“The divine is us is not lost it does not have to be sought for or brought back from anywhere…there is no distance between the experiencer and the Self.” ~ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
An old friend sent this quote to me the other day and it just seemed so right.
We seek, looking for something magical – that etheric wonderland inside of our being. But in fact, it is not somewhere else. It is plainer than the nose on your face. Funny thing about noses is that you don’t see them because they are out of view. But we sense that they are there. Same with what we really are, our essential nature. There is no way we could be anything else.
It’s the greatest wonder, really, that any being could not intuitively rest in the unbounded essential nature that we all are. How can we not see what we are? It’s a great mystery. So we go about seeking until we finally are gifted with the cognition of That which we already are.
I am absolutely not suggesting that all seeking is folly, rather I am offering to your that, at some point in your practice you are simply ready. Like a chick ready to break out of an egg, all you need is a little crack in the shell and out you pop! The practice remains the same wherever you are on the path – do all you can, in the most natural way, to open to awakening. I recommend meditation and healthy living, but there are as many practices as there are souls. Find you way by following your own nature. “Follow your bliss” as Joseph Campbell famously said.
Zen saying: “Enlightenment happens as if by accident. Spiritual practice makes you accident prone.” I would add that associating with enlightened teachers and their teachings, in the most comfortable, natural manner, is the last factor to add to your practice. The light will dawn.
I’ve been on a bit of a break from my blog for the past several months. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, just that I’ve been contributing to the social network of another blog, Buddha at the Gas Pump. Rick Archer hosts a weekly YouTube interview of awakened souls and spiritual teachers. It’s a fabulous forum and very uplifting to those interested in awakening.
Writing in this manner is an interesting pastime. It’s very much from the heart. I comment on what touches my heart. If someone is going through some changes, I find words flowing to soothe and uplift. I feel like I am massaging them with the love embedded in my words. Recently there have been several comments about the fluid nature of my writing – and the meaningful content. So perhaps it’s time to start chatting here again. Please let me know if you have anything you would like to discuss. It’s so much more fun with interaction – it draws Truth out.
So if you want to read more of my writings, check out the discussion pages associated with the interviews on batgap.com. I go by the name, erick. You will also find much chatter going on in the General Comments section where many of us have become friendly and share more than spiritual discussions. Favorite musical pieces, interesting interviews and documentaries are linked among the friendly conversations. Please feel free to join us.
In a recent interview Kurt Johnson spoke about “horizontal satsang”. That is where the spiritual community comes together to mutually uplift each other and the group as a whole through friendly spiritual discussion and sharing. Batgap is very much that sort of thing. Come and enjoy, or just check back here from time to time. I’ll be sharing my inspirations with you more regularly.
It has been a month since the shootings in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are many questions that will never be answered. It is so easy to focus on causation for the sake of prevention, yet there are so many different ways to look at this tragedy. Since so much has been said about the obvious – the injustice, the insanity, the accessibility to weapons – I will spend little time on these subjects. We could go on forever thinking of “what ifs” and “never agains”.
Life has a depth to it that lies beyond the field of reason. There are inner levels that are seemingly incongruous with the rational cause-and-effect world we normally operate within, and it is to these inner levels that we can turn for healing and strength in the face of incomprehensible loss.
Inside of us dwells a presence that sees this world as divine. Even the most horrific act can be forgiven as it is seen as all embedded in the energetic matrix of divine love. Normal human eyes cannot see this divine order, but with practice and Grace, it can be revealed, even to the soiled eyes of a modern man. Even in the depth of madness that leads one to perform the most heinous of acts there is a divine will that knows – knows that there is a learning, an opening and a letting go of beliefs that arises from the darkest of times.
The great wars, the abuses of tyrants and the ravages of nature, while inconsolable tragedies and losses of life, are also the words of the Great One that even in the midst of life’s greatest turmoil, there is Peace – the peace that is beyond the reasoning mind.
The great wisdom traditions point to this Reality, though few really see through their words to the Truth within. The words of the prophets and saints, though distant in time and weakened by translations, are a great solace in times of great loss. Their vision of inner peace is like a fresh breeze of hope when our hearts are deeply troubled. How refreshing it would truly be to live every moment from within their vision!
