The Problems with The Power of Now

12-05-2017 power of now.jpg

Eckhart Tolle is one of the leading people converting the exciting findings of nonduality into boring, syrupy, non-intellectual crap. True, he says many things that are correct and, for some people, no doubt useful. Yes, his overall message is probably fine, like processed cereal is fine.

But overall, his blandness, his confusion of categories, his poor thinking and lazy analysis of important texts... it's all so boring. Like a copy of a copy of a copy, it is tired, mixed-up, and cliched. 

I'm practically put to sleep by The Power of Now, the book that, after Oprah catapulted him to Deepak-Chopra (I have problems with Deepak, too, which I'll get to another day) levels of stardom, sold millions of copies.

What are its problems? Many, but I'll limit my findings to a key few.

It condemns all negative emotions

Maybe you are being taken advantage of, maybe the activity you are engaged in is tedious, maybe someone close to you is dishonest, irritating, or unconscious, but all this is irrelevant. Whether your thoughts and emotions about this situation are justified or not makes no difference. The fact is that you are resisting what is. You are making the present moment into an enemy. You are creating unhappiness, conflict between the inner and the outer. Your unhappiness is polluting not only your own inner being and those around you but also the collective human psyche of which you are an inseparable part. The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution: millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space.

This is classic Tolle, mixing lots of things together in a grandiose way. Tolle's simplistic idea is that negative emotions are just that: negative. They have little or nothing positive to offer. This is incorrect.

In truth, negative emotions have two basic purposes:

* They tell us what we want so that we can try for it.

* They are themselves rich, beautiful messages about our perspectives on life. They can be translated into art.

But Tolle believes that negative emotions are horrible, evil things, and the less we have of them, the better.

The fact is, of course, that negativity does not work. Instead of attracting a desirable condition, it stops it from arising. Instead of dissolving an undesirable one, it keeps it in place. Its only “useful” function is that it strengthens the ego, and that is why the ego loves it.

Wrong. Negativity is not what blocks us from getting what we want but tells us what we want in the first place! Negativity becomes a block when we try to brush it aside or ignore it. The key is that we have to pay attention to it and try to understand what it is saying. It gives us the instructions, the map to get where we want to go.

Negativity is totally unnatural.

Nonsense. Negativity goes along with positivity. It is one side of the colors on the canvas. You cannot have white without black. You cannot have up without down.

Couldn’t a negative emotion also contain an important message?... Yes, recurring negative emotions do sometimes contain a message… When you have reached a certain degree of presence, you don’t need negativity anymore to tell you what is needed in your life situation.

Jesus in the temple throwing out the moneychangers experienced anger. In the garden at Gethsemane, when he contemplated his future crucifixion, he experienced doubt and fear. The wise can experience any negative emotion; they simply do not identify with the emotion. They take it in as important information.

Whenever you notice that some form of negativity has risen within you, look on it not as a failure, but as a helpful signal that is telling you: ”Wake up. Get out of your mind. Be present."

That is only one possible response, and it is definitely not always the right one. Looking deeply into the negative emotion and trying to see what it is trying to say is often a much better idea.

Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain.

Wrong again. Every dysfunction has its compensation. It reveals a new way of looking at the world. It has a kind of challenge to it that may be enjoyable to face. It may bring you in contact with a new community of people who bond based on the pain. There are many reasons that people might -- and do -- choose dysfunction, conflict, and pain.

Tolle also claims being aware of pain "dissolves" it in presence. Wrong. It typically does no such thing. Metaphorization dissolves pain far more effectively. Pain contains a message. Read the message and the pain loses the worst part of its sting, and can even become beautiful. Even a long, terrible disease can be translated into art -- and has been -- and when it is, it becomes meaningful.

Have you come across a depressed dolphin, a frog that has a problem with self-esteem, a cat that cannot relax, or a bird that carries hatred and resentment?

Actually — yes. Animals do get grief-stricken and depressed, anxious and neurotic. See elephants who have been known to grieve intensely for lost companions.

Once you know how the basic dysfunction operates, there is no need to explore all its countless manifestations, no need to make it into a complex personal problem.

People don't "make it into a complex personal problems." Most people actually have such problems which they currently try their best to ignore and shove under the rug. They would benefit by addressing them through exploration and expression in art and/or therapy. Brushing them aside in the name of so-called spirituality is stupidity.

It misunderstands the role of surrender in the spiritual quest

Tolle often recommends surrender. That’s much easier to say than to do. It requires a significantly quiet mind — one that has already responded to many of its desires, metaphorized them, understood their message, and followed them. It requires a person already in significant self-alignment. Then and only then is surrender possible. Otherwise you'd feel: why surrender to what feels unfair? Without getting an intellectual understanding of the process of enlightenment and working through psychological obstacles, you very likely aren't going to be able to surrender.

Tolle also says contradictory things. If one is surrendering, one is allowing whatever to be to be.
But then he says:

Do not pollute your beautiful, radiant inner Being not the Earth with negativity. Do not give unhappiness in any form whatsoever a dwelling place inside you.

Which is it? Surrender means non-judgment, not trying (as we've already seen above) to get rid of negativity. 

 Or is there something that you “should” be doing but are not doing it? Get up and do it now. Alternatively, completely accept your inactivity, laziness, or passivity at this moment, if that is your choice. Go into it fully. Enjoy it. Be as lazy or inactive as you can. If you go into it fully and consciously, you will soon come out of it. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, there is no inner conflict, no resistance, no negativity.

If you could follow this advice in the first place, you wouldn't typically have a problem. The conflict he mentions here is a symptom of different desires, different voices in the mind seeking to speak. Rather than trying to artificially resolve the conflict by silencing one voice and either "doing it now" or giving into the "laziness," a far superior solution is to understand the different voices at work -- through examination and articulation of your negative emotions -- so that they can both be accommodated in a new, higher solution.

Perhaps you have good reasons to do something and not to do it. Find out the reasons and then craft something that accommodates all the reasons. Don't just try to suppress one side like Tolle suggests here.

It confuses nondualistic and dualistic ideas

This is a huge one. The Power of Now is full of giant confusions. Enlightenment is a nondual idea. That is, it is beyond the separation between "I" and other. It isn't ordinary happiness or love -- it is a deeper peace that it compatible with "ordinary" dualistic happiness and unhappiness, ordinary love and hate. It is beyond the physical world (though it is also in and through it -- a great mystery!). When you start to say, "You're enlightened, so you aren't sad," this is mixing categories and is a big no-no.

Tolle doesn't seem to understand that what these categories are, and mixes them with wild and reckless abandon.

Here are some samples.

As there is more consciousness in the body, its molecular structure actually becomes less dense. More consciousness means a lessening of the illusion of materiality.

The "illusion of materiality" is a dualistic idea. Only in dualism can one have something that one sees through. Consciousness is nondual. It is not opposed to matter. Matter is a thought in consciousness. Consciousness cannot be more "in" one thing than in anything else.

With the timeless dimension comes a different kind of knowing, one that does not “kill” the spirit that lives within every creature and every thing. A knowing that does not destroy the sacredness and mystery of life but contains a deep love and reverence for all that is. A knowing of which the mind knows nothing.

In the timeless dimension of the Self, there can be no knowing because there is no other. There is no I, either. So there can't be a "deep love and reverence for all that is." There is no "all that is" in that space. There is no all. There is no nothing, either. There simply is. Even that is saying  too much.

For example, it is estimated that as many as fifty million people were murdered to further the cause of communism, to bring about a “better world” in Russia, China, and other countries. This is a chilling example of how belief in a future heaven creates a present hell. Can there be any doubt that psychological time is a serious and dangerous mental illness?

Nonduality is beyond time. But it hardly stops anyone from trying to make a better future in "psychological time," and making various sacrifices in the present (which may or may not be worth it, obviously) for that future.

Can you now see the deeper and wider significance of becoming present as the watcher of your mind? Whenever you watch the mind, you withdraw consciousness from mind forms, and it then becomes what we call the watcher or the witness. Consequently, the watcher — pure consciousness beyond form — becomes stronger, and the mental formations become weaker. When we talk about watching the mind we are personalizing an event that is truly of cosmic significance: Through you, consciousness is awakening out of its dream of identification with form and withdrawing from form. This foreshadows, but is already part of, an event that is probably still in the distant future as far as chronological time is concerned. The event is called — the end of the world.

The mixes nonduality, emotions, stuff about the human race, and cosmology, all into one unholy illogical mess. If the Now is important, what does it matter what happens to the planet, or about war, etc. – which he talks about many times?

In conclusion

The book's full of issues. There are far better that I'd recommend to seekers, among them The Bhagavad Gita, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, and obviously (immodestly) my own book.