Posted by: Sarah Lidsey | April 27, 2009

Enlightenment – Romance vs. Reality

clouds‘All is emptiness. Emptiness is form and form is emptiness.

Neither real nor unreal, both existing and non-existing,

By nature, self-luminous and self-liberating’

                                                                             ~ Statement of Highest Tantra 

What sort of beliefs do you have about Enlightenment? What have you heard?

I always thought it was the road to freedom and that once attained I’d live a happy-ever-after-life rich in love, joy, peace and harmony. It would be a life full of everything I could ever have wished for, and what’s more, the woes of the world would just roll off my back. I’d be radiating pure love and light. These were some of my beliefs, based on an idealized understanding of the enlightenment path. The more I’ve experienced as my consciousness transforms, the more I see that this is not entirely true. At least not in the way that I’d imagined!

Most of us reach for our goals with fairly clearly formed ideas about what we have to gain from achieving them. However, our mental concepts might be wildly different from reality. Maybe the road to enlightenment feels so possible because it is such a mystery, and one that, like childbirth, no-one can adequately describe. If we knew the nitty-gritty, we might never embark on the path consciously. Many embark on the path to awakening with only a romantic idea of what it truly means. They have the Buddha’s example to mankind of how he, a human, achieved full enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree. Herman Hesse tells it as Siddhartha, the story of a prince who chose to leave behind all his material wealth and a life in the lap of luxury, for freedom and a starkly simple existence. Siddhartha can be read as a hero’s journey, a romantic tale of redemption. It is about forgetting and remembering again. It’s the journey back to Self, and the movement into the unknown is part of the mystery and the romance.

 To my mind, part of the romance bandied about in spiritual circles includes the notion that in order to put your foot on the enlightenment ladder you need a Spiritual guide in the form of a guru of some sort, and you have to sit in meditation for years and learn to quieten the mind until the Truth can out. I certainly do not question the positive benefits of having a regular meditation practice, but do you need a discipline lineage and a Guru in order to wake up in this day and age? I don’t believe that you do.

The guru-disciple system came to us out of the East more than a century ago and, as the benefits of living an awakened life became appreciated in the West, it has been adopted piecemeal as a necessary aspect of the enlightenment lineages from these regions. The communities created by guru-disciple paths are strong and generally nurturing, but the dogma around the nature of the essential steps to be followed to become enlightened mean that your expectations and beliefs become re-enforced under their care, and you learn and accept that it will be years before you are likely to move into Liberation. On the positive side, you have a champion, someone who you can take refuge with, someone who will look after your spiritual health. Being a follower of a true guru gives you the comfort of resting in their spiritual arms, as most Eastern traditions suggest that you devote your practices to your guru, you stick with them, and through them your merit soars to the highest spiritual plains. On their end of the contract, they will help you clear your karma and any life patterns that may be blocking your pathway and obscuring you from seeing the Truth. If, like me, a lineage and the whole monastic, or ashram scene that generally goes with it isn’t for you, you may simply be directed to sit for a while with specific teachers to increase your knowledge and deepen your remembering before your intuition tells you to move on. No one would dispute that a regular meditation practice eases the transformation process, but there are other ways to get there. Living in harmony with nature is another deep and fulfilling path.   Harmony between man, land, and spirit is an powerful practice lived for centuries by some of the indigenous peoples on this planet.

If you are finding your own way without the benefit of a lineage there is no shortage of guidance available to you. Most of today’s recognized Western teachers of an awakened path encourage those who sit with them no matter what route they are taking. Eckhart Tolle is a popular example. I particularly like the ecumenical teaching style of Adyashanti, an Advaita Vedanta teacher from California with roots in Zen Buddhism. Both have followers, but neither court the guru-disciple relationship that is characteristic of the traditional lineages, nor do they subscribe to specific initiations and practices which many traditional paths incorporate. You can be with these teachers and engage in satsang, a process of enquiry which helps point the way to living an awakened life. They’ll mirror to you where you are in truth, and where you can embody it more deeply. It is a great practice. The awakened teachers now offering their experience in the western world rarely voice the notion that only the very few can attain the once exalted state of enlightenment and then only after years of devotional disciplined practice. The assumption is that anyone can become Self-Realized or Enlightened, and in a single lifetime. There are plenty of examples out there and you can see them walking the walk, as well as talking the talk!

