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What's Wrong with The Power of Now? Eckhart Tolle's Mistake

Updated on August 16, 2014

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Anthony Robbins and How to Be Ready

Did He Get Something Wrong?

Did Eckhart Tolle miss his point and some of the power too?

In his seminal work and follow up lectures, the author described how The Power of Now lead him to a personal rebirth. Getting into that now moment, fully realizing and appreciating it, brought strength and fulfillment.

I loved this book. It was a difference maker for me. That made it a little embarrassing when I discovered that it his theory was based on a false premise. Eckhart Tolle's mistake was in not really understanding what now is.

More great nonfiction books at bargain prices: My Nonfiction Store

Eckhart Tolle's Mistake: The Power of Now is Something Else

Think for a minute about what it means to have a "now," that personal awareness of the present.

Eckhart Tolle teaches the power of relishing that awareness, appreciating it fully. The problem is, given how our physical brains create our sense of the present, we are always–and I mean without exception –looking at the past.

We are never fully aware of the present moment. Our brains, as amazing as they are, didn't evolve to do that. That's the problem in Tolle's mistake and also, I think, where he got off the track with the more downbeat tone in his more recent books – instead of the world being wonderful, he now seems to think it's broken.

Multiple operations contributing a wide range of mindful and unconscious services make up a soft machine of unimaginable versatility, better known as your brain, highly prepared at birth, tuned and retuned throughout life.

Our minds evolved to be so powerful our skulls were forced to expand so quickly that the rest of our bodies, especially those of women who must give birth in more pain than that experienced by virtually any other living thing, may never catch up.

Yet, our brains are malleable, constantly adapting to new inputs, new observations, synthesizing, gaining strength. We're capable of amazing things.

Experiencing the present in the moment it happens, however, is not one of them. We had to invent time, just to account for the gap.

Why The Power of Now Is Not What You Think

Our consciousness, our mind's eye, is a creation put together from many resources, running like a documentary that won't end.

Our eyes accept photons and send them up the optic nerve. Receptors in our ears interpret vibrations in air flow. Simultaneously, our skin, our taste buds, our noses are all gathering information and sending it brain-ward.

Our minds scramble to assemble a workable reality out of the endless flood of information, millions of items per second, combining it with stored learning, memory and, perhaps most importantly, expectation.

The process is more complex than even that description allows, but it is a process, a sequence of occurrences that, by definition, can't happen without an elapse of time.

Moreover, that process, the creating of a reality from wildly disparate elements is continuous. One slice of reality is so infused with before and after that the idea of a moment grows absurd.

We may pause for sleep but only to change context. What we see as "now" is the product of an incredible capacity for invention and interpretation - of what already happened.

If the miracle of what your brain, supported by sensory processes, does isn't impressive enough to... well, make your head spin, consider that all the data it uses for invention is raw. By this, I mean that what we see arrives at our optic nerves without color. Smells and sounds are inventions, mental interpretations of differing chemical and vibrational data.

We put the bomp in the bompabompabomp, answering Gerry Goffin's classic pop question, and we keep putting it in.

We put the red in roses and the blue in sky. Evolution has prepared us very well for our work, and it's the universality of evolution that guarantees we all see, feel and hear the same things in the same way.

The Truth about Now and the Way Out

When we think we are appreciating our now, our present moment, we are in reality appreciating what just happened, no matter how quick we are. But there are good reasons for retaining the illusion.

The first is that it makes us happy to find in our lives things that fulfill us, and much of that is an ineffable presence in nature, what we often think of as the presence of God for lack of a better explanation.

The closer we come to that membrane that separates us from wholeness, the more peaceful and content we are. The second is that, appreciating our moment just passed teaches us and prepares us for what comes next.

The universe around us is chock full of things to see, touch, feel, hear and taste. It's impossible to take in everything and assemble it in our mind's eye. We can't pick and chose in the instant of now because we aren't really there yet.

What we can do, what we do actually do in the act of awareness and emotional attachment is shift gears in our direction to the future. We do this immediately, moment by moment, automatically.

When you think about it, you understand that the future is all we can ever do anything about. Our beloved "now" is gone before we see it, falling off into the accumulation of history and memory.

Our preparation for the future allows us to absorb that unconscious moment and relish it as it settles into the collections of the past. Evolution built us to look forward for a good reason. For all intents, it's where we really are.

