There are many methods that can lead you towards an awakened life.
As my father often tells me, “There are many paths up the same mountain, some more difficult, some more winding, but if you just keep climbing, eventually you will get there”. Yet everyone these days wants a shortcut, and the definition of being enlightened may be different for different people, but one thing I truly believe, enlightened is as enlightened does.
Lao Tzu once said,…
“Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water“. In other words, enlightenment is not so much a destination as a way of being. We are not meant to live out our lives separate from the world. We must instead strive to find a way to be at one with the “All That Is” in our everyday lives.
Through many years of asking questions…
about what enlightenment was, and what it meant for a person to become enlightened. What I found was often disappointing. I’m not into gurus. I tend to graze through prophets and holy books cherry picking the things that make sense to me and leaving the rest. Through all that I am still asking the same questions, but I have discerned a couple of things. One is that there are a few common characteristics to people I consider to be walking an enlightened life. They are to practice discernment (which is finding out how you really feel and being honest with oneself); knowing, (which is finding the rocks on which you stand that echo the truths of the universe); and choosing, which may be the hardest, (the act of acting upon that which we know in the face of overwhelming circumstances).
Let us take these one at a time…
1) Discernment = Knowing how you truly feel and being honest with yourself.
The great teachers of the world did not take a poll to figure out what they believed. They did not ask another, or think about anothers’ wishes to decide what they understood to be true. Instead they turned only to one source, their deep inner knowledge of themselves. Good things just feel right when you do them, right things just feel good when you do them, it doesn’t have to be any deeper then that. The trick is to learn to tell how you feel about any particular thing, and to do so by checking your gut. You do this by looking within and being honest with yourself about how you feel. (For a more detailed description read my article “What is Discernment“).
Jesus did not have to ask anyone to know that deep inside forgiveness felt better than holding a grudge, Mohamed did not have to look outside of himself to know how to love peace, and Buddha did not have to read a book to know that compassion felt better then judgement. An enlightened person takes the time to figure out how they feel before speaking or acting on any subject, they do not “go along just to get along”. Mostly, an enlightened person also knows how to be honest with themselves, they are willing to admit their mistakes and change their behavior.
2) Knowing = Finding the unmovable truths within you that echo the larger truths of the universe.
Knowing is different then faith, knowing is different then belief, knowing is those thoughts and ideas you can count on to be true despite the current circumstances. Science is a wonderful type of human thinking, it works to find the truths of the universe and builds on this knowledge. Gravity may be called a theory but we all know that if you drop something it will fall. If one day you dropped something and instead it floated in front of you this would call into question everything else you think to be true.
Knowing changes as you learn larger truths but there are several underlying universal truths that fit for everyone. (I write about the first three in my article, “What is Knowing“).
The most basic of all knowable truth is that Love is the all encompassing underlying creative force in the universe. If you do not come to know this, all else will be a shade of grey in your life. The good news is that you don’t have to believe me, you can prove it to yourself. As a matter of fact until you do you cannot “know” it.
3) Choosing = Acting on what you now know in all areas of your life.
Choosing is more of a day to day action then a one time accomplishment. Enlightened people are constantly acting upon what they know, they do not hesitate to stand apart or to be judged. They speak, think and act upon what they know and do not waver, even if the whole world stands against them.
One of my favorite movies that outline this is “The Messenger“. It is the story of Joan of Arc. In the movie (as in history) Joan of Arc, facing burning at the stake, originally signs a confession that labels her a heretic. This confession was going to save her life, and in her fear of death she signed it. However, back in her cell she has the opportunity to contemplate what she had done, and in the end she recants her confession and ends up going to her death. She chose to die rather then betray her knowing.
Lucky for us, our every day decisions are not as drastic, yet in my opinion, just as important. We either choose to act on what we believe or we do not. Enlightened people choose to act on what they know without hesitation, confusion, or regret. More on this topic in my article “Above All Else, We are Choosers“. Compromising on what we know in order to get along may be socially expedient, but it has led to a world where we lead disingenuous lives. One tiny compromise piled upon another. The result of which is evident all around us.
There are many attributes we assign to those we consider enlightened,…
great wisdom, great compassion, great deeds. But one thing I know is that enlightened people, both great and small, they practice these truths without thinking too much about it. And as we walk the path towards our own awakened lives may we strive to do the same.