“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.” – Alan Watts
What is it that a monk learns after 30 years of meditation? What does enlightenment feel like? Is it really a thing? Can I be spiritual enough without meditating that long?
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon over the past few months with people who’ve recently begun considering themselves “spiritual”, but are seemingly more upset with their lives than before this label. Perhaps in a sense, ignorance really is bliss, but that’s not quite the whole story either.
I. Before Spirituality
A person lives their 9 to 5 life with some level of satisfaction, and a level of acceptance for the rest. This is often accompanied with a subconscious seeking of distraction from everything that is unknown. For instance, the person who watches television during all of their free time after work, believing “I’ve earned it after working for 8 hours and commuting for another 2!”. This argument is not inherently right or wrong, but of course feels correct to the one making it. It gives an individual the means to not need to deal with problems they aren’t sure how to solve, such as with their partner or children. Instead, these things are ignored and left to simmer in the background until the tea kettle blows in some form or another.
II. During Spirituality
One day in the scenario above, let’s say the tea kettle blows and leads to divorce due to issues that weren’t being dealt with. Now let’s say one of these people realizes that ignoring a problem for too long causes a lot of pain, and decides to turn to spirituality to learn more about themselves.
Along the way the person discovers they have a hundred different limiting beliefs, isn’t a heart-focused entrepreneur, should be eating vegan, isn’t meditating enough, doesn’t have the morning routine of a winner, isn’t following their passion and isn’t hanging out with successful people enough.
Everything becomes broken down, analyzed, re-analyzed, and over-analyzed. Is life really supposed to be this complicated?
III. The Next Stage
For 99.967% of human history (totally a legit statistic) humans worried about very few things. Get food, eat food, make love, don’t die and sleep. Existential crises are born from cultural influences. When we began to farm, we established the difference between “my land” and “your land”, and more layers of hierarchy developed. Women had to be virgins in order to guarantee the children of farmers would inherit their land, and there were not a lot of other ways to prove it at the time. (You could make a religion out of this) Along the way, we successfully invented new ways to be insecure about everything.
What appears to be the most common realization from people who meditate for a long time? That a lot of the things they used to worry so much about were actually irrelevant. This is similar to the realizations people have on their death beds, that they can’t believe they spent so much time working, worrying about things that never happened, and not spending enough time with their family and friends.
IV. Practical Enlightenment
I consider Practical Enlightenment to be the most effective way I’ve found to make use of the insights of life-long meditators and those on their death beds. It is only ego that says you are more enlightened if you meditate more, eat vegan, and follow your passion. This is a “solution” discovered with the same thinking that created all of these problems in the first place.
Practical Enlightenment is not a way of thinking or an act of doing, it is a place you operate from. I know this will take a little bit of explanation, so let me get into it.
When you watch TV in order to avoid dealing with your partner, the place you’re operating from is one of insecurity, fear and doubt. There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV, or even binge watching TV. You may say “Oh, but someone might be binge watching TV all day, everyday, surely that’s wrong!”, and in some sense you are correct. Though they would certainly be operating from a place of insecurity to lock themselves up that much, or they happen to be watching a show they absolutely love, which is at worst an occasional thing.
If you’re a minimalist vegan who sells hand-made bracelets and donates 70% of the profits to feeding children in the third world, you aren’t necessarily more “enlightened” than a person who works 9 to 5 and spends their evenings partying each night. Both of these people can be operating from the exact same place. Only ego decides “I am helping the world, therefore I am better than others”. Does that really sound like the enlightenment you’ve been seeking?
V. The Place
The place you should aim to operate from is not something you develop, it is merely your default state. When you are not operating from a place of insecurity, fear, doubt, or any other such thing, then you’re able to be naturally joyful, confident, and loving. When you don’t have an identity tied down to personally fixing the world or going to dance at a club, you can do both from that place just as easily.
This process is effortless, there is nothing to do, there is only the awareness to notice why you’re doing a particular thing. When you allow your natural instinct and drive to take over, you’re no longer scrambling to find the truth, and you can personally come to the same conclusion as those who have meditated for lifetimes. It’s supposed to be easy, and it is, only the ego and the thinking mind try to make it hard.