"Enmeshed, entangled, you can still get out unless, poor fool, you stand in your own way."
Far too often do I find myself engaged in a conversation about spiritual enlightenment, and the other not knowing what this actually is. There are many common misconceptions about awakening, and this is the first way the ego keeps us from finding any sort of deep insight. These realizations you can have are extremely threatening to you. In other words its extremely threatening to the self, ego, identity, etc. The core purpose of the self is to survive at all costs. This quality is in pretty much every living thing. It is our will to live that’s making it very difficult to experience enlightenment. This is because enlightenment defies the self, and reality all together. Enlightenment is basically jail breaking your mind. Its not programmed to do this, but you're going to rewire it so that it can. It’s difficult because you’re going against what the self has been conditioned to do, which is to maintain delusion for its own survival. But going against this is essential for realizing the nature of the self. Some enlightenment reports express it as dying before the physical death.
Now lets look at some of the most common misconceptions about what enlightenment is.
Enlightenment isn't real (or isn't possible for a normal human being who is not a profit)
Enlightenment is a belief system
Enlightenment is all about love and positivity
Enlightenment is about finding out who you are.
Enlightenment is learning new things
Enlightenment is a one time experience
Enlightenment is a new state of mind
Enlightenment takes a lifetime of work to experience
Enlightenment is saying bye to the ego forever
Enlightenment has to do with a conceptual afterlife
Please allow me to explain…
Throughout religion there are figures, such as profits, that attain a deep level of consciousness through enlightenment, finding god, etc. This subtly implies that this state of being is only accessible to an extraordinary person. This is not the case. Enlightenment is very much attainable for normal people like you and me. It seems too good to be true. I think this might be because most people are not completely sure what it literally is. To put it in a sentence, its basically deepening your relationship with reality. Experiencing this to a small degree is common among most people. For example, when we overcome a fear, openly express our true feelings, embracing vulnerability, we often feel more in touch with what is. Enlightenment is sort of like that feeling of intimacy, but on a much deeper, profound, undeniable level.
I like to think that religion started from an awakened person with true teachings, and its followers turned it into propositions to be believed in. I think this is why a lot people assume that enlightenment is a collection of beliefs. Spiritual awakening is at the core of a lot of different religions. These very religions also have ironically developed a rigid belief system. And of course, some these beliefs are supposed to assist in awakening. But everyone is different, living from different paradigms, which calls for different techniques. With awakening and belief intertwined it is totally natural to assume that the two are the same thing. But the funny thing is, enlightenment is exactly the opposite of a belief system. Belief is the attachment to a thought. What enlightenment is is letting everything go. Letting go of everything that is ultimately false. Letting go of all beliefs and only concerning with direct experience. Doing this, a deep truth will eventually be revealed.
So many people love to assume that spiritual enlightenment just has to do with love and positivity. But theres more to it than just that. These are two great qualities to experience, and practicing these qualities is definitely a part of the process. But this is merely scratching the surface. Also, experiencing great love and positivity may be a byproduct of enlightenment, but it is not what enlightenment literally is in its essence.
Enlightenment is often referred to as “self discovery.” And this implies that enlightenment is about getting to know yourself on a much deeper level. In a certain sense this is true. But it has nothing to do with the personality. Ultimately, what awakening is is realizing that there was no “you” to begin with. You are an object of awareness. Wouldn't you think that you would be what is aware instead of the subject? The self is just something that “you” are experiencing and enlightenment is transcending the self and reality all together. It is very difficult to express no self, because in explaining it there usually has to be a reference to a single entity. But to conclude, the self is just one part (of many) of your reality. Instead of identifying with the content of your experience, focus on the underlying context.
As a result of my epistemic studies, I like to think that learning is expanding your memory. When we’re in school, we are forced to memorize a lot of content. And most (if not all) of this content was simply told to us. We didn’t derive any of it for ourselves. This is what forms a belief. This entire system is based upon the assumption that we are experiencing an objective reality. But the thing is, the only thing you can ever have is first person point of view. Reality is subjective. What you know is either going to be a belief or a direct experience. Direct experience is the only thing that is true. If you’re told something that may be true, that doesn't mean that it isn't a belief for you, because you haven't experienced it. Blind acceptance isn't truth. What enlightenment literally is is expanding your awareness. Encompassing more of direct reality.
