Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Power to Choose

My favorite part of The Power of Now is the last chapter on surrender. I learned so much from reading it and gained so many insights that I could probably write ten different blog posts on that chapter alone. This is just one – admittedly very long - post, so I only have enough room to concentrate one part of this chapter, the power to choose. Interestingly, this is near the very end of the book. I can see why Eckhart Tolle decided to end the book with this very powerful concept. Here is an except from The Power of Now on the power to choose. The Power of Now is written in question and answer format, so the first part of the excerpt is the question, and the second part is Eckhart Tolle’s answer.

“[Question] What about all those people who, it seems, actually want to suffer? I have a friend whose partner is physically abusive toward her, and her previous relationship was of a similar kind. Why does she choose such men, and why is she refusing to get out of the situation now? Why do so many people actually choose pain?

[Answer] I know that the word choose is a favorite New Age term, but it isn’t entirely accurate in this context. It is misleading to say that somebody ‘chose’ a dysfunctional relationship or any other negative situation in his or her life. Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and it’s conditioned patterns, the moment you become present. Until you reach that point, you are unconscious, spiritually speaking. This means that you are compelled to think, feel, and act in certain ways according to the conditioning of your mind…

Your friend is stuck in a relationship with an abusive partner, and not for the first time. Why? No choice. The mind, conditioned as it is by the past, always seeks to re-create what it knows and is familiar with. Even if it is painful, at least it is familiar. The mind always adheres to the known. The unknown is dangerous because it has no control over it. That’s why the mind dislikes and ignores the present moment. Present-moment awareness creates a gap not only in the stream of mind but also in the past-future continuum. Nothing truly new and creative can come into this world except through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility.

So your friend, being identified with her mind, may be re-creating a pattern learned in the past in which intimacy and abuse are inseparably linked. Alternatively, she may be acting out a mind pattern learned in childhood according to which she is unworthy and deserves to be punished. It is possible, too, that she lives a large part of her life through the pain-body, which always seeks more pain on which to feed. Her partner has his own unconscious patterns, which compliment hers. Of course her situation is self-created, but who or what is the self that is doing the creating? A mental-emotional pattern from the past, no more. Why make a self out of it? If you tell her that she has chosen her condition or situation, you are reinforcing her state of mind identification. But is her mind pattern who she is? Is it her self? Is her true identity derived from the past? Show your friend how to be the observing presence behind her thoughts and her emotions. Tell her about the pain-body and how to free herself from it. Teach her the art of inner-body awareness. Demonstrate to her the meaning of presence. As soon as she is able to access the power of Now, and thereby break through her conditional past, she will have a choice.

Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity. They happen because there is not enough presence in you to dissolve the past, not enough light to dispel the darkness. You are not fully here. You have not woken up yet. In the meantime, the conditioned mind is running your life.

Similarly, if you are one of the many people who have an issue with their parents, if you still harbor resentment about something they did or did not do, then you still believe they had a choice – that they could have acted differently. It always looks as if people had a choice, but that is an illusion. As long as your mind with its conditioned patterns runs your life, as long as you are your mind, what choice do you have? None. You are not even there. The mind-identified state is severely dysfunctional. It is a form of insanity. Almost everyone is suffering from this illness to varying degrees. The moment you realize this, there can be no more resentment. How can you resent somebody’s illness? The only appropriate response is compassion.”

The first time I read this passage, I thought Eckhart Tolle was way off-base. I was one of those people that used to ask why some women choose to stay with abusive men. I thought Eckhart Tolle was nuts when he said that these women had no choice. I was a big believer in choice. I loved 95% of The Power of Now, but I filed this away with other parts of the book that I didn’t quite buy.

The second time I read this passage, I had an epiphany. I thought to myself, what if I change the scenario from a woman who “chooses” abusive relationships to a person who “chooses” to binge and overeat even though they have become overweight as a result? I have spent years wondering why I overate and binged even though it made me heavier than I wanted to be. On the one hand, I certainly knew that I was choosing to put the food in my mouth, but I also felt like I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to stop overeating and binging, but it was impossible for me to make that choice. Why? Because, as Eckhart Tolle wrote, I had no choice. I was overeating and binging because of “a mental-emotional pattern from the past.” Like women who repeatedly “choose” abusive relationships, my situation was self-created. But I was making that choice from a place of mind identification. My true self was not choosing to overeat and binge.

