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.