I’ve had quite a few friends who were, and still are, serious body-builders (heavy lifting, in order to get ‘definition’ or to ‘bulk up’). At one point (long ago), I trained with a friend of mine who was hoping to compete nationally. Karen did brutal short, fast repetitions with progressively heavier weights, while I (pathetically) mimicked her workout with lighter ones. I came to admire the discipline that chasing the perfect, chiseled physique requires. Not just the commitment to hours at the gym, but restrictive diets and the comprehensive mindset of the lifestyle. For me, personally, much of that lifestyle depended upon the daily (sometimes hourly) exertion of willpower, self-control, and extreme focus.
I flashed-back to “powering through” intense and exhausting workouts as I listened to – my term, hopefully not sounding too cheeky – a Wellness Guru. As it happens, one of Deepak Chopra’s daughters. The story she shared was about her in-person interview with author Eckhart Tolle (his best-known book, “The Power of Now”). Ms. Chopra shared with her audience that she’d tried for months to gain access to Tolle (despite the ‘intro’ she had, with her father and Eckhart already being friends and colleagues). But with Tolle’s schedule (and him not being very inclined to travel), it was proving almost impossible. Then one day, when she’d almost given up on the idea, the author’s assistant called: could Ms. Chopra meet Mr. Tolle in Stockholm?
“The Power of Now” is all about controlling The Mind. From Tolle’s perspective, there is no Past and no Future; only the Present Moment exists. We’ve heard this before, but Tolle lives this ‘mental workout’, as Chopra discovered. At first, she shared, Chopra thought the author was playing a game with her. Try as she might to get him to talk about his personal and professional journey, to each question she asked about his Past, his response re-directed her to the very moment of the experience the two of them were sharing in the interview.
Chopra said that it took her awhile to get the ‘hang’ of Tolle’s process. His assistant had allocated 2 hours for the interview, but – Chopra confided during her talk – she’d spent a frustrating ninety minutes asking (the wrong type of) questions and being rebuffed. Tolle’s focus was so consistently in the Present Moment that it seemed (to Chopra) to be almost beyond belief; almost beyond human ability and understanding.
On a slow day, I might be able to clear my mind to meditate for maybe five minutes. If I’m honest, two or three minutes are spent ‘working’ at it, which I know is not the point. On a more typical day, my tendency to plan, structure and execute whatever’s on my To-Do list seems like a much better use of my time. Often, I catch myself either Troubleshooting, via Past recall, or trying to peer-into the Future, struggling to anticipate any and all scenarios.
For the novice trying to focus on The Now, Tolle suggests a thought experiment: Try to pinpoint where one thought ends, and the next one begins (perhaps while looking at a painting, or a flower – something simple). This space between thoughts Tolle calls The Gap. I’m paraphrasing from his book: “When you find it, step into it and see how long you can stay there without the next conscious thought pushing you out of the Gap.”
I’ve been practicing this ‘In the Now’ exercise for awhile now; stretching my time in The Gap feels like testing already-sore mental muscles. But when I do get there (in the Gap), it’s the most amazing sense of calm imaginable; it’s just really hard to sustain. One thing I have learned through this discipline is just how strong my preoccupation with Yesterday and Tomorrow is. I have imaginary ‘arguments’ with Tolle: “How can I possibly plan what I want for my Life without a review of my Past, and without fantasizing over my vision and hopes for my Future?”
I can still recall the day I officially gave a ‘hard pass’ to the competitive body-building workout. A friend and I went downtown, to the old-school Carnation Soda Fountain. I ordered the most decadent item on the menu: a triple-chocolate sundae. These days, I’ve accepted the fact that whatever feels like a ‘workout’ to me probably isn’t going to work out for me, in the long run. I’ll continue trying to coax my ever-busy mind into The Gap whenever I can remind myself to. But I’m finding that balance is much more fun than perfection.