Though incomprehensible to the rational mind, there is order and purpose in everything. That purpose, which is expressed through every happening, whether judged by us as good or bad or neutral, is, ultimately, to awaken us all to the higher order and infinite peace of our essential nature. Sometimes the gentle flow of life in relative balance and abundance is the best way for us to grow. At other times, it is best for us to have our minds shaken awake by some entirely unexpected event.
We cannot know what those who were lost in the shooting experienced. Death is one of life’s great mysteries. Shrouded in our own fears and imaginings, death shakes us down to our very core. Somehow we seem to be able to make peace with a life that flows along an expected course – infancy to childhood to adulthood then old age. But when the pattern is abruptly altered, it causes us to fear for our own existence.
Yet, why do we fear death? Certainly it is an unknown for most of us, but why fear something that is so natural? I guess it is the thought that all of our hopes and dreams might not be fulfilled. Yet all of our dreams could never be fulfilled in a million years. Don’t we always have just one more thing to achieve, one more goal to reach before we are satisfied and can relax? Death comes to remind us that we should not chase after the sequence of experiences but rather find the completeness present in this very moment.
So here is what I say to my bothers and sisters here and everywhere: Do not mourn the loss of the child. Their freedom and joy is beyond your mortal comprehension. Better to honor their spirits by growing to know that Truth that is beyond birth and death. Know that Inner Being that was never born and can never die, and know That to be your own essential nature. Then you will see that all these events in our lives are but shadows flickering on the wall of Plato’s cave. And you will see the continuity of experience before and after life.
Raise up your hearts in joy and celebrate the great sacrifice that these children made so that we can form a better earth for the raising of a wiser, deeper humanity. Let the incomprehensibility of our loss lead you beyond the thinking mind to a place where all is well. Find that light within yourself that is beyond the veils of birth and death. And come to know that this is your natural self, and that your entire life is shared with all. Your hopes and dreams are part of the great love that we are all flowing through. Your vision is God’s eye looking at His creation through you. Learn that the children who died and the children who live are all a part of the greater whole that we all share and participate in.
There is no end to life. Death does not remove a soul from existence. It only changes its relationship to our physical universe. Evil is just God’s left hand. Love is the essential impulse of every thing in creation. There is no loss, only existence in its myriad shifting forms. And at the core of it, a beneficent intelligence that has the best for all of us in His heart at all moments. Sometimes it takes a horrible thing to make us turn our eyes from the untruth of our individual life and peer into the vast void of non-individuality that is our cosmic life.
Look within my friend, you will be consoled. Look within and you will find peace and, yes, even reason within the madness of this fickle world we call home.
Your prayers of love are heard, not just by God but by the dear souls of those lost in the killing. Your coming together in understanding and for progressive social change is one of the silver linings on a great storm cloud. Your tears are the tears of God for those who have lost sight of His ever-present divinity. Fall into that love, my friends, fall into your grief until you find the truth that lies beyond. And know that those who were lost are still very much here with us. Smile to them, so they know that you will go on in peace, reconciliation and healing.
Did I mention that I have lived in Sandy Hook since 1995? These are our family and friends, not some distant event witnessed on the TV news. Every day we speak with those who have lost. So the tragedy is very intimate. Yet the underlying joy and freedom are all the more palpable for the closeness of the event. Listen to your heart and find your peace – it is the only way to truly heal the world.
As I was reviewing my last post here I noticed something interesting. I noticed that my description of the shift of my experience over the past months was clearly a settling into the heart. Perhaps you’ll notice from the tone of my writing. I’m no longer struggling to fit my conditioned notions of enlightenment into my experience, or vise-versa. I’m just talking from the heart, naturally. It’s more personal, yet more assured and simplified.
During my days in the Batgap forums, I was exposed to many different teachings, both through Rick Archer’s interviews and through the quotes and clips included in the comments. One of the most interesting conversations was about “Levels of Awakening”.
