Rehabilitation of a Yogi: Making Sense of Enlightenment
August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
Hey, anyone feel like getting enlightened today? Heard about it, want to give it a shot? Try it out? I say, go for it. Not me, though. Not this morning.
I’m feeling kinda cranky and wiped out from last night. It was fun and all, but this morning I’m just not up for enlightenment. I’ll get to it tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll get more sleep and have time to do some yoga and meditation in the morning so yeah, tomorrow’s good for enlightenment. Today, I’m cool with my cuppa coffee and the left-over pizza. Today, I’ll get by without enlightenment. But don’t let me stop you. In fact, I’ll share some of my thoughts on the subject while we’re at it. And why not? You think it takes a PhD to talk about enlightenment? Does it take a year living in a hut in the woods? Nah, come on. What do those jokers know about life anyway?
Maybe enlightenment is like sobriety. Before you get there it seems all woo-woo, scary, confusing and suspicious. But once you’re there it’s really not all that different from before. Like the old adage “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
So what’s the point then, if nothing is different?
See, enlightenment is not like the images we’ve seen, angels singing, feet lifting off the ground, a beatific smile spreading on the face of the martyr, the glowing halo… That’s the child’s version of enlightenment. The real thing takes work. And it’s not like you get it once and you’re done. Enlightenment is not one big thing. It’s a lot of tiny moments of awakening that get closer and closer together until eventually they become the fabric of life itself. Living in love, flowing with life, continuing to come back again and again to the present eternal spotless shiny moment. Whether the moment is brushing your teeth, making love, writhing in pain on a stretcher, standing in front of a closed door, looking at credit card bills, wishing you were someone else somewhere else – in each moment enlightenment is right there, close by, always ready and available.
We practice coming back to the breath in yoga and meditation. We practice placing attention on the felt-sense of the body. Why are we practicing, and what are we practicing for? Is it for sexy abs? Is it for good posture? Is it so Grandma doesn’t squint and mumble “Did you gain weight”? Is it so we don’t freak out at Grandma “No, goddamnit, I haven’t gained any weight! I’ve weighed exactly the same for the past three years. Can we just drop it already?!”
We practice so that during the challenging moments off the cushion we may remember our training and come back, gently, resourcefully, swiftly, easily (or grudgingly, fumingly, abruptly, crankily) to presence, to the senses, to the breath. Coming back to our senses is a tiny step toward enlightenment. But since enlightenment is so very close, a tiny step is all it takes. Awake, aware, in touch, in the flow, in the Zone… those are all code words for enlightenment.
Does an enlightened person feel jealousy, anger, sadness, envy, depression, lust, hope, longing, despair and all the rest of the myriad of human emotions? Well I don’t purport to be any kind of expert but I could venture to guess that yes, she does. The stuff of life remains the stuff of life, but what changes perhaps is the way one relates to that stuff. An enlightened person may experience an emotion such as anger but he won’t get hooked by it, he may choose not to go on that ride. A Buddha can allow the emotion to be what it is without connecting it to a story line, without following up on it. Or maybe an enlightened person would freak out like anyone else. And then laugh about it. Do enlightened people freak out?
Emotions come and emotions go. Such is the nature of impermanence. Understanding that truth deeply one may choose to act from love (pure unconditional maitri/loving-kindness) and wisdom (prajna, seeing deeply into the truth of things as they are). Enlightenment is awakening. An enlightened person lives awake, in each moment, with each breath. And the good news for us is, as Shakyamuni Buddha pointed out, each of us has the capacity to wake up, to reach enlightenment. All it takes is practice.
Contact me with questions. Thank you for your comments.