One of the common misunderstandings about enlightenment or spiritual awakening is that you need a spiritual teacher to get there. This is a problematic idea that unfortunately is a part of more than a few religious and spiritual paths. In the not too recent past, I had someone email a long description about the how the teacher is supposed to transmit some kind of supernatural cosmic energy that will enlighten the student. But this is not how it is. Yes, spiritual teachers such as myself radiate a kind of energy. Yes, we can be tuning forks to help others find their own pitch, but that inner pitch or harmony is still yours. It will emerge into enlightened awareness on its on reconnaissance and at a timing that only the divine will can choose.
Letting Go of the Quest for Enlightenment
For many of you who packed your bags and gave up everything, it is now time to let go of your quest for enlightenment. By now, you’ve sat with many teachers–good, bad, and indifferent–and somehow today you’ve found this blog. Congratulations. I am here to tell you that what you have been searching for all along is inside you.
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard this many times, but unfortunately, you don’t actually believe it. This is not meant to sound punitive in anyway. The fact is that this world really gets us caught up in believing in external influences and forces. We are usually taught to believe that happiness is some place else other than right here and right now, and that’s the very ego programming that has to break down. In many respects, you aren’t ready for a true spiritual teacher in the external world until you no longer are looking for one. Because when you turn inwards, you can now hear your inner teacher, and hearing that inner voice makes it now very easy to work with a spiritual teacher in the physical world. The two kind of work together because you are no longer fighting both of them to try and get some place.
The Evolution of the Spiritual Teacher’s Role
Clearly you can see what most spiritual teachers have to do first: get people to go within. That’s the first and last step, and it’s usually the most avoided step. It’s amazing and sad how much going within for most people is like staring at a big dark scary cave with strange animal noises coming out of it. Most people are like, “What’s in there?” and “It sounds really scary. I don’t want to go in there.” But this is you. This is your own soul. Whatever is in there was put there by you about 90% of the time (I’m leaving a 10% for the random crazy karmic stuff that we carry, but you get the point). So when this turning inwards happens, the role of the spiritual teacher can now change.
What does it change to? Usually, it changes to whatever it is the student needs next. This varies widely, and for some teachers, their whole role in working with you was to help you turn inwards. Now that relationship resolves, and you are ready for a different external world teacher if you need one.
The Loss of the Desire for Enlightenment
Along the way, the desire for enlightenment will be illuminated. For many people, this desire is nothing more than the hope that a different state of awareness will make life happier or kinder for them. It is a very juvenile, yet very common idea. Furthermore, some people are actually looking for power, and this too is not what this path is about. Any power that comes to you is meant to be used responsibly. Otherwise, there are a lot of hard lessons on their way to teach you the lesson of arrogance and the misuse of “spiritual” power.
But more to the point, turning towards the awakened self that already is within you will remove and dissolve a lot of these desires. Where you resist this dissolution is where your path will stop or get stuck. People often get stuck around the idea that they can’t give something up, but with enlightenment or spiritual awakening (they’re pretty much the same term to me), you can’t keep anything. Every attachment, desire, pleasure, passion, fear, and happiness gets tossed into it until there is nothing left but the pureness of you in this moment.
The Spiritual Teacher and Intellectual Training
Today, I will say there are three core steps of the spiritual path and awakening. Tomorrow, I may make something else up. It’s all made up, however. That’s important to remember. It’s important to remember that these are just my words, and that only as you go to your inner teacher can you find what truth is most appropriate for you today. And tomorrow, you may need to re-read this to hear the truth that you weren’t ready for.
With that said, intellectual training is the preparation of the mind for the spiritual path. There’s a whole kind of preparation through life and the necessity of the soul being ready that also happens. That can’t be forced, and I’m pretty keenly aware of whether someone is actually ready for this path or is simply playing a game with themselves. However, there is a point when someone really is ready to be taught. That teaching generally starts with breaking open the ego and mind so that you can think in new ways and see different perspectives. This can go on for a long time. There is no time table to it, and if it goes on for a long time, that is not a bad thing. Any ideas around getting enlightened quickly are misconceived, and in truth, this type of training isn’t about getting enlightened. This is about tilling the soil for whatever is ready to sprout in your life to sprout, beit enlightenment or something else.
The Spiritual Teacher and Experiential Exploration
The intellectual training is meant to prepare the student to understand the experiences s/he has on the spiritual path. Without the proper understanding, it’s easy to lose oneself in different experiences. This happens all the time when someone has an amazing experience–meaning that it feels really good. They think that this is how the spiritual path should feel or how enlightenment would be. Then they get lost in trying to recreate that scenario again and again until they are utterly frustrated.
But enlightenment is a kind of state-less state. It’s in all things. So there is no one enlightened feeling. There are many. It has many qualities, tastes, touches, and sounds, and with the proper understanding, the student begins to see the truth, lessons, and love in each experience that arises in their life. This can go on for life-times, but gradually, the student is letting go of their desires for the outside world on many levels. I think Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha illustrates some of this quite well. Because enlightenment is ultimately simply in the space of being.
The Spiritual Teacher and Resting in Being
The teacher does not take you to being. You are already here. If you did have a teacher helping you through the experiential phase, there aren’t going to be too many teachers who can help you rest in being.
And how could there be much to do anyway?
Being is. You are already right here. I’m going to use Hesse’s Siddhartha again (I encourage you to read it or re-read it) because I think this is a nice literary illustration of coming into presence. After awhile, all is the river of life. There is nothing to do. You can enjoy listening to the river of life with its many different sights, sounds, and what not. You can join in when it pleases you, but there is nothing to do.
The spiritual teacher at this point is usually just you. If you do have someone in the physical world, this person is a powerful ally and reminder of this truth. But there’s nothing to be said or done or learned. You are both resting in being.
Am I Enlightened Yet?
The funny thing in all of this is that after awhile, becoming enlightened doesn’t matter. You will know if you feel like you’ve crossed that inner threshold. You will know that there is no going back without trying to re-create a whole lot of inner separation and pain again. To try and unenlighten yourself will generally seem absurd. But walking the spiritual path and having a spiritual teacher won’t necessarily lead to enlightenment the way most people think. It will simply lead you to you. If awakening arises into your everyday consciousness, then that is what happens. If you are meant to walk a difficult path full of pain, then working with the spiritual teacher will take you down that direction. The teacher–the true teacher who is not working from some hidden agenda either to be a do-gooder or make money–is simply in service to the path of the student’s soul. And there are many sacred paths that souls will walk.
So, you may not be enlightened. Instead, I encourage you to simply do what you love, and if you don’t know, the spiritual path is a great way of finding all the things in the way of love in your life. I have come to enjoy sharing this saying that I made up, “Before awakening, do what you love. After awakening, do what you love.” Because enlightenment/spiritual awakening is just about love anyway, and the true spiritual teacher is a servant of love. Remember that wherever you are on your spiritual journey, and if enlightenment arises then, it is a welcome gift that will help you be more present in love than you could ever have imagined.
The photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. You can check out her beautiful work on her flickr link.