Almost everyone who has studied a spiritual tradition will be trained that there are distinct levels, or stages of awakening. In my own training it was Cosmic Consciousness, develops into God Consciousness then into Unity and Brahman Consciousness. You can read about these in my “What is Enlightenment?” series.
Part of the development of deepening awakening includes changes, often radical, in the way one approaches experience. Once one’s inner eye is opened to the Formless, it sets a ball rolling. The Formless becomes the principal point of interest and one wants to consume oneself within that. This tendency leads to the abandonment of many habits of perception and many belief structures. Essentially, one allows the bottom to drop out of cognition to see what’s left.
So, many who have been through this process have described the progression of their experiences. These personal stories have then been generalized into distinct sets of experiences to be expected as one evolves. The problem that arises with the descriptions of these signpost experiences is that they also form belief structures that must be dropped in order that the Void can be more completely lived. In fact, my friend, Jill, suggests that these beliefs can become so deeply rooted that they can obstruct the natural flow of attention into Wholeness, even for the Self-realized. So Jill argues strongly that there are no distinct stages of awakening and that it is better to just flow into Being and let whatever experience arises be observed innocently.
For me, the release of the expectation of a progression of experiences was a great relief. I can just imagine how long I could have waited for the celestial experiences of God Consciousness to come before I would allow myself to settle into Unity or Brahman Consciousness. Instead I just allow the experience to flow naturally. If there is a concept, it is that of an analog flow from one place to another (as if going somewhere were really possible, but there is an inner sense of change) versus a more digital sense of distinct states suddenly shifting.
For the non-technically minded here, the analogy is from audio recording. Before computers and compact discs all recordings were made using equipment that fluctuated smoothly in tone and volume from moment to moment, just as it does in nature. With the digital revolution, sound was recorded in distinct values that shift from one to the other in instantaneous little jumps. These sudden jumps are so quick that the ear blends them, but a well-trained ear can hear the difference.
Getting back to my point, I just let experience flow wherever the river wanted. The only hint of a guideline that Jill allowed related to a progression described by Adyashanti.
Adya, as he is called, said that when one first experiences the fundamental shift in identity from embodied human to formless Absolute, the experience is sort of in your head. I think he is suggesting that the mind is first trying to sort it out so the attention is in that mental area.
After a while, the experience shifts more into the heart, then to the gut. Each shift in location, or center of attention has its own very different characteristics of experience. I can’t really describe them all because I feel that I have only just begun to live from the heart.
That’s what this little essay is about – that I recognized that this shift had taken place. I can hardly even describe the subtlety of the change. Love is so much thicker everywhere. Fear just cant grab hold of my heart. My mind can even try to trump up a problem, but it just slips away before the heart starts beating faster. And, funnily, the same thing goes for “positive” experiences.
I was at the beach yesterday. A perfect late summer afternoon on an almost deserted beach. I was surrounded by perfect physical beauty, but I was much happier just dwelling in Being. What joy could the changing tides of beauty give that Self had not already provided in spades? Likewise, what misery could misfortune bring that could overshadow the bliss of Being?
So there is, at this time, a surrender of the highs and lows of life for the placid, yet thundering depths. Like diving deep within the ocean and floating in awe of the wonders that abound, rather than bobbing like a cork on the surface, rejoicing in every crest and crying in every trough.
And even though I seem to recognize this experience as one that Jill and Adya have described, I will not form any expectation as to what will happen next. I will “Just Be.”
I haven’t posted in quite a while. Not because I had nothing to say, but because I was going deeply into the study and practice, if you could call it that, of Non-Duality and I had to push in the mental clutch and just let the gears spin freely for a while. Out the other end of this transition…or at least over a hill with a new view…I see more clearly how the ideas I traveled with for many years can no longer serve in my life. Some of them are very innocent, others insidious and subtly destructive. Let me tell you what I learned.
I was posting on the Buddha at the Gas Pump site and enjoying a sense of community there with the seekers and knowers. There can be a loneliness in awakening that leads one to seek out others – not to learn anything, but just to share and support each other. One of the posters on the comments section of the blog is a woman named Jill whose words are rich, warm and extremely pithy. Jill recognized in my posts that there was some work to be done to mature my awakening so she opened a conversation that has proved to be one of the most beautiful things in my life.
