First off, enlightenment is not spiritual fantasy. Enlightenment is situational clarity, right action, contentment in the being we co-manifest and the pursuit of ones life purpose. If we take the practices of enlightenment to the top shelf, it is total transformation of our genetic substrate into the fully activated being; but this discussion exceeds the nature of this simple blog post.
The single biggest challenge to enlightenment is letting the ego, go. Ego is the lower animal self that perpetuates the reactive state of base human being. Ego colours how we think, and this creates what enlightenment means to us. Is enlightenment a beautiful fantasy world like a thumping technicolor music festival? Or is enlightenment the naked spartan warlord sipping black broth by the river?
To be enlightened is to embrace the grit and shit with a smile. Ego gets in the way because ego is a big whiner. Ego loves comfort and pleasure and resists the work of self, because this denies hedonistic gratification. To find joy in the difficult is a big challenge. This is not easy and doesn’t happen over night. It comes in waves and chunks. Try to give up ego and it laughs at you. Hysterically rolling around on the floor, eyes wide pointing up at you gasping for breath.
Ego aside enlightenment is nothing more than the lived feeling of optimal being. It’s nothing spiritual at all, just total clarity. Enlightenment is the lived experience of freedom, lightness and strength in our lives. Life without judgment or attachment. Living in the wisdom and acceptance of the essential nature of how things are. Stripped of our own should. Life as an extension of compassion & service towards all living things. So then, how do we get there? I’ve lived the process for 23 years and have had many teachers along the way. I’m not there yet, but I have a few thoughts. Seven specific things I feel we should think about if we think about enlightenment…
This is mindfulness, basically. When we live not in past regret or future anxiety we have arrived: into presence. Part of this is radical self awareness. To become aware of and connected to your actual behaviours and the state of your ego recklessness. Cathartic.
In the buddhas brain, Rick Hansen Ph.D describes how a mindfulness practice can literally rewire the brain for happiness and joy. This primarily, is what enlightenment is all about yah. I mean, hard wired joy like a radical hardware upgrade to your fat-attic itself. According to Hansen’s research, the practice of mindfulness makes is easier to stay in a positive mind-frame. The more you are in this positive space, the more your brain will create neuronal pathways in the brain that consistently produce a positive state of being–because the brain has been hardwired to be like this!
Norman Doidge, the bestselling neuroscience author and psychiatrist out of Toronto researched for decades about how the brain can change at any age. We call this neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity was first described in the late 18’s by the ‘father of neuroscience’ Santiago Ramon y Cajal as “neuronal plasticity”. Since then decades of research has proven the brain can be shaped by our experiences.
Dozens of researchers across many years such as John Kabat-zin Ph.D, Richard J Davidson Ph.D, J Scumacher, David S Ludwig MD, Ph.D, Paul Grossman Ph.D, Robert Archer Ph.D and many others have suggested that mindfulness can lower stress, boost the immune system, improve the quality of life, among many other benefits.
Mindfulness is transformative, in essence.
Everything is improved with mindfulness. Some believe this is all you need. This presence is the gift, remember. There is a long, hot, sweaty trillion year line up of souls waiting their turn to take a ride on this life. What are you thinking about on a roller coaster? During your favourite pastime? During the more challenging moments of your life? You are thinking about nothing but the density of the moment you are in. This is life. Most of enlightenment is nothing more than finding the richness of this life as we live it everyday.
2: Kindness (towards all life).
“Kindness is my religion” – The Dalai Lama.
Several minutes off the ferries coming from Vancouver Island we pulled to a stop beside an industrial chicken truck, when we were hypnotized by the beast. That’s right. All the other chickens flitted their gaze about but this one bird held a fixed gaze on us for the entire duration of the stop light. Those purple-blue eyes I shall never forget. The moment burned into my mind for ever. That chicken connected to lyndsey and I like a feathered prophet; gazing deep, rotating its head side to side hitting me hard with that crazy chicken vibe. This chicken had the ire of consciousness and begged us to help her/him. I did nothing. But I would not eat any part of my white master. From that moment on, both Lyndsey and I were vegetarian. To be honest I had one slice of Hawaiian pizza at Granville Island-my favourite, smoky pig chunks-but that was it. I ate fish for a while but now no more flesh of beasts. I still have to give up eggs and the little cheese I still indulge…
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
Susan Smalley Ph.D, writes that we find happiness in the small interactions in life, this is what improves the quality of everyones life. Psychoanalyst Jacques Areness believes that kindness is the new bravery. Areness asserts that our culture of general cynicism is driven by people who are unhappy with themselves. Behaving badly then, is a defensive mechanism to prevent emotional pain. People are closed off to avoid showing emotion, which could allow others to prey on our vulnerability. Being perpetually angry and cynical is totally fatiguing, it drives us apart and perpetuates dark social times. We are social creatures who evolved to connect with others for basic survival. Only thru connection do we find true meaning and purpose in our lives. Kindness is how this happens. We deepen into this when we extend basic kindness to all life. I feel better when I move the worm off the road, when I take the spider outside, when I show genuine love towards the disfigured dog. And the dog feels better, too. I have just made a better world. Psychologist Piero Ferrucci advises seven strategies for cultivating kindness, thereby opening up as a person, one of the first things we need for our enlightenment: empathy, modesty, patience, generosity, respect, loyalty and gratitude.