Until recently, very few teachers have tried to clarify the steps, experiences, and realities of attaining an awakened state, or, indeed, of sorting out some of the confusion around the definitions and terminology that accompanies the enlightenment path. Many awakened teachers reassure their enquirers that they are certainly already awakened to the true nature of being by definition of naturally and eternally being part of all creation. True, but this reflection can create a false notion of what that state is like when the full truth has not yet been realized. And the enquirer hears that they have, in fact, fully awakened to the true nature of being in a permanent and fundamental way just because they have an aha! moment that clarifies something deep in their psyche. As the seeker, there is a danger then to stay rooted in the romantic love-and-light aspect enlightenment without realizing enlightenment’s full nature.

So then, if the teacher of enlightened consciousness does not clearly reflect to the enquirer that they are still fundamentally continuing to live in The Dream (that is the experience of their world) how will they know that they are not quite there yet? It is hard to see around this one, especially as we live in a dualistic world. It seems to me that the language used in the West supports this wavy line. A new vocabulary to accompany this movement has yet to be comprehensively road tested.

Part of the confusion is that there has been a very skinny roadmap to Enlightenment and a way of talking about it that is often tainted with intellectual concepts and cannot be clearly understood without the reader having their own felt sense of what that is. It is then related onwards from a purely intellectual place of mind. In fact, each individual’s experience is unique. If without fanfares to herald the movement into awakened consciousness, it can be difficult to be sure that those core structures of separation have dissolved. What seems to be universally experienced is that the connection with the personal goes, and with it the identity with oneself and with the seeker. When the core structures of separation go for good, the ‘I’ within dissolves and you realize the true nature of being. There may be echoes of the ‘I’, your sense of the personal in life, but you are on your awakened way and, hopefully, you know that you are part of everything! Any number of feelings and effects may accompany this sea-change to your orientation to life. My impression was that if on this path and ‘ripe’ enough, the enlightenment seeker would go from ‘on the path’ to ‘enlightened’ in one step, as Siddhartha did, and as the stories of other great sages, like Ramana Maharshi seem to relate. It can happen, but it is rare. I romantically thought that that was going to be my truth after a basic awakening. But it isn’t and it wasn’t. In fact, my belief just served to make that whole attainment of a fundamental level of awakening confusing. I didn’t feel much different, life carried on roughly as usual, and I still possessed most of my conditioned responses! Mainly, though, it was back to living life. The reality is that no matter what, you still have to attend to life’s necessities. As this Zen Koan says – ‘Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.’

Adyashanti in his book ‘The End of Your World’ is one of the first awakened western teachers to talk openly about the reality of awakening, and he uses his own journey to illustrate his experiences and their effects on him as he moved into increasingly awakened states. Another teacher illuminating the nature and stages of this path is Ric Weinman, lineage holder and founder of VortexHealing® Divine Energy Healing. He has been leading his students ever closer to living a fully awakened life for most of the past decade. His gift is that through the Divine Grace of his lineage he treads the path a step or two in front of us all, and then turns round and gifts us with both the knowledge and the means to follow him. And at the same time he has created a map of the movement into deeper and deeper states of awake awareness, from a basic awakening, where the core veil of separation dissolves, through a state of Liberation where all is firstly perceived as emptiness, into an awareness of the real nature of being and a movement back into the fullness of that realization of Self. All the time he stresses the importance of embodying any movement in consciousness and how you can live life from a highly awakened state in a very unawakened manner simply by failing to embody it. It is through Ric Weinman that I have an awareness both of the sacredness of what we come into life with – our personality and structures – and of the effects of dissolving back into a state of pure consciousness. I see the romance of reaching for the perceived freedom of the next great movement – always yearning for more unity with All that Is – and the reality created by great shifts in perspective in real time, in real life – how, whether you like it or not, your life has no option but to change from the roots up in response to this quantum shift in perception.

So what next for you? You’ve connected with your path, whether Guru or otherwise, and now you are working your process and taking responsibility for your own challenging upbringing. Everybody has one. You’ve found someone who can help you navigate the spiritual plains in a way that speeds your transformation forwards – someone who understands the challenges that you will now inevitably face from time to time. This can be your guru, your teacher, your healer, or your partner, amongst others. Changes to your consciousness will mean that you will inevitably have to make changes to your life. It may mean that you leave your job, clarify your relationships, and shift your focus. All these are natural consequences of committing to an evolutionary path. Make sure that you have a good support system and that your relationship to your own healthy outlook and lifestyle are co-opted too. Don’t be shy about asking for help, and find the time to be quiet and connect to the core of your being and your guidance as often as you can. Make time to open into the awakened space that is unfolding.