Gently and joyfully she drew out those areas of thought that were still buried in my subconscious and brought them out for me to examine in the light. Things like assumptions about the progression of experiences in enlightenment, what factors generate the onset of self-realization, and what the role and effect of past conditioning is on the awakened soul. All of these conversations were in the context of these richly crafted interviews of the BatGap video series.
So we all (the motley crew of commenters) would listen to an interview, then comment on the points that were most meaningful to us. When a deep question arose in one of our minds, we would all deliberate it as if it were our own question and collectively uplift the understanding of the whole group. I was a bit naive at first, thinking that anyone who spoke the Non-Dual talk was established in that experience to some degree. But as I became more accustomed to the personalities there I found that there was a rainbow of different levels of awakening and forms of expression. Each personality had its own special contribution and we became good friends, often chatting not only about the interviews, but about anything joyful that we could share.
Jill’s posts attracted me as the most mature and resonant of the bunch. Jill is a self-described old hippie from New York City who practiced Transcendental Meditation for a quarter century, enduring monumental physical upheaval as her body tried to keep up with the growing awakening within her. Eventually she found “the peace that surpasses all understanding” sitting with Pamela Wilson, a teacher in the line of Ramana Maharshi.
Whatever Jill’s history is, I really don’t care. What I noticed most about her posts and the private email conversations we had was the Light that shone through her words. If you can imagine that her words are written on a glass window pane and the sun is rising behind the window so that the space between the words is awash with spiritual Light, the essence of Truth, that would be an approximation of the experience. The light was blinding at times, tearing my heart open and letting my mind fall by the way. It almost didn’t matter what the words said, it was a direct transmission.
I sensed at the time that I was going through a process, a transition. I had no idea where it was leading, but I knew that I just needed a little guidance to push aside the mists of delusion and see the Truth shining, not just within, but throughout this apparent creation. For several months I followed the posts and comments as thoroughly as time would allow. And I took to heart the suggestions Jill had for me. I took them into my heart and mind like a seed, allowing them to be nurtured with gentle attention and joyful abandon.
Interestingly, there was really only one bit of advice that Jill gave…in many ways and from many angles – “Just Be.” It was such radically simple advice. When one opens to Self realization, one’s world is turned upside down. What you used to consider yourself, the body/mind assemblage of experiences and opinions, is just an artifact of the Great Consciousness, that, aloof like the distant Milky Way, is really what you have always been. That realization is a fundamental shift in knowing.
As the dust settles from that experience, the mind is left with one question: as Eli Jaxon-Bear puts it, “What do I do now?” The mind has been relegated to a secondary role in one’s identity and functioning of one’s reality. The foundation of reality has shifted to a non-thing that is so different, so much it its own non-universe that it is not an object or a subject or any-thing at all, yet it is the root of everything and in everything. The mind is humbled and confused.
So Jill and I discussed the process of settling the mind down and allowing its disparate tendencies to find resolution in the Self. At this point no technique or practice can do anything. Techniques such as meditation and self-inquiry are good for getting to the point of Self-realization, but once that is established as the unwavering reality, those tools become mere accessories and no longer the principal vehicle. Jill’s suggestion was just to allow oneself to flow into the Silence, into the Unknowable Vastness, until all questions are answered and the mind becomes the silent companion of the heart.
The process was similar to the way liquid helium becomes superfluid when brought to a sufficiently cold temperature. Check out this video and see how the super-cooled fluid bubbles and boils, then suddenly, when the critical temperature is reached, it becomes silent.
Likewise, the mind falling ever deeper in the Void bubbles off questions to which the teacher gently answers, “Just Be.” After a while the habit just forms and the be-ing just happens. Then you look out the window one morning and there are no more questions. No more nagging unfinished business. Just the beauty of Being and becoming both at the same time.
It’s not ecstatic bliss, though it can be sometimes. It’s not that the world is all divine and glowing, though it can be. It’s not that all of the unfinished dreams and desires are suddenly fulfilled, but there is a sense that there is nothing more to attain. Just Being is enough. Just doing what you do, no matter what that is, is fine. No matter how bleak the outlook for the future is, everything is just fine. The heart can’t get caught up in those stories at all.
