Switching off the auto-pilot being yourself in the present
Robert L. Fielding
"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."
The Power of Present Moment Awareness
How to Maintain Present Moment Awareness
Relaxed and at ease
Life under the power of the ego
Tolle traces out various consequences of having a self-awareness (an ego) which is identified with the thinking mind.
Separation The mind, according to Tolle, "creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgements and definitions." These mental constructs are the currency with which the mind operates, and the ego relates to these constructs rather than directly to the realities they represent. And so he says that this "opaque screen" both "blocks all true relationships" and "creates the illusion of separateness." We no longer feel at one with all that is (even if we believe we are); we feel separated, as if "there is you and a totally separate other."
Resistance Reality is frequently at odds with how the mind believes things ought to be. As a result the ego has to counter constant challenges to its identity and its hopes for fulfilment. This gives rise to the ego's defence mechanisms, and becomes a "habitual resistance to or denial of what is." 
Emotional Pain Tolle uses the word 'mind' to include not just thoughts, but also emotions, the body's reaction to those thoughts.Furthermore, he claims that every emotional pain we experience throughout life leaves behind a residue of pain which becomes lodged in the mind and the body, and which colours our reactions to further experiences.
He regards this residual pain as "an invisible entity in its own right" and calls it "the emotional pain-body"." Much of the time this 'pain-body' lies dormant, but anything that resonates with past hurts (even a chance innocent remark) can trigger it into an active mode. At that point it seems to take us over and we become irrationally irritated, impatient or depressed. We may want to hurt someone or we need some drama in life.
Habitual resistance, says Tolle, "creates the unease and discontent that most people accept as normal living." But when this resistance is intensified through some challenge to the ego, it brings up more intense negativity which "often means that the pain-body has been triggered."
Loss of Being Most people have known times of inner stillness, when the mind has been made "speechless" by some experience of great beauty, or wonder, or even great danger. "And within that stillness," says Tolle, "there is a subtle but intense joy, there is love, there is peace." But these natural states of inner connectedness with Being are lost as soon as the mind begins to think about them.
Externalisation When connectedness with Being is lost, along with the stillness and joy which it entails, the mind will begin to seek some substitute pleasure. "All cravings," Tolle says, "are the mind seeking salvation or fulfilment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being." "People will often enter into a compulsive pursuit of ego-gratification they strive after possessions, money, success, power, recognition or a special relationship, basically so they can feel better about themselves."
Other things the ego will identify with in order to feel good include our work, social status, knowledge and education, physical appearance, belief systems, and also political, racial, nationalistic, religious or other collective identities. "None of these is you," Tolle comments.
Life in the Now
The basic message of Tolle's book is that our mode of consciousness can be transformed. The key to becoming free of the egoic mind, with all its consequences, is to become deeply conscious of this present moment, or, as Tolle often calls it, "the Now." The consequences of being in the Now may also be traced out from his book.
Connectedness In place of separation is a two-fold connectedness. To be present is to become reconnected both with Being itself, and with all other beings. Presence is a "state of felt oneness with Being connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible that is essentially you and yet is much greater than you." That in turn enables us to enter into deeper relationships with others. "Coming from Being, you will perceive another person's body and mind as just a screen behind which you can feel their true reality, as you feel yours Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures."
Acceptance Rather than resisting life as it actually is in the present moment, one accepts it for what it is, without labelling or judgment. "Allowing it to be as it is takes you beyond the mind with its resistance patterns "
Tolle speaks not only of acceptance of what is, but also of surrender to it. This "is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation."
This may easily be misunderstood, and Tolle goes on to explain that he is not suggesting anyone should accept for evermore some unpleasant situation in life. That is mere resignation. Surrender is a purely inner phenomenon, changing our attitude so we accept how things are at this moment. Then we can act positively to change the ongoing situation, and such positive action is likely to be far more effective than if it arose out of the anger, frustration or despair of resistance.
