One of the things that I notice a fair amount of confusion regarding is the nature of enlightenment, and enlightenment experiences.
Picture a sky above you. For a moment, the clouds part and you recognize that the true nature of the sky is a clear blue. This is enlightenment.
But for most, the clouds come back in and the experience is only temporary. We then identify with the clouds– with our emotions and traumas and experiences here– yet again.
For most, the experience of spiritual awakening is a removal or release of clouds, gradually or quickly, so that the sky goes from dark storm clouds to grey and then to dark storm clouds again, occasionally with some blue peeking in.
This is not a linear progression, but often an experience of seeing close to our true nature, or even having an enlightenment experience, as a momentary flicker, and then flickering back to our everyday reality, or our ordinary state.
In The Spiritual Awakening Guide, I liken this to an elevator. That elevator can go out the roof, it can go up to one of the top floors, but what is important is where our baseline is– where that elevator goes back down to once that temporary experience is over.
This is actually the intended meaning of the phrase dark night of the soul, coined by St. John of the Cross, who described seeing the ultimate beauty and revelation of his true nature/enlightenment and then found himself in deep despair as the elevator came back down (or said clouds came back, to mix metaphors).
The temporary enlightenment experience is then a road map. Once we experience something directly we give it validity, we have a model and a map. We work off of models– this is why representation is so important in our popular culture. If we have not directly experienced something, we either will deny it or not believe it is possible.
But a lot of people tend to believe that they are enlightened when they have had an enlightenment experience instead.
Moving beyond the illusions that “enlightened” is simply the trendiest thing to be and so people desire to label themselves as such, something that hypothetically would confer superiority to such individuals grasping towards it (which is a bit of a cosmic joke in that this is one of the games that the ego-mind plays) and beyond the charlatans relying on NLP, on charisma, or on sheer fakery or delusion to become gurus, are people who simply misunderstand this concept.
This is why education is so important, as is a physical teacher, because when I had my first enlightenment experience my teacher told me that it wasn’t a big deal and that I should simply switch the meditation that I was doing because I was ready to do so based off of this experience.
The difficulty with an experience like this is that when the clouds come back, it is easy for the ego-mind to grasp onto the experience, and to play its tired old games of superiority/inferiority, of competitive spirituality, of believing oneself to be much further than one actually is on the spiritual path.
Those clouds are our ego-mind, and it plays these games to keep us who and what we are. Our ego-mind is afraid of death, the death of the known self, and it will play the same games each and every single time and the wounded aspects of ourselves, those that never feel good enough or were not heard/seen appropriately at the time of trauma, will grasp onto any notion, no matter how delusional or illusory, to prove themselves superior.
If an enlightenment experience is had, what that means is that training of the mind is necessary. This means meditation over a long period of time. I do realize that people do not like to hear this in the modern world, but the purpose of meditation (mental training) is so those experiences can lengthen and stabilize, and someone can go from having a singular experience to some level of permanency. Such permanency is almost impossible to have unless mental training over a lengthy period of time occurs.
What happens if those clouds part and we are mentally-emotionally unwell, or our elevator is baseline near the basement floor, is that we will take such experiences and become reactive to them. Our lives become dramatic, chaotic, and we grasp onto how difficult the spiritual path is. The spiritual path is quite difficult, there is no denying that, but there is a difference between pragmatically saying that and reveling in that fact, in using it to further romanticize those clouds and to stay stagnant within them.
There are two ways to mentally train. Similar to physical exercise, our minds require mental exercise because otherwise we will always identify with those clouds.
The first is well known these days. This is releasing what is within the contents of the mind. This is where most people should start, as our minds are quite chaotic and full because we have never really learned how to clear them. While sleep does this to a certain extent (takes out the trash, so to speak) our minds are so jam packed that we simply cannot release all of the noise in our heads without meditation.
This can be progressive relaxation (one of my favorites) or the ever-popular present-moment awareness (such as Thich Nhat Han’s washing the dishes to wash the dishes, and being with each dish) to some of the popular Zen meditations of watching the breath and identifying with the breath, or of putting each thought that comes by on a leaf.
The second would be mentally focusing, or self-inquiry. Once the mind begins to clear, we can begin to understand the nature of the mind. Eventually this allows for perspective– famously coined by Ramana Maharshi as no longer being an actor on a screen, but of being the projectionist (or of even being the space in between the frames of the film).
This can be done by single-point focus, such as in some Tibetan meditation methods where they picture a huge amount of deities and what they are all wearing (how many arms they have, etc). Or in some occult methods, looking at an object in front of you with half open eyes until you can describe everything about it. It sounds odd to do this with a comb, or something quite simple, but it is much harder than it seems.
The other method which is not well known is self-inquiry. This is really delving in deeply within ourselves to understand our motivations, to know how and why thoughts emerge, to heal and catch ourselves up to present day. Unless we understand how and where (such as, from what age, why we believe what we do, the underlying trauma behind it) our thoughts arise from, and until we have perspective from the ego-mind, we will always identify with it, and identify with our wounded and illusory selves.
It is by questioning our motivations, by healing our wounded and traumatized selves, that we can begin to understand the nature of the mind, and those clouds begin to part (or that elevator baseline goes up a few floors).
This method is incredibly profound, and for those of you looking for a self-inquiry method, I am obviously biased towards my The Body Deva book, as I created it as a method for people spiritually awakening (in which the contents of our psyche come forward, whether we want them to or not, we need some method to process them, and this is what this book was borne from).
Both kinds of meditation, or mental training, are important.
If we solely focus on the first one, we may become quite shiny (our auras) but we lack any sort of depth. This would be like looking at the sky and seeing those clouds quite clearly, but such clarity does not mean that those clouds are going anywhere.
If we focus solely on the second, we may find ourselves delving too deeply, such as what happens at some of those meditation retreats where individuals are overwhelmed by all of those clouds coming forward and lack the clarity and training to be able process them all, or to see clearly why they came forward.
Both types of meditation allow for those clouds to be seen for what they are, for them to release, and for that sky to progressively and gradually become permanent. This means enlightenment– the permanent clear blue sky.
As one last thing, I will again point to the fact that although many people claim enlightenment, or believe they are enlightened after those clouds parting briefly, that those in a state of permanency are quite rare, and if you are looking for a teacher or guide out there, to look for someone who is well aware of what they need to work on, those clouds that remain. Otherwise the likelihood that you are participating in an illusory game, or reenacting a loop (either karmic or simply the repetitive games of the ego-mind) are really, really high.
Always look for the person who points to their humanity, and who understands that their purpose is to simply assist you to see the sky, a sky which is simply underneath those clouds.