In my last post (Psychotherapy and Meditation: Means to the Same End) I discussed the similarities between therapy and meditation. The conclusion is that they are both beneficial, and can lead to enlightenment. But what exactly is enlightenment?
For the past several weeks I’ve been posting quotes about enlightenment on my Facebook page. In researching these quotes, I found definitions ranging from the simple gaining of education which brings a deeper knowing (applied to anything), to a transformation of consciousness.
Wayne Dyer, in his book, “Change Your Thoughts- Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao”, purports that there are three steps to enlightenment. He says the first is the ability to see how some of the most troublesome times in one’s life were blessings. He reports the second step is “being present in the moment” (p.304) and knowing there is a gift in whatever crisis you might be experiencing. The third step is the ability to sense trouble coming and “neutralize the negative energy because you were in front of it” (p.304). So, an enlightened person is able to frequently head off crisis and discontent.
There are characteristics most who write about enlightenment seem to agree on. Enlightened people are more equanimous. They are present. They are able to see the humor in situations. To varying extents they are able to see through the surface of events and are aware of the underlying currents. As such they are able to keep from getting drawn into the currents of life. They have a diminished sense of self, or ego. They embody compassion. One of the most important aspects of enlightenment is the ability to transcend ones thinking, to see the illusory nature of it. I have discussed this in many of my previous posts (The Truth Will Not Set You Free, The Big Lie, I’m Full Of It, And So Are You).
Returning to Dyer’s second stage, “being present in the moment”, is being mindful. Mindfulness, the ability to be in the moment without judgment, brings other aspects related to enlightenment. Rick Hanson identifies what happens when one develops mindful presence: you become “less identified with pleasant or unpleasant reactions that arise, less caught up in the past or future or sense of needing to make something happen”. As such, mindful presence contributes to other aspects of enlightenment.
Enlightenment is often thought of as an acquired, lasting state. However, at least some writers indicate it is something sought daily, even from moment to moment. In previous posts I have used enlightenment, awakening, and self-actualization interchangeably. Maslow, the psychology theorist who discussed self-actualization as the pinnacle of humanities hierarchy of needs, wrote of it as a process, as a moment-by-moment occurrence. (p.123). Enlightenment can equally be thought of as a process. Certainly, there are those that are far more enlightened or awakened than others. But that should not dissuade anyone from embarking and continuing on the path.
The path is not as esoteric or difficult as people may imagine. As I wrote in my very first post for Psychology Today, if you are present during sex you are already on the path. Certainly there are other activities you are completely present in. Being present is a major step to enlightenment, as well as a characteristic of those enlightened.
The path itself has proven benefits. Meditation, a regular practice of those seeking enlightenment, has been demonstrated to reduce stress and produce brain changes that are lasting, and affect reactivity to stressors. The same is thought of mindfulness practice. The act of attempting to be more accepting, compassionate, and loving, all elements of enlightenment, all produce positive health effects as they reduce stress. Those who are more positive, optimistic, and less stressed have been found to have less health problems, quicker recovery times, and overall less immune system vulnerability than those that are hostile, stressed, and have more negative affectivity.
There are many devices in this day and age that can assist with the path to enlightenment. There are apps (Conscious), online weekly newsletters (Just One Thing, The Academy of Mindful Psychology) and a number of Facebook pages that promise to inspire and enlighten. Becoming more conscious of your goal is the first step. As I’ve written in many of my other posts there are innumerable ways to begin and further your work on the path.
Many writers have insisted the Buddha (or God, or Essence) already exists within you. You are already enlightened; you just haven’t realized it yet. As the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The teachings on love given by the Buddha are clear, scientific, and applicable… Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything.” All we need to do is bypass our conditioning against it.
Copyright William Berry, 2015
Dyer, W; 2007; Change Your Thoughts- Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao; Hay House.
Hanh, Thich Nhat; 2015; The Four Qualities of Love; Retrieved from: https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/the-four-qualit...
Hanson, R; 2015; What is Mindful Presence?; retrieved from: http://www.rickhanson.net/mindful-presence-2/
Maslow; 1967; Self-Actualizing and Beyond; In Goud, N. (Eds), Psychology and Personal Growth, ed. 8; p.123-126