Enlightