During a long car ride home on a Sunday afternoon, while winding through cliffed mountains feathered with rusting, molting trees, my husband and I got into an impassioned conversation about enlightenment. The day before I had explained my journey-into-self to a good friend, and noticed the predicted skepticism. So in our car conversation I argued that although being open about my journey was frightening, and though most people respond only with that awkward head nod and furrowed brow (a facial expression I can best describe as listening to an insane woman complain about the evil squirrel chucking acorns at her from her window), I won’t stop speaking about it because of how uncomfortable—and important—it is. My husband seemed a bit tongue-tied and frustrated, and then finally said, “It’s not that you’re wrong, babe. It’s just that most people don’t want to feel evangelized. When people hear the kind of stuff, they just roll their eyes. Most people are basically . . . cynical.”
Cynical is exactly right. It struck me the way my husband viewed me on the other side of this invisible line: himself with the normal people, and me with the mockable, meditating, yoga-love types. It’s an old trope, perpetuated by hippie costumes on Halloween, by stereotyped characters in every TV show. The “enlightened” person who just rambles about love and peace and oneness, who has lost touch with all reality. He didn’t realize that I knew all about this cynicism, that at one point in my life I was the first to mock. He didn’t understand that my complaint wasn’t that my friend was skeptical. My complaint was that I didn’t know how to show her she didn’t need to be.
Because everybody is seeking enlightenment. They just may have other names for it. Everybody skims articles on self-improvement, studies successful people, buys self-help books, etc. Nearly everybody is looking for better or more, because nearly everybody is—at heart—not happy. Whether it be via Oprah, Soul Cycle, NYU, or Jesus, the emphasis is on making oneself better. Needing to be better means we’re not enough right now. We seek the betterment because we innately trust that being enough lies dormant inside us, and we hope all it takes to awaken it is a quote from Oprah, a hot bod, a master’s degree, or a sense of faith.
So here’s what “enlightened” people know:
You don’t have to be anything, because the fact that you are alive is enough.
That’s it. But it is by no means an easy thing to grasp, or accept.
And that’s also why you’re cynical.
Enlightened people have (or are beginning to, like me) figured this out. And for me, when I started to realize that this is the truth, I experienced the closest thing I’ve felt to true bliss. It’s the state of being free of meaning, or as I mentioned before, purpose. Enlightened people know that getting their Oprah-inspo, six packs, MBAs, or Bible verses won’t bring them closer to betterment—perfection, because they are already there. The journey, then, is how to shed all the shit that’s covering it up. Thus the misconception is that enlightened people encourage us to relinquish our lives, to accept being awful, to give up our dreams because we don’t need them; so why don’t we all just frolic in the leaves and live like cavemen? On the contrary! You do need to choose a life, to nurture the good in yourself, to live your passion. These are the tools you have with which to dig for the fulfilled, best you that you can sense already inside yourself.
And your cynicism is correct, it’s natural. We fear death. Every aspect of life is predicated on that fact of humanity, and giving into this thing enlightened people know feels like a sort of death. It feels like denying your individuality. It feels like tossing away all the tiny facets of yourself, and worse, giving up on your dreams. It’s a primal fear, and it’s disguised in your mind as skepticism (one of the ego’s cleverest, most successful ploys). Your ego must undermine it for its survival. If you are enough, right now, then what do you need an ego for? And being ego-less does not mean being self-less. In fact, it’s by gently pushing the ego aside that your true Self emerges. (Another thing enlightened people figure out.) This is not a judgement, and certainly not an attack. I was there. I did it, too. But the enlightenment came upon me suddenly and vibrantly, and I feel deep sadness for the tortured, unhappy person I was before it.
And that’s why I won’t stop talking about it. Because I couldn’t possibly go through the world knowing how glorious it could be and not share it. Because I want so desperately for everyone to be here with me, to be lit in that glory. That is how we are meant to be. The striving—nobly but futilely—towards the exterior “better” is a sort of cancer that has touched all of us. And I believe, with passion equal to your cynicism, that we can all get there, we can all heal. One person at a time, we can all be enough.
Photo by Christopher Chan