I’ve had a lot of acquaintances take my course, but very few friends, and absolutely no family. The acquaintances find that strange, because they notice a very big difference in their lives and they assume that friends and family would have been first in line for that change themselves. But because the students are looking at it from a non-ego perspective, they forget that there are very obvious ego-based reasons why that would not be the case.
Firstly, family and close friends have the longest running relationships with us, so they know us. If you’ve shifted they know the old you. People we’ve known a long time have an idea of us that is historical. We do this to them too when we think about them in ego. I recently wrote a blog post about how all families do this.
Identities are ideas. And we form those ideas very early when we meet people, and we’re generally not very good at adjusting them over time. And that’s because we’re watching for what we believe instead of just being openly aware. So just like my students, I’ve made enormous shifts in how I perceive reality, but that would entirely invisible to anyone living in ego, especially those closest to me.
The second reason they wouldn’t look for that sort of wisdom within me, or you if you change, is connected to how people elevate the idea of spiritual development. Contrary to what turns out to be true, most of us thought or think (I used to too), that it’s the highest of achievements, and therefore anyone who does it must be of the highest order.
None of us likes it when people are a lot smarter than us, richer than us, more popular than us, or more spiritually developed than us. We’d rather think that it actually isn’t true. We’d rather think there’s a catch…. Precisely because people mistake what being enlightened means, they often believe that they have evidence that another person isn’t. They imagine something loftier, and less average. More like the bald Zen Asians from movies.
Those who’ve taken this path eventually come to realise that the big realisation isn’t so much AHA! I’ve found the secret! as it is a head smack of your forehead and an oh you’re kidding me, it’s that easy?!? Leading an enlightened life isn’t difficult. It’s far easier than an egoic one where everyone is always sacrificing their lives to be liked, by giving others things that feed their egos and are not good for their souls.
When you’re clear you only feel stress as much as you choose to; same with sadness and fear. You still have pain. But even that’s just another sensation. It all gets kind of movie-like from an enlightened perspective. But no one floats, you don’t have to be bald, and no one is better than anyone else.
So it’s time we took the shroud off this idea. We should stop talking about it as though it’s unattainable. That’s ridiculous. Anyone can have it. You can learn this when you’re 90. My Dad knows it and no one even taught it to him. He just had a bad Dad so he understands enjoyment and happiness have real value. Every little kid is enlightened. And you can be too. You just have to be humble and learn. Everyone can do the learning part. It’s doing the humble part that’s challenging.
A lot of people play the spiritual role. They adjust how the speak, they trade ancient quotes and dress and decorate the part, but it’s still all posing as spiritual because being enlightened is very very ordinary. Remember, after Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance he used his enlightenment to get a job writing technical manuals for machines. Enlightenment is a simple verb. But it has this weird and wonderful opportunity/responsibility within it. But people avoid the responsibility part like crazy.
People would rather just read quotes and recommend books and hope the Buddha will somehow do the transforming for them. Which is why they would rather try to relate to translated ideas from another language from thousands of years ago, rather than just ask a friend today if he or she knows how to be happier more of the time? And I’m not just talking about me. The students who studied with me two years ago, who’ve been living very consciously since then, could easily be helpful to anyone who would ask. But just like me, they’ll wait for people to ask about stuff like that.
There really is no being wrong in this game. Everyone’s always in. It’s just a matter of whether we realise that or not. So it’s not like enlightened people perceive unenlightened people unfavourably because we all know that even unconscious people still often fall accidentally into a state of enlightenment just as we sometimes take a turn at being our egos every now and again. In fact, the suffering is what reminds us to be peaceful again inside. And it always reminds us of the roller coaster feeling and how bad that would be if you didn’t know how to get off it.
Far from watching others judgmentally, any true teacher would watch the innocence of others egos and learn from it. Everyone is a teacher, and everyone plays a role in this drama of life. And every single person you know gets way more fascinating, even if you’re someone like me and you’ve always thought your friends were fascinating. Everyone makes more sense, and you understand their priorities and values and decisions better. And knowing all of that, you just want to contribute to the success of their life in whatever way they see it. You love them unconditionally. And you can do that even if they don’t love you.
Don’t complicate your journey. Don’t see enlightenment as challenging or difficult. You relax into enlightenment. You let your judgments go and there it is. Just stop talking to yourself inside your head and in that space you’ll begin to take in the present moment. Once you have enough filters down and you’re taking in enough now, you’ll begin to change without even trying. You’ll remember how to be enlightened. And you will become more innocent and childlike.
When you’re enlightened your priorities will change. They will seem strange to others. You will have seem to have lost your drive. They might even say you’re weaker because you’re not so set in your views, or that you’ll change them so easily. But to say that any of those things prevents you from enjoying a successful life is like saying Bruce Lee couldn’t fight because he wasn’t angry. Our power doesn’t come from our emotions, it comes from our peace and clarity.
You don’t need a dust cloud of thought around you to live fully. You can have the ups and downs of a roller coaster, or you can have the expansively winding course of a river through a plain. The choice is always yours. It’s simply a matter of how often you choose to approach things with a quiet mind. That is what allows your true nature to come out.
Go be enlightened. Go listen to the world around you. Have no opinions. No expectations. No judgments. Simply Be. Be for as long as you can. And each time your ego interrupts, just go back to your quiet mind as soon as you’re able. Your spirituality is a verb. Exercise it and it will become stronger than your ego. Because that is the shortest route to happiness there is. And it’s always only one thought away from where you are. That life belongs to you as much as anyone else.
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.