Eckhart Tolle - “Power of Now”

Profound ideas buried in pseudoscientific nonsense.

The book is brilliant when it depicts how we are tied to our image, to our sense of self, and things that define us so strongly that we think we ARE them. This makes our past define our behavior in the present. That shapes our future in a way that we don’t really consciously control.

This is central to the Buddhist philosophy and its concept of clinging and suffering. In this sense, the idea to “live in the present”, focus on “the now”, and teach yourself to observe your own habits and biases at work, all this is important and can transform your life. I have no doubt about it. I did enjoy how clear that message was in this book. Starting right in the title.

That being said, a lot of the book is awash in pseudoscientific terminology like “negative energy fields”, “portals”, or “vibrational frequencies”. The author even goes as far as “explain Einstein” within his thought framework or claim to know the deeper meaning behind the menstrual flow. At one point he claims stones are alive because they would otherwise disperse. What is that nonsense? This is deeply distracting from the message that the author tries to get across. It’s meant to sound smart and advanced but it’s just a word salad.

The best part about this is that Tolle even put an answer to the question “Is there any scientific evidence to back this up?” right there in the book. That answer is, wait for it, “Try it for yourself, and be the evidence.” The king is naked.

Then there’s the confused concept of God that the author uses throughout the book. I guess he wanted to be more appealing to a group of his readers who would otherwise reject what he’s saying on grounds of religious incompatibility. People who strongly define themselves by their faith, a behavior in contradiction to the selfless consciousness the author is preaching.

Ultimately, by the end of the book it becomes clear that Tolle’s definition of God is very far from what you’d expect. It’s not what religious people mean when they address the conscious all-seeing all-knowing “God”, when they pray to “God” and when in “God” they trust. And Tolle makes it clear. He redefines words and ideas as he wishes. For example, by quoting the Bible quite often and then twisting the words to force them into a meaning that he claims is “the true one”. He goes as far as to suggest that even the authors of the gospels didn’t understand what the parables meant. But, of course, he does. What’s the point then? For atheists all this religious undertone is simply distracting to the point of annoyance and for the believers it’s deliberately misleading.

The book is interestingly set up as questions and answers. This works well to push the narrative forward. Some of the questions are also very on point, the sort of things you’d ask when you keep a healthy dose of skepticism and “it’s not that simple” in your mind. Sadly, the answers are often just mumbo jumbo, like the scientific evidence one quoted before. Another one I found to be just as arrogant and unhelpful was “Q: How can we drop negativity, as you suggest? A: By dropping it.”

I didn’t find the narration in the audiobook to be very strong. Tolle’s voice is monotonous, uninspired, with a thick accent. There’s a high-pitched bell chiming every now and then to mark endings of sections. Fortunately, you get used to the voice and the bell after a chapter or two.

All in all, a pretty conflicted review. There’s nuggets of wisdom there for sure. It’s just the amount of horse manure you have to dig through to get to it that makes it unpleasant.