Inspired by a Restless Night: How Eckhart Tolle’s Meditations May Help You Sleep Better
“One night not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread.”
So starts the story behind spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle’s profound work The Power of Now. Since its publication in 1997, the book has changed millions of lives, having been translated into at least 33 languages and adored by celebrities like Paris Hilton, Cher, and Meg Ryan. In fact, Meg introduced the book to Oprah Winfrey, who personally recommended The Power of Now on her television show in 2000.
Since then, Tolle has become a leading member of the spiritual community. After publishing his second bestseller A New Earth in 2005, Tolle sat on the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit with the Dalai Lama, hosted a conversation with Deeprak Chopra in 2013 (learn more about Chopra here), and joined Gwyneth Paltrow on The Goop Podcast in 2020.
In this article, we discuss how Tolle came to his spiritual revelation, what makes his ideas so popular, and how his suggested meditations could help you sleep better. Listen to his guidance with your very own SleepPhones®, and discover inner peace like never before.
“Google yourself some SleepPhones® and buy them—or an equivalent—ASAP. It’s a headband with flat speakers meant for wearing at night. I depend upon meditation to get me to sleep, and this has been truly helpful.” — Dr. Deborah Bowen (@DisneyDeborah)
What is the Story Behind Tolle’s Revelation?
CW: suicidal thoughts, mental health
Tolle’s real journey begins when he was a 13-year-old boy living in Germany. Having rejected formal education, Tolle was sent by his recently divorced mother to live with his father in Spain, where he would teach himself philosophy. When Tolle came of age, he studied language and literature at the University of London. Later, at the age of 27, he began working towards a doctoral degree at Cambridge University. Two years into the program, he would wake up with the most intense dread he had ever felt.
For his whole life up to this point, Tolle had carried with him “a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” Fear of failure had long charted his path, and although he had accomplished much in academia, he felt burdened by his own existence. In his despair, Tolle’s mind repeated one thought: “I cannot live with myself any longer.”
Then, Tolle zeroed in on the peculiarity of the sentence. He wondered whether he had two versions of himself: “the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with." When he had concluded, “Maybe … only one of them is real,” his mind stopped racing. A “vortex of energy” appeared within himself, and he let himself fall deeper into it.
Tolle awoke the next morning to the sound of a chirping bird. He reflected on the surroundings of his room that had only “felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless” the night before. “I recognized the room,” Tolle writes, “and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all.”
This newfound, childlike wonder for the world would later become the central promise of Tolle’s guidance. All it requires is the understanding that you are not the voice in your head—that you are a being separate from your own negative thoughts.
What Makes Tolle’s Revelation so Popular?
Despite its profoundness, Tolle’s revelation is nothing new. The Independent interviewed William Bloom, director of Spiritual Companions Trust, about the author’s influence in 2011. Bloom said Tolle’s message, “thinking is not the core of who you are,” is a central tenet of Eastern religion, particularly Buddhism. The message feels new to a Western readership because most Western beliefs involve identification with one’s own thoughts—an idea best understood in René Descartes’s famous words, “I think therefore I am.”
Tolle not only rejects Descartes but also makes Eastern philosophy more accessible to a Western readership. According to a 2008 profile in the Vancouver Sun, his message may sound similar to big names like Baba Ram Dass, Thomas Merton, and Jack Kornfield. But unlike these figures, he avoids any specific religious affiliation or major publicity. Instead, he prefers to make his approach to inner peace entirely self-directed, without building his own wellness empire.
His message also arrived at a time when most people were actively searching for ways to be happier. Keep in mind that Tolle’s next bestselling book A New Earth came out a year before Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a documentary that re-popularized the pseudoscientific Law of Attraction. Oprah had showcased both authors on her program, but only Tolle’s book received a ten-part web series. Additionally, Google Trends shows that people in the United States were about half as interested in Byrne’s work in 2006 as they were in Tolle’s work in 2008. Among other factors, this interest might come down to different definitions of happiness:
“In the midst of all the psychobabble to do with happiness being based on getting what you want,” Bloom said, “Tolle sounds a clear note stating that happiness comes from a state of consciousness and a connection with being present to the wonder of life.”
That being said, Tolle might have tapped into an exclusive spiritual void in the US, economically speaking. Although worldwide interest in The Secret has declined steadily since 2007, Google Trends shows that people still search for the documentary slightly more than they do for The Power of Now. The release of a movie based on The Secret in 2020 caused a brief resurgence, but interest in the original documentary has since resumed its decline. Regardless, Tolle’s message continues to leave a profound influence on millions of people around the world.
