracles, for whatever that's worth.

Now, I certainly did find many things in The Power of Now interesting, but there was stuff about it that just kept me scratching my head. Much of the book bounces off of "questions" that he wrote as being "typical" of the sort of things that he fields on a regular basis. One would think that these would come from an "academic" or "skeptical" standpoint, from which he could best defend/explain what he's trying to convey ... however, the general tone of these questions is so over-the-top "newagey" and his response frequently so hostile (I was, frankly, reminded of the classic Saturday Night Live skit with Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd in a point-counterpoint take-off where Akroyd would start his rebuttal with "Jane, you ignorant slut!") that you have to wonder what Tolle was "working through" in trying to turn his workshops into a book!

Tolle introduces several "concepts" of inner states, or levels of being, with varying degrees of clarity and focus. There is the concept of "psychological time" which is fairly well argued, in that the mind/ego maintains a past and projects a future in order to bolster itself, when the actual "being" is in a non-chronological "now" which does not allow for the ego construct. There is the concept of the "pain body" which is made up of wounds, physical and psychic, and exists as an independent energy entity, that can be "woken up" (think of somebody "pushing your buttons", from where does the sudden anger or hurt arise?) if one is not living in "the now". There is also "the inner body" which seems to be something like an energetic template, which brought to mind Castaneda's "the Mold of Man" (from The Fire From Within) and even David Darling's unsettling Zen Physics material, relating to the ultimate nature of individual/species manifestations and consciousness.

Ultimately, Tolle seems to believe that we must evolve towards this "now" state, leaving behind "temporal consciousness" and individual ego structures in favor of ... well, the specifics of his "what" are still a bit vague to me. Where Tolle seems to want to go reminds me of Arthur C. Clark's classic scifi book, Childhood's End where all of humanity "evolves" into a sort of "hive mind" on its way to eventually merging with a universal "Overmind". While the state of "now" seems very much akin to a Zen satori, there is precious little in this book about how to get there (although a lot of what not to be or do), or what to do once one is able to "be in the Now". Obviously, Tolle's own personal response to "his enlightenment" leaves much to be desired (the above-mentioned homeless bench bliss!), and there isn't really much sense of the mundane practicality of the Zen concept of "chop wood, carry water" in this. He repeatedly mentions "surrender", defined as almost a Taoistic concept of "going with the flow" rather than resisting one's life situations, but this still seems to only point towards a world filled with blissed-out glassy-eyed staring "in the Now" people, balanced both on the esoteric edge of "the end of time", and the exoteric park bench. Unfortunately, any question of "what then?" is destined to be brushed off as only being some sort of "ego ploy".

Perhaps I'm being overly hard on The Power of Now due to it having been so "over-sold" to me and my having rather high expectations for it which it came no where near to meeting. I also wonder if this "plays better" to people less well read in the over-all "consciousness" genre, who would find things that seem easily referenced to me "remarkable insights" and great revelations. Frankly, the "now" state he describes sounds exactly like one I encountered back in my late 20's, but I guess I missed the boat by not dropping out of "mundane existence" to become a homeless prophet! Anyway, while this is still in print in both hardcover and paperback (and so would be likely to be found at your local bookstore), the Amazon new/used vendors have "like new" copies for as little as two bucks (plus shipping), and I'd say picking this up for cheap is better that investing retail for it!


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