Chapter 3 - Moving Deeply Into the Now
The Power of Now - Kickoff Essay
by David Axel (fitmind -at- mindspring.com)
Chapter 3 - Moving Deeply into the Now
My kickoff essay for Chapter Three: Moving Deeply into the Now, follows. I've closely followed Josh Zader's guidelines for constructing this post, and I've included his specific questions and organization here. In addition, in my summary, I've included the names of the various sections in the chapter, along with page references.
First, for the summary of the chapter, written as much as possible with a view toward recreating Tolle's meaning.
Don't Seek Your Self in the Mind 39
It's not necessary to learn about the mind's complexities in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
"You have already understood the basic mechanics of the unconscious state: identification with the mind, which creates a false self, the ego, as a substitute for your true self rooted in Being. You become as a 'branch cut off from the vine,' as Jesus puts it." p. 39
In fact, many people don't want to let go of their problems, because their mind-identified sense of self feels threatened by the absence of problems.
"So once you recognize the root of unconsciousness as identification with the mind, which of course includes the emotions, you step out of it. You become present. When you are present, you can allow the mind to be as it is without getting entangled in it. The mind in itself is not dysfunctional. It is a wonderful tool. Dysfunction sets in when you seek your self in it and mistake it for who you are. It then becomes the egoic mind and takes over your whole life." p. 40
End the Illusion of Time 40
The key to disidentification from the mind is to "[e]nd the delusion of time." p. 40 Rather than remaining preoccupied with past and future, one should accept the present moment and "allow it to be." The past provides a sense of identity, the future, a sense of salvation - yet both are illusions.
It's not past or future, but the Now, the eternal present, that's the most precious thing. Why? 1. Because it's all there is. 2. Because it's the only point that can take a person beyond the mind. The realm of Being is timeless and formless - outside time.
Nothing Exists Outside the Now 41
Everything that ever has happened, does happen or will happen, happens in the Now.
The Key to the Spiritual Dimension 42
Life-threatening situations can naturally induce a shift from time to presence, as personality, past and future, momentarily recede, and intense conscious presence arises. One reason why so many people love to engage in dangerous activities is because the danger helps them to generate states of consciousness that are intensely alive, timeless, problem-free, and free of thought. Yet it's not necessary to depend on a specific sort of activity in order to enter such a state of consciousness. It can be entered now.
"Since ancient times, spiritual masters of all traditions have pointed to the Now as the key to the spiritual dimension." p. 43
The essence of Zen involves being "so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve." p. 43
Accessing the Power of the Now 44
Freeing oneself of time moves one into the Now, enabling perception of things "without the screen of mind." p. 44 This involves "a deep love and reverence for" what is. Mind and mind knowledge are useful for practical, daily living, but not helpful when they take over all aspects of life, including relationships with others and with nature.
A permanent shift in consciousness - not just a momentary experience - is what's needed. To make that shift requires letting go of present-moment denial and resistance, stepping out of time and into the Now. The future regarded as better or worse - as hopeful or anxious - involves illusion.
"Through self-observation, more presence comes into your life automatically. The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence." p. 45
Rather than making a personal problem out of others' actions or one's own reactions, one can observe these and sense the "the still, observing presence... the silent watcher." p. 46
There is a tendency, when things "go wrong," to become "unconscious." A person "becomes" the reaction of emotion, acts it out, justifies, attacks, defends - even though this is the reactive pattern, not the self.
Disidentification with and observation of the mind make it possible to be present to the timeless - to withdraw energy from the mind and to turn it into presence.
Letting Go of Psychological Time 46
It's important to learn to distinguish between "clock time" and "psychological time." The former can be used in practical matters by an enlightened person. The latter involves mind-identification and distancing of oneself from the Now. "Clock time" involves not just appointments or planning of trips, but also learning from the past, setting goals, and predicting the future by means of laws. Even so, the present moment remains the essential factor. Proper awareness of "clock time" involves applying lessons learned from the past now, and both planning and working toward goals is performed in the Now. It's important to avoid transforming "clock time" into "psychological time," as when a person dwells mentally on self-criticism in a manner that turns past mistakes into part of one's sense of self - thus creating a problem-laden, false sense of identity. "Nonforgiveness necessarily implies a heavy burden of psychological time." p. 47
Pursuing a goal can be wonderful provided it doesn't involve denial of the present. One needs to value the step that one is taking right now - and remain willing and able to smell the flowers.
