Misconceptions About Enlightenment Or “Waking Up”.
Misconceptions About Enlightenment Or “Waking Up”.
If you think that enlightenment, or “waking up” is an impossible dream that only “happens to” Indian saints or yogis, preferably long dead ones, after many lifetimes of rigorous spiritual practice, or that it is a state where the character is perfected and the “lucky one” rests in a permanent state of bliss, beyond anger and other emotions, bestowing grace and good deeds on all around, especially the poor and suffering, think again… or preferably, don’t think at all – throw out all of these concepts and any others you might have. As Wayne Liquorman (Ram Tzu) once said, “Bring me your dearest held beliefs and with any luck you will leave without them.”
Enlightenment is a bit of a loaded word. It has been used so much that it has built up a massive encrustation of concepts, which lead people to believe a plethora of things about it that stop them from attaining what is not actually a huge accomplishment of the personal self, the ultimate ego trip, but quite the opposite – it’s our basic, essential nature, which, once realised, seems the most blatantly obvious thing that we cannot believe we ever missed.
Ramana Maharshi said two wonderful things that are relevant here, firstly: “You impose limitations on yourself and then make a vain struggle to transcend them,” and secondly: “We think that there is something hiding reality and that it must be destroyed before truth is gained. This is clearly ridiculous… A day will dawn when you will laugh at your past efforts. What you realise on the day you laugh is also here and now.”
Just stop here for a moment, read those quotes again and ponder them properly before you read on…
It has always been “here and now”.
Let’s look at specific misconceptions about this much-misunderstood “state”…
People actually “get enlightened”.
Yes, you read that right. Now, suggesting nobody ever got enlightened seems like an odd opener in a piece on enlightenment, but I think we need to start with this basic misunderstanding, perhaps the one that all the other misunderstandings come from. Nobody’s small ego, or personality, or whatever we feel ourselves to be when in dualistic consciousness, ever “woke up”. What happens is that consciousness wakes up to itself, or rather, that which is eternal and omnipresent is no longer obscured by the false beliefs of the small ego. Nothing actually changes, but what always was is realised to have been there all along. Aargh! I’m trying to explain here what nobody has ever actually managed to explain in words since the dawn of time, so let’s move on to what it’s not…
(Note: I’m going to just go with the limitations of language and still say that “people wake up”, just to prevent the awkwardness of language that happens when people try to squirm around the subject and take on that awful Advaita-speak. Let’s just admit that language is rubbish and get on with it.)
It’s the highest attainment possible for a human – the end of the road.
No, not really. It’s more of a subtraction than an addition. There is no great attainment; more of a letting go of all the rubbish that the mind has constructed. It is very common to hear people saying that their first impression was, “Is that it?”
The actual “common or garden” basic awakening to “what is” certainly is not the end of the road. It’s merely the beginning. Anyone who thinks it is the ultimate has either not awakened or is newly awakened and stunned by it. As time goes on there are far more unfoldings, perhaps way more fulfilling than just the awakening, such as the opening of the heart. That is where the real magic starts.
Awakening itself should never be held in very high esteem lest it is missed/chased away for decades with overzealous seeking.
It is nothing more than a return to sanity. Once there, the real journey begins!
It’s very rare.
Again, no. Maybe it has always been so, or maybe we just have better communications these days, but it seems that there is a tide of people waking up. There is a theory that as the general consciousness of the planet gets less dense, it is easier for individuals to have such a realisation. The internet is absolutely full of people, ordinary people, who have clearly had such an experience and they are sharing it in many and varied ways, all of use to somebody, somewhere. There may very well be a certain percentage who have gained some intellectual understanding only and still decide to speak about it, but most seem to be totally genuine. Judging whether anyone is genuine or not is extremely difficult and a waste of time, usually based in our own preconceived ideas about what an awakened person “should” be like. If they speak to your heart, just listen, even if they wear a suit instead of a robe.
You will be omniscient/omnipotent.
Quite the opposite more likely. You might be confused and disoriented as if you were recently born into a strange new world. You may very well realise the unity of all things, but the workings of all those things on a relative level become even more of a mystery as the old dogmas and conditionings of your small ego disappear, and you realise that you know very little for sure at all. Life might be rather confusing for a while, but after some time, as you surrender more fully to “what is”, that lack of understanding makes life into a fascinating journey of discovery.
You will develop special powers, or “siddhis”.
