You actually are pretty good at being enlightened. It’s just that when you are, you don’t realise you are. If you did realise you were, then you wouldn’t be enlightened anymore. Get it? Seriously. As crazy as that sounds, it’s totally true.
Here’s a couple of the ways we experience enlightenment: Let’s say we’re at a concert featuring a band whose music we absolutely revel in. It’s like a spiritual experience, and sharing it with so many like-minded people causes us to almost feel like the borders between us and them merge in the excitement.
In these cases we often don’t say: I feel awesome. We’ll say: this concert is awesome. That distinction is very important. The latter is egoic. It has a you, judging this external thing called a concert. In the former, you are in the moment and you are strictly describing your experience of that moment. Ideally, we want to avoid judging things we perceive as external to ourselves. We should be in concert with others in an open, moment to moment awareness of the the present, not being a rigid self comparing some external event to other external events.
A second way we experience enlightenment is when we hear a story about, say, a child being killed in an accident and we feel anguish for the parents. The important word there is for. What exactly is the difference between feeling something and feeling it for someone?
The truth is, there isn’t a difference in the feeling. Both feel like anguish. Sympathy is more distant and it’s based in the ego. It’s the act of thinking thoughts that judge someone else’s suffering as unfortunate–even if genuinely so. But in enlightenment you actually experience some of the pain by placing yourself in the other person’s shoes via your consciousness. It’s an experience you’re having, not one you’re thinking about someone else having. When you’ve done this you’ve been in an enlightened, connected state.
Other examples of common enlightenment includes the reason true artists are true artists. Real work generally requires us to be fully present as ourselves. There can’t be a layer of ego or the work will suffer for it. An artist must remove the idea of trying to be impressive to others, so that instead of our ego trying to get praise, our spirit is fully available to create the only thing it can: the work that only we could create.
We all have to stop blabbing the needy I into existence. The world is waiting for us to play out the genius that is our present isness. It’s why athletes talk about loving it when they’re in the zone. By that they mean they are feeling enlightened. They are in that no-me, no-time headspace where we are simply consciousness having an experience, but there is no identity to that consciousness. There is no subject and object. From that clarity and unity comes the maximum performance just like with the artist. Get the ego out of the way and everyone starts to excel.
Everyone will have multiple versions of themselves created by our experiences and circumstances. But always remember, our suffering is attached to our identities. And our identities are merely ideas floating our consciousness. If we’re in pain, rather than trying to stop that pain, we should try to stop our sense of a separate self instead. Because that’s the heart of our problem.
Our belief in our identity is what traps us in a world of needless suffering. We need to think back to when we were enlightened. Maybe it was when we really wanted to clean the house and it seemed to get done in no time. Or maybe it was during the second-last painting we did, or we nailed a song from front to back in that special, hyper-aware way. However we’ve experienced enlightenment, we should take some time to reconsider it. We should meditate upon our own success.
If we study our own moments of enlightenment, we will be reminded of our successes, and we will begin to notice helpful patterns that will help us to continue to live in that blissful state more and more of the time. Because there is no point in waiting for enlightenment to happen accidentally when you can awaken and make it intentional.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.