Look at some Velcro. One side is all hooks and the other is little loops. They stick like glue at the slightest touch. Now take that hook side of the Velcro and rub it against a glass bottle. It just slides right off. So when the weird stuff comes at you, it’s not like you don’t see it, it just doesn’t stick. You’ve lost all your loops. You’re just smooth, strong, superfluid.
Jill’s gift to me was the simple guidance to just Be. That gift I will give to you. With all the talk I’ve done on this blog about systems and practices, it all just comes down to this:
1) Hang out with awakened people. It will rub off.
2) Just be.
When I was a student at Maharishi International University in the late 1970’s I studied the various descriptions of enlightenment proffered by the organization at the time. There was a general sense that the higher states of consciousness were very clearly defined and somewhat static experiences delineated by specific, very clear threshold experiences. You wake up into Cosmic Consciousness one moment and your life is different from then until you reach the next stage when it becomes different again, and so on. It was a linear progression with distinct states. I have described that conceptual view in my “What is Spiritual Enlightenment? Part 1” essay.
As I mature and as I study the experiences of others as they mature, I find that the lines are much fuzzier than previously described. My friend, Jill, suggests that these definitions from my school days are simplified constructs designed for beginners on the spiritual quest. I would tend to agree. It would be complicated to explain to someone who is learning meditation in order to help himself get better sleep and ease the worries that their world will be turned upside down by their eventual awakening. They would rather know that life is going to get better and that it will happen in an expectable progression.
Anyway, I was wandering through the dining hall one evening and I saw another student wearing a t-shirt that read “enlightenment is a process”. Now, I had never heard Maharishi say those words, so it caused me to pause and reflect on it. While it went counter to the sort of absolutism apparent in the official descriptions, it lingered in my mind as an intelligent observation.
Now, many years later, I observe how evolution is a constant process. Even as the “higher states of consciousness” roll by, they are a constant state of flux. The relationship of mind to body to universe to the indescribable nothingness is like the rolling surface of the ocean. One day it is placid, the next a windy hurricane. The sun warms it as the breeze cools it. Who “I” was yesterday is a far cry from what “I” was last week and surely different from next month. The whole concept of “I” as a person is suspect.
Jill suggests that there are typical landmarks along the way but that the process is ever changing and is different for each person. There is no prescription for enlightenment yet the path can be found by anyone by following his or her own nature. Find a teacher you trust and keep your eyes wide open along the way. I like her approach. It certainly makes the whole process quite interesting since there is no way to face it other than brutally honest self-observation and following the road no matter where it bends.
There is also a collective element to awakening. No one does it alone. One of the most miraculous elements of this process is the phenomenon of “transmission”. When an awakened person places his or her attention somewhere, there is a communication of an ineffable wisdom to that object. If you are sitting with that person, you will find that the peace, joy and wisdom of the awakened soul bleeds over into you as if by osmosis. This is the most ancient way of teaching, and is still the most profound.
In days of old it meant sitting at a guru’s feet and aligning yourself with his will. Nowadays there is so much wisdom flowing that we could honestly say that the master’s feet are everywhere. One person’s enlightenment can spread via the internet all over the world, for attention flows through many channels. And there is a groundswell of teachers spreading their light all over the world. Time is making it easier and easier to awaken. It might be suggested that the collective consciousness is awakening and we, as individuals are simply participating in our part of that process. That’s certainly how it feels to me.
The old model of stages of enlightenment still holds, only it must be understood to be a simplistic framework to describe what is, essentially, a messy process of deconstructing the conceptual world and replacing it with pure openness. For each of us, this is an epic process – and the only process truly worthy of undertaking.
Modern psychology has studied the maturation of the human being for many years. Among the most celebrated theorists are Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. They studied how a human being changes, psychologically, as he or she matures. This is the field of developmental psychology. Piaget discovered a progression of cognitive steps that children take from birth to adulthood. We start out with very simple, direct perception of our world. As we mature we develop greater abilities to analyze and adapt to our changing surroundings. Piaget discovered distinct steps that we go through that are common to all children.