In the past, I had always tried to stop overeating and binging by trying to override my mind, by trying to make my mind make a different choice. There were times in which I was able to do it, but it never lasted longer than a couple of months. Eventually, I would return to what was familiar and start binging and overeating again. After reading this and being able to apply it to my own eating struggles, I realized that the only way I was going to learn how to have a normal relationship with food was to learn to live consciously. I had to learn to live in the now instead of in the mind. Only by living in the present moment would I be able to truly have the choice not to overeat and binge. As Eckhart Tolle wrote in the above excerpt, “As soon as she is able to access the power of Now, and thereby break through her conditional past, she will have a choice.”

There is no conscious eating without conscious living.


Joc said...

Very thought provoking words. I am in the process of reading this book. It is taking me a long time, and after every little bit I stop and let the ideas mull in my head, so I havent got to the end, but when you changed the words to suit your own situation, that reverberated with me.

Thank you, I have more to think about now.

Andrea K said...

I think I need to get this book. I am realizing too, more and more, that what you've written about -- living in the now and breaking those subconscious behaviors -- is the only way to break the cycle.

Thank you for writing about this, because I think it's what I need to stop the self-bashing and start to give myself some compassion instead.

~C~ said...

This is a really good post. I am dealing with so much right now and I keep beating myself up about it all. I need to have some compassion for myself. I think this book may be a good one for me.

Tree Lover said...

Joc - If you are having trouble getting through it, I recommend getting the audio version. I read the book first and then listened to that audio six or seven times. (Can you tell that I LOVE this book?) The audio version is easier to comprehend. I have heard that from a lot of other people, too.

Andrea - Yes, get the book! Or the audio book. It's amazing how he writes about living in the now in such a way that it's easy to understand. If I could only have access to one book for the rest of my life, this would be it.

Christie - I'm sorry that you are going through a hard time. Having compassion for yourself is important, and this book might help you with that.

Andrea K said...

Yesterday after work I went to the library and found the book. While my daughter was in her two-hour gymnastic practice I started reading it. I definitely had to keep putting it down every few sections to just absorb and give myself little mental breaks, because it's a lot to take in.

But WOW. There were so many ideas and viewpoints there that made so much sense. I remember actually pointing at one sentence and thinking, "Yes! Yes, that's it!"

I may have to go buy this after I'm done with the library copy so I can highlight sections and write notes in the margins, because there are so many important things in it. The audio book is a great idea, too.

I know the next step for me is learning to meditate. I've been thinking about this for a while, but it's becoming more and more obvious that this is something I need to do to aid in my recovery and to become more conscious in my life.

Thank you again for suggesting this life-changing book.

goodwithcheese said...

I am completely unfamiliar with this book, but you've inspired me to go check it out.
I'm really enjoying your take on conscious eating--that's something I'm still working on and it's been such a revelation!

LMM said...

Thank you. I found your post both enlightening and ironic - it put a whole new spin on my own blog post today.
I was caught up in how I chose to overeat rather then realizing that I was just doing what I knew how to do when uncomfortable or stressed.
Thank you.

Gemma said...

Your posts intrigued me so I got the audio version of this book. I have to say I don't agree with all of his philosophy, but it's definitely very interesting and has given me some major insights into the construction of the self and how we can identify ourselevs through pain and thereby become invested in perpetuating it. Thanks for posting about it!

Tree Lover said...

Andrea - I'm so glad to hear that The Power of Now resonated with you so much. As I am sure I have already said this book changed my life. Oh, and I need to work on the meditating more, too. That and yoga. Both are really helpful when I do it. I just seem to have trouble getting myself to do it.

goodwithcheese - Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love your blog, too. And definitely check out this book if it sounds interesting. I'm sure your local library would have it.

lmm - I'm glad to hear that this post helped you.

Gemma - I actually do agree with Tolle's philosophy for the most part, but I don't think that is necessary in order to get a lot out of this book. And I guess you're proof of that.

By the way, I probably should have mentioned that I was going on vacation. I just got back tonight, so I will likely be posting again in a few days.

Luella said...

"to live in the power of now instead of in the mind"... heh, I like that.

I hate to be a cynic, but I am not a fan of this book. I am not a fan of commercialized Buddhism. I have read lots of books and websites, but just reading about it won't change my life. And just repeating what a book said for a few days until that gets boring won't change it either. I went to a monastery for six days, and that was just scratching the surface. Wish I could've stayed there longer. Whatever habits I gained there wore off after a month or two. Except that I still meditate more than I did before. And I still haven't managed to live - much less eat - consciously.

Leah said...

Thank you so much for posting this.

I am in the process of reading the power of now but i find that I have the most trouble stayign counscious around food. This was exactly what I needed to read. thanks for posting it and adding your personal interpretaion. I found it really helpful.

Thanks, and all the best