We could call kindness love, compassion or whatever. Love is the way. Kindness is the mechanism thru with love manifests. Kindness is a love spread. Cupids compote. When I am kind to you, you are kind to others, and our world becomes a kinder place. Hard to do for sure, but what worth having isn’t?
“No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.” J.S. Mill.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Mee-Hi Chick-sent-mi-hi) has spent the last several decades researching flow. Flow is the psychology of optimal experience. What state of mind allows us to feel like we are living fully, are connected to our true meaning & purpose and to the unseen force of nature? The state of flow. I experience flow while riding my mountain bike thru the local hills. It’s like a dream-time state of transcendental fluidity. My muscles, heart, lungs and surroundings unify and this moment becomes a four dimensional experience of universal wholeness. I may get this road bike riding with the group, but I have yet to get past the lung burn and suffering.
“The best moments usually occur when a persons body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile…for each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” Flow p. 7.
Mihaly talkes about people finding flow in concentration camps, dead end jobs and prison. The common feature among people in these circumstances is that they use their situation as a challenge to overcome. This keeps their mind active and should they fail to quit, their dire situation creates a transformed self. Shri Aurobindo found enlightenment in prison. In the midst of meditation on the cold-hard concrete floor he suddenly realized that he cannot be outside of the presence of god. Ever.
Flow is total engagement in an activity and this is when people report feeling happiest. The interesting thing is, according to his research, Mihaly found that people rarely find flow in their leisure time, unless they have an intrinsically motivated hobby or skill they strive to perfect at every chance. In free time most people report feeling board, or some form of existential angst. We all need real challenge to keep us focused and interested. During the course of Mihaly’s research, he found that people experience flow more often at work or during difficult situations than at times of relaxation. Even if the situation felt uncomfortable during the moment.
This all suggests that we are designed to thrive on challenge and ordeal. The original mystery schools of centuries past always made students practice intense physical activities in order to apprehend the nature of god and truth. John Lennon said life happens when we are busy making other plans. I consistently have my greatest creative insights while riding my bike, playing with my daughter or simply walking Bodhi (our dog). Creative insights just sort of flash into my mind at these times. The state of flow is effortless being in a challenging moment. The willing learn to adapt to difficulty and thrive there. This is when we feel happiest in our lives. People who shy away from adversity and challenge are consistently unhappy and board, and often turn to simple pleasures to fill the dark pit of psychic entropy in their lives. This often leads to addiction and deteriorating mental health over time.
We could say then, that what is best in life is is flow. To flow is to dominate all challenge and adversity. To thrive on it. Love it deep. To thrive on challenge is to be ultimately human at our essential core. This is when I AM. Being in flow then, is a massive part of enlightenment….
4) All people are in their own development. And that’s good!
You know how it goes. Suddenly one day you feel the urge to seek the spiritual, and just as suddenly you’re the new guru with a certain wisdom everyone needs but doesn’t know it. You see people living at a level of humanity you once lived at, rolling around in the mire, rubbing themselves with the filth of this world and you want them to suddenly wake up like you woke up. You want to feed the poor. You want to soften the rich mans hard profit ways. You want to scream at the world to WAKE UP!
But the world does not want to listen. Naturally. This is because of what we call memes. A meme is a world view, a belief system, or as google so eloquently put it “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” We all pass thru various memes as we age, like it or not. As do cultures, as does the world. Individuals and cultures are all at different memes. Clair Grieves, Ken Wilber and Don E. back are the major thinkers and innovators in developing this theory. For a simple review of the nature of memes and cultural/spiritual evolution go here.
The idea in brief is that culture and individuals evolve thru stages of consciousness. At different times. During this evolution there are important moments, called fulcrums: Major hurdles that once we get over, we are transformed.