At certain ages a child comprehends the world in a particular way, and as we mature physically, our minds also grow. An 8 year old child does not see the world the way an 11 year old does. I remember clearly discussing my older brother’s algebra homework with him one evening. He was showing me the equations with all the usual numbers I was familiar with from my arithmetic lessons, only there was one number missing. In its place was an “x”. I kept asking him, “But what is x?” and he kept telling me that he had to figure it out. At my age, I just couldn’t comprehend the nature of the problem. When I was a couple years older and in algebra class myself, it was as clear as day.
Kohlberg studied the development of maturity in adults and found that we do continue to grow, though more slowly. What is interesting is that different people reach different levels of maturity. Not everyone progresses to the highest levels of development. We tend to reach a plateau and stay there for many years, even the rest of our lives. So, we are all different, and we interpret our world differently, even as adults. The rigors of adult life, working in routine jobs, raising children, managing our responsibilities, tend to keep us focused on the actions we are performing and not the continuing inner development we might need. Still, there is a steady development, though much slower in adults than in children.
From Individual to Universal
The general thrust of human maturation follows a course from individuality to universality. The young child’s concerns are primarily with himself and not of others. As he grows he learns that his well being depends upon the well being of those around him – his friends and family. His sense of self further develops when he learns that living by the rules of society is important in developing a balanced relationship with his world. A further abstraction can be made where one lives according to one’s sense of principles, personal principles which are above the rules of society, yet integrate society’s perceived purposes.
All of these steps of inner growth progress from a more selfish view of life to a more inclusive view. Learning that one’s well being depends upon having a good relationship with others requires an expansion of one’s sense of who one is. One becomes more than a single body living in a world of unrelated objects. One sees that one’s family and friends are part of your greater sense of self. As one matures, the principles by which one lives broaden to become inclusive of much more of the visible world. One realizes that one’s own well being is connected to the state of affairs of the family, society, world and the entire universe. Nothing can be ignored. We must care about everyone and everything. Thus growth progresses from caring only about one’s personal needs for survival and pleasure to caring about the whole world’s condition.
These stages of maturity discussed above are the commonly accepted steps of human development taught in schools and colleges today. They include great strides of personal, inner growth, and they lay out the principles and patterns of human personal evolution. Yet somehow, these steps of growth remain incomplete. They describe the stepwise, organic growth of our personalities to more broadly inclusive states, yet they do not describe the quantum leap to inner freedom that is not only possible in personal development, but is actually the natural goal of this growth.
The Quantum Leap
This sudden leap of inner growth is what the eastern cultures term enlightenment or realization. It is the instantaneous awakening of the individual mind to its universal source. It is the parting of the clouds of confusion about what life is and what it is about. It is the end of seeking and the beginning of finding. It is the fulfillment of all the striving and growing and learning that the individual has been going through for his entire life.
The character of this level of human growth is very different from all those that preceded it. It is a fundamental shift in the perspective of a human being. Up until awakening, one’s self concept, or ego, is identified with one’s circumstances. This is an entirely natural occurrence. One’s perceptions are generated from within the limitations of one physical body which is very much the same from day to day. One’s world displays certain characteristics and it is natural to believe that one’s perceptions, one’s physical self and one’s environment, including the stars and galaxies, are all that there is to life. Essentially your believe that you are what you see.
Shift in Identity
The experience of awakening is the sudden and total shift of personal identity from one’s body and circumstances to an inner reality that is non-objective and thus indescribable in terms of objects and relationships. The experience is described in terms of knowing that what you are is separate and different from the world you live in. One witnesses the world, including one’s thoughts and physical body, as something other that what you truly are. It is a state of very clear perception of one’s world, for the essential nature of this separate Self that one awakens to is consciousness, awareness.
In addition to deep clarity of perception and inner peace, this state of awakening is characterized by an inner joy that underlies all experience. Whatever is happening, whether “good” or “bad”, for good and bad are perceived as relative judgements and not absolute facts by the awakened eye, there is a flow of inner bliss that permeates the scene. One senses that one cannot be harmed and that life will go on no matter what. There is a sense of eternity amidst the present moment at all times.
