What is Enlightenment?
Updated: Apr 23
"Enlightenment has nothing to do with the head or the heart. Enlightenment is actually waking up from the head and the heart. It's waking up from the dream of “me” and seeing the oneness of all things." Adyashanti
We see and perceive the world through our own eyes, our own experiences, our own dogma and our own view/vantage point. This creates a lot of distortion. Perception, without the lens of the ego, is seeing things as they naturally are. The nature of anything is nothingness- it's all insubstantial. True happiness, peace and nirvana is allowing life to unfold, trusting in its inherent wisdom and realizing that we are all ONE. We are all one aspect of Divine consciousness being expressed through our individuality.
Many people are engaged in the search for enlightenment but they don't actually know what that is. This is because the idea of enlightenment is just that- an idea. It is not something that can be obtained through the mind or research or by altering our perceptions through hallucinogens or by adapting religious beliefs and practices. I suspect that enlightenment is a state of being that resides outside the realms of the practical and within the realms of the mysterious.
In the past I have attended 8 day retreats whereby a skilled teacher/facilitator takes a group of participants through a process of Zen-style self inquiry dyads. Here, people sit across from each other and ask one another the question, "tell me who you are?" After painstaking and punishing hours of this process and once everyone has exhausted their intellectual definitions of who they "think" they are- ie. I am a mother, I am a father, I am a teacher, I am my stories etc., a shift occurs. Emptiness begins to settle and communication becomes very introspective and deliberate. A deep realization arises at the core of one's being and we realize that we are actually NOT any of those things. Suddenly, the question "tell me who you are not?" produces similar answers... Answers such as, "I am not my role in life, I am not my job, I am not what others have told me I am, I am not my stories, I am not my pain" become more prevalent. In further investigation of the original question, "tell me who you are?", people's responses often evolve to ones such as; "I am this breath, I am an expression of something greater than myself, I am love, I am nothingness". These dyad inquiries can often lead to awakening experiences whereby people connect to the truth of their beingness. Suddenly, the idea of defining themselves in logical terms becomes ridiculous, false and somewhat insignificant.
Over 3,000 years ago, the Buddha, who spent most of his life as a Sadhu (aesthetic who relinquishes enjoyment, practical objectives and duty through meditation and spiritual contemplation), came to the realization that his search for meaning outside of himself was futile. He achieved enlightenment when he realized that the search itself was what held him back from realizing the truth- that the self being sought after was actually the thing searching the whole time! That the ego driven mind could never understand its inherent, ineffable state of formlessness. It's a paradox because what the Buddha was searching for was his own God-realized self which in essence was No-Thing. It's a bit of a cosmic joke- searching for the unsearchable. Truth searching for truth. Knowing yet forgetting that we already know. I suspect that the Buddha had a good laugh when he finally realized this simple and profound truth.
In today's day and age, the search for enlightenment is prevalent for many of us. But truth be told, we need to get there in our own way and in our own timing. Usually, the search is accelerated by extreme bouts of suffering and there is no fast tracking. Painful life experiences serve us by forcing us to dive deep into ways to overcome the difficult times. Typically, we deal with pain by either: a) succumbing to the stories that caused the trauma and reliving them over and over, b) bypassing the pain through avoidance, addiction, dissociation and often unconsciously acting-out through negative and narcissistic behaviours, c) allowing the discomfort to be there and opening our hearts to self forgiveness and love (and getting the appropriate help us to heal and overcome). Of these 3 approaches, allowing and accepting is truly the high-road on the spiritual path of awakening and transcendence. It's not the easy route but it's the only one that can get to the root of the sankara (defilement) and liberate us into the light. Facing our pain also develops compassion, courage, wisdom, insight, determination and equanimity.
As the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says, "Times of chaos and challenge can be the most spiritually powerful if we are brave enough to rest in their space of uncertainty. Pema describes three ways to use our problems as the path to awakening and joy: 1) go to the places that scare you, 2) use poison as medicine and 3) regard what arises as awakened energy.
You can spend your whole life searching for who you want to be, but you'll never be happy until you accept who you are. You can spend your whole life trying to become awake, but you'll never get there if you avoid doing the work (which also includes surrendering to the most simple and insanely beautiful aspects of nature and life itself). As Rumi says, "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
"In Light Enment" is a process of letting go, surrendering to what is, opening our hearts and saying "yes". Whether we like life or not, life is our greatest teacher. It is our path to awakening.