The park bench guru

Ullrich's early life was plagued by profound levels of unhappiness and suicidal thoughts. Although he managed to work successfully in academics here and there, his inner life remained in shambles.

By age 29, he was ready to end it all. But a dark night of the soul resulted in an unexpected, life-altering epiphany: there are two selves -- the "me" that wants to kill myself, and the "me" that is the witness of all the drama.

This realization shook Ullrich to the point of blacking out.

He awoke the next day to discover that his crippling depression had mysteriously lifted. Replacing it was an inner peace and serenity that he had never known before.

Ullrich was in such a high state of bliss that he operated mainly from a park bench where, for about two years, he would sit undisturbed and enjoy nature with a big smile on his face. Needless to say, his family and friends wrote him off as insane.

In an effort to better understand exactly what happened to him, Ullrich began scouring ancient spiritual texts, and eventually worked out that he experienced a spiritual awakening.

Locals requested that Ullrich teach what he knew, and he began offering small workshops on the importance of living from the present moment. By this point, he had dropped "Ullrich" and began teaching under a new name.

After 10 years of workshops, and with the help of a winning $1000 winning lottery ticket, he self-published a book on his favorite topic--living life from the present moment.

At first, book sales were underwhelming--that is, until the book found its way into the hands of Maha Yoga owner Steve Ross, who sold it in his Los Angeles yoga studio. Later, Russell Simmons who frequented Maha Yoga got hold of the book and passed it along to his friend Oprah, who fell in love with Ullrich's simple message of living in the moment.

Oprah heavily promoted his book on all of her media platforms, including her ultra-popular reading list.

That's when Ullrich Tolle's book about being present truly exploded, selling close to eight million copies--and in the process making Eckhart (Ullrich's new name) a household author, along with his book about being present, which was titled, The Power of Now.

Light Watkins