In order to find purpose and happiness, should focus on the future, or should we live in the now?
According to Viktor Frankl, we should focus our minds on our future lives. In contrast, Eckhart Tolle says that we should live in the now, and detach ourselves from past or future. These two schools of thought are separated by nearly fifty years; Frankl wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning” after his horrible experiences as a concentration camp inmate at Auschwitz. Eckhart Tolle wrote “The Power Of Now” after recovering from deep depression, as the 20th century closed. Tolle wrote for the 21st Century reader; Frankl wrote for the post-war world.
But this does not mean that Tolle’s approach is more advanced than Frankl’s. They simply address different people under different circumstances. Having tried both approaches, I believe that we have the freedom to choose at any moment the thought that helps us the most, much like author Abraham-Hicks speaks of a “bag of tricks” to find the thought that makes is feel better.
Following Tolle’s advice, we can focus our attention on the deliciousness of the moment. I tried this approach consciously for the first time two months ago while reading his book. Somehow I was able to quiet my mind and to experience reality with complete disregard for the future and completely unconcerned wit the past. The experience, merely a mental exercise, made me feel incredibly joyous and free. I felt like an eight-year-old, even though I am in my mid-thirties. Suddenly I was awed by every sight and sound. Mundane things looked and felt wonderful. I was in complete awe of the sky, the wind, the people at the mall, the freeways; everything. It was much like being a tourist and seeing a country and its people for the very first time. I was fascinated, even though I was in the South, where I have lived for over three years. All my concerns and worries were still very real; there was –as usual– a list of “problems” to take care of. Yet Tolle’s simple instructions allowed me, if only briefly, to enjoy life in this moment, this wonderful moment. But such an experience can only last for a few moments in an untrained mind. Since the first exercise, I have been able to be completely in the now more often, more at will.
Last week I started reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” He very much emphasizes that a man will surely die if he loses all hope in the future. According to him, we must find personal meaning and purpose in our lives. At times of personal pain, humiliation, and loss (and he experienced all of these to an extreme under the Nazis), we can always resort to the vision of a brighter, better future. We can always find solace in the prospect of completing our book, finishing our project, returning to our loved ones. Life can have meaning again if we have something to look forward to. This is an individual process, Frankl says, and no two persons’ purpose can be identical.
Now if we look superficially at Frankl’s approach and contrast it to Tolle’s, we come to the conclusion that they are mutually exclusive. But I have found they are not; Tolle does not negate Frankl. Sometimes it is very useful for me to live in the now, as it is always delicious to be completely alive and present in the moment. But sometimes when I worry about something I resort to my vision of a bright beautiful future, where all my troubles are solved, where I am at total ease, where victory –complete victory– has been achieved.
Eckhart Tolle is sometimes considered a “New Age” writer, while Viktor Frankl has always been considered a solid psychiatrist. But I do not concern myself with labels and categorizations. How beautiful it is to take advantage of the wisdom of these two great men.