The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle, New World Library, $21.95, 1999, 193 pp.

Reviewed by Derek Cameron

"Focus attention on the feeling inside you.
Know that it is the pain-body."

-- Eckhart Tolle

A young man named "Gary Hillard" enters therapy. He tells his therapist with great clarity and cogency that his parents did not love him. Yet despite this crucial insight, Gary remains neurotic. Only when his therapist invites him to express how it feels to be unloved is a cure effected.

The therapist was, of course, Arthur Janov, and it was on the basis of experiments with patients such as Gary that Janov built his theory of Primal Pain. Painful feelings, Janov tells us in The Primal Scream, are stored within the organism. They accumulate one on top of the other. Eventually they form a "tank" or "pool" of stored Pain. This pain is then triggered when, as adults, we encounter situations that resemble those that so hurt us as children. In consequence, we experience life being as more painful than it really is.

The problem of accumulated pain from the past is also addressed, though from a different perspective, in Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. For Tolle, the pool of pain exists almost as a being in its own right -- the "pain-body," as he styles it. In the presence of a look-alike situation, the pain-body awakens and comes to life. When it does so, it usurps control of our consciousnessness. We erroneously believe ourselves to be the pain-body. And we then think, act and feel according to the dictates of the pain-body.

Thus far, the differences between the two writers might be dismissed as largely terminological. But on the question of how best to deal with stored pain Janov and Tolle diverge.

Janov's background was in psychology, Freudian psychiatry, and psychiatric social work. In his approach to stored pain he draws on the psychological theory of the defenses -- the mechanisms that prevent full contact with feelings. When stripped of these distorting filters -- including, of course, the way we think about our feelings rather than feel our feelings -- we experience our original pain in its full intensity. And Janov's view is that it is this bringing of feelings into full consciousness that discharges the stored pain, allowing healing to take place.

Tolle's viewpoint has far less conventional origins. At the age of 29, in a moment of excruciating self-loathing, Tolle felt one night as though he were being sucked into a vortex. Despite his fear, he surrendered to the experience and eventually lost consciousness. When he awoke, all his habitual anxieties had vanished. In their place he experienced only a deep stillness, a state of peace and serenity that Tolle has continued to enjoy to the present day. The Power of Now is Tolle's presentation of the insights that have occurred to him over the years as he has integrated this consciousness-changing experience.

For Tolle, the pain-body's power to self-perpetuate hinges on its ability to take over the mind. When the pain-body is active, it creates thoughts that resonate with the original, painful feelings. The critical characteristic of these pain-induced thoughts is that they focus on either the past or the future -- almost anything except what's really happening right now. And the key to ending this cycle is therefore The Power of Now -- the practice of focusing awareness on the present moment. In particular, says Tolle, dis-identifying with the thoughts produced by the pain-body, and observing the ways in which such thoughts perpetuate old pain, deprives the pain-body of its power to take control.

While Tolle's methods are clearly different from those of primal therapy, Tolle is in no way anti-primal. Express your feelings if you want to, he tells us. But it is not this expression that is therapeutic. Rather, it is the focusing of awareness in the present moment -- detaching from habitual thoughts of past and future -- that really frees us from old pain.

My only quibble with Tolle's program is that the practice he recommends -- essentially, something very similar to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness -- is not the method by which he himself arrived at his transformation. In fact, Tolle's "enlightenment" occurred, without prior practice, over the course of just one night. Moreover, his description of being sucked into a void or vortex made me think that Tolle may have inadvertently stumbled into a conception primal.

Still, the practices advocated in The Power of Now are certainly compatible with primal therapy. Why limit yourself to just one tool when you can have two?

Indeed, by asking oneself what one is feeling at the present time is an excellent way which many in regression therapy use to connect to their early pain. Being in touch with one's feelings in the present helps us to tap into the original repressed hurtful memories, as such unfelt memories seem to be stored in our brain according to their feeling content. Using the painful emotion we have in the "now" is an important tool in gestalt therapy -- a modality which many of us have unintentially, but happily used, to begin our primal journey.
-- John A. Speyrer, Editor, The Primal Psychotherapy Page

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