For several years, people had told me that The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle was one of those books that “waited for” the person to be ready to read it. When the time was right, they said, you would read the book and be in communion with the message.

And I thought, “Oh, what a load of horse-shit.”

This was back before I became a self-avowed, reiki-practicing, chakra-loving, power-of-the-mind talking, roses and sunshine practitioner of love (proud of it!), combined with a healthy dose of pragmatism, cognitive-behavioral tools, and respect for the biochemical responses of the body.

The beauty of The Power of Now is that it really meets you where you’re at–whether you’re New Age and proud or utterly concerned with practicalities.

The aspect of The Power of Now that I’ve found most helpful is this one: Watching the thinker (sometimes called “Watching the watcher”).

Tolle writes:

“You have probably come across “mad” people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other “normal” people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or “mental movies.”The Power of Now

 

Look familiar?

Ah, yes–I can recognize this aspect of myself. Planning, plotting, Ego, desires for control, manipulating to get what it wants without even being aware of its manipulation because desires are so justified…running on auto-pilot, devoid of conscious presence.

Until we start working with it–and “watching the watcher.”

This idea comes from meditation practices espoused by teachers of Buddhism. You watch your thoughts in meditation, and without judging them, you label them, “thinking.” That’s it. You do that over and over again as you sit on the cushion, because that’s how you bring presence to them, and that’s how you get out of the habit of automatically having a knee-jerk reaction to everything, thinking you constantly have to react.

The interesting twist with “watching the watcher” is that you’re watching the thoughts arise as if those thoughts are not you–as if those thoughts were spoken by someone else.

This can be a game-changer.

 

Changing the Questions

Suddenly, the question is not, “How can I stop thinking thoughts that are destructive?” and instead becomes: “What part of me is saying this?”

Is it the “you” that you were at seven, ten, thirteen, eighteen years old? Is it the “you” that you were right after a traumatic event? Or the “you” that you were right after a significant accomplishment?

Then, the question can shift to: “But that part of me is no longer here–so who is saying this?”

And suddenly, an emptiness can resound. Your mind sits, still, waiting for “what’s next.” For most people, a new thought will very quickly arise and off they’ll go, tossed off into thinking about that new thought and what it must mean.

But then you come back to the breath. You ask yourself: “Who’s saying this?

The emptiness comes back as you watch to see what this voice will say, next.

Unobserved, it is loud and insistent that the world is a certain way, and that you must react to it. But observed, it is curiously quiet.

Back and forth, back and forth.

 

The Life Translation

This eventually translates more and more into real, everyday life. It’s a shift that is almost imperceptible over time.

I’ve been working on it since I discovered such practices eight years ago, and I am the first to say that I’m no model. In my daily life, I am tossed around my “the thinker/watcher,” who is informing me in this very moment of the annoying teenagers in this cafe who are watching videos on their computer without headphones, judging them for what I see as inconsiderate behavior that doesn’t acknowledge that other people might not want to hear what they’re watching.

Before that, my mind was thinking about how to write about a recent conflict that I worked through without making it apparent what I was referring to, in case the person read the web entry, and in those moments my thoughts were primarily about not wanting the person to be mad at me, not wanting to experience their rejection, not wanting to be left.

It’s constant.

But the gaps do appear. There are the moments when:

  • someone is yelling at you, the way you yell at yourself in your head, and you think, “Who is this person? What part of them is saying this to me?”
  • emergency strikes and the voice is off telling you about how everything is falling apart in the worst of ways–and then suddenly, the realization that this voice cannot possibly know how it’s all going to turn out, because it cannot predict the future, and then…calm.
  • it will seem silly to take anything personally–because you’ll realize that nothing is ever personal, that everyone is just wandering around, reacting to the voices in their head, until they develop a practice for working with them. This will be true for your husband who cheated, your teenage kids who mouth off, and the jerk who cut you off in traffic and then had the nerve to flip you the bird.

 

And collectively, those little gaps will be like inches of freedom gained, and every inch will be worth it.

 

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