“We are never unhappy NOW, in the present moment,” writes Tolle. And he is right. Yes, I can be miserable and, yes, my back can hurt like hell, but if I stop in the actual moment, I am not unhappy.
I am unhappy if I think back (it's always miserable) or forwards (years of pain ahead), but this second, NOW, I am not. If I stop and look inside, there is actually peace. This ties in with Martin Seligman and his theory of learned optimism. That pessimists facing problems think: it will always be like this; everything's wrong; and it's all my fault. The optimist, on the other hand, thinks: tomorrow's another day; this is a one off; it's just bad luck. I hate to say it, but the pessimist is more accurate and probably less accident prone. But the optimist has much more fun.
And staying in the NOW ties in with the protocol I worked out for myself for the really bad days – when I can't think straight and my eyes feel swollen. The first thing is to bracket today, isolate it from the past, because when you are in pain, that's all you can remember. You don't reminisce about that great holiday last year – everything is pain drenched. Don't look forward as you can't easily imagine dancing or sky diving or even going shopping. Just stay in the NOW: find that patch of peace.
Tolle says not to ruminate – if there's a practical solution, do it. And that is step two of my protocol – is there anything I can do? It may be only a hot pad or playing solitaire on my iTouch, but do it.
My third step he doesn't mention, but I find really helps, is to do something for someone else, which takes me out of the victim state – and now I think of it, straight into the NOW.
Tolle points out that being present doesn't mean fiddling while Rome burns. If there's an emergency, you switch into a calm, coping state. He's right. I always used to think that if I proactively worried, I would prevent things going wrong, when, in fact, I tripped over myself in my zeal. When Bill had heart failure, all the clutter left my head, replaced by a clear-headed calm. I was deeply in the NOW, acting decisively. I only shook later.
I remember my daughter in tears. Everything they had studied was depressing: euthanasia, the Holocaust, even her French book was called “L'Enfant Mort”. And her politics teacher had told her nuclear war was inevitable.
“When bad things happen, you will find you have the strength,” I assured her, ” but it doesn't come until the moment. Certainly not when anticipating it.”
How often we are told, “Take one day at a time.” But we take it down to the second, be present – NOW. Yes, NOW is deep peace. And all we have is NOW, each moment passing like telegraph poles through a train window, while we pass in the NOW. Is that immortality? Because NOW has no beginning or end,
The Power of Now: a Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman