Enlightenment is a big word that doesn't really mean much. It is a feeling of lightness. Perhaps this comes from a belief or an understanding or an attitude, or just simply laughter at something funny, or a beautiful sunny day enjoying the grass.
The permenent state of enlightenment is a mythical place where we feel this constantly - it doesn't work like that. If we are always wishing to 'attain' this we never quite succeed. Here is why: it's a process:
When you are young you accept life as amazing and magical. If you have a healthy upbringing this is supported and you develop a healthy self-esteem. If you have abuse or neglect you can develop some self-beliefs, judgements and tension in the body that will cause pain and shorten your enjoyment of the innocence of childhood. Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your self beliefs.
As you grow up and develop a sense of identity and an ‘understanding’ of how the world works (based on the culture of fear and scarcity usually) you forget about the magic and start to take it all very seriously. It can be fun but also very scary, dangerous, ugly, painful and harmful. Teenage and young adult years are filled with change, but that is sometimes harder to embrace once one ‘thinks’ one know what the world is about. Social understanding can lead to embarrassment, self-hatred, fear, depression etc. Or if one has support or a good early sense of self-esteem it can be a wonderful time of making friends, learning skills and finding direction. . Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your direction.
At some point in your adult life, when one is ready, we start investigating deeply our beliefs; ones feelings and ones relationship with the world a lot of realisations happen. There are many paths to these realisations; pain, dis-ease, depression, music, dance, breakdown, spiritual awakening, following your desire, tantra…. As many as there are thoughts in your head. The journey can be a painful struggle or a battle or a near death experience. It can also be a gentle allowing, or a disciplined and patient observing, or a screaming thrill-ride, or an orgasmic melting. If you really pay attention you get to choose. Either way this is a period of investigation and understanding. To know oneself.
So what do these realisations bring? Well, nothing physical. It’s something non-tangible – a connection with your nature - a remembering that the world IS amazing and magical and beautiful and rich and ever changing. It can also bring a new sense of power paradoxically tinged with powerlessness. Faith that everything is perfect and you are fully responsible, but only if you let go of needing and control. That is the real paradox – in order to be truly powerful one must surrender. Anything else is tinged with a hint of fear of loss or lack. Depending on the support through the other stages, interactions and reading, education and which path you chose you will get there either quickly of slowly, painfully or easily, joyfully or angrily… or you may never quite get there until your last moments, when you are forced to face the nature of your temporary reality. This is a period of enlightenment and there are many paths.
So let’s imagine we have got to this place, this attitude and understanding that the world is perfectly unfolding in magic. So what? Then what?
Well now you get to play. Really play. There will be fear and you can allow the fear and do the stuff you love anyway. There will be sadness and joy and disgust and pain and you can relax and allow all of them, paying attention and seeing the beauty or resisting and enjoying the fight and the thrill of swimming with or against the flow. Deep down you understand your beliefs are just that and you know what you want. This is a time of clarity.
I call enlightenment ‘Embracing the mystery’. It doesn’t mean losing your curiosity – quite the opposite. One can still quest for scientific understanding or spiritual connection and awakening or learning new skills and having challenging relationships. But now one does these things from a place of love. One does things for the love of it, not because of some consequence if one doesn’t do it. Life isn’t so serious that things are imperative. There may be ‘needs’ in order to ‘accomplish a goal’ (which often feels great), but at the end of the day you know that those goals are fun and part of the joy of life, in the same way as mistakes, failure, rejection, loss and hardship. If you fail it doesn’t mean anything about who-you-are (deep down) or even what-you-can-do. You know that physical life is temporary and ever changing and you can handle anything, be anything, do anything that you set your mind to. So what do you want to do today? That is a mystery to me.
Mindfulness is simple, yet very difficult to achieve. It can make one realize the inner judgements about oneself. If there is self-hatred or scorn, even a little bit we can feel it as sensation in the body after the thought occurs.
If we are to sustain meditation and mindfulness It requires one to know, deep in their bones, that they are okay; that they are complete and perfect, as they are; that they are living the best they can; that every choice they make is the right one for their journey ad will bring its own experiences and 'goodies'; that they are as worthy as any other person and that they are as loved, capable, beautiful and gorgeously human. Everyone is the same, yet paradoxically totally unique - the world depends on unique people, otherwise we may as well be robots or vegetables.
Mindfulness wraps up all of this knowledge in a smiling, knowing observation and appreciation of every experience that you perceive. When we are aware of ourselves in this way, every experience has beauty and every person we meet or situation is acceptable, or even fascinating and enjoyable. This is the essence of unconditional love - to accept, with curiosity and celebration, every experience. To be willing to experience it all!
My job is to help people get to that place of deep knowing that they are perfect, so that they can play with life, mindfully. To help people get past their worries and judgements about themselves and develop mindful confidence.
Why bother being mindful?
Intuition is the most powerful of all wisdom.
Rational thinking is useful in the modern world - it is also fun and interesting, but will send you round in circles, chasing a mystery that can never be solved. We can’t know everything before we take action, we must take action first - play, try, experiment, move, take a risk. As we learn we think. But no amount of thinking will 'add to you' - you are perfect and if you cultivate mindfulness you’ll always be able to tune in and remember that - this is powerful. It is resilience in the face of vulnerability - any shitty or difficult situation you find yourself in can be handled with composure and without depression, rage, terror. When you know you can handle anything you can really start to investigate what you want in life.
The more you practice, the more honest you can be with everyone around you (because you’re not so embarrassed or ashamed of the deeper 'you'when you take time to consciously appreciate it)
Then you start to drop the behaviours, things, and relationships that you don;'t serve or that serve you (or that you dislike)
Then you ATTRACT the people and things you do like.
When we drop the masks and people see us for how we really are is helps us.
The final bit - and the best bit - is that when other people see you doing this it SOMETIMES inspires them to be more accepting of themselves too. It becomes a positive cycle that infects everyone - OK, not everyone! - some people are still predominantly living through the egoic mind, very automatically and they might react very negatively to you. Those are the people that I’ll discuss below:
Ego? Isn't that judgemental? What if this meditation thing just isn't for me?
Well that’s fine too - you’ll carry on living organically, as you always have. Your mind will be influenced by your past wounding (physical and mental) and by the cultural messages around you, as it has been up until this point. You may be completely fine and blissfully ignorant. The point is that if you're not aware you are truly vulnerable to the ravages of judgement, craving and aversion - you’ll be in the illusion of 'control' and the way the mind works you’ll probably be drawn in by the ideas of comfort, security, wealth and popularity, all mixed in with an underlying fear of being rejected, of failing and ultimately of death. These underlying fears can cause the strong negative emotional states of depression or rage.
In me I had a strong sense of hopelessness and a craving to be liked and to show the world a bullshit image of strength and skillfulness. I still do, actually, but I'm more aware and self accepting and so these characteristics have less power over me. Now I find I can CHOOSE how to respond when someone doesn't like me. We might find it difficult to shift these things, but when we accept them they are OK. That goes for illnesses too, most of which are due to stress (inner tension) which has it’s origins in your attitude - how you see the world and what you resist.
Ultimately all of this life will end in death so it really doesn’t matter if you choose to be mindful or not - you’ll carry on living for as long as you do and you’ll either enjoy it or you won’t. If you don’t you’ll probably find you reach some sort of crisis point, which happens to most people, and then eventually you’ll say something like: “why am I being so afraid? What’s wrong with me? Oh fuck it, I’m just going to focus on enjoying my life!” And you will… for a while… until you forget the lesson and repeat the whole cycle of life-pain-acceptance-enjoyment all over again. Probably - that's what I did.
The idea behind mindfulness is that you don’t have to do that - you can balance your life so that you get more of the acceptance-enjoyment and less of the pain. It is a practice to help sustain enjoyment - at least it is for me. I like feeling happy - at peace - the best way for me to sustain that feeling is to have the ability to be at peace in any given situation. The ability to create happiness. I believe mindfulness is one tool that enables us to do that. It is one of the best tools because it is universal - it can be used by anyone and in any situation. It doesn't require changing anything.
It just takes a little effort, a little patience and a little more self awareness than you had in the previous moment. Step by step this is the way to get better at anything, there is no magic quantum leap - this is just changing the way you think, a little at a time.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com