Let’s face it: mental health issues are monopolizing young people’s lives now more than ever, with nearly one-third of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK (31%) reporting some evidence of depression or anxiety from 2017 to 2018, as recorded by the Office for National Statistics in their 2020 census on Young People’s Well-Being in the UK. This was even before the collective trauma of the pandemic widened these wounds, isolating young people from socialising with friends and progressing with their studies and careers in their formative years.
The question that we should all be asking, then, is obvious: what can we do to help? Having battled with my own mental health as I joined the ranks trying to traverse the tricky transition into adulthood in a fast-paced modern world, something that has helped me shift my perspective and find beauty in the world’s chaos are spirituality books. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” (1999) and Michael A. Singer’s “The Untethered Soul” (2007) have been the most eye-opening, and I would like to share some of their pearls of wisdom with you.
What is ‘Spiritual Enlightenment’?
‘Spiritual Enlightenment’ has all kinds of superhuman connotations. You’re probably picturing a monk in deep meditation with golden rays of light emulating from his body, or something akin to the whole screen lighting up with rainbows in Horrid Henry as he has a ‘eureka that’s it!’ moment.
The Buddha defined Enlightenment as ‘the end of suffering.’ This is a very simple statement to describe something that feels far from simple. How can there possibly be an end to suffering? Is it not what we humans do best? Is it not, in a sense, all we even know how to do?
And therein lies the secret behind Spiritual Enlightenment, and the books that have been published to try and help us reach it; contrary to what we have been brought up believing, we actually don’t have to spend our lives suffering. We can be free. At their core, this is what both “The Power of Now” and “The Untethered Soul” teach. Sounds dreamy, I know! But, as the inner-cynic in you is probably already wondering, do they really achieve this? Can freedom from mental and physical suffering really be found between the pages of a book? This is the question that the following article shall do its best to weigh up and provide an answer to.
Reflections on The Power of Now
The Power of Now has reached several million readers worldwide, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey singing its praises. “‘The Power of Now’ can transform your thinking,” Winfrey said. “The result? More joy, right now.”
Indeed, it was the first spiritual help book I read, having been recommended it by two separate friends, who both enchantingly deemed it “life-changing.”
So, what is this sagacious book all about then?
It takes the form of ten chapters, each divided into a Q&A format reproducing the author’s response to questions asked in his seminars, meditation classes and counseling sessions. The theoretical framework that Tolle lays before us can be summarised thus: mental anguish like anxiety and depression come from a broken connection to a “natural state of felt oneness with Being.” As we have grown up, we have internalized an “illusion of separation,” from ourselves and the world around us. Tolle desires to help us to “recognize the false as false” again so that we might find our way back to the universal “Truth.”
- You are not your mind: When you learn to disidentify from your mind, you no longer have to believe everything it says or depend on its busy activity and uncomfortable contradictions for your sense of self. This is not to undermine the value of human thinking. “Enlightenment means rising above thought, not falling back to a level below thought, the level of an animal or a plant.”
- Choose acceptance over judgment: As soon as you let yourself accept the present moment rather than resisting it, you can work with it, instead of continually fighting against it. You find a friend replacing an enemy.
- Make the Now the primary focus of your life: “You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.” Always trying to plan for what-ifs and maybes is asking way too much of yourself!
- How to be present: It’s much easier than you think- the moment you realise you are not present, you are present.
- And what about love?: What about the pain of complicated relationships and break-ups with those you once considered closest to you? Tolle gives the following comfort: “Love is a state of Being. Your love is not outside; it is deep within you. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you. It is not dependent on some other body, some external form […] You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realisation of oneness. This is love.”
Reflections on “The Untethered Soul”
A Number One New York Times Bestseller, Singer’s book enticingly promises to “open the door to a life of self-realisation and happiness.”
Instead of adopting a Q&A format like Tolle, Singer structures his spiritual guide into five key parts: Awakening Consciousness, Experiencing Energy, Freeing Yourself, Going Beyond and Living Life. Each part is broken down into short chapters, rendering the reading experience a little more digestible than Tolle’s.
- How to not be the voice in your head (when it’s so damn loud!): Step back and view it objectively. The only way to distance yourself from this voice is to stop differentiating what it’s saying, feeling that one thing it says is you and the other is not. If you’re hearing it talk, how can it be you anyway? You are just the listener, you are not it.
- Feeling comfortable is not the answer: “True personal growth is about transcending the part of you that is not okay and needs protection […] Reality is just too real for most of us, so we temper it with the mind.” When you step back from all the noise in your mind going crazy trying to keep you ‘safe’ and keep things the same, you realise you’re fighting a losing battle against preconceived notions of safety that exist… only in your head. And your head is not the outside world.
- Let the light in: My favourite. When you close your heart or mind, you hide in the darkness within you – the energy is still there but it can’t flow through. If you want there always to be light, it’s simple: every time you feel your heart close, just open it back up. “Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.”
- Life is actually trying to help you: “Life is surrounding you with people and situations that stimulate growth. You don’t have to decide who’s right or wrong. You don’t have to worry about other people’s issues. You only have to be willing to open your heart in the face of anything and everything, and permit the purification process to take place.”
- You have the power: You are in control of your mind, your actions and the way you live. It’s your life, all you’ve got to do is reclaim it.
Of course, how “life-changing” these books prove to be, will to a large extent depend on the reader. We are all different, and we all resonate with different things.
Even so, spiritual self-help books are definitely worth a try. Many of us know what it’s like to get trapped in spirals of bad thoughts so much so that you blind yourself to everything else. Reading another person’s words can quickly and effectively reframe your perspective, a bit like opening a window in a stuffy room.
Tolle lays down some lofty and at times very beautiful theories, while I found Singer more practical and action-based. However, at their heart their messages are closely entwined; “This above all: to thine own self be true.” They simply offer different hands to try and help you get (back) there.
Ultimately, you will only get out of these books as much as you put into them: if you read it, put it down, and then forget about it, it can only do so much. The books are starting points on how to begin doing the work to change your life; they will not magically get you there, but they will endeavour to show you the way.