Awareness is about history. The future is now, even for Eckhart Tolle.

The Power of Now

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Inspired by Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics

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    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      6 years ago from New York City


    • notepro profile image


      6 years ago from Florida

      That's funny, I reached the exact same conclusion when I read the book. We are always "in" the past, even when we believe we are fully in the present. Great minds! Cheers.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      6 years ago from New York City

      Lois, the title was invented by a marketing department, so it won't change. But even if it did, it wouldn't make the idea more accurate. My point is that, anchoring in the moment, or trying to, isn't as helpful as leaning forward.

      And Chuck, who said it was a contest among Amazon clickers? I still think it's terrible.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 

      6 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      1,489 gave A New Earth 5 stars and 208 gave it 1 star. So you may think that it is great or terrible but are 7 times more likely to think that it is great.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Haven't read the book and I don't know if I will, but let me ask you something: If the book was called "The power of Just-happened-a-moment-ago", would that make any difference to the message?

      I'm not trying to defend the book, but to know if is worth reading.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      6 years ago from New York City

      The semantics are very hard to get right. I thought describing "it" was less important than detailing a process for getting to a greater awareness and its rewards.

      The trouble I see right now, is that the legion of New Age gurus who've popped up recently with revelations, none of which are new, are pitching enlightenment as easy, sensing a laziness in their audiences. But it isn't. If it were easy, as the saying goes, to be abundantly happy, everyone would be doing it. They aren't, obviously, no matter what the evidence is.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 

      6 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      I checked. I saw your book on It is Copyright 2012. Catholics call this experience "a beautific vision of the soul." Also Freud came across this and called it an "oceanic feeling." He described it as "a sense of limitless and unbounded oneness with the universe."

      In Indian literature it is said to be something that cannot be described. But the purpose of human life is not to try to describe it. The purpose of human life is to feel it. I talk about that in my article.

      Positive Psychology created their own definition of the flow. But that was a big mistake using that word. They should use a word not in existence. Say that you discover a unique phenomena in physics and call it "god." That would be dumb. In a presidential race many years ago, a guy said that his opponent was a heterosexual thespian in a monogamous relationship and he won. This is what Tom Cruise was a few years ago.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      6 years ago from New York City

      This all becomes a dilemma because we're absent a language to describe, for lack of a better term, "the moment." It's easier for me to understand that the moment is the "is" of everything, and that what we call reality is a construction. Instead of the now existing outside time and space, time and space exists as a construction outside now. Presence just doesn't need time. Going with the flow, of course, was something we thought about in the Sixties, but it was different for each of us. Because going with the flow means acting with inspiration, it's defined by our connectedness to the source of inspiration. That's different for everyone because, our connectedness is individual. You mentioned TM in another comment. TM, I believe, increases connectedness by increasing conscious awareness.

      I could go on about this topic forever, and in fact, I have. I wrote "Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness" about it on inspiration. You can find it on Amazon, but I also have it serialized for free online, chapter by chapter. Let me know if you're interested, and I can give you the web page that indexes all the chapters.

      Thanks, again.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 

      6 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Eckhart Tolle is not a brain scientist like Daniel Amen M.D. Dr. Amen wrote the best-seller Change your Brain, Change Your Life. The teachings of Tolle can be regarded as spiritual. That means that it is not about the physical world, but the non-physical world where time and space do not exist.

      In Positive Psychology they found that humans can experience something that they call 'flow.' Now they are talking about the same thing as Tolle but languages are limited. So how do they describe what Tolle is calling the present or now?

      They describe it as an experience of time stopping or ceasing to exist. Of course they cannot say that the soul exists outside of time and space since they are psychologists. But they are describing that feeling that when you are so extremely happy and satisfied you are like in an eternal now. It is a different state of consciousness.

      The director of Positive Psychology (Martin Seligman) was president of the American Psychological Association. Here is how he describes the flow experience:

      "When does time stop for you? When do you find yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing, and never wanting it to end? Is it painting, or making love, or playing volleyball, or talking before a group, or rock climbing, or listening sympathetically to someone else's troubles?"

      Now psychologists are not going to say that you can feel this after you are dead. But Jesus can say that this is heaven and can be felt after you die. Tolle says "Heaven is not a location but refers to the inner realm of consciousness."

      So Tolle would suggest that people not worry about the future but what does Jesus say in NIV Matthew 6:27 to 6:34? "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

      So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'

      Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      8 years ago from New York City

      You're right, Lara. It's powerful and hits a chord with many people, including me, but as you have come to realize, you still need to keep a respectful distance and sort through. Tolle's truth isn't everyone else's.

      I thought he went to hell, not long after, with a whole new attitude, not one of acceptance and appreciation of the moment, but one of judgment and idealism.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi, somebody close to me has become completley drowned in the power of NOW belief its taken them down a wrong path. This book has good points but can leave some people feeling totally disconnected. People are different and this is an extremmley powerful book which can turn into obsession. PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. I for one felt great for about a month or two after, all i could think about was the book then i just didn't feel 'normal' like i was functioning right. The use of the word now comes up like 3000 times. The power is not 'now' it is 'the power of now' by eckhart tolle.

    • tabocob profile image


      8 years ago from Costa Rica

      Past and future are the product of our memory. The universe is happening now and only now can continue happening. Through our capacity to remember we have created a relevant past and a relevant future; or worse yet, we have entangled our sense of being to those two temporal categories and due to a trap of memory we feel like we can go revive the past or forecast the future. Is not that past and future do not exist, they do exist but not in the way that grasp those two moments in our memory.

      With time our memory grew even more and we started identifying with a human being usually located in the negatives or positives instances of our past, espending a lot of time in the reviving of good or bad memories and feeling again the emotions associated to those instances. Some other times that fear or hope in our memories makes us create a perspective future, something or someone we want to be in the future; at this point human dreaming started.

      These two temporal non realities trapped humans in a memory game, mostly a game of fear and hope. We opt to stay always in one of those two mental states, or temporal memories. We can be immersed in the past times reviving painful or grateful memories or we can project our self to a hopeful or fearful future, by prefering to attached our self concienseness to any of those two stages we forget about the NOW, the only real moment that exists.

      We do not know how to get immersed in the extended present of the NOW, we just used it as a mark to jump from past to future and all what our self does is to duel jumping from images of the past to idealizations of the future. At this moments we like the stress felt in our bodies, we like to be full of emotions(we humans are addicted to emotions). Then we are commiting the crime of not realizing the possibilities that arized when we have more awareness of the NOW.

      The only real moment, the only instance where we can be and operate in reality.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      8 years ago from New York City

      The simple fact is that past, future, now and any other concept dependent on time are fabrications overlaying an invention. You may be empowered by a unified connection with "all there is," for lack of another phrase, but in the terms you and Tolle are using, you are struggling to make judgments about a fiction.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It's when people *identify* with the past and future as who they are that the present can become obscured. Tolle makes this abundantly clear in his countless talks and his insight has apparently been lost in this discussion.

      "Tolle described how The Power of Now lead him to a personal rebirth."

      This is the reverse of what happened. His spontaneous disassociation with his egoic self, born of the suffering that had become suicidal over the years, came first and what remained was his pure awareness and oneness with the Now... His spontaneous awakening was not the result of any spiritual process going in, and it seems that this point has been misinterpreted and lost by some of his readers. He's a fantastic writer and teaching who inner stillness can truly be felt by those who have listened to him over the years and can feel it within themselves, the inner silence which he say can be felt by anyone.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      9 years ago from New York City

      Correct, Brent. Everything is now, but it's also entirely possible that now includes then as well as when.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      It does not matter, even when you are thinking about the past it is still happening "now", thinking about the future? It is happening now.

    • David Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      David Stone 

      10 years ago from New York City

      I absolutely loved the book, but time passes. A richer recognition of reality as we now know it to be can only enrich the great things we learned from Tolle.


    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett-Irwin 

      10 years ago from The Great Northwest

      i read this book and I can see exactly what you mean. I think associations are powerful. Say wer'e sniffing a carnation flower, immediately our mind in that moment, associates what we think of carnations- something from the past. To me, it may bring back a great childhood memory and to someone else it may remind them of flowers at a funeral they attended.

      Because of our brain's natural associations, it is really almost impossible to live in the Now. I think kids experience many now moments, because it is their firsts with not much of a past and no ability to plan far into the future.

      The closest to a now moment I can relate to is another theory called being in The Zone. It is similar to when athletes and artists are immersed in their craft or skill.

      I liked The Power of Now book overall, in theory I guess, but I can see your points.

      Thought provoking hub- thanks!


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