The Joy of Being Instead of pain there is peace, stillness and joy. Instead of loss of Being there is reconnectedness with Being. Instead of external substitutes for joy there is an inner joy which is independent of external conditions. "As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease." "You abide in Being unchanging, timeless, deathless and you are no longer dependent for fulfilment or happiness on the outer world."
Natural means of transformation
Occasionally, says Tolle, the transformation of human consciousness happens spontaneously, in a dramatic and once-for-all way, as a result of total surrender in the face of intense suffering. He claims his own transformation happened in just that way, in the middle of one night. Yet he acknowledges that "most people have to work at it."
In general, "anything that renders the mind powerless" will serve to bring about this transformation, at least temporarily. Sometimes great beauty, extreme exertion, or great danger, will render the mind speechless and allow inner stillness to be known. It happens naturally in a life-or-death emergency situation, when there is no time for the mind to worry over a problem. Something else takes over at such times, "an intense conscious presence," and whatever response is necessary comes naturally from that. It may also happen when in the presence of death, or while witnessing childbirth, during a serious illness, or during physical intimacy.
Ways of encouraging transformation
There are many ways of cultivating consciousness of the present moment. Tolle makes the following suggestions in his book:
Watching the thinker Simply listen to the voice in the head (the thoughts of the thinking mind), without judging or condemning what you hear, until you are aware both of the voice, and of your own presence listening to it. More generally, observe not only your thoughts but also your emotions and the way you react in various situations, again without judging or analyzing or making a problem out of it. "Just watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction" until you become aware of your own still, observing presence, "the silent watcher."
Watching the 'pain-body' The same approach may also be used to break the power of the 'pain-body'. As long as we refuse to face up to the emotional pain living on in us, it survives, claims Tolle, but as soon as we face it, observe it and feel its energy within, its power is broken. We cannot fight it directly, but watching it is enough. "Watching it implies accepting it as part of what is at that moment." We can become present simply by becoming the witness or the watcher of the 'pain-body'.
Focusing attention on the present Becoming intensely conscious of the present moment, without thinking about it or labeling its contents, creates a gap in the mind's thought-stream and also awareness of one's own presence. Any routine activity, such as walking up stairs, or washing one's hands, can become a vehicle for present-moment awareness. "Pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing."
Alert waiting Tolle suggests an experiment. Close your eyes, say 'I wonder what my next thought will be,' then become very alert and wait for it; be like a cat watching a mouse-hole. As long as you stay alert enough, no thought will come, but as soon as the level of alertness falls, thoughts will rush in again.
Awareness of nature Truly to look at nature, truly to listen to natural sounds, requires complete stillness and intense presence. Only then do we become really aware of the beauty, power, majesty and wonder of the natural world. Look and see; listen and hear. In fact, this is a two-way process, because there is some nameless inner essence in nature which resonates with our inner essence, and which helps us become truly present.
Feeling the 'inner body' An important concept for Tolle, to which he devotes chapter 6, is what he calls 'the inner body,' which he describes as "the animating presence within you" or "the invisible energy field that gives life to what you perceive as the physical body." What he seems to mean by this is the ability to feel the aliveness of the body and each part of it. "Feel (your body) from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet? Keep focusing on the feeling Do not start to think about it. Feel it Perhaps there is just a slight tingling in your hands or feet the more attention you give it, the clearer and stronger it will become"
The cultivation of this subtle feeling is an important transformative practice for Tolle. Left to itself, the mind will absorb all our consciousness, and we cannot stop thinking. But by becoming conscious of the aliveness of our bodies we reclaim consciousness from the mind. The key to a lasting transformation of consciousness, he says, is to maintain some awareness of the body at all times. To help to develop that, he suggests using any quiet moments, for example while waiting for something, to rekindle this awareness of the body. Anything we feel brings us into the present moment for there is no feeling in either past or future. He also suggests making this awareness of the body into a meditation, and "flooding" each part of the body with consciousness, especially last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
Breathing Conscious breathing is a valuable form of meditation in itself, since it makes us conscious of the present moment. More than that, it can also help to put us in touch with the body, which Tolle says can be especially helpful on occasions when we find it hard to feel the aliveness within.
