I have a confession to make. You know that Enlightenment thing? That thing that Buddha realized, sitting under the Bodhi tree all night as demons of all sorts attacked him; that thing that a plethora of modern spiritual teachers like Eckert Tolle, Adyashanti, Behtinho Massaro and Thomas Hübl to name just a few have awakened to? The thing that saints and sages and mystics throughout the ages from cultures all over the world talk about — that thing that is often preceded by the terrible Dark Night of the Soul and experienced as the Great Libration from the normal confined perception of one's human identity as a separate, small self? That Enlightenment thing that most people might say (if they even ever, ever think about it) is a freak event available maybe to a select few, and probably anyway is not even real?
Well, I want it.
Which is exactly the stance, they say, that keeps you from it. Wanting. Grasping. Believing that in this moment, you are separate from it.
It's like the unconscious mind. The genius of Carl Gustav Jung brought the reality of the unconscious part of our human mind — that place of dreams and archetypes and split-off parts of our selves that we don't want to acknowledge — into the modern Western conversation of what's 'real.' Now the culture at large accepts that every one of us has an unconscious that influences us, for good or ill. But what if we're interested in knowing what's in there? We can't know, by definition because . . . guess what . . . it's UNCONSCIOUS.
I want to realize my own enlightenment. It's a paradox, because if you don't want it, or don't even know such a thing exists, chances are you pretty certainly will never get there. Your attention will not be on it and you won't care; unless you just happen to be suffering a fair bit. Hilariously, the design of true and lasting enlightenment seems to be inextricably mixed up with the deepest abysses of The Dark Side. You have to become painfully aware that as long as you identify as a small self only, you are suffering.
In my late 20's I used to say "what's all this Buddhist stuff about 'life is suffering'? I'm not suffering! People just don't know how to live right!" I felt smugly superior to all these belly-gazers who were meditating and writing articles in Buddhist magazines about the path to enlightenment. Whatever.
But slowly over the years, of course, my awareness opened up. My perspective widened and I began to see suffering. I began to see it in myself — subtle but constant and very real — and in others. And the more my perspective widened, the more suffering I felt, and the more suffering I saw around me.
Suddenly enlightenment was on my radar screen. (Liberation? Hey, sounds good to me!!)
30 years and a long road later, I've learned a hell of a lot. I've learned how to sit with my heart burning with deep grief for myself and the world and yet not have to fix it; but to just be with it and not look away. I've learned to bear that which I cannot bear; even loss of some core dream on which I thought my whole life was based. In order to bear what I cannot bear, the only option I have is to forever toss out yet again one more layer of that onion skin of ego. I've learned what the small self or ego identity feels like in the body and how cleverly it operates, and that I actually can't stamp it out completely. I can only sit and peel another layer away; painfully, my eyes stinging, tears running down my cheeks.
And I have learned that enlightenment is developmental. Every single one of us has in our very make up the potential to realize enlightenment. In fact, you've probably had a glimpse. Like on a gorgeous winter day in the mountains after a grindingly steep skin up the ridge . . . and you notice the light is hitting the trees in just a certain way and suddenly you know with every cell in your body that you are connected to the entire universe: you are everything and nothing all at once. It's a peak state of consciousness that all humans experience now and again in their lives. We just don't know that it's possible to develop ourselves to the point where that way of being is realized as being there all the time, in the background of our everyday human life. Possible . . . if we want it enough.
So I'm on the path, as they say. Wanting it and not wanting it. Learning about the territory. Chancing upon the writing or YouTube video yet another individual who is 'there'; sensing that similar vibe they have — a certain knowing, a grounded and calm Lightness that is always there, even in sadness or anger (they report).
Enlightenment is real, and I think it's also contagious. So watch out. If you've awakened to the suffering in yourself and in the world, chances are enlightenment could be in your future.*
*And of course, it's already there in you right now, whether you realize it or not. Dang it.