What is ‘enlightenment,’ really?

Here’s a new quote I just added to my Favorite quotes page:

One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it. ~ Charlotte Joko Beck

Courtesy of Tricycle Daily Dharma. Click here to link to an interview with her in which she shares more about how to practice.

For more quotes from Joko Beck, click this link to read what I posted right after her death.

If you could experience enlightenment every day, would you?

Note: There are just a few spaces left in this workshop, which is limited to 30 people.

~~~

I am going to be attending a workshop September 28-29 in Austin, and I’d love for it to fill up. This workshop is for people who are interested in enlightenment (or maybe just deeper well-being), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), or both. No NLP experience is required.

Connirae AndreasThe teacher is Connirae Andreas. She’s got her own Wikipedia page here. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a psychotherapist, writer, and trainer in the field of NLP whose impeccable and compassionate work has helped many thousands of people suffer less and enjoy life more.

She and her sister Tamara Andreas created, developed, and trained people in a process called Core Transformation (described in the book Core Transformation: Reaching the Wellspring Within) that can take you from a problem state to a state of expansion and resourcefulness. Many experience their spiritual core in this process.

I’ve enjoyed taking people through this process so much, I offer it for free. Contact me if you would like a Core Transformation session in Austin.  

Connirae has been working on a process for personal growth that she calls “the Wholeness Process,” after studying various spiritual teachings on enlightenment, translating them into a precise method that people can adopt into a daily practice, and then working weekly with a small group in Boulder (her hometown) to refine the method.

She’s presenting the workshop to teach this practice in Austin September 28-29. Click the link for details. Keep in mind that the class is limited to 30 people, so if you’re interested, reserve your space sooner than later. She may not be teaching this again, so this is an opportunity to learn in person from the source.

The practice reportedly has benefits such as:

  • resetting the stressed nervous system, inducing deep relaxation
  • increasing one’s sense of well-being
  • helping one relate to others with more ease
  • melting away issues that before seemed like problems
  • accessing natural wisdom more easily
  • increasing creativity
  • feeling more whole and congruent
  • healing difficult, raw emotions
  • becoming more adaptable and resilient

She’s also learned that the practice has been found to relieve insomnia. It can also be used to dissipate pre-migraine auras and help people deal with their emotional hot buttons.

She found that once learned, the practice can take as little as 5 minutes a day.

Connirae wisely doesn’t promise enlightenment, but she does say this:

…if you use the process, you will experience a natural shifting in the direction that we might call enlightenment. The class is practical and experiential, and no beliefs regarding spirituality or philosophy are needed or offered. However the experiences people have at times resonate with many mystical writings and understandings.

Part of “evolving” in this way, is getting more comfortable and “at home” with our vulnerabilities and “weaknesses,” which become increasingly a part of a felt love and acceptance.

I hope to see you there.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

I posted this originally on June 16, 2011. Needing to remind myself of her wisdom, I thought you might want to (re)read her words and appreciate her wisdom too.

~~

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind — as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy — it often doesn’t — but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

The value of confession is that it softens us

Aside

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche (one of Pema Chodron’s teachers) writes:

The gap between ourselves and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas exists because of our own denial, that could not be penetrated by any blessings. But that denial comes from and covers, deep down, a lack of harmony with oneself, a conflict inside, between how things are and how they appear. Having these two in harmony is enlightenment. As we confess, we feel the lack of the aggression and rejection that underlies our denial. A little white light opens up in our being that one day can expand to the vastness of the sky. We can avail ourselves of help from which we were previously blocked. This is why honest and intelligent confession practice is so valued by many religious traditions.

Positive and negative emotions and enlightenment

Came across this quote today from Adyashanti.

It is important that we know what awakening is not, so that we no longer chase the by-products of awakening. We must give up the pursuit of positive emotional states through spiritual practice. The path of awakening is not about positive emotions. On the contrary, enlightenment may not be easy or positive at all. ~ Adyashanti, “

Over the last year or so, I have been slowly coming around to this point of view.

The bliss and joy that meditators can experience are seductive. It’s easy to believe that this is what you should feel, that this is the goal of meditation, to feel good, to feel love, joy, and bliss. It’s easy to desire — and become attached to — positive emotional states.

