How will I know if I’m living an enlightened life?
Good for you for asking such an insightful question. It takes a certain degree of awareness to have even thought of it. Most people want to know how, but they don’t ask how they can test things after-the-fact, to see if they really got where they were going.
Obviously it’s not easy to define, but enlightenment is a state of mind we can become familiar with. We can only know if we have experienced it after-the-fact, because an enlightened state of mind includes no ‘us’ to be enlightened.
We realize we have been enlightened when we look backwards and realize that there have been times where we have been moving through the world without any judgmental thoughts.
Without the friction of our ego, we become like water and that allows us to flow with and around experiences of any shape or size. But, if we’re analyzing whether we’re in flow or not, then we’re in a state of ego because we’re judging. It’s a paradox, but we can’t be Enlightened and “know” we’re Enlightened at the same time.
That’s how people can routinely be Enlightened without realizing it. Every time we’re engrossed in a movie or song, or laughing with friends, or enjoying someone’s company, what we are really doing is being in that moment fully. The experience is so all-consuming that there’s no space in our minds for our identity.
Breathtaking vistas, cute animals, love, these things can all lead to Enlightened states of mind where we feel no need to defend our identities. We’re so fully absorbed in what we’re experiencing that we don’t even take the time to spin our usual story about what’s going on and how “we” fit into it. We are Enlightened every time we’re having experiences but with no sense of time or self.
Nurture these experiences in yourself. They are profoundly healthy. Actually pay attention to what’s going on when you catch yourself having lost track of time. Was it who you were with, what you were doing, the way that you were doing it?
Don’t try to be healthy by not being sick. Be healthy by moving toward health. Don’t look for what things go wrong and analyze what those results do to your future prospects. Analyze the things that go right and imagine what knowledge will do for your future.
When we’re clear-headed we lower our defences. We quiet our battling, complaining, judgmental, critical, wanting thoughts. We forget trying to advance our ego’s plight in life. As long as we are fully present, we are in an enlightened state of mind. Things don’t even have to be going well.
There have been many accounts of people who were attacked by bears or lions and such, and many who have survived have talked about an odd calm that came over them during the attack. They tend to note that the whole experience made sense.
People saying that is a fairly common occurrence. That’s worth thinking about. There’s someone in the jaws of a lion, and instead of pain they’re in the strange state of mind where they’re simply accepting the idea that the lion is merely being a lion.
Far from just accepting that there is nothing personal in the attack, many will go so far as to note that, given the surrounding facts, it makes perfect sense that such an attack would be happening. Rather than pain they experience acceptance. That’s how powerful our minds are at shifting reality.
In the end, presence equals enlightenment. So the answer to your question is that you can only know if you’re enlightened by looking backwards for all of the signs that you had been present.
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.