Eckhart Tolle experienced a profound spiritual transformation when he was twenty-nine years old and has spent ten years exploring and teaching about his experiences with others interested in inner change. He is convinced that every person carries the seed of enlightenment within and that we can rise above the predominance of mind. Using a question and answer format, Tolle unspools his understanding and practice of the power of now:
"Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life."
Tolle states that to be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: to been enslaved to the past (memory) and the future (anticipation). He challenges us to shift our consciousness from time to presence. It is what the Zen master means when he asks, "If not now, when?" It is what the Sufis mean when they speak of themselves as "sons of time present." Presence, according to Tolle, is the key to freedom.
"As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love even the most simple action."
We resist the present moment with the mind-games or worry and stress which take us into the future. It takes practice to live in the Now. Tolle presents the following exercises:
"Every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present."
"Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself: 'I wonder what my next thought is going to be.' Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole? Try it now."
When you do the latter exercise it is possible to see how the mind labels and judges our experiences and creates problems, pain, and unhappiness. Whenever you catch yourself complaining, realize that it usually involves nonacceptance of what is. Tolle suggests making it a habit to monitor your mental-emotional state through self-observation. He also sees value in directing attention away from thinking and into the body where Being can be honored.
Tolle sees relationships as spiritual practice. He believes that the major obstacle for men is the thinking mind and for women, the pain-body. In the closing chapters of this book, the author talks about impermanence and the cycles of life, using and relinquishing negativity, the nature of compassion, surrender in personal relationships, transforming disease into enlightenment, and transforming suffering into peace. Tolle concludes: "Enlightenment means choosing to dwell in the state of presence rather than in time. It means saying yes to what is."