When I interviewed Meg Ryan eight years ago, she told me about The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle. It's one of the most transformative books I've ever read; I keep a copy with me wherever I go, flipping through its highlighted pages time and time again. For anyone seeking to lead a more connected, vibrant life, The Power of Now is essential reading, and Eckhart's follow-up books-Stillness Speaks and A New Earth-explain the core principle that has resonated so deeply with me and many others: The only moment we ever really have is this one. Happiness isn't in the future or the past but in mindful awareness of the present.
Eckhart should know. By 29 the German-born author had become an eminent research scholar in comparative literature at the University of Cambridge in England, but success wasn't enough to halt his descent into a depression so severe that he considered ending his life. In what could have been his final hour, Eckhart stumbled upon an insight that started him on the path to becoming a spiritual teacher: We are not our thoughts. The very fact that we can objectively observe our thinking, he reasoned, suggests that the constant and often negative dialogue in our heads is separate from who we really are. Realizing this can bring us closer to the kind of fearlessness and peace that Eckhart has experienced since his dark night of the soul.
It was one of the great joys of my career to talk to Eckhart on Oprah Radio on XM Satellite Radio as part of my Soul Series. He gave a kind of course on conscious living: trading our autopilot existence for intentional awareness; recognizing how we create our own suffering through obsessing over our past history; and learning how to be present, for ourselves and for the people around us, in a compassionate, nonjudgmental way. His encouraging inspiration has allowed me and many other people to see the possibility of an awakened consciousness. I think he is a prophet for our time.
OPRAH: In the beginning of The Power of Now, you describe how, at 29 years old and considering suicide, you thought, "I cannot live with myself any longer.... Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the 'I' and the 'self' that 'I' cannot live with. Maybe...only one of them is real." I love this because it's the first time I thought, When I say I'm going to tell myself something, who is the "I" and who is the "self" I'm telling? That's the fundamental question, isn't it?
ECKHART: That's right. Most people are not aware that they have a little man or woman in their heads that keeps talking and talking and whom they are completely identified with. In my case, and in many people's cases, the voice in the head is a predominantly unhappy one, so there's an enormous amount of negativity that is continuously generated by this unconscious internal dialogue.
OPRAH: What happened that enabled you to realize this?
ECKHART: One night, at the moment you were referring to, a separation occurred between the voice that was the incessant stream of thinking and the sense of self that identified with that voice, and a deeper sense of self that I later recognized as consciousness itself, rather than something that consciousness had become through thinking.