One of the most important aspects of this experience is that it is entirely normal and natural. In fact, it could be argued that any lesser state of human consciousness is abnormal. Feeling caught up in daily existence, believing that you are your body, worrying about tomorrow, all of these conditions, though almost universally experienced, could be termed disorders. Feeling absolute freedom, inner bliss, deep knowingness about life’s goodness and inner guidance through any seemingly difficult situation, these are the normal state of human life. We should not settle for less.
When I was a teenager my mother took up Zen meditation. The family had little idea what she was doing because she sneaked away when we weren’t around to do what she felt was a selfish use of her time. As a mother of three, she knew that every moment was important in the management of her home, so to take a half-hour to do nothing? It seemed shamefully impractical. Yet she did it and knew, somewhere deep inside, that there was a practical benefit to her spiritual practice. She just couldn’t explain it to her sons and husband in a way that we would understand.
The seeking of enlightenment involves specific practices that take time…time that could be used for other endeavors. One could be making more money, organizing one’s stuff, working on one’s house…the list is endless. Maybe that’s the point. The list of things to do is always open-ended. It would be rather impossible to ever get them all done. Unless, of course, one examined why one is drawn to do all these various actions in the first place.
Needs and Wants
The basic needs of food, shelter and clothing are obvious reasons to act, but accomplishing these basics is quite simple for most of us in this society. What type and how much food, clothing, shelter and other necessities we need is a choice we make. If we choose a simple life with our expenditures well below our income, then there will be extra time for seeking the higher experiences in life as a matter of choice.
Above these needs, there are the ‘wants’. These include nicer things to entertain us and make our lives easier. Cars, tools, computers, designer clothing, cell phones, dishwashers, musical instruments, sporting equipment. For these we work harder and harder, filling our days with more intense activities. For these we sacrifice our free moments and our peace of mind. For these we push ourselves to the point where we must ask ourselves whether it is selfish to spend time seeking inner freedom.
And, of course, we know that these things are not the happiness we seek, rather they are what we have chosen as tools that we think will bring us closer to the true happiness we intuitively know exists. And we have learned from looking around us that happiness is an elusive thing that does not visit the wealthy any more than the impoverished. Yet we struggle on in our daily lives to find the financial freedom to have the life we dream of while ignoring the happiness that dwells within us at every moment.
These seemingly unavoidable traps of living lead most people to lose most of the days of their lives to petty actions that bear little fruit of happiness. And if we look more closely we’ll see that happiness is the only thing we are seeking through all these complex actions. Happiness for ourselves first, and the deeper happiness of seeing others live well and prosper.
The Direct Path to Happiness
Here is where finding enlightenment comes to bear on our practical lives. Is it not the most practical thing when going to, say, Las Vegas to take the fastest and most direct route there? One certainly could get from New York to Las Vegas by traveling through Boise, then Nashville, then Tallahassee, Milwaukee and LA, but it would be an exhausting and pointless journey. Taking the straight road would be the most practical way.
If happiness is what we seek, then why not go directly to it? I think the problem is that people do not know that there is a direct route. People learn that happiness is not easily found and that when it is glimpsed, it is passing. And they give up hope of a true and lasting state of inner peace and happiness. In giving in to the view of existence as being by-and-large pointless and hollow, one surrenders our God-given gift of hope. This leads to a subtle, pervading sense of depression. It is so ingrained in most people that they don’t realize they could live without it. And when everyone is feeling the hopelessness of a pessimistic world-view, then society as a whole becomes depressed.
When society becomes depressed, it acts out its frustrations and fears in complex social problems. Wars, industrial abuses, antisocial behaviors, racism, genocide…these are all symptoms of widespread existential depression. And these are all factors that lead the world deeper into problems…problems that keep us all very busy trying to solve them. So busy that there is no time left to seek enlightenment.
