In February, 2008, Stephanie Baker started a discussion group that meets every Tuesday evening to talk about Eckart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. Inspired by Eckart Tolle’s and Oprah Winfrey’s collaborative ten week, live, interactive classroom discussion, in which participants could comment on and ask questions concerning Tolle’s other book, A New Earth, Baker decided to start her own group where participants could actually meet face to face and discuss The Power of Now. Using Oprah’s Book Club as a resource, Baker was able to network with other readers of Tolle’s books who live in the Richmond area. The group, “Illustrate through Life,” now meets at The Bainbridge Art Center. There are currently fifty people on a members list with nine of those individuals consistently attending the meetings. Each meeting averages twelve or thirteen participants.
The group focuses on one chapter of the book each week as the topic around which to center their conversation, and the group also discusses related ideas concerning spirituality and each individual’s progress in the quest for “awareness of the true self.” These meetings serve as a chance for like minded people to gather and share experiences related to each one’s own spiritual awakening. The group also shares their insights into to how one attains enlightenment using ThePower of Now as a blueprint.
Eckart Tolle’s teachings, as discussed in The Power of Now, focus on the quest for enlightenment. He regards this as an attainable goal for everyone, as opposed to a super-human feat which only a few gurus are able to accomplish. For him, enlightenment represents the natural way of living, where one is totally absorbed in the now. He contrasts this highly attuned awareness of the now with the self conscious lifestyle of modern society in which the self is equated with the mind. This identification with one’s mind results in compulsive thought where one is either lost in thoughts concerning the past or consumed by anticipatory thoughts of the future. Individuals therefore have an inability to relax and acknowledge the now. The compulsion exists because the past gives individuals their identity while the future promises fulfillment or salvation. Tolle considers both the past and present as illusions.
Tolle regards this failure by individuals to stop thinking as a “dreadful affliction,” but one which is unfortunately the norm in today’s world. All of the world’s problems and conflicts arise out of this incessant mental noise that clutters the minds of individuals within society as a whole, and it this screen of thought that gives the false impression of separateness between the self and the outside world. He states “the now is all there is.”
Through meditation and “going deeply into the body,” one is able to transcend the body and the sense of separateness that exists between the self and the rest of creation. By relaxing and focusing on one’s breathing in an atmosphere free of distractions (cell phones, music, television), one is able to reclaim consciousness from the mind. As a result, one becomes more aware of the present. Tolle also speaks of the “spaciousness around things,” which he equates with the stillness that surrounds everything in nature. It is his view that it is when one stops and listens to this stillness that a person becomes more attuned to the now. This is the main point developed by Tolle in his book, and much of the group discussion at the Bainbridge Art Center revolves around ways to achieve the feeling of enlightenment.
The typical meeting starts early in the evening as group members arrive. A short time later, Stephanie initiates a moment of silence that lasts roughly five minutes. This allows individuals to center themselves and to clear away the “chatter of the mind.” As Tolle teaches, one must remove any thoughts that may distract the individual from the present so that one can focus on the group discussion. After the opening moment of silence, the floor is opened for discussion that may last from two to three hours, depending on the flow of discussion. Each meeting then closes with a meditation.
Stephanie Baker says that weekly meetings have been very successful, and participants do not want them to end. The next book slated to be discussed is Caroline Myss’ Entering the Castle. In that book she lays out a new template for modern-day mystics that enables them to engage the world as opposed to withdrawing from it, as did the monks and nuns in the past. Teresa of Avila, a 16 th century mystic who authored TheInterior of the Castle, serves as her inspiration for the book, and it is Myss’ view that modern age requires a new type of mystic, one who actively seeks to change the world for the better.
Illustrate Through Life
Bainbridge Art Center
Bainbridge Street and Fourteenth Street
Profile prepared by Chris Montgomery