Friday, March 26, 2010


I had always thought of enlightenment as some sort of terminal goal... something you worked toward all your life and finally reached in later years. Mine was a glowy, far-off, romanticized notion viewed in soft focus with cherry blossoms and soft music and a gentle breeze smelling slightly of spring.

My notion of enlightenment was much like my early notions of love - untested and based largely on assumption and inference... more fluff than substance and more driven by attachments and wants than a penchant for reality or an acceptance of the non-easy.

Today I had a sort of ah ha moment... which was to realize enlightenment is just that: the myriad epiphanies we come to in the often rough-and-tumble experience of our daily living.

From this viewpoint, enlightenment is less of an endpoint or destination, and more of a process or journey. More slow build than fast bang, and typically characterized by fits and starts. We move forward on a wave of understanding... then move backward in the wake of habits, attachments, or emotions masquerading as fear.

What struck me today was how I cannot tell I was lacking in understanding in some area until I get into a new mindspace and suddenly see a much larger picture. I suppose it's a bit like the old adage about knowing you're in love when you get there. I spent years thinking my "in-love" meter was broken - then actually found the sort of love that includes loving someone beyond being "in love"... and finally had that ah ha moment everyone had been talking about.

As my spiritual and personal growth continues to evolve, I keep wondering how much more my understanding will expand in another year of living - another month, another week, another hour, another moment. It's sort of stunning sometimes how much change we can pack into even one second of our existence.

The other thing I realized today was nearly all of my sparks of enlightenment - that sense of being in a new place and knowing things in a new way - are directly linked to a person who (either intentionally or no) served as my teacher.

The young soldier who spoke of his decision to return to duty despite his misgivings about the war. The friend whose hand I held one day in class, who responded to my pained ignorance with incredible gentleness and grace. The monk whose book changed the path of my life 20 years prior to my decision to consciously embark.

My husband, my daughter, my friends, my family, my community, and all the people categorized as stranger who are separate only because I name them as so. I have been stunned lately by how many opportunities we are given - all the time - to evolve. To grow. To change and become better. Better versions of our selves.

I share all of this because I think maybe a lot of people make some of the same assumptions or have some of the same habits I do. Namely, we beat ourselves up for not being "good enough," or not moving "fast enough." Meanwhile, we look far ahead at our notion of where we need to get to, and feel it is so distant, there's no point in even trying to reach it.

Guatama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, said: “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.”

I would add a third: not realizing you are already on it.

May you notice teachers all around you. May you celebrate each moment of enlightenment and trust - even in the darkest moments - you are on the road to truth.

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