Myths Of Enlightenment

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I am allergic to the word enlightenment. It carries a great number of myths, ideals, and beliefs we’ve held for thousands of years about how we could become free from the problems and limitations of being human. Most teachings tend to suggest that enlightenment is a single event that lands you in a permanent state of happiness; I do not agree with this view. The very word “enlightenment” suggests that “light” will suffuse your reality and banish your darkness forever. But if you understand Being, you’ll understand that its dark aspects couldn’t possibly be banished any more than night could be banished in favor of eternal day.

I’ll divide the myths into three sections:

Part 1: What Enlightenment Was Supposed To Do For You

These myths provide the basis for all the advertising about spiritual process. By offering positive-sounding goals, we were lured into assuming something was wrong with ourselves that needed to be fixed, purified, or transcended.

Part 2: How You Were Supposed To Get There

While reading these, see if you can notice how each of the proposed paths to enlightenment assumes either that there is something wrong with you, or that you’re not already in union with Being. If you buy the problem, you will be sold on the solution. What I’m suggesting is that There Is Nothing Wrong With You and you’re already divine; the path to realization is about perception and recognition, not about changing yourself to become something else.

Part 3: Who Gets There And Who Doesn’t?

These myths propose to explain why some get enlightened and others don’t. Some of these appear to me to be like Monday morning quarterbacking. “I guess he just didn’t stay on the program”, or “Well, spiritual attainment is a competitive game; only a few can actually win.”

Please note that I mean absolutely no disrespect to all the teachers, teachings, and traditions through which these myths have emerged. I’m just inviting you to feel free to be as cynical about this stuff as I am. It’s good therapy, and it helps break up our fixedness around these old ideas. There’s plenty of baby in these bathwaters; I’m just pointing to the bathwater at the moment.

Part 1: What Enlightenment Was Supposed To Do For You

Enlightenment is about attaining the Light
Many seekers are burdened by the idea that unity is some sort of white light that outshines the universe, which you can permanently turn on in yourself if only you were willing to do hours of practice every day for years or lifetimes. This is usually associated with the notion that the white light exists somewhere in the upper regions of your chakra system (or in your heart), and if only you could get yourself up there permanently (or down into your heart), everything would be great.

From my perspective, this is a terribly misleading myth. I say the entire attempt to move energy or attention up, down, or sideways has nothing to do with actual awakening (unless you need to do that to find out how useless it is so you can get on with the real stuff). Awakening isn’t about energy, manipulation of attention, or about having high spiritual experiences. Awakening is about growing into the ownership of the unique being called YOU.

Most attempts to reach for The Light in the name of spirituality are really just desperate, unconscious attempts to avoid The Dark. Light and dark, pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness are all just opposite qualities in our naturally polarized perception of Being. You can’t escape life and all its opposites, either by trying to stay positive or by diving into the Absolute. Why? Because You Are Life, and Life is All of it. Being Is One Thing; the Absolute is not separate from the Relative. You can’t hang onto one pole of Being (such as the Absolute) for long before the rest of your Being (the Relative) starts screaming for your attention. If you run for the positive, it won’t be long before you find yourself landing in the negative. If you dive into the Absolute, you’ll soon find yourself swimming in the Relative. You can try to rise above yourself and the world for as long as possible, but sooner or later your body will pay the price for all that effort.

Enlightenment makes you happy or gives you a feeling of bliss
What does “happy” mean? Does that mean feeling good and uplifted all the time? I suggest that’s impossible, since life is relative, and therefore everything that is part of life is endlessly fluctuating. Perhaps you were thinking that identification with the Transcendent would make you happy or bring you bliss-consciousness. But I say the Transcendent is not “happy” – it simply is. And besides, it’s just an aspect of what is; it’s not a separate thing or a travel destination. Yes, attaining exclusive identification with consciousness will, for a little while, bring a sense of relief from the endless problems of mortal existence. And it can bring temporary feelings of bliss. But ultimately, trying to stay in that disembodied cul-de-sac will make you feel numb, removed, and alienated from life (Death By Advaita).

The transition we call “second birth” doesn’t make you happy exactly, but those who have been through that transition tend to agree that the term Fundamental Wellness Of Being is descriptive of the second life condition. It is a form of contentment that is willing to be discontent. It is a form of helpless Surrender into life as it is, and into you as you are. It’s neither a passive nor an active surrender, but a spontaneous, unwilled surrender that is forever engaging you in your own further growth and in the world process for the sake of the collective self of all Beings.

Enlightenment gives you inner peace or peace of mind
There are forms of inner peace that come with recognizing your whole Being self. And there are forms of peace that come with healing your inner wounds and integrating your shadow issues (a long-term benefit of awakening, if you cooperate with the post-awakening purification – see Nightmare In A Dirty Room). But none of those forms of peace are in any way perfect. As long as you are part of Being (it’ll be a long time – like forever), you will experience the fluctuations of happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain. The deeper you go in your awakening process, the more OK you are with that. So there is a deep inner peace that goes with being deeply awakened, but I guarantee you, it’s not what you had in mind (Awakening Is Not What You Think).

Enlightenment spells relief from all the problems, pain, suffering, and messiness of embodied existence
No. Awakening means relief from the unnecessary pain of trying to escape from the necessary pain and messiness of embodied existence.

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