Originally posted 29 Nov 2003. Back then, I took away some interesting practical points and identified some common ground. I didn't accept the metaphysics. I didn't really get the metaphysics. I sort of do get them now. Although the nature of metaphysics is that we can never know whether they are right (hence the meta), these days Tolle's picture is one that makes intuitive sense to me and is not inconsistent with any evidence.
Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now - A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment signposts a journey toward inner peace. I took much from it when I read it a year or so ago. I don't happen to agree with Tolle's metaphysics (time is an illusion, the role of the unmanifested), but I think he makes some good points.
I am no interpreter of Tolle's work, so I do not seek to set forth his argument here. Instead, I would like to highlight a number of the parallels and tangencies between his points and the way I think about Being, Life, Sentience and Consciousness and about the relation between the objective and subjective perspectives.
Tolle believes that we let our rational, conscious mind get in the way of real life. It is a useful tool, but we let it run out of control. How does this manifest itself? We spend too much of our lives planning and fretting about the future or reliving and regretting the past. Our memory and our capacity to form intentions and plan their execution keep us from opening to the raw experiences of life's moment - the here and now.
Tolle goes on to say that there is actually nothing else but the Now. I disagree with this, instead seeing time as one dimension of space-time, just as real as the others, but different from them. Whereas we can move freely among the three spatial dimensions, we are dictated to by the time dimension. We have to move at its speed.
Our access to that dimension is only through the narrow slit that at any moment is now. Our memory gives us imperfect access to the past, as if looking through a rear-view mirror. Our scientific understanding allow a very limited and narrow predictive look at the future. But we can only ever experience now - this moment. This differs hugely from what an objective observer, sitting outside space-time (a-la Flatland fashion) would see. He would see the stretch of all time just as easily as he sees the extension of space. To use a film analogy, he would see the whole reel unwound at once, rather than be restricted (like us) to seeing one frame at a time in quick succession.
Metaphysics aside, I think that Tolle makes a good practical point. If we let our self-conscious powers run amok, dwelling on the past, reliving it, resenting it; scheming about the future, preparing for every eventuality, plotting moves, then we lose out on the wonders that our senses are trying to present to our (animal) sentient awareness. In over-exercising that which sets us apart from other animals (perhaps in the vain hope of convincing ourselves that we're not animals) we miss the simple pleasures of qualia - warmth, melody, beauty. Our unique subjective worlds become cluttered with 'noise'.
Tolle also emphasises that we are not our minds. For him, each person has an eternal presence, an essence part of yet identical with the great unmanifested. I agree that we are more than our minds, though I see it differently from him. Rather than appeal to a supernatural 'unmanifested', I find a foundation in the natural world - the stuff of which we are made, the recipe by which we are made, the chain of actions of which we play a part - basically the eternal web, or flux, of everything. Our roots reach endlessly to the past and our legacy stretches ceaselessly into the future - two opposing cones with us at their common meeting point.
Anyway, to re-iterate the common ground, don't confuse your self with your mind, especially your self-conscious, rational mind. It is a special, important part of you, but it is rooted in more fundamental stuff.