Acceptance and Surrender These and related concepts are not only characteristics of a life lived in the power of 'the Now,' they are also important ways of transformation. "Acceptance" says Tolle, "immediately frees you from mind dominance and thus reconnects you with Being." Forgiveness, Tolle says, can be both given to what is past and to the present moment, "recognizing the insubstantiality of the past" as well as "allowing the present moment to be as it is." "Through forgiveness" he says, "the miracle of transformation happens."Surrender - the "inner acceptance of what is without any reservations transforms you." In this context Tolle recognizes the traditional Christian spiritual experience of the Way of the Cross as another means of enlightenment.
Experiencing the unmanifested
Chapter 7 of the Power of Now, is called "Portals into the Unmanifested." In part this recaps briefly some of the ways of becoming conscious and present that Tolle has already described, but it puts them into a larger, more theological, context. They are seen as ways of access to the formless realm, the Unmanifested, "the Being within all beings."
These include awareness of the 'inner body,' being present in the Now (which Tolle says is the main portal and an essential aspect of every other portal), the cessation of thinking, and surrender. Tolle then mentions two other 'portals':
Silence Tolle claims the presence of the Unmanifested can be felt in every sound, because all sounds arise out of and return to silence. Silence enables each sound to be itself, and so is an unmanifested part of every sound. "The Unmanifested is present in this world as silence." By paying more attention to the silence than to the sounds, the mind becomes still, and one enters the realm of the Unmanifested.
Space Similarly, he says, "nothing can exist without no-thing, without the empty space that enables it to be." Every physical thing needs space within which to exist, and both comes from and returns to nothing. Further, on the atomic and sub-atomic scales, it consists of far more empty space than anything else. In this way the Unmanifested pervades all things, but empty space is as easy to overlook as silence.
Space and time, Tolle says, "are the two essential attributes of God, infinity and eternity, perceived as if they had an external existence outside you." Within, "space is the still, infinitely deep realm of no-mind" while "the inner equivalent of time is presence, awareness of the eternal Now."
He also mentions two involuntary portals into the Unmanifested: dreamless sleep and conscious death.
It has been estimated that 3 million copies of The Power of Now had been sold in North America by 2009.
Andrea Sachs from Time Magazine has called the book "awash in spiritual mumbo jumbo" and "unhelpful for those looking for practical advice". In an article for The Independent, Ethan Walker wrote "there is not very much new about The Power of Now it is Buddhism mixed with mysticism and a few references to Jesus Christ, a sort of New Age re-working of Zen". Tolle himself has called the book "a restatement for our time of that one timeless spiritual teaching, the essence of all religions." William Bloom, a respected spokesperson for the holistic, mind-body-spirit movement in the UK, commends Tolle for "offering a very contemporary synthesis of Eastern spiritual teaching, which is normally so clothed in arcane language that is incomprehensible Tolle's approach is very body aware. He's done it in a nice accessible way for people." Andrew Ryder compared Tolle's work with traditional (Catholic) Christian teaching on the sacrament of the present moment. He concluded that "Tolle moves the traditional teaching forward by illustrating how our obsession with the past and the future (prevents) us from giving our full attention to the present moment." Also, he says, it contrasts to, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a nineteenth-century French writer who " gives us the why, Tolle gives us the how." Ryder also recognizes Tolle's emphasis on the positive side of surrender as genuine, reminiscent of the Ignatian practice of detachment.
Tolle wrote in the preface to the 2004 edition of The Power of Now that "the more the dysfunction of the human mind plays itself out on the world stage ... the greater the number of people who realise the urgent need for a radical change in human consciousness ... This need, as well as the readiness in millions of people for the arising new consciousness, is the context within which the success of The Power of Nowmust be seen and understood. This does not mean, of course, that everyone responds favourably to the book. In many people, as well as in most of the political and economic structures and the greater part of the media, the old consciousness is still deeply entrenched."