The green meme is just such a hurdle, green comes after orange. Scientific materialism is called the orange meme; orange comes right before green. The orange meme is science. The orange sensibility gave rise to industrialization and science dominating the western culture. Think child slavery in Dickens London, time saving technology, the atomic bomb and all of the material standards we have come to accept as our birthright in this modern age. Green emerged next, out of orange. You see, as evil a meme may become, we need each meme to reach a level of social evolution out of which the next level may spring. Like the jack pine needs fire for its seeds to grow.
The green meme is all about ecology, human rights, woman’s rights, animals rights, sustainability, green technology, equality, feeling centred living etc. Orange scientific industrialization worked hard to create a material culture that could allow us to focus on things like equal rights and animal kindness. Since world war II we have seen huge developments in these areas.
One of the biggest issues with the green meme, is the idea of non-hierarchy.
This extreme equality actually prevents growth! When you suddenly arrive in the green meme you feel liberated from exaggerated material need. Your life feels simpler, you see many things with open eyes. You suddenly feel more connected to all life, to the environment; you may become vegetarian, start riding a bike, it’s all good. But here’s the catch, you believe you have fully arrived, that you’re enlightened already. You feel we are all one, all equal and desperately want all people to join you on this higher plane of reason and joy. Only thing, is that there is still much further to go on the journey; in the green meme you are actually one step short of a major fulcrum of spiritual development I call the sacred sorrow.
Many people are stuck green for decades, often for the rest of their lives. There’s a tonne of dialogue on how we’re stuck green as a culture. Green meme prevents cultural development by desperately trying to make all non-conformers fit into the model to which we so eagerly subscribe. In this manic desperation we create a culture wide friction that disables cultural growth, for the simple reason, people don’t like to be told what to do so they push back. So here we sit, stagnate in the green meme. What to do?
Example. You’re walking down the street one day and find an old school chum sitting on the street, forlorn, destitute. She smiles holding a sigh “will dance for pot” and meagrely asks for some change. She recognizes you and perks up, “hi”, she asks how you’ve been and you begin a cordial exchange. You decide to take her for lunch, she accepts. After the formal niceties you, in your green meme mind, begin to press her about her street lifestyle. You insist that she change her ways, you go on about how you found spirituality and it’s so great… She becomes uncomfortable and tries to change the subject. You know however that once she understands your point she will want to better herself, she will suddenly break down in tears throw her arms around you and thank you deeply for this timely salvation. Only she grimaces at you, thanks you for the meal and leaves. What happened?
Your street friend is in the level of development she is in. It is different than yours. Her level of development has value unto itself, she does not need to be saved. She needs to be heard, understood, valued for who she is. She needs to know that if anything ever chances and she would like a hand then it’s there. This moment is not it. You have to let go and let her be who she is, because that’s where she is. Accept her as she is and engage with her there.
Green meme consciousness needs to let go trying to change everything, and accept what is as the value of being. We can help where we are needed and validly accept what is different from ourselves. There is a hierarchy of growth. We are not all the same, we are at different levels of psychological, moral and spiritual development. Yet we are unified in our sacred human being. We need to focus on our own development while we serve the needs of others as they come up. You put your own oxygen mask on first, before the child’s.
For centuries the desert fathers turned their back on society and escaped to the desert to live by gods word alone, in silence and simplicity…
The universe was born of chaos: merely unseated particles and gasses swirling about the heavens until order and pattern set in. Chaos is total complexity. Complexity is life without the order of consciousness. Life is noisy, bright, loud, offensive, boring, dark, over bearing, you name it. So many of us yearn for the simple. I feel that.
Jeff DeGraff, Ph.D, explains that simplicity is the result of chaos, not an antidote; he explains that we cannot arrive in simplicity without first negotiating the complex. Very much like how the orange meme set up the material foundation that green will simplify and perfect. Leading to a foundation that blue will simplify and perfect and so on. Complexity, simplification, complexity, simplification. This is how the world goes. Simplicity is the ongoing refinement of complexity, the natural evolution of the universe beyond human intervention.
Leonardo Da Vinci said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Evolution spits out thousands of creatures that will never have a chance to survive before one or two come around that will. Every inventor knows that to create a new invention many overly complex and clunky prototypes were made and discarded. In the beginning, the planets in our very solar used to bang into each other and bounce around the sun until, eventually, the celestial bodies became organized into a rhythmic orbit. Complexity always precedes simplicity. Every process is refined to manifest streamlined efficiency.