What Are Tolle’s Core Ideas?
News sources that followed Tolle’s early trajectory described a few major teachings. We summarize them here:
- People, as mentioned before, are not the voice in their heads. Rather, they are conscious entities who exist separately from this voice.
- The voice in the head is concerned with dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. To find inner peace, everyone must become aware of this voice and live in the present. Living in the present means directing attention to the body and its sensations rather than the mind and its thoughts.
- Reminiscing on the past or planning for the future is good only when it’s practical to do so. Otherwise, becoming so concerned with the past or the future means that the present moment will only pass us by, cutting our lives short.
- If you are living in unpleasant circumstances, start by accepting the present moment for what it is. From there, you can discover ways to transcend those circumstances instead of living in denial.
What are Some of Tolle’s Suggested Meditations?
Although he is not a self-proclaimed meditation guru, Tolle offers several meditative exercises in The Power of Now. We will explain how three of these meditations may help you fall asleep.
1. Watch “the Thinker”
This meditation is at the core of Tolle’s teachings: namely, the need for individuals to free themselves from their own minds. It allows the meditator to not only recognize thoughts as a separate entity altogether but to also maintain an emotional distance. With practice, this meditation may help you if constant rumination—the turning-over of negative thoughts in your head—is keeping you from sleeping.
“Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head for many years. … When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You'll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I-am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind.” — Eckhart Tolle, “Freeing Yourself From Your Mind,” The Power of Now
2. “Create a Gap in the Mind Stream”
Tolle presents this meditation as an alternative to “watching the thinker.” If you have a difficult time identifying the voice in your head, you can opt to “become intensely conscious of the present moment.” To do so, focus your attention onto simple, everyday actions without thinking about them. By creating “a gap of no-mind,” the action “becomes an end in itself” rather than “a means to an end.” In other words, you can clear your mind and find enjoyment in the present action.
“For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace that you feel within.” — Eckhart Tolle, “Freeing Yourself From Your Mind,” The Power of Now
We may often apply the same means-to-an-end mentality when we force ourselves to sleep. Although sleep is an essential part of our health, treating it as something we must do only diminishes the peace we’re supposed to feel while we’re asleep. Here are some ways you can apply this meditation at bedtime:
- When you’re in bed, focus on the feeling of your body against the bed—the pillow, the sheets, the mattress.
- Prior to bed, focus on your bedtime routine—the toothbrush bristles rubbing against your teeth, the water splashing on your face, the towel drying off your skin.
- Listen to music, binaural beats, and ASMR with SleepPhones®, the world's most comfortable headphones. Focus on a single instrument, the whole symphony, or just the vibration in your ears.
“The husband got me this really neat wrap-around headband thing with built-in Bluetooth® headphones so I can play my meditation playlists and fall asleep without the TV light on (and the audio quality is really good). I ****love**** it. It’s so much better than EarPods®, which always fall out.” — Jessica O’Donnell (@heckyessica)
3. “Let the Breath Take You into the Body”
Like focusing on everyday actions, you can relax by focusing on your own breathing. This exercise can be done at any time, and as Tolle explains in The Goop Podcast, it only needs to last for at least a few seconds. For instance, if something frustrates you just before bedtime—a text message, a noisy pet, a disagreement with a friend or family member—take one or more deep breaths and pay attention to the way it moves in and out of your body.
“Follow the breath with your attention as it moves in and out of your body. Breathe into the body, and feel your abdomen expanding and contracting slightly with each inhalation and exhalation. If you find it easy to visualize, close your eyes and see yourself surrounded by light or immersed in a luminous substance—a sea of consciousness. Then breathe in that light. Feel that luminous substance filling up your body and making it luminous also. Then gradually focus more on the feeling. You are now in your body. Don't get attached to any visual image.” — Eckhart Tolle, “Let the Breath Take You into the Body,” The Power of Now
Discover Inner Peace with SleepPhones®
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If you are interested in Tolle’s guidance, listen to videos on YouTube or downloads from the Eckhart Teachings website. Hearing his soothing voice over our patented sleep technology might just be what your soul needs.
“I always had trouble sleeping and had even used Ambien® for over a year. Then I found SleepPhones® and haven't used it since. I have a few playlists that I created in iTunes for sleeping, sometimes meditation first, then sleeping. I put my SleepPhones® on, iPod® under the pillow. See you at 6 am.” — Terry