So What’s the Solution?

by Arthur W. Anderson

There are times in my life when things go wrong and I wonder why. All the plausible sources I turn to are simply band aids that nurse my anger, self-pity, and frustration. I’m still that crotchety, old guy. I seldom read self-help books anymore. The glamorous promises always seem to let me down. Recently, my circle of friends hit upon a small volume by Eckhart Tolle entitled The Power of the Now.

Tolle is a spiritual writer who makes a lot of sense, and tries to deal with what’s wrong. He comes at it by saying that the real problem is “pain bodies.” He relates of his early journey: “I didn’t realize yet that thinking without awareness is the dilemma of human existence.” He spent three years in anxiety and depression, completely identified with his “mind.” He then became free of compulsive thinking and of the false, mind-made conclusion. The pain body, for him, is a “semi-autonomous energy form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion” (A New Earth, p. 147). The pain body comes alive in our society where we love and pay money to “watch humans kill and inflict pain on each other and call it ‘entertainment’” (p. 153).

What then is the solution? Tolle reminds us, in his volume The Power of Now, to become a watcher. “Stay present, stay conscious...you need to be present enough to be able to watch the pain body directly, and feel its energy. It then cannot control your thinking” (p. 79). “Once you have understood the classic principle of being present as the watcher of what happens [inside you] by experiencing it, you have at your disposal the most potent transformational tool” (p. 18).

So the solution is the power of our present moment, the now. Tolle reminds us that the Apostle Paul expressed this universal principle best: “Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light, and whatever is exposed to the light…itself becomes light.”

In a companion volume Tolle admits that it is quite impossible to stay at the point of the now without deviating from it off and on. He did confess that the true center “now” is the Christ, and that is the only way one can stay there permanently. I am glad to hear that confession and I agree. Living in the now is Biblical. The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” Peace and tranquility do come when one is at the center. Perspective and wisdom return when you see yourself as you are and that enables you, for the time being, to let go of yourself and think of others and your true purpose in life.

Yet, I wonder if there isn’t a bit of boot-strap religion in it. When you sense you are falling out of the center, it requires the upmost discipline to stay in the now. I am not satisfied with that understanding. There is a perversity in me that drops me out of for too long a time. So what else is there?

I share an early experience: I was a lowly freshman at North Park College when my friend, Bob Johnson, a music major invited me to join him at a service at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in downtown Orchestra Hall. We sat in front seats just below the preacher’s podium. Who should be the preacher but Professor Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary, New York. He sat restlessly, moving his gangly, long legs before us. His text was from Romans 7:19, 20: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” His exploration of that struggle was rigorous. Every muscle in that tall, lanky body writhed with energy as he portrayed man’s moral conflict. His interpretation was drilled into my consciousness. His sermon was a moral wrestling match. Forever after I realized that my moral problem would never be satisfied simply by a set of moral rules.

Two observations begin to become clearer to me. We do live on two tracks. First, we have a lot to say about the entire energy field of the body. We can reclaim “consciousness from the mind.” In doing so, we find that we can develop a sense of “beingness.” We can discover that we are not exactly trapped. I have learned on occasion that when I wake up tired, crotchety and try to nurse “poor me,” that it helps immensely to take myself by the nape of the neck and do something about it. I can take my medicine, get up and go, just move, walk, walk straight, hold up my head high, use time and energy to do good. When I get out of nursing and pitying myself, my whole demeanor changes into constructive living. Yes, I am grateful for the insights of Eckhart Tolle. I feel grateful to him for getting me out of an impasse. We can do something about our problems.

Second, I found some interesting insights from the preface of C. S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce: “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply “going on.” Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound bit by bit “with backward mutters of dissevering power”—or else not. It remains “either-or.” “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell” (pp. vii—viii). There we have it, the moral cleavage, the battle of man with himself. For the solution I refer you again to Niebuhr and the Word of God in Romans 7:21-25. The problem is sin. By acknowledging our perversity deep within where, by the grace in the cross of Christ only, we will be set free.