Primož Hadalin / Essays

The present moment is not enough

Nov 14, 2021

Or where Eckhart Tolle's teachings (and mindfulness) fall short. This essay is a follow-up to Cure for Imposter Syndrome.

I'll be forever grateful for Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now and New Earth. It put me on an intense journey inward—a journey into knowing and understanding my complicated, imperfect, and messy self.

The main takeaway was, roughly speaking, that you are not your thoughts, meaning thoughts are just thoughts—you don't have to take them at face value. Taking them too seriously can harm your mental health, given that our thoughts (particularly negative thoughts) are often distorted. Having said that, I still think it's wise to visit a doctor if prolonged negative thoughts impact your daily life. I also learned that the outcome of increased self-awareness is having a greater distance between thinking and acting. You become less impulsive, which has many benefits in itself, e.g., not snapping immediately when you disagree with someone or exploring more options before providing an argument.

The second takeaway was that the present moment is where you want to spend most of your time. It's where things happen, and it's where experience comes into being. Spending too much time in the past or the future robs you of experiencing what is right in front of you, which is something beautiful for the most part.

These ideas are not new. They've been around for thousands of years, but Eckhart's way of presenting them is pretty powerful.

BUT.

Imagine watching Star Wars, and all that ever happens is Luke Skywalker enjoying the present moment. It wouldn't be that interesting, would it? I'm not saying that Eckhart suggests being idle your whole life, but something is missing. He doesn't provide guidance on orienting yourself toward something meaningful. The present moment without context has no meaning. Yes, even if you're out in the woods admiring nature doing "nothing". It's not nothing; it's something.

People have free will (or so most of us believe), and we act in a manner that will put us a step closer to our goals. Thinking about the future is essential. We need to know where we are, where we want to be, and how we're going to get there. It's all about the journey, as they say.

If you've read the books mentioned above, you'll probably agree that thinking has a bit of a bad rap in Eckhart's eyes. According to him, thinking equals ego doing its thing, and everything that ego does is for its own selfish purposes. There is truth in this. People not yet "awakened", i.e., people so entangled in their learned way of thinking that they can't fathom doing anything wrong, are prone to stumbling into the same set of problems again and again. Such thinking leads to frustration and general dissatisfaction with one's own life.

BUT.

Thinking does not necessarily mean identifying with some part of your flawed self. If you're going to plan for the future, you need to think. If you want to get Eckhart's teachings, you need to think. I think (pun intended) that labeling your cognitive ability as being nothing but ego is not healthy. Of course, there are moments when thoughts get in the way, like when listening to a concert, admiring a piece of art, or when trying to fall asleep, but rejecting thoughts to the level Eckhart suggests is a bit much IMHO.

If you enjoyed Eckhart's books—good, but consider enhancing your studies in philosophy, theology, psychology, and where these intersect. Here are some book recommendations:

Have a nice day!

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