One of the biggest, most common, misconceptions I’ve seen and heard of is the idea that enlightenment is a one and done experience. You have this incredible realization and are forever changed into a perfect person, without a need to do any more personal development work. This couldn't be more false. Spiritual awakening is a process. I’ve never heard of there being an end to it. Its a process of recognizing and letting go of the illusions of the mind. Which in turn expands awareness because there is less illusion to block and distort reality. And with expanding awareness, your also discovering new grounds of unawareness. It’s like a bubble. The bigger it gets, the more it encompasses, and at the same time its reaching new, untouched areas. In the past, I’ve had the opportunity of being in the presence of a deeply enlightened master (which is a spiritual experience on its own). Even he is still working on himself, and deepening his relationship with reality.
This is why I sell shirts that say “Stay Curious.” When we think we fully understand, we’re putting a cap on our limitless awareness. False assumptions are what puts our development on a pause, or in most cases, a permanent stop.
This is another very common false assumption; it’s a new state of mind. Enlightenment is not discovering a new state of mind. Its actually not discovering anything new at all. It is realizing what has always been there. It’s profoundly simple and obvious. Although I do say that enlightenment is accessing a deeper way of seeing reality, this point of view goes far beyond the mind. It changes the way you see your states of mind, instead of identifying with them. The problem most people have with this work is that they’re always looking for something. Looking for the core of their being. But whatever you may find is always going to be an object of awareness. Instead of looking for something, focus on the looking itself. The pure awareness, or as stated above, the context.
When I used to hear the word “enlightenment” it would bring up certain images in my head. Images of buddhist monks meditating all day, and stuff like that. Many tend to think that awakening takes a lifetime of hard work to experience, or is only possible if you sit in a cave for 30 years straight. But this is just an idea. I didn’t know what all of this was, and had these kind of ideas in the back of my mind. With this, subtly steering me away from enlightenment, I never bothered doing any actual research. But I later found that having profound realizations into the fundamental nature of reality is not as demanding as that. You definitely have to commit to it though. It’s sort of like reality is only allowing you to experience this once you’re really ready for it. You have to show that you mean business, and genuinely want this for the sake of personal growth. Having the initial experiences, and coming to these realizations is the easy part. After that you have to practice the embodiment of the realizations and live from the deeper truth that you have realized. At least, you have to do this if you want to take it deeper. And this is why we tend to think of monks intensely training. They want to live in the enlightenment point of view 24/7.
A lot of kids these days are talking about “ego death.” How spiritual awakening is ego death, or how you can experience it on certain psychedelic drugs. Ego death is one of the enlightenment realizations. But when I hear this, it seems as though ditching your sense of self forever is being implied. Just imagine that you had no sense of being a separate individual at all. You probably wouldn't do much (key word “you”). There wouldn't be a “you” to do anything. You couldn't feed yourself, clean yourself, go to work, or anything else. Because there wouldn't be a sense of “you” to do it. This wouldn't be very productive. When we have realizations regarding letting go of the self, it is usually temporary. We transcend ego, then, sure enough, the ego makes its way back. This is why we hear about monks doing intense training. Because to live from these experiences all of the time is easier said than done. But ultimately, you are not saying bye to the ego forever. Its just that you don't need to rely on it as much. You need your ego point of view for certain things. And you need the “awakened” point of view for certain things as well. After all, enlightenment is just gaining access to a variety of different ways to see reality. Each one as undeniable, and truthful as the next. But in order to be a complete human being, we need to learn to use all ways of seeing things to operate in life.
Lastly, we have the misconception of awakening being an insight into what happens to us after death. I think I already made it clear that this is not true. I don't know what happens after death, and at this point I don't really care. All I know is, what we really are isn't the thing that dies. Life and death are objects of awareness. It’s not about gaining more and more conceptual ideas. It’s authentically realizing what is really going on here with this experience of ours.
So I hope this was helpful and cleared some things up for you. Making false assumptions about enlightenment is the first pitfall. And there are many, many, many pitfalls to watch out for. If you decide to go on this path, or just dip your toes into it to see what it’s about, be very careful. Don't take the ego lightly, because it is extremely tricky to deal with. In the beginning stages, it is a dramatic irony situation. Where the ego knows more than you do. But if you stick with it, with seriousness and sincerity, you can flip the situation on its head. By letting go of all “knowing,” you can transcend the ego.
It is also important to learn from many teachers. Every teacher has their own way of putting this, and their own approach all together. By taking truth from all angles we can reap as much growth as we possibly can. Instead of knowing reality from just a few points of view we can keep evolving. As stated before, never assume that you’ve reached the end. Keep growing.
Thank you for reading