I learned about enlightenment when I was 14. It was presented like a privileged state of being for a few chosen ones. This level had to be attained through mastery of certain practices which included meditation, chanting and a path of inner focus, gratitude and solitude. It was a promise of a life without both desire and suffering.
How interesting it was!
It caught my attention, for sure. First, because it offered a life without pain, as I understood then, and secondly, because I found the idea of belonging to an exclusive group enlightened beings appealing (Being a part of a weirdo’s group sounded good to the teenager me ;)).
I read a lot at that time. I prayed a lot. I also meditated a lot, though it was more of a reflection than meditation, I would say now. The “traditional” straight-spine meditation, hours long, was never my piece of bread.
Over the years I have educated myself and I have made small steps towards enlightenment. Yet, to my disappointment, no cosmic event occurred on the horizon. Not in the way I imagined, anyway, as a profound revelation, cosmic fireworks of bliss, angels with trumpets, electricity running down my spine and an eclectic state of being. No extreme understanding, either.
Enlightenment was about reaching the state of bliss, dissolving (or overcoming) Ego, or becoming one with God. Despite my sincere efforts my Ego hasn’t melted even a piece and she remained as strong as ever. God was with me but I was not one with God. And I had no spectacular experiences, either.
Of course I knew that it might take ages before I reach such a state, but somehow, I was discontent with my little progress. One day, upon reflection, I’ve came to a realization that enlightenment was not what I thought it was.
It was my first enlightenment, indeed. 😉
Enlightenment is a journey
I looked at enlightenment as a destination to reach. I thought it would be a state of being that I could approach by a process of “bettering” myself through special practices. I understood that Ego was on the way and I had to take it from the earthly plane. The path to enlightenment talked about inward presence and focus, yet the goal remained outer. I was there as if to join God or to dissolve Ego, and hence to stand against a part of myself. It felt as if I had to see a part of myself as an enemy. It didn’t feel right.
Because I like to explore extremes, I carefully considered the opposite thought: “Enlightenment is not a destination. It is a journey”. And it felt right to me.
A bottom-up approach to enlightenment starts from the daily events, being present in the moment and learning along the way. Enlightenment is an insight, a realization or a deep understanding. It is not a single event but a process – a way to live my life in awe and wonder, understanding and knowing. Enlightenment is therefore ongoing and I hope it will continue for eternity.
As we wake up to a day from the night, en-lighten-ment is a process of entering the light from the darkness. Darkness is ignorance. Light is knowing.
Similarly, as eyes take the time to adjust to the light to see well, an enlightening experience needs such an adjustment too. Enlightenment comes through observation, experience, reflection and conclusion.
I was first pleased with my discovery yet I felt I missed something. I knew enlightenment was more than that. And indeed it has taken me some more years before I’ve finally understood what the other necessary component was.
Since we are part of God, enlightenment needs the Self component, our conscious involvement in it (similarly as in consciousness). Not to be dissolved but appreciated, instead.
It is called intimacy.
Think about it.
“Into-me-see” – seeing into myself and allowing others to see into myself.
It is essential. To be intimate is to be authentic and truthful with ourselves, others and God. Intimacy is about closeness, appreciation, warm affection and simply joy from being in the presence. Of ourselves and others. And we yearn to such an intimate life.
As a result, enlightenment is insight, knowing and knowledge which originates from intimate relation with Self, nature and others. Every day is filled with enlightening experiences, if you welcome them.
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What is enlighting?
- Being grateful for being alive, healthy and well is enlightening.
- Realizing I have a choice of how to respond to external circumstances is enlightening.
- Knowing that dark times and difficulties can be a starting point of transformation is enlightening.
- Recognizing the difference between response and reaction is enlightening.
- Choosing not to burst out when the anger is called for is enlightening.
- Enjoying simple tasks such as cleaning is enlightening.
- Laughing at myself from my own over-seriousness or self-pity is enlightening.
- Appreciating that God is intimate with me is enlightening.
Do you want to reach enlightenment?
Start from self-insight and self-knowing. Start from caring, intimate relation with yourself, nature and others.
When we understand ourselves, we will understand others.
When we forgive ourselves, we will forgive others.
When we love ourselves, we will love others.
As simple as it sounds.
By the way, one of the definitions of enlightenment is “education that results in understanding and the spread of knowledge”.
Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.