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.