Now imagine a world in which happiness is accepted as a natural part of life, and that the primary goal of our existence is to awaken to the deepest inner bliss that there is. What if we realized, as a society, that our happiness is our first responsibility, and that the trappings of material life are just the adornments of a life well and deeply lived? What if we realized that enlightenment was everybody’s most practical responsibility, because it leads us all to act, not out of neurotic need, but out of compassionate wisdom?
Certainly we would find a world of creative cooperation and unparalleled comfort. The vast resources spent on conflict and problem remediation could be applied to intelligent resource allocation for the best good of all. A world where inner awakening was the norm would be a paradise on earth. How practical is that?
I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers” that the critical factor in the development of true experts in any field is the opportunity to log in 10,000 hours of practice at an early age. The example given is of young violinists. The ones who became world-class performers were not only innately gifted with comprehension and ability, but they also had the opportunity to have put in over 10,000 hours of serious practice before they turned twenty. He goes on to explain that those who put in 8,000 hours became very good violinists, but did not achieve the level of success of the 10,000-hour violinists. In addition, Gladwell explains, it has been found that the innate abilities of both groups were roughly the same when they first began to learn the instrument. The real distinction between the top-level violinists and the very good ones is not natural skill, but the opportunity and drive to practice those extra 2,000 hours.
What is interesting here is that it is not a “God-given” gift of superior skill that the greatest violinists possess, but rather a reasonable ability paired with a favorable practice environment and a the will to excel. The same combination of natural ability combined with the opportunity to practice extensively has been found to produce expertise in many, almost all, fields of human knowledge and skill.
So how does this relate to the development of enlightenment in an individual? I think there is a close parallel in the practice of those seeking spiritual liberation and the musical practice of a violinist. Both set goals and engage in a regular practice to achieve those goals. And both get results based on the amount and intensity of practice that is performed.
You might have a view that those who find enlightenment are somehow ‘chosen ones’ and that this attainment is not for ‘the common folk’. But what I have found is that it is quite the opposite. If you have the good fortune to find an honest teacher, one who lives what he or she speaks, and if you practice diligently, remaining true to your inner voice of wisdom, then the attainment of this fruition of life’s streams can be reasonably expected.
I was chatting with some old college friends recently, and it came up that many of those with whom we studied in the 1970’s, including the friends I was chatting with, were experiencing liberation. We all had the great fortune to attend a university that taught the practice and philosophy of enlightenment alongside a standard American curriculum. It was a simple teaching, really – just practice deep, natural meditation twice a day and then live a good, normal life. The attitude was, “Practice this simple technique, and don’t worry about it, enlightenment will come.”
Many of us did just that, embracing the practice in a simple, regular routine that we followed as closely as we would our dining and sleeping schedules. We did not give up our vocations. We did not live as celibates, denying the earthly pleasures. We just lived balanced, natural lives and practiced the art of meditation and spiritual inquiry. And somewhere along the way we just woke up.
Maybe they experienced something like I did…I wasn’t deep in meditation or prayer, passionately supplicating for liberation. I wasn’t even thinking about enlightenment, really. I was just doing the dishes and enjoying some rap music on the radio, when, ‘bang’, it hit me. And even that realization was so simple that it was almost ludicrous (though deeply profound in its nature and implications).
Afterwards, my awakened friends didn’t climb up on soapboxes and preach salvation. They just went about their lives in pretty much the same way, only now they were living in deep joy and clarity. Over time they will grow to be ever more powerful in their comprehension and expression of this deepest human wisdom. But to others, they will most likely seem little changed from how they were before.
In fact, there may be, and surely are, many awakened souls in our towns and cities, who live among us as normally as you or me. You might recognize them by a twinkle in their eye, or a constant joyfulness, or just by a good feeling you have when you are around them. There’s no way to tell for sure.
Take the First Step
The only enlightenment you can know for sure is your own. And for that I recommend embarking upon a simple 10,000 hours of spiritual practice. Remember, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” You are already on the road.
There are many who did not have to wait to log in 10,000 hours in order to awaken. For some it comes in an instant without any spiritual practice. For others it falls into their laps when they weren’t looking after a short period of inquiry and practice. But the best way to get to the goal is to embark upon the path. You are much closer than you think.