"...the present moment is all you ever have. There is never a time when your life is not 'this moment.' Is this not a fact?" p. 48
The Insanity of Psychological Time 48
The principle that "the end justifies the means" captures - in theory and practice - the insanity of psychological time. This principle regards the Now as of no value in comparison to some ideal that people claim can be achieved in the future, whether via communism, national socialism, nationalism, or rigid religious belief systems.
It's important that one consider how this mind pattern operates in one's own life. Is each moment treated as merely a means to an end? Is fulfillment always just around the corner and sought in short-lived pleasures? Is one obsessed with the acquisition of more things in an effort to become more complete? Is one waiting for another person to provide one with meaning?
Psychological time obscures the power and creativity that lie in the Now. Old patterns dominate and repeat, providing an illusory sense of identity that covers up the present while making it unsatisfactory. The mind then grows obsessed with the future in an effort to escape from the present.
Negativity and Suffering Have Their Roots in Time 49
Genuine change requires presence, rather than preoccupation with past and future. "All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present." p. 50 Ultimately, the basic problem and the root of all problems is the time-bound mind.
It's not possible to reach a point of being free of problems - since one is at that point now.
Finding the Life Underneath Your Life Situation 51
When people speak of being dissatisfied with their lives, it would be more precise to speak instead of their "life situations." Life situations involve psychological time. It's not life, but life situations, that involve problems. People frequently confuse their life situations with their lives, preoccupy themselves with problems in their life situations, and leave no room for solutions.
Using one's senses fully, paying close attention to the things around oneself in the present moment, focusing on one's own sensations and simply allowing things to be all can draw one more deeply into the Now.
All Problems Are Illusions of the Mind 53
Fundamentally, there are no problems, only situations. Fully accepting the present moment as it is dissolves problems and enables one to deal with or leave alone, as appropriate, the situations that one encounters. Problems need psychological time in order to exist, and evaporate in the Now. Creating problems creates pain. By no longer creating pain, a person ceases to create problems.
Life-or-death emergencies aren't problems. There is no time in them for problems. In a true emergency, mind noise ceases. During such emergencies, many ordinary people have displayed incredible courage.
Much of people's action involves motivation by fear, which involves focusing on the future while losing awareness of the Now. But the Now involves neither psychological time nor problems nor fear.
A Quantum Leap in the Evolution of Consciousness 55
The time-bound mindset has dominated human life for ages, but true transformation and the very well being of the species involve the ending of psychological time.
The Joy of Being 56
It's simple to test whether one's life is dominated by psychological time. One simply needs to ask whether there is "joy, ease and lightness" in what one does. p. 56 Experience dominated by psychological time smothers the present and causes life to feel like a burden. To change this often requires changing not the what but the how of one's action. By paying attention to the doing rather than the result, one can accept what is, enjoy the moment, and let the fruits of one's doing develop of their own accord. Honoring the present moment dissolves unhappiness and struggle, generates flow and ease, and imbues even simples actions "with a sense of quality, care, and love." p. 56
For the person whose attention is centered on the Now, failure and success don't change one's inner state of Being. Such a person has found the life under one's life situation. Such a person is complete and whole now. Such a person knows that "nothing real can be threatened." p. 58 Such a person, having succeeded, can't fail to succeed.
What is the theme of this chapter?
The theme is moving deeply into the now, in part by avoiding various, "normal" but insane practices, and replacing them with various, "enlightened" practices.