That’s identification.

We can use EFT to tap away negative emotions, believing them undesirable, wanting them to go away. Yet we experience them. They are part of “life as it is.”

Rather than putting so much energy into avoiding them, I am at the point (most of the time) where I am willing to experience and explore them — the feeling component in my body, the mental component of the story I tell myself, and what’s true.

If emotional states only last a couple of minutes at most, I think I can bear that. Avoiding them gives them power. Allowing them to exist just lets them be what they are, transient conditions of being human and having a nervous system, seeking to make meaning out of what we experience.

That’s disidentification.

I notice I am tempted to add that while I am willing to experience negative emotions and explore them, please, I don’t want too many!

I say feel emotional states when they arise, and notice that they too are transitory. Without a story, what happens?

Pema Chodron advises:

When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort “the detox period,” because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.

Bliss, discomfort, part of the path of accepting what is. 

Lessons from the 21-day Byron Katie challenge

The challenge to focus on The Work of Byron Katie for 21 days was worthwhile. I examined a painful thought that has been a thread running through my life, that my father didn’t care about me.

I subjected that belief to inquiry, and it did not hold up. My father did care about me. I know that deeply now. The way he chose to express it — nonverbally, without physical, verbal, or visual signs of affection, without playfulness, and pretty much without much eye contact or much facial expression at all — was not a way I understood or valued when I was young and first had this thought.

I realize now that he showed his caring by simply being there with his family and not somewhere else, supporting me from infancy through adulthood, reading aloud to his children, helping with homework, and creating order through daily rituals (dinner time, bath time, bed time). He wasn’t really that different from many men who were fathers in the 1950s and 1960s — who had been through sobering times (the Great Depression and World War II). He was not frivolous, not expressive, and a man who had lost his own father at age 9.

I took him for granted.

I did this challenge a bit differently than I initially envisioned doing it. I had thought that I would do one worksheet a day, answering the four questions and doing the turnarounds for 21 days.

That would have been extremely time-consuming. My blog posts would have been quite lengthy, and I fear you, dear readers, might have completely lost patience and interest.

So instead, I worked on one issue, my relationship with my dad, which even though he’s been dead for years, I still felt some tender sensitivity and pain about. I liked doing it slowly and deeply like this. Sometimes at Katie’s workshops, there just isn’t time to really go deep with my own stuff. This was satisfying and memorable. I feel like I got the process in my bones and now find myself asking, “Is that true?” and “What happens when I believe that thought?” Just noticing…

I have turned over that rock and examined the ground under it, the creepy-crawlies, the shadow, took a good thorough look, and then put the rock back and moved on.

Of course there are more rocks to investigate, but I can see that each time I do inquiry, the remaining rocks are perhaps fewer, lighter, and smaller.

And wow. Would I ever like to get to the bottom of how I create my own suffering with my thinking! That would require a lot of discernment. Speaking of which, this great quote on that topic came up today on Tricycle Daily Dharma:

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. ~ Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”

So yeah. Enlightenment comes through examining illusion, that is, using inquiry and discerning the truth. This is how it works in real life.

In filling out the worksheet, I went back to the last years I lived at home, when I was in high school, and how it was then between my father and me. I remembered yearning for his positive personal attention, and it never even crossing my mind to just ask him for it! Because “we didn’t do that in our family,” it wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities back then.

I am so grateful to have busted out of that prison. I’m not sure when that happened.  At some point, I gained the quality of brashness. It usually works, too.

I think it’s a great idea for people to ask for attention when you need it. If the person who is asked can give it, fine, and if not, fine. There are always others, and of course, there’s the self. Doing The Work is a fine way to relate to the self. Quality time.

My relationship with my father, which transcends his death, has expanded. It’s become lighter and broader. I can consider other possibilities for his behavior than the narrow, joyless ones I laid on him.

This opens me up too. My hurting self, the wounded child, has healed (at least about this topic). It’s a memory now, in the past.

After having done the work, it doesn’t matter whether my father did or didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s only a concept, just a theory to explain his behavior.