Perhaps, in time… or perhaps not. Also, such powers or abilities are possible without awakening. Although many awakened people have developed such abilities, either before or after their awakening, it does not in itself guarantee any such abilities any more than it guarantees that you will instantly become a world-class concert violinist.
If you have an interest or aptitude for such things, nature will probably take care of it automatically.
All your problems will be over.
This is a classic misunderstanding. Sometimes your problems increase enormously. Some people have breakdowns, get very ill, or go through enormous upheaval emotionally, financially and otherwise. Mental hospitals are probably full of people who were having an awakening, but due to the west’s misunderstanding of such things, they are treated with drugs instead of encouraged to surrender to it. Often it can take many years for the awakening to make any sense or integrate into everyday life. For some it has been such a shock that they have been almost incapable of doing anything for some years. Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie spring to mind. Even Ramana Maharshi sat around for 26 years or so before he started to talk about it.
Once the state stabilises, because you are not living from the perspective of the small ego, even if there seem to be problems they will not be perceived as any more important than anyone else’s problems, so in that sense there is a huge shift, but the apparent problems can remain.
You will be all holy/saintly.
Not unless you were some sort of monk or supposed holy man beforehand. People tend to be exactly who they were before – the old saying “before enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment chop wood and carry water” applies here. There are, and have always been, awakened people in all walks of life, of all characters. Okay, it can soften the personality as one is not so caught up in the importance of thoughts and happenings, but the basic personality will stay the same.
It brings perfect control of the mind.
Here’s another huge misconception. Waking up has nothing to do with the mind. Okay, it allows you to operate largely from a place that is beyond the mind so thoughts are not so bothersome, but the mind remains the chattering monkey that it always was. I forget if it was Papaji or Nisargadatta who was once asked if he still had the same thoughts as everyone else, and he replied, “Yes, but I just don’t believe them anymore.”
Initially it can be useful to meditate to contact the source that is beyond the mind, but when that source becomes your main perspective, thoughts become progressively less distracting.
You need years/decades/lifetimes of spiritual practice.
Hmmm… I’ve got to say that I just don’t know about this one, but somehow smell a rat in that theory. Now, on the face of it, there are loads of people who wake spontaneously with no spiritual practice at all. Perhaps they have had many past (or more likely parallel) lifetimes where they have sat in Himalayan caves and were just taking up where they left off, two inches from the “goal”, but maybe not. In the end it is all down to a moment of true surrender. Perhaps many years of spiritual practice prior to waking up can prepare the mind and physiology so the “transition” is smooth, or maybe that’s just down to luck or karma too. All I know is that another very common observation of the recently awakened is that it’s NOTHING like they had been led (or led themselves) to believe it was going to be like and didn’t seem to bear any relation to anything they had ever done to “try” to “get” there. Maybe that’s just due to the limitations of words in describing it and being of any help at all to the “seeker”.
However, all the spiritual writings/teachings that made no sense before, or seemed to point to the wrong thing, can seem crystal clear once you have awakened.
You become a teacher/guru.
You might, but then again you might not. There is very often a strong desire to shout about it and tell everyone, but this usually calms down in time. Many do become teachers, but for each one who becomes a teacher or guru, there are probably hundreds if not thousands who don’t and who go about their everyday lives quietly, maybe mentioning their awakening to a select few, or maybe not at all. It’s all down to personality how anyone reacts, not the awakening itself.
Since it is almost impossible to express what it’s like, or give anyone direct instruction about how to “get there” teaching brings its own frustrations, as Adyashanti explains so beautifully HERE.
Everyone will love you and be drawn to you.
Maybe, but probably only people who you haven’t met before. People who know you well are actually far more likely to be sceptical, critical or downright hostile. If you do tell a few friends what’s happened and any of them still accept you, you can be sure that they are true friends indeed, because due to the misconceptions most have about what waking up means, it can be a huge challenge to a friendship, or even a marriage. As far as they understand, suddenly here is somebody you’ve known for years talking like some sort of messiah.
If it was understood as the simple, easy, effortless, natural state that it is, it would be hardly mentioned and would not have much effect on whether people accept you or not. For example, it is far harder and a far greater “attainment” to become a teacher of, say, physics than it is to awaken, so why don’t people get told how full of themselves they are for spouting that knowledge to physics students once they qualify?
It’s strange, as often the most hostility one might face is from those who consider themselves to be “seekers” themselves. Perhaps it’s because they have built up even more of a convoluted wrong impression of the awakened state than most. It’s a shame really, as if they considered for a moment they’d realise that they would also face hostility if they attained their dearest held “goal” and told people about it. So what’s the point aiming for it? Crazy!