The insane practices include seeking a self in one's mind; maintaining the delusion of time; presuming that anything exists outside the Now; misconstruing one's life as one's life situation; and treating problems as if they actually existed. The "enlightened" practices include identifying one's self with Being in the Now; distinguishing between "clock time" and "psychological time"; discovering the life underneath one's life situation; and recognizing that problems do not exist in the Now. By moving deeply into the Now, one makes a quantum leap in the evolution of consciousness, immerses oneself in the present even while learning from the past and taking action for the sake of achieving goals in the future. With such an approach, one can experience the joy of being.
How does [this chapter] fit in the context of the overall book, and how does it relate to the book's previous chapters?
This chapter builds on the prior two by exploring more deeply, questions about enlightenment, including what sorts of factors may obstruct a person's experience of an enlightened state of consciousness. It also considers what a person can do to let go of normal but insane patterns in the process of moving deeply into the Now.
What seemed to be the author's major goals with this chapter?
To convey more lessons regarding the Now, the distinction between "clock time" and "psychological time," the distinction between one's life and one's "life situation," the illusion of problems, and the joy of being.
What are the chief ideas any reader should carry away?
Only the Now exists. Psychological time is a prevalent delusion. One's life differs from one's life situation. Problems don't exist in the Now. One can immerse oneself in the Now, enhance the creativity of one's consciousness, appreciate the life underneath one's life situation, and enjoy Being.
Of these, which seem most critical?
Each point seems rather important to Tolle's overall thesis.
What seemed to be the chapter's strengths?
The writing is enormously clear and accessible, and the examples are most helpful. I really like the question and answer format, not only in this chapter, but also throughout the book.
The content of this chapter strikes me as particularly strong. Intuitively, the idea that "past" and "future" are merely abstractions made sense to me immediately, since I'd arrived at that idea on my own years ago. I hadn't sifted through all the implications and applications that Tolle explores in this chapter, however, and I found those especially enlightening and intriguing.
I find Tolle's distinctions between "clock time" and "psychological time," between "life" and one's "life situation," between "problems" and "situations" - all extremely helpful in understanding his position and in clarifying how to immerse myself in the Now.
What were its weaknesses?
This is possibly my favorite chapter in the book. I find little in it with which to outright disagree.
I do wonder about one aspect that seems to me to run almost like a theme through this chapter and throughout the book. I need to clarify one thing before exploring this, however.
From the beginning, Tolle cautions us not to get caught up in the words that he uses to convey his message. He emphasizes that his words are intended as "stepping stones" with which to communicate, but he doesn't want them to substitute or stand in the way of that which he describes.
This strikes me as good advice that's applicable in many situations other than in the reading of this book.
I want to emphasize, though, that although I find overwhelming value in this book, I find that I best appreciate such value by following Tolle's advice. Sometimes, I agree with him quite literally (as I do while reading much of this chapter). At other times, I agree with him, but while employing a more metaphorical interpretation. And at other (much less frequent times), I remain inclined to disagree with him.
This said, I can mention what I might consider to be a weakness in this chapter.
In this chapter and of course the prior ones, Tolle emphasizes the need to "disidentify" from the mind. "You are not your mind" is clearly one of his themes. In an important sense, given what Tolle means by "mind," I agree with him.
Yet he also likes to describe the mind by means of a metaphor: he calls it a "tool," to be picked up and used for practical purposes, but set down when not needed for such purposes.
Again, I find much that I can agree with in this, but there is one possible implication that concerns me.
I'm concerned that Tolle may, occasionally, treat this metaphor too literally. A hammer is indeed a tool, an object separate from me, to be picked up when needed for practical purposes and then set aside when not needed. But the mind is different. Although I agree with Tolle that the mind isn't all that there is to me, I nevertheless regard my mind as a part of who and what I am. I agree with so much of what Tolle says about mind-identification, however, because I think the crucial error that so many people make, is to assume that they equal their minds. I do think it's an error to treat a part of oneself as if it were one's whole self. Tolle is right that there is much more to us than that, and that there is a level of consciousness that's deeper. And I find the tool metaphor helpful and applicable in countless contexts.
