Spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle’s teachings stand strong in the face of the covid-19 lockdown and continue to help me live a peaceful and happy life.

How do I find peace? What is enlightenment and how do I achieve it? What is the secret to happiness? Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, 72, author of best-selling book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, says the answer to these questions is simpler than you might believe. 

The book, which was first published in 1997 and has sold over two million copies worldwide since, can be classified as one large ocean of philosophical life teachings. It claims that the greatest obstruction to experiencing inner happiness is compulsive thinking – It is only when a person stops identifying with their mind, forgives their past and stops worrying about the future, can one find true peace.

According to Tolle, “this incessant mental noise [your thoughts] prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering.”

I believe there is a beautiful simplicity and truth to his message, for how can the answer to any of life’s problems lie anywhere other than in the present moment? In truth, that is all we ever have, because we can’t live in the past or future.

“The pain that you create now is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. The more you are able to honour and accept the now, the more you are free of pain, of suffering,” says Tolle. “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”

There are some notable peculiarities about The Power of Now that you don’t find in most books. Firstly, Tolle uses the questions he has received from people he has taught to structure the thinking in his book as sub-chapters. Therefore, the reading almost makes you feel as though you are in one big Q&A session with him personally.

He also capitalises the words Now and Being throughout the book in order to give life to these words, which encourages the reader to view these terms past their generic meaning – as he says that they each possess the key to enlightenment. Tolle also makes use of various asterisks * throughout the book in order to encourage readers to stop at the current chapter and take time to fully comprehend what he has said.

I believe that these unusual techniques enhance the book and the points it attempts to make. However, I do find his writing and certain teachings difficult to comprehend at times due to its philosophically complex nature. This point is re-iterated by journalist Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head who, although thankful for Tolle’s work, told ABC News in 2014 that after an interview with him, he “walked out very confused by Tolle.” 

Despite various moments of ambiguity, there are many useful practices that Eckhart shares with his readers which attempt to help one experience peace of mind and ultimately, enlightenment.

In a time of increased stress and fear about the future due to the spread of the covid-19 pandemic, I believe that the teachings in this book are more relevant than ever. At this moment in our history, outer distraction is simply not an option – people aren’t able to cope with anxiety by going to the gym or visiting friends. However, according to Eckhart, these various external pleasures aren’t necessary in order to be happy.

“As long as you are identified with the mind, you have an externally derived sense of self. You get your sense of who you are from things that ultimately have nothing to do with who you are: your social role, possessions, external appearance, successes and failures, belief systems, and so on,” explains Tolle.

This may explain why many South Africans seem obsessed with gaining access to alcohol and cigarettes – they are attempting to mask their pain and stress. “Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain,” Tolle teaches his readers.

According to Tolle, it is vital to be in tune with your thoughts and emotions, because your emotions are a reflection of the mind in the body. “Make it a habit to ask yourself: What’s going on inside me at this moment? But don’t analyse, just watch. Feel the energy of the emotion.” Eckhart adds, “start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns [and then bring yourself back into the present moment].”

For many people, the silence of the lockdown can be unbearable. However, Tolle explains that listening to the silence immediately creates stillness within you. “To listen to the silence, wherever you are, is an easy and direct way of becoming present,” says Tolle, “Paying attention to outer silence creates inner silence: the mind becomes still.”

One can enhance this practice by sitting in nature, focusing on bodily senses like sight or smell and even by using deep breathing and meditation practices. “Conscious breathing, which is a powerful meditation in its own right, will gradually put you in touch with the body,” says Tolle. Twenty-year-old Yukta Ramhyth who runs the mantra meditation sessions at the Wits Bhakti Yoga Society, told Wits Vuvuzela, “deep, slow and rhythmic breathing can reduce anxiety and fear – it can also activate your immune system. This forces you to focus solely on your breath which calms you and prevents overwhelming thoughts.”

Despite your family or spouse possibly being a major annoyance to you at the moment, Tolle encourages readers to accept people as they are. “The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them. Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within.”

During the remainder of the lockdown period, I believe it is vital to remember Tolle’s solution to dealing with unbearable situations, as he powerfully states, “wherever you are, be there totally. If you find the here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Reading The Power of Now in nature teaches readers how turning their attention to the present moment can bring about untold peace, happiness and life satisfaction. Photo: Niall Higgins