Our spiritual ancestors tell us that we don’t need to try and attain enlightenment, all of us are already enlightened. In the absolute world where all separation isn’t real, there is no one more enlightened than you or I. And there is no one less enlightened than you or I. This is no less true in the relative world, where separation appears real. However in the relative world of self and other, there are different layers of belief in our ideas about enlightenment and delusion. The veil hiding our inherent joy in the freedom of our true nature obviously appears much denser and solid in some of us than in others.
I was having a private discussion with senior dharma teacher Reb Anderson about this very topic some years ago. I mentioned that when contemplating how to further deepen others’ realization, I was aware of a tendency to want to measure where I’m at, to measure how much can I be of help? He replied that right there, in that attachment to wanting is an attempt to unenlighten your Self. Sometimes it can be helpful to reframe our selfish obsessions as attempts to unenlighten ourselves. This simply means we’re deeply conditioned to continually attempting to control and interfere with the divine life force always living in and through us, calling us home. Clinging to these self conscious attempts to control is what obscures the clear realization of our inherent freedom; this clinging is an attempt to unenlighten ourselves.
I was grateful for Reb pointing out to me the need to deeply contemplate and be aware of the components and implications of that self conscious wanting I was expressing. He pointed out that it is good that there was an awareness of the tendency. The pure awareness of the tendency is witnessing the wanting from a place that isn’t attached to the wanting, from a place that isn’t attached to the results of that wanting, from a place willing to just let the wanting be what it actually is. So the inquiry becomes what is the wanting really? What is the attachment to the wanting, and what is helpful as well as harmful about the attachment?
These are big questions, and any conceptual answers I talk about here are only true for me, they are only true in my mind. And they are only true in the minds of you reading them. They won’t necessarily be helpful to you. The main point for me is that it is important to be willing to more fully enter the questions, to allow ourselves to be more fully absorbed in the questions that are most relevant to each of us. This doesn’t mean becoming fully absorbed in the conceptual content of the questions, but to become more fully absorbed in the actual life of the questions which is free of all conceptual content. Excessively clinging to the conceptual content of our deep questioning is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of the questioning, is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of our spiritual inquiry. We learn to allow the questions to stay fully alive by gradually surrendering to the aliveness of our yearning, to our joy and sorrow, and learning to trust that our spirit of inquiry is divine spirit calling us home.
It is usually much easier for us to welcome our joy than it is to welcome our grief that comes up from absorbing ourselves in the aliveness of the big questions. We learn that attempting to cover up and deny our suffering will eventually lead to rude awakenings, and the more energy we put into denial, the more frequent and ruder the awakenings become. When we learn to be willing to embrace our grief, by just offering it to the mystery, offering to a higher power, we begin to realize that the deepest root of our suffering is a profound sadness from the overall felt sense of being separate from our natural expression of unconditional love and acceptance. We begin to deeply realize that underneath all of our neurotic desires, is the desire for wholeness; our deepest desire is the desire for the innate wholeness we actually already are.
The great Indian saint Anandamayi Ma said the following about our willingness to yield to the Divine calling within.
When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, spiritual philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby every single knot is untwisted. One is stirred by deep yearning: “How can I find Him?” As a result of this, the rhythm of body and mind will grow steady, calm, serene.
Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.
Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.
But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) She holds out her hand and calls you, come, Come, COME!