When I ask, “How do I react, what happens, when I think that thought?” I realize that it just doesn’t matter that much to me. I wonder more how he would have reacted had he known, fully aware that whatever I think is idle speculation, just opinion. It was his business, not mine.

I like to think that if he wanted help with it, which he never asked for, I would have gladly been willing to give it.

Just like he would have been glad to give me more attention, if I had asked for it.

People are like that, aren’t we.

Is maze brightness in rats an equivalent of enlightenment in humans?

I thought you might like to read an excerpt from the book I’m reading in a book group. The book is called Life in the Labyrinth, by E.J. Gold, who is in the Gurdjieffian Fourth Way lineage of teaching awareness expansion.

As a child of thirteen and fourteen, I found my bedroom overrun with lab rats, and more or less as an afterthought — I had no other use for them, not being particularly attracted to vivisection and the like — built a few mazes to study rat behavior.

One item stood out clearly in my observations of dozens of rats stumbling, bumping and sniffing their way toward their final reward as they learned to synthesize experiential data through a primitive form of deduction…or didn’t learn, and nearly starved to death.

I discovered, independently of texts on behavioral sciences, something which I later learned was by convention called maze brightness, which could be defined for the moment as “becoming able to find new paths through the maze toward the reward-point through sheer repetition”, from which we could, if we weren’t overly concerned about how far we could quantum leap, deduce that some rats eventually become aware of the general rules of maze construction, of course only on a purely subjective-instinctive nose-and-gut level.

I discovered through this a special learning process which could enable the rat to solve not only one known maze but virtually any maze it may thereafter happen to encounter by accident or design.

I also concluded, probably rightly, that such a rat would, eventually — having blundered its way through a sufficient number of mazes — in spite of itself, begin to dimly recognize the inescapable fact that it is in a maze and that moreover, it cannot — at least by present means — remove itself to parts unknown.

Once this first all-important recognition has been achieved, without which nothing further is possible in any direction except down, it can begin to perceive and analyze its surroundings as they actually are, and not as its unexamined fears and perceptual occlusions have caused it to imagine them to be.

Because the perceptual-emotional will have, for the moment, been resolved, it will no longer exhibit the compulsion to maintain a self-constructed veil of confusion and disorientation.

One would think the thrill of observing that single rat, which out of dozens, suddenly gave indications of having become aware of the maze would soon pall, but au contraire…the excitement of this simple yet magnificent discovery never failed to strike me as anything less than downright apotheotic*, and any behavioral scientist worth his or her weight in potassium nitrate who says anything different is spouting pure scoria*.

A rat achieves maze brightness, and its eyes seem somehow at once both older and younger; general posture and behavior toward the environment and toward itself show radical signs of alteration. It seems less frantic, more self-assured, and noticeably less self-destructive.

At the same time, one can see visible signs of excitement as a new sense of freedom descends overwhelmingly upon it, the same sense of freedom which humans who have discovered what they call “enlightenment” experience.

E.J. Gold is a good storyteller, and I’ve just ordered two more of his books, Practical Work on the Self and The Human Biological Machine As a Transformational Apparatus. The book group I joined has already read them, so I have some catching up to do.

*apotheosis means to exalt a person to the rank of God

*scoria means the scum left after melting metal

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from an article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available online):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs  adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind—as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

“Activate the best version possible of yourself”

Just a quick post to share something I encountered online today that made a strong impression. The magazine Yoga Journal is holding a conference right now, and someone commented online on a class given by Paul Muller-Ortega on  meditation.

Kelle Walsh included the following two paragraphs in her post:

Instead of turning the comment into meditation versus asana debate, he graciously acknowledged the value of all the paths people choose to come to this place of self-study. “All of the practices are complementary and mutually supportive,” he explained, each offering its own function in creating the conditions to gain access to the deep vibratory silence within all of us.

One of things I appreciated the most from this discussion was Muller-Ortega’s comments about the path of going within not having an end result, the enlightenment so many hope to find. Instead, the purpose and only tangible goal is to activate the best version possible of yourself, and then to live from that consciousness.

Paul Muller-Ortega’s website is called Blue Throat Yoga.