Simplicity is the end point in the natural process of the evolution of anything.
By simplifying our lives, we recognize our role in the evolution of life and culture. We have gone thru the complexity of achieving identity and place, we have used the technology, partied our brains out, over indulged, had way to much ‘stuff’. The orange material culture has provided for all our material needs, and we realize that with ever more stuff and with every so-called step up the rungs of high society comes more stress & less time. Simplification is an active decision to choose freedom and lightness over material culture. We who choose simplicity become ambassadors of this evolving species that need to reduce our material consumption.
We are driven from within to release ravenous material attachment and open into the simple presence of being, which is our very meaning on this earth. Our manifest destiny.
With fewer attachments comes greater freedom, with freedom comes the lightness we all seek. When we choose this, we are strong. We have become the face of the evolution of humanity.
We all lie. Why? According to Alex Lickerman M.D. we lie to avoid embarrassment or conflict. We lie to get things we want. We lie to appear courageous and virtuous to others, and hide our moralistic reprehensions. We lie to get out of doing things we don’t want to do, yet are embarrassed to admit. At last we lie to spare people feelings, and prevent loved ones from feeling we have failed to live up to expectations.
Lying is easy, effective and I suspect there is a massive evolutionary selection for lyres because lying is very strategic in the survival game: lyres will survive better, because of lying. Lying however, causes all sorts of stress and anguish for most of us. Unless we are psyho-pathological or even possess a nip of socio-pathology, lying will place us into a state of anxiety and initiate the process of lying to cover up lying. Inevitably we will be caught in the lie, people will know the truth about us and we shall lose respect.
Truthfulness as a step towards enlightenment is becoming a literal pillar of society. For as we must remember, enlightenment is just as much about all of us, as it is about the me. Becoming enlightened is about becoming someone completely dependable, who will live up to their word, who will be there when the chips are down, no matter what. A solid individual capable of holding it all together. Lickerman explains that “A dedication to honesty motivates us to strive to become all the good things lying helps us pretend we already are…Imagine developing a reputation for tactful but complete honesty upon which others know they can always rely. What an invaluable resource you’d become!”
An enlightened person is clear, they are honest even tho you may not like what they have to tell you. Enlightened people facilitate the flow of humanity; they help to create something better than humanity in our basic animal state. You can trust them till the end. They will never betray you. They will be level and strong under intense and desperate pressure. Wouldn’t you like to be a person, such as this? Honesty is a habit we must practice. It may not be easy, but it’s important for all of us. Especially when you’re on the road…
7) Unified mind-body. United self with whole.
We live in a culture of division. Ever since Descartes (at least) we have split, divided and pigeonholed everything. Our minds are separate from our bodies, our bodies from the environment. When in fact there is no separation of mind and body, or body and earth. In this article we will deal with Mind Body separation and leave body earth separation for another writing.
If there is an illusion, this is it. The illusion is not that we live in a spiritual world thinly veiled by a meat veneer, and we just have to think positive to become free from the bonds of material oppression. The illusion is that we are beings of intrinsic separation. The moment hammer meets finger we clearly understand just how material we are. Yet what isn’t clear, is how we are singular beings equal mind & body as one whole self.
Our language and culture create this separation from the ground up. The term “mind body unity” reinforces the separation as it comes out of your mind. Mind and body intrinsically define two separate things. The word unity means two things coming together to find some kind of cohesive relationship. Think about the brain for a moment. The brain is two hemispheres, many lobes and billions of cells. Yet, we think about the brain as primarily one fat chunk. The bones and muscles are one system that developed together, that do not grow or exist in separation.
Culture and language are powerful as they are dangerous because they can hold us back as we try to move forward. Mind body unity is a big problem. So long as we use labels such as mind body unity, we will never find the felt singularity as our mind is already divided by language from the beginning of the search–without ever knowing it. The way forward as I see it, is thru an embodied movement practice that takes us directly to the heights of exulted ecstatic ecstasy where we can feel the singular state; live there for a moment and then come back to articulate this singular state into a new symbolic language around which a culture of meaning can be applied. The more we experience this state, that we arrive in thru movement practice, the more we condition the rest of our lifestyle to simply reflect the wholeness we have become. Terms like mind body unity become irrelevant, dangerous even, for they can prevent the evolution of human kind. To describe mind body singularity we need a single word; for lack of a more profound offering I will interject the word BIND. An obvious hatchet job of body & mind that may lack the sophistication of a more erudite moniker, but it will work as a launch point.
So then, how to achieve BIND? This kind of goes against scientific reason, doesn’t it? I mean on one hand we have the brain and body, the meat machine, on the other we have the elusive mind and the spirit. One is physical, the other isn’t, yes. Truth is, we don’t know.
First off, I feel our brains are most likely a million years too early on the evolutionary scale to fully know the whole richness of scientific truth. We’re evolutionary infants. We’re smart monkeys that have, a) yet to genetically engineer our brains to work at 100% of our potential intulactual ability, or, b) synthesize our brain with artificial intelligence. Like it or not, the next evolution of this species will happen thru a bio-microchip-brain interface. When this happens we will look back at ourselves as children to that which we have become. Personally I think we will lose more than we will gain, but someone has to become gods of the multiverse. I digress.
Like it or not, we just don’t know how the mind and body represent one single BIND, and that’s ok. Y’ain’t kook an egg on a cold stove. Yet we can see the final result playing out before us in the drama of life that already is. What we see when we look at our human experience are traces of one self: the body-the exterior world, and the mind-the inner world, yet we fail as a culture, as a species perhaps, to grasp the lived embodiment of BIND.
We cannot know everything intellectually, yet we can infer the hidden mechanics from the display of natures perfect function. Our option for full wisdom in the infinite universe, can come thru the simple act of observing what’s in front of us. So then, without the ability to ontologically comprehend the scientific mechanics behind the singularity of BIND, we must look at the signs: the technicolor image flashing against the screen of our lives, projected from a secret film buried deep in the heart of an invisible projector. We must observe the results, or the ways in which the mind and body are clearly operating under a single agency, and work back to our lived experience, to know the origin of BIND.
I have collected at least 33 bodies of work that prove a singular genesis of body mind. I am presently working on my magnum opus that will illustrate the essential nature of BIND. For now, I would like to simply introduce you to the single most fascinating of these. If, what these researchers are proposing is true, then we have a genuine working model of the nature of BIND. A model so profound, it will change the entire course of psychotherapy, fitness and enlightenment. So here it is.
“Every muscle in the human body has a psychological and emotional function.” Marcher & Fitch, Bodynamics system. This means that weak muscles represent weak personality characteristics, and tense muscle represent tense personalty characteristics.
This concept is woven throughout much of modern western psychology, spirituality, self development, medical science etc.
Ken Wilber, often cited as the quintessential western philosopher of our time has noted that, “for every mental ‘problem’ or ‘knot’, there is a corresponding bodily ‘knot’, and vice versa since, in fact, the body and the mind are not two.” –The Spectrum of Consciousness.
I think the most lucid mechanical description of how this works as a daily physical practice is from Achim Eckert, his book is called Tao Training, it unfortunately is only published in German: “Each muscle has, besides its physiological function, an emotional and psychological function.
If you train the body selectively, you influence the development of the whole personality in one direction or the other. That means that fitness training can be individually designed to an extent that it not only trains underdeveloped parts of the body, but also underdeveloped personality traits and lacking or weakened psychological and mental abilities. To give an example: A person with lack of self-confidence could change this fundamental feeling by specific training of the pectoralis major and deltoid muscles – with a strong chest and wide shoulders it is very unlikely that you feel pessimistic, depressive, down-hearted, hesitant and timid for more than a short while.” –Achim Eckert, M.D. (taotraining.at).
My bible to this theory and practice is Body Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Psychological Functions of the Muscular System by Lisbeth Marcher & Sonja Fich. The crazy thing is, that all my psychological and emotional weaknesses are related to weak muscles that also happen to make me injury prone! The more I train my weak muscles, the stronger I become emotionally and psychologically.
I feel so much of our mysterious limitations and challenges could be simply weakness or tension embedded in muscular dysfunction presenting as psychological & emotional dysfunction. Now, before we go any further I understand that many people have massive trauma and acquired mental issues thru no fault of their own. Yet, I am confident that this work would at least east suffering, and provide an emotional anchor to move forward with therapy and healing. I have spoken with at least a dozen psychotherapists about this theory and they all agree that the muscles physically contain emotional and psychological energy–for good or bad. This wisdom originally came down from Wilhelm Reich, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud.
I desperately seek to alleviate myself of professional bias, yet I feel the movement and therapeutic practices bound to this theory of muscle psychology is the foundation to optimal human being and fast spiritual enlightenment. So long as all the other keys are in place in our life. As we all know, ego can take over when we become fit and strong and this will sadly have the opposite affect. This is why we must train, mindfully.
I hope you have enjoyed my treatise on enlightenment, please leave a comment, I am always looking for dialogue on the matter!