Any hostility towards the awakened comes purely from a misunderstanding of what the awakened state actually is, which is the reason for this article. In the meantime, luckily, stoning, burning at the stake and crucifixion are relatively rare, at least in the west, so the awakened can relax in the knowledge that the worst they will suffer is probably piss taking and criticism.
He/she can’t be enlightened because he/she drinks, smokes, eats meat, has sex, swears, hasn’t meditated enough, talks about it, gets angry, can’t fly, is a total wanker… (insert your own dogma here).
Interesting one this. It’s all down to our idealistic vision of the guru who behaves immaculately and has attained some sort of enormous “state” beyond the rest of humanity (when actually a lot of those “gurus” also do one or more of those things on the “disapproved of” list behind closed doors). Let me be really clear: IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PERSONALITY OR BEHAVIOUR. One cannot judge anyone’s state of consciousness from how they conduct themselves.
You will have no desires.
True and not true (yep, paradox again!). While it’s true that your desires for material possessions and power might (or might not) be lessened, another form of subtler desire can creep in, and to your benefit. Desire in the moment, the practice of following the next obvious thing to do, is very different from future desires consuming you and taking you out of the present. It’s like your desire window becomes narrowed down to leading you to things that are better for your evolution if perhaps less useful for filling your bank account with money or your garage with Ferraris. If you maintain a healthy desire for something that might seem “unspiritual” to most, that’s okay anyway, as it’s only the human mind that decides what’s spiritual and what isn’t (Rolls Royces are also made of God), and if you are really listening to your intuition, following such a desire might just lead you to a spectacular dharma. We are given desires for a reason: after awakening they might change, but desire in itself is neither bad, nor unknown to the awakened. The ego goes on as always… in the background.
There is a certain order to awakening according to (insert your own dogma) scripture/teacher/tradition.
The tradition I know best, the Transcendental Meditation movement has a certain clear-cut idea about the different states of consciousness: There are seven: deep sleep, dreaming, waking, transcendental (as experienced in meditation), cosmic consciousness (CC), God consciousness (GC) and unity consciousness (UC). It is generally assumed that the journey from CC through GC to UC is some sort of clear linear progression, but they can be all mixed up and come and go in many different ways before they are stabilised. Another important point to make is that the development of any higher state does not preclude any “lower” states. If you are in UC, you can generally still walk down the road perfectly well or make it to the toilet on time.
So if everything’s perfect and nothing matters, what’s the point of doing anything?
Well, we’re back to desire again. We will always have impulses to act as long as we are incarnated in a human body. Whether that desire is to go and sit in a cave or to find a cure for cancer and create world peace doesn’t really matter. We all have our roles to play while we’re here. Awakening does not mean that you turn into a zombie – you may well be far more dynamic and creative than you ever were before. Just because we realise we are all one and everything is perfect, why would we not still want to revel in the experience of the relative? After all, the relative is still part of the absolute. It’s all about integration. Just because a hand realises that it’s part of the same body as the foot doesn’t mean that it will refuse to scratch an itchy toe.
An interviewer once asked Maharishi Mahesh Yogi what the world looked like to an enlightened man (and from now on I paraphrase…). He answered, “Perfect.” The interviewer then countered with, “Aha, well if everything’s so perfect, why are you trying to change the world?” Maharishi replied, “That’s perfect too.”
This is such a common misconception that I have seen “seekers” actually worry about awakening because they think they will become some sort of useless blob of apathy. Don’t worry about it!
You shouldn’t talk about it.
Why not? It’s time to get rid of this taboo. Most of the people who say that you shouldn’t talk about it are people who have some sort of a guru who talks about it, so it seems a little like double standards. The fact that so many “ordinary” people have awakenings these days could be very inspiring to people on the “path” to show that it’s not just mysterious yogis in Himalayan caves. Yes, come on – if you have had a shift of awareness and you feel like talking about it, let people know! Anything that we can do to raise the consciousness of the planet cannot be anything but a good thing. At the rate we are wrecking the planet, we need all the help we can get!
If you doubt that there are awakenings going on everywhere, just listen to or watch the great interviews that Rick Archer conducts on his Buddha at the Gas Pump website HERE.
So how can you “get there”?