As much as I agree with Tolle's recommendation that we "disidentify" from what he calls "mind," I nevertheless remain unwilling to disown my mind or to treat it as anything less than a part of who I am. The same goes for my teeth, hair, skin and so on. Granted, changes in some of my aspects are more "essential" than others. If I need to get a tooth pulled, much as I may once have loved that tooth, if that's necessary for my well-being, it's not a problem. ;-) If I get my hair cut, my self has changed, but in a respect that's not central to who I am.
So, in summary, I'm more inclined to regard the issue of the relationship between self and mind from the vantage point of the whole-part relationship, rather than maintaining that the mind is no part of the self.
Are there aspects of the chapter that seem to complement Objectivism (or a well-reasoned approach to life based on enlightened individualism)?
I think that understood correctly, this chapter complements Objectivism especially well.
Objectivism emphasizes the principle of the "primacy of existence," which holds that things are what they are irrespective of the wishes, hopes, fears or dreams of consciousness. Colloquially, "wishing alone won't make it so." Furthermore, Rand emphasizes the need to accept "the metaphysically given" - that which is part of reality and cannot be changed.
I don't think that Rand or Objectivists have always consistently understood, appreciated or applied the implications of the primacy of existence principle, however -- and if they pay close attention, they may gain some insight from Tolle's work that they didn't previously have.
Tolle's emphasis on the point that only the Now exists, that past and future are abstractions, that "psychological time" in effect reifies abstractions and rationalistically treats them as if they were real existents - all fit beautifully with the fundamental character of the primacy of existence principle. I think his work can greatly deepen Objectivists' understanding of the meaning and implications of this principle, though, because many aspects of Tolle's understanding of the Now involve acceptance of what is in ways that Ayn Rand and other Objectivists haven't always seemed to fully appreciate. I think many of us have unwittingly struggled with denial of the present. By learning from both Objectivism and from Tolle's work, we can learn to appreciate that such denial ultimately implies denial of the primacy of existence.
I think Tolle's rich ideas can be augmented and made more rigorous with the help of Objectivist principles - and that Objectivists' appreciation of the need for and power of acceptance of what is, can be deepened both by Tolle's emphasis in this area, and a renewed, refreshed understanding of the primacy of existence.
Are there aspects of the chapter that seem problematic from the standpoint of Objectivism (or a well-reasoned approach to life based on enlightened individualism)?
Even though I've emphasized the complementary nature of the Objectivist principle of the primacy of existence and Tolle's emphasis on the reality of the Now -- I'm certain that some Objectivists would criticize Tolle's remarks on the grounds that he's advocating a variant of the primacy of consciousness. To be clear, the primacy of consciousness involves a mindset of "mere wishing will make it so." Tolle writes that problems don't really exist for an enlightened person. Some Objectivists might interpret this to mean that by achieving a certain state of mind, external reality will simply go away.
I don't interpret Tolle that way at all, however. I think many Objectivists will experience difficulty integrating Tolle's ideas, though, because so many of them insist on using terms with a rigidity that makes it nearly impossible to understand someone who expresses him or herself from a different point of view.
Tolle's term, "nonforgiveness," provides one such example. Although some promising efforts have been made by some Objectivists to explore the concept of forgiveness within an Objectivist context -- many, many Objectivists are likely to have difficulty with this term. Furthermore, Tolle uses the term in a manner that differs not only from typical, Objectivist usage, but from conventional usage as well. Yet I interpret Tolle's use of the term as thoroughly consonant with the Objectivist emphasis on recognizing the primacy of existence.
Objectivists undoubtedly also may experience difficulty with Tolle's comments about the transformation of the "collective" consciousness. This is one area in which I think Tolle does little in the pages of this book, to clarify fully what he means - and so I've personally reserved judgment about those comments.
What aspects of the chapter especially warrant further discussion by the group?
I think the relationship between the Objectivist principle of the primacy of existence on the one hand, and Tolle's emphasis on the Now, and for that matter, on Being, on the other, warrant further discussion.
What questions are you yourself left with?
I do wonder about the issue of disidentification and the part-whole relationship that I discussed earlier, and I wonder what precisely Tolle means by a "collective" human consciousness.