This book is the perfect field guide for anyone who wants to quieten the incessant noise in their mind, surrender to the flow of life, and become more present and mindful as they go about each day.
Ultimately, this book contains one very important message: to live in the present moment. Tolle explains that for most of us, our mind controls us and we are left it’s slave. Our thoughts are often repetitive and useless, we spend too much time distracted by the past and future, and we are unable to find the “off button” for the voice in our head.
Luckily, Tolle provides a number of helpful lessons for regaining control over our minds and bringing our attention back to the present in which all of life unfolds. His advice is beautifully simple and yet somehow, for me anyway, utterly revolutionary.
1) Free yourself from your mind by “watching the thinker”
I’ve noticed, looking back over the notes I took from this book, that it is full of fabulous philosophical sayings, the sort that sound like riddles and leave you scratching your head trying to figure out exactly what they mean. One of my favourites from the book is, ‘The moment you realize you are not present, you are present.’
What Tolle means by this, is that whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. He explains that, ‘You’ll soon realise that there is the voice in my head, and here I am listening to it, watching it.’ This kind of self-observation is the key to bringing more presence in your life.
Tolle cautions that when you are observing your mind, you must do so neutrally without falling into the trap of judging or analyzing your thoughts or emotions. So, he explains, you can watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction but don’t make a personal problem out of them.
2) Create gaps of “no mind” between your thoughts
How often is your mind completely empty? For most people, Tolle suggests, having a gap in your thought stream is usually accidental. It happens in moments when the mind is speechless such as when admiring great beauty. During this brief time of “no mind”, you are likely to experience a sense of stillness, and with it, positive emotions such as joy, love, and peace.
For me, my thoughts definitely slow down when I’m looking up at the stars or at a beautiful sunset. I find it hard to focus on anything but the beauty I’m admiring in that moment. But is it only possible to experience this state of “no mind” when faced with something beautiful?
Tolle makes the argument that everyday mundane tasks, such as washing your hands, can be used to practice entering the state of “no mind”. The trick is to become intensely conscious of the moment you are in: paying attention to the sound and feel of the water as you wash your hands, the scent of the soap, the movement of your hands.
3) Stop identifying with your egoic mind
Tolle often talks about the ego as a barrier to appreciating the Now. The ego, he explains, is a substitute for who you really are. It is the place within you that is always wanting more material possessions; the place within you that is afraid of fear, loss, and failure; the place within you that fixates on your emotions.
The aim, Tolle explains, is to disidentify with your egoic mind and seek your sense of self from a deeper place within you. You can do this by working on becoming more present. This means stepping outside of your ego and your emotions, and allow the mind to just “be” without getting caught up in it.
I was given some similar advice by a therapist when I was younger. Dealing with the loss of a loved one, I would fret over the emotions I was feeling. She explained that I had to stop analysing how I was feeling and just allow myself to feel whatever came up. This is, I think, the same thing Tolle is urging us to do.
4) Recognise that the present moment is all the exists
Perhaps the most simple yet revolutionary idea of the book is the idea that the Now is all that exists. Tolle observes that, “Life is Now. There was never a time in your life that was not Now. Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
It was like a lightbulb moment for me, reading these words. If life is only ever a series of present moments, then it makes sense to do your best to actually experience those moments. You can’t enjoy a sunset if you’re overthinking a conversation you had with a friend, you can’t enjoy a special moment with a loved one if you’re too busy thinking about a past argument, and you can’t make the most of a good film if your mind is somewhere else.
5) Stop resisting the present moment
But how can you make the most of the present moment if you find it intolerable? Maybe you’re in a job you hate and all day long all you can think about is how miserable you are when you’re in the office. What do you do then?
Tolle explains that if you find the here and now impossible, then you have three options: you can remove yourself from the situation, change the situation, or accept it totally. Take my example of a job you hate, for instance. You could either quit and find a new job, change your attitude to your job, or simply accept your job for what it is.
Tolle emphasises that if you want to take responsibility for your life, it’s imperative that you choose one of these options. Negativity, in his eyes, is an unnatural and unproductive emotion so drop all excuses, and accept whatever the consequences of your decision are.
6) Feel your body from within
A good tip Tolle gives for staying present in everyday life is to always have some of your attention on your inner body.
My understanding of this, is that you should always try to notice how your body is feeling. Maybe your heart is racing because you’re scared, or you have an unsettled feeling in your tummy because you’re feeling uncomfortable. Being able to pick up on these signs helps you stay in tune with how you’re feeling and may shed some light on the thoughts going through your mind that may have caused the sensation.
Being aware of your breathing, Tolle suggests, is a good way to start getting in touch with your inner body. First you must draw your attention to your breath and then on the feeling of your body. According to Tolle, one conscious breath is all it takes.
7) Challenges in life are the greatest teachers
Another great philosophical quote from Tolle is this gem, ‘Peace comes the moment you completely accept your non-peace.’ By this, he means that you should never look for peace, but should instead be kind to yourself and give up all resistance to the non-peace you’re feeling. Anything you accept fully, he argues, will take you into peace.
Anyway, he continues, how is it possible to know what is truly positive or negative in life? For many people, times of non-peace, when they are facing failure, loss, and pain, turned out to be their greatest teacher and made them more real.
8) Go with the flow
It’s not only challenges we need to accept either, but more generally, we need to surrender to the natural flow of life. Tolle explains that, ‘there are cycles of success, when things come to you and thrive, and cycles of failure, when they wither and you have to let go of them in order to make room for new things to arise, or for transformation to happen.’
The trick, he explains, is to learn to go with the flow of life and recognise that, ‘failure lies concealed in every success, and success in every failure.’ My dad, one of the most relaxed and laid back people I know, is a big advocate for going with the flow. He’s most certainly been through ups and downs in his life but he never resisted them and he’s one of the happiest people I know.
9) Swap negative resistance for positive action
Negativity, in Tolle’s eyes, is a totally unnatural emotion that should serve us as a reminder to be more present. He argues that no other life form on the planet knows negativity, only humans. He poses a fabulous question: ‘Have you ever seen an unhappy flower or a stressed oak tree?’ and the answer is a resounding ‘No’.
Tolle explains that all negativity, ranging from impatience to suicidal despair, is a form of resistance. Instead, we should learn to surrender. He emphasises that surrender is a purely inner phenomenon and it doesn’t mean you can’t take action to change a situation.
Positive action, as he terms it, is when you accept and surrender to the present moment and are then able to take effective action. You can see clearly what needs to be done and take one step at a time which is far better than negative action arising from emotions like anger, despair, or frustration.
10) When you are in deep pain, surrender to the Now
Learning to be more present is perhaps most crucial when you’re going through a particularly painful time. Tolle explains that you must face your pain and feel it but without thinking about it or attempting to attach a label to the emotions.
So feel the dread, the grief, the loneliness and stay alert and present in the feeling. Tolle explains that as you do this you are bringing a light into the darkness, the flame of your consciousness.
– Tiger Lily –