The book that helped save my sanity

Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now



After my husband was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, I cried for a solid month. I’d wake up every hour or so during the night, crying and worrying about the future. Although I never had a full-blown panic attack, I was in a continual state of panic, thinking, “What happens when Morris is unable to recognize us? What happens when he can no longer drive? Will I have to put him in a nursing home? Will I have enough money?” The questions would grip my mind and squeeze tears onto my pillow until I fell into an exhausted sleep. The cycle would repeat itself all night long. The same fearful thoughts intruded my day, only to be shoved into the background when I managed to write or tend to household chores.

Then I discovered Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” (New World Library, 1999) which is what I credit with saving my sanity. It helped me learn how to stay focused on the present—the here and now. When you realize that the present is the only thing that is real, it frees you from the fear of what is to come. Even though you might have an idea of what the future holds, from a medical prognosis or an astrology reading, if you stay focused on the present, you can avoid the emotions that get triggered when you think about putting someone in a nursing home…or running out of money…or losing a spouse. The list goes on and on.

The reality of life is that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The only reality is what is happening right now in this moment. When you find yourself getting scared and fearful about what might happen tomorrow or next week or in a year from now, stop and ask yourself this, “How do I feel right now, this second?” Most of the time you’ll answer, “Okay. I’m okay right now.” You might not be okay in an hour from now, or tomorrow, but you can loosen the grip of fear when you come back to the absolute present, which is NOW.

Of course, in dealing with practicalities, we have to plan for the future. Writing a will, filling out medical directives, making a doctor’s appointment, and taking the car in to get serviced require us to think about the future. It’s easy—and natural—to become preoccupied with future events. Ancient Vedic texts describe the human mind as a monkey jumping from branch to branch, until it is trained to settle down and experience pure consciousness, or the source from where all thoughts originate. People have a tendency to play different scenarios over and over in their minds about what can happen if we make a certain decision or act in a particular way. Most of the time those scenarios are seldom realized. We play them out in our minds and they fade away after causing us to lose sleep and wreaking havoc on our emotions and overall health.

Training my mind to stay in the present was one of the greatest tools that helped me to get through the day, the weeks, the months, and the years of caring for someone with a chronic, terminal disease. During the day when I found myself thinking about a future event or outcome such as, “what will we do when we run out of money?” I reminded myself to come back to the here and now, and that my thoughts about the past or future were not part of my reality. This technique definitely helped to dispel my worries about the future and helped me maintain peace of mind, which helped me stay calmer and more patient with Morris.

And although it sounds contradictory, staying emotionally and mentally grounded in the present helped me maintain the mental clarity necessary for making future arrangements. Staying present is a valuable technique that I incorporated into my spiritual practice then, and which I still use and will continue to use.

Excerpt from “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”  Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia