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Image by Tom Adams

“The funny thing about enlightenment is that when it is authentic, there is no one to claim it. Enlightenment is very ordinary; it is nothing special. Rather than making you more special, it is going to make you less special. It plants you right in the center of a wonderful humility and innocence.”

~ Adyashanti (20th-21st century American mystic)


“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.
Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
— Pema Chödrön


“There are no enlightened people! Consciousness awakens to its own nature, “through” the vehicle of a human being. In a way, what you are talking about is personality traits. In some traditions, development of a pure character is part of the practice. In others, this is not the focus. The way awakening is expressed, in terms of action, is influenced by an infinite array of variables. Maharaj Nisargadatta, was known to have outbursts of anger. He also smoked during his talks and sold tobacco for a living. Yet, he is probably considered one of the most deeply and authentically awakened sages of this age. — David Rivers

The human search for purity and the specialness of enlightenment is a wild goose chase, a romantic illusion, not because it doesn’t exist but simply because our ideas of it are so childish. Instead of casting us in the lead role of some spiritual theater piece, it places us in the stream of creation like any other natural being, just living life with a simple joy. That in itself is remarkable, but we’re scanning the horizon for heros so we don’t notice how unusual it is.

If we meet an enlightened one, we’re confused. We keep trying to measure them against our received ideas of what an evolved person should look like. Their personal foibles disqualify them most likely, and they all have them. The important question remains though, can they help you, can they help anyone?

The main task for most of us is to stay in the flow of living a life as yourself while consciously experiencing it. We arrest the flow as soon as we anchor ourselves to conclusions and judgements. It’s a conundrum, a contradiction in terms. We are limited beings watching and learning from our limitedness and therefore becoming less limited.

If we’re interested in enlightenment, we have to let go of our ideas of enlightenment and pay close attention to our actual state of confusion. We live within a ceaseless flow of fictions we attach ourselves to without noticing. Disengaging from those attachments is our first task. Our mind is capable of close attention. That ability can save us in spite of our tendency to seize upon fanciful ideas as if they were lifeboats in a storm. Those lifeboats sink us. Our certainties are lead weights pulling us down.

If that’s our situation, how do we deal with it? It would seem to me that we would do well to be slow to judge, that wakeful attention in the present moment has a lot to teach. It doesn’t feel especially “spiritual” to pay attention like this, without reacting. It feels more like moment-to-moment study. It’s not a “special” state, yet it has effects that contribute to making us softer, kinder, more forgiving humans because we begin to see everyone’s predicament. We develop the ability to forgive. We start to sense the other person’s struggle.

It’s just a way to become a bit more humane and to see how much the world needs humane people. We therefore come upon a way to make our little corner of the world more peaceful and caring. I believe that’s an important discovery.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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