That’s the million-dollar question. There is no one way for everybody. In the end, it is just a matter of total surrender and letting go of everything that you have constructed, but surely there must be something that you can actually DO? Well, maybe. I think more than an actual single practice or discipline, it’s down to how much you actually want it. Let it be your total focus and let it consume you to the exclusion of all other desires… and then, one day, let go of that desire too, and voila – it might just reveal itself to you. In the meantime, just follow your heart to whatever seems to call you – whichever teacher, method, non method, self enquiry etc… if you listen to your heart there will always be a next obvious step on the stairs, and somewhere, if you’re lucky, the entire staircase might just collapse.
Sometimes awakenings can come after, during, or even just before a serious illness or mental/emotional crisis. In these cases the total shift in one’s circumstances can rattle something loose and the truth can be seen. This is why illness can often be such a blessing if we stay open. The paradox here (and the subject of awakening is rife with paradox) is that disease can be both the cause of awakening and as a result of awakening, often at the same time.
So if it’s not all its cracked up to be, what practical use does it actually have then?
Well, initially maybe none… in fact maybe less than none, as you might very well be disoriented for some time. In fact you might even have some very difficult times all pile in on you at once, as mentioned before. But the real advantage, which might only come in time, is that once you are living predominantly in the absolute rather than in the small ego, or as the “screen” rather than the film that is being projected on the screen, your “own” character will be less personal to you. This is a huge advantage, as it enables you to see character flaws, stresses, false beliefs etc far more clearly, and therefore you are able to deal with them better. See a wonderful explanation of this screen analogy from Rupert Spira HERE.
Of course you don’t need to be awakened to work on emotional and character issues that might be causing stress and even affecting the physiology, but it will be more of a balancing act that way, as things are still very personal and the danger is that the ego, being so involved, will not be able to see things so clearly, holding onto a “Who? Me? Never!” sort of attitude to your own faults. Did you ever imagine that rather than suddenly perfecting you, awakening actually helps you to see exactly how much of an idiot you are? Well, it does!
Once the stabilisation period is well underway, yes, it does bring peace and generally an end to living in fear, which is the opposite of love. Universal love appears and expands, which is far deeper than you can imagine when residing in the small ego. It doesn’t bring bliss as such but something far more subtle and abiding (bliss is a different animal – something physiological that can result from a reflection of the absolute but it is not the absolute itself). Challenging situations, confrontations or seemingly negative experiences that arise will hold less pain too. As everyone knows, it’s so much easier to see the faults/mistakes in others, but when your primary dwelling place is not your own mind/body, it makes it far easier to be totally honest with yourself… if you so desire. It also makes it easier to be more tolerant of the challenges one faces from others, as once it is realised that others are essentially all part of you, just neighbouring hills on the same landscape, compassion grows exponentially. There is generally less resistance to what is.
Of course, you can just go and live in a cave and ignore all that emotional balancing stuff etc, just like you can before awakening, but for most, the world is not like that, and awakening is a hugely useful “tool” in speeding up evolution in all areas of life, even though it may be uncomfortable at times. Again, the basic awakening is just the start…
So, this site is supposed to focus on health and autoimmune reversal. How is this airy-fairy crap even relevant?
That’s easy – it helps you to accept the condition that your body has and to stop fighting it, which is often the first step in healing. If you really know that you are not the body it is obviously far easier to accept that the body is going through some hardships and not add to that by stress and panic. Most importantly, it leads to a state of flow and acceptance, so all mental and emotional attacks on the body stop. These attacks are the root cause of autoimmunity, because as they persist over the years, often almost imperceptibly, eventually the body follows suit and starts to attack itself in a myriad of different ways depending on the type of emotion and your genetic weak spots. Stop the attacks at a subtle level, and in time, like a large ship slowing gradually to a halt, the grosser level – the body – will also calm down and stop attacking its own tissues. As the deeper peace and universal love grows, it feels like the subtlest yet most powerful ointment, seeping into every cell of your body and letting it heal itself.
Then the war is over, and the body can finally begin to clear the battlefield.
P.S. I knew that somebody was going to ask me about my experience, and I planned that I’d just ask them to ask me privately, to avoid committing anything to print. But my lovely friend Markus asked so nicely that I sat and composed it, and the words flowed surprisingly easily. You can find it in the comments below, starting with “Hi Mark and Mike.”
If anybody reading this has had any sort of abiding awakening, especially if you are keeping quiet about it in case (or because) of adverse reactions from people, please do contact me in total confidence if you’d like to chat. It would be great to meet you. I am particularly interested in people who might have awoken from the TM community in the UK where I live. I’d love to hear your opinions about how TM might have played a part… or not.