As you awaken you will experience the successive openings that I have pointed to here. There is no time frame to how these present themselves. Adyashanti records that they effect the heart, the mind, and the gut. He says (ibid.) that for many people it is also possible just to have a glimpse of awake awareness, but to then fall back into the dream that is our everyday reality. It may be years before you find yourself back in an awakened space, but it will return, especially if you are committed to your process! Honestly, there is no formula. The transformation of consciousness is given by Divine Grace, and each person responds to every shift in their own unique way. The initial movement is instantaneous, but the embodying of this new state can take a lifetime. What is clear is that unless you are one of the few who go from asleep to Enlightened in one quick movement, there are lots of steps on the way, and the beginning of Enlightenment, or God Realization as Weinman calls it, is a long way down the path.

 What enlightenment is all about – and this is really the nub of it – is the consistent erasing of the structures of your personality. There is nothing romantic about that. Looked at from this perspective it gives you some appreciation for the effectiveness, purpose, and design of your ego and its ability to bind you, and blind you to the Truth. It has us believe that we are separate beings, distinct from anyone or anything around us. How different all our stories would be if we all intrinsically knew this to be untrue – No annihilation fears! No abandonment issues! No worries about betrayal or trust! What a great job our personality structures do at creating a container in which to embrace any one of these issues and more, and in doing so develop our individual flavors, neuroses, and the experience of ourselves as human beings isolated from the creative lifeforce that we are naturally and eternally part of. We believe so entirely in our boundaries of separateness that they can last through lifetimes. In the here and now our beliefs are neatly contained in our personality structures, and then roundly fleshed-out to create the reality we live in, while our sacred selves are often left outside of our direct experience, and remote. Our place as an inseparable part of the Creator and of all creation is a notion which the dogmatic teachings of some of our mainstream religions forbid us to explore.

Your separate identity and the structural bastions that support it have to go if you are to move into Oneness again. This enlightenment business is not for chickens!! As your structures dissolve, your self-identification and the boundaries of your personality go and you move into union with everything. In fact, this movement is mainly notable because you attain the ordinary. It is a far cry from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha but, it’s true, there is a strange beauty to it. As you release the ties that bind you to your drama you realize another state. You realize you are infinite. You are no better or worse, no different than anyone or anything else. You are so ordinary it is almost painful. Nothing. Nobody. That special something that you thought you had – well, it is nothing too! You have no freewill, even though you once thought you did, and most of all YOU do not exist. All you are is consciousness moving through form. Certainly, there is a flavor, and ways that you respond in relationship, that you have come to recognize as YOU. You don’t lose that, because you are conditioned in it right down through your cells, but you now know with certainty that that isn’t who you are.

The Bottom Line is that Awakening is real, not romantic, and most likely not what you thought it would be. The Romantic notion of your renouncing your material possessions and turning into a contented beggar prince or a princess is not likely if you have truly awakened, unless that is your awakened choice! Some of the bliss-filled attributes that you dreamt of will emerge as you disrobe and reveal your true non-dual self. But the point is that in reality YOU will gain nothing; nothing you experience thereafter will seem so personal; and you’ll transcend the drama of your present ‘reality’ to become merely ordinary, nothing more. This notion of how much you will gain from the emergence of your True Nature is the fundamental misunderstanding of committing to a path of spiritual awakening from an unawakened state. You think that there is something in it for you personally, but there isn’t, because when you reach that point the personal, YOU, no longer exists.

Enlightenment isn’t romantic in the classic fairy tale sense. It’s so different from the romanticized no trouble no strife perfect peace picture that is sold on the book shelves of your local spiritual supermarket. Nonetheless it is a truly awe-inspiring path. In reality, the happy-ever-after is fuller than you can imagine, but so full of nothing and everything that it breaks your heart open, it is so immense. Once you know the nature of your being, the invitation is simply to enjoy living. It is what we came here to do, after all. Living here and now. Living fully in our bodies. Living an ordinary run-of-the-mill life. Living from the Heart. After even a basic awakening occurs there is no going back. The structures of separation don’t rebuild. You can fall back into some forms of forgetfulness where the truth of existence is lost. But the path from here on in is about embodiment, remembering, and walking the walk…in Life. Because now you realize what a privilege it is to have found your way into this world, no matter what you had previously thought of it. And with that appreciation you become aware that you are only as enlightened as you are in each moment, in each day, in relationship. NOW is what it is all about, and now there is nothing to be and nothing else to do. There never was. That is part of your enlightened reality.

©2009 Sarah Lidsey. All rights reserved.


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