Natural Awakenings, hard copy magazine.
USA, January 2014
What is Enlightenment?
The term enlightenment is used very freely in spiritual circles and its meaning is misunderstood in contemporary spirituality. Its original meaning has been modified, and this is confusing to many who are on a spiritual path.
Enlightenment marks a specific point on ones spiritual path from which there is no turning back physiologically. If you have had deep spiritual awakenings and significant shifts in your perception, these are markers along the path. Enlightenment, however, is when a neurological rewiring happens in the brain.
Enlightenment permanently alters the functioning of your brain. For some it happens instantaneously, but for most a spiritual path is followed until this physiological breakthrough happens. How does one know if this has happened? The ability to identify with your thoughts and your body totally disappears. There is a knowing that you are not your body and that you are not a product of your thinking mind. There is a non-conceptual knowing that what you are is prior to all that can be perceived. Many recognise a memory of knowing this during early childhood.
Let's take a look at how the mind works from a spiritual perspective. For the first seven years of our lives we develop our ego. The ego gives us a personal sense of who we are. We mature as we follow a general path to become autonomous and self sufficient. In other words, the ego becomes ripe and matures when we are OK with who we are. Sadly, this is rarely achieved by the age of seven and we continue to bring the ego to wholeness for many more years.
When there is self-love and self-acceptance we are more at ease with the world. This is the first step on a spiritual path - to bring the ego to wholeness. Why? Because when the ego is not at rest in self-acceptance there will always be a neediness and a demanding of love and attention from others. An ego that is not whole will always look for external acceptance, love and confirmation. This is what perpetuates the healing industry. If our early years were rich with love and attention, we would not need healing at all, but this style of idyllic rearing is truly a rare occurrence.
If you can say 'I am lovable and I am capable' and know this sentence to be true, then the healing phase is largely over and there will be an ability to see the inner workings of your mind. When the ego is not whole, it believes that external love and attention will heal it - and it can't! Self-love is actually the way out of a broken sense of who you are in the world. Mind will tell you that external things (love, acceptance, success, notoriety etc.) will bring you some internal rest, but have you seen that this break from neediness only lasts for a short while? The ego will never get enough externally to make it feel whole and completely OK with itself. Only you can give this gift to yourself.
While this emotional work is a direct way to propel your spiritual path, there is a correlating mechanism that is happening in your brain. When the ego is not ripe and requiring attention, the self-referencing mechanism in your brain is most active. Self-referencing is when you have yourself in the center of your world and your thoughts are invariably about you. When there is a story about another, you quickly work out how it impacts on you. The starting point to each day has you as the lead role and beliefs around 'me and mine' motivate most of your actions.
Once you are aware of this, a shift to the impersonal significantly reduces emotional, physical, mental and spiritual suffering. The impersonal is an observing viewpoint where mind is not your master, but you can now see your thoughts and chose not buy into them. Step back and choose not to be the slave of your mind. Mind is a tool for you to pick up and set down. It helps you to function in the world. Believing the constant flow of thoughts is suffering. Seeing them as thoughts requires you to step back into observer mode. Observing has no comment or judgment on what is seen because there is no personal 'you' who is threatened or endorsed by what is happening in each moment. This practice brings great relief. Become the observer of your thoughts and when there is an 'all about me' moment of drama you will be able to find that at the core of suffering the ego is looking for something - usually attention, love, healing and wanting to be right.
Usually when the observer becomes your natural state of mind, you can point mind prior to this viewpoint. It feels like mind or your attention is directed behind the observer. This brings you to an empty state that is somehow rich and complete. Nothing is lacking, all is well and there is undisturbed peace within. When this pure consciousness/pure awareness state becomes permanent and the ability to believe your thoughts dies off, there is a corresponding shift in ones neurology. This is enlightenment. If this shift is not yet permanent, there is no enlightenment. Many confuse the light of the sun with the sun itself and begin to teach prematurely. A spiritual teacher can bring their audience to the level they have attained and not beyond. Traditionally it is said that direct transmission from one who has had the shift is necessary and this is where the Eastern Guru model has its place. Grace and a teacher(s) are necessary to cause this final shift. Ultimately, if this shift is in ones destiny, it will inevitably occur. This is the direct path to freedom.