Since the release of Eckhart Tolle’s first book The Power Of Now, there’s been a lot of talk in spiritual communities about the present moment.
The book hit me like a train, and I’ve become a follower of Eckhart Tolle and his teachings ever since.
I guess the central idea, to sum it up for those who haven’t read the book or know very little of the teaching, is that the present moment is the only place where anything actually happens—as the past and the future are just projections of the mind.
The more conscious awareness we bring to the now, the more we’ll feel a part of life, as opposed to a separate and isolated observer. The ego, which is the false sense of self that arises from our identification with thought, is always pulling us away from the present moment. This is the root of psychological suffering, feeling like we’re a little “me” lodged somewhere behind our face. The end of suffering comes through the realization of the now and the dissolution of the ego.
Phew. What a mouthful.
Okay, that all sounds really good in theory, but that’s the problem: until we put any of this into practice, it’s only a concept—and a concept alone will not transform the mind.
When I first learned about this stuff, I thought I had uncovered a sacred truth that would change my life forever. I was right in one sense, as this teaching has given way to a lifelong inquiry into my own essential nature and the nature of the human mind. Still, I would never have guessed how deep the rabbit hole really goes, and simply asserting intellectually that the present moment is all there is doesn’t really get us far enough down that rabbit hole.
What I’ve been trying to do these past couple of years is to integrate Tolle’s teaching into my daily life. If you haven’t noticed, this is not such an easy thing to do. We’re far too complicated to just start living in the now. There’s all sorts of junk inside of our soul that prevents us from doing so, and until we take a nice, big, long look at that ugliness and pain and tragedy, the present moment will remain an abstract idea.
As I write these articles and play around in the “spiritual world” (for lack of a better term), I’m finding that there are a lot of games people like to play with each other.
Namely, the “I’m more spiritual than you” game, which is just the worst game to play. There’s this weird thing that happens when we learn something “spiritual,” where we think we’re way deeper than everyone else around us and have access to divine knowledge that makes us superior. It’s strange how this happens, eh? We discover the present moment, as though we’re f*cking Amerigo Vespucci, and it gives us a little ego boost that feels kind of nice. Wow. We have the answer to everything. Wonderful!
For those in the know (winky face), this is called spiritual materialism—where we play a game with ourselves about how much more spiritual we are in comparison to other people. It’s such a bummer, dude. Not only is it super annoying to deal with, it’s also in direct conflict with our spiritual practice.
The essence of spirituality, in my view, is a felt connection with the phenomena of experience. Spirituality implies anything that makes us realize how amazing it is that anything exists at all, and makes us feel that we are a part of that phenomena.
Assuming that we’re above people because of a some spiritual conclusion we’ve reached, all by our lovely selves, is just an affirmation of the ego, which takes us away from the present moment. We lose the juice.
So, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to sneak past my fragile little ego and take a nosedive into the realm of direct experience, or in the soothing words of Eckhart Tolle, bring about “a felt oneness with being.” This gets tricky, because no matter how many portals we might find to the here and now, there are about a million ways in which we’re unconsciously running away from the present moment. That’s the junk we really need to pay attention to.
The more I notice what’s happening inside of me, the more I realize that I’m absolutely terrified of the present moment—because it entails facing my deepest issues. This is why I take a Carl Jung approach, by starting with my shadow side and working my way toward the light. I meditate, and let that all that “psychic seaweed” drift to the surface so I can rip it out of the crystal waters of consciousness. That’s been one of the most useful approaches for me.
Whenever we’re feeling uncomfortable or bored with our experience—as though we are waiting for the next moment to come—see if you can truly recognize that this moment lasts forever.
Now is forever.
It’s the mind that’s telling us something is wrong with our present experience and the next thing will be better. If we can really see that this is the only thing, the only moment, the only experience we’ll ever have, the mind will naturally adjust and that stifling feeling of “not enough” will go away by sheer necessity.
This is what I do when I’m feeling restless or afraid or confused, and it helps pretty much every time. The only time it doesn’t help is when it becomes too much of a pattern, and I make a spiritual competition out of how content I can be with what is. That’s toxic spirituality.
This is not an idea. This is not a concept. Now is the only thing. The present moment is literally all we ever have. We don’t need to be perfectly aligned with the present moment all the time—that would be impossible for most of us. We just have to remind ourselves that the present moment is the only reality. There’s a life that is beyond the endless stream of our self-revolving thoughts, and it’s real as f*ck.
Just notice. Just feel. Just breathe into the profound aliveness that you really are. There is no separation, no division, no distinction—just undifferentiated consciousness manifesting itself in the present.
I’ve got another tip: listen to classical music and see if you can feel it in your body. I know, I know, it’s not exactly what we’d expect from some kind of spiritual teaching to connect us with the universe, but I’m dead serious about this. Classical music is fundamentally connected with the structure of reality. It’s an intricate web of harmoniously interconnected patterns that align with the field of human emotion and experience. Classical music is true, or rather speaks to some truth about what we are in a very deep way.
When I listen, for example, to Bach’s “Well Tempered-Clavier,” it feels like I’m coming closer to my own humanness, as I’m flooded with intense feeling and a sense of aliveness. I recommend listening in nature. It literally feels like the universe is manipulating itself around me to nourish my life-force—as though it’s the only f*cking thing in all of existence. That’s what it feels like to be fully immersed in the now, I would say.
Anyway, Eckhart Tolle is cool. The present moment is more than an idea. It’s actually the only thing that’s really real.
There are many ways to connect with the now and feel the fullness of being alive, but they all start from the ground up. It’s the ways we escape the present that are probably even more important to be aware of than the ways we access it. When we notice that we’re escaping, we’re no longer escaping. When we are aware of how lost we are in our thoughts, we find ourselves in the now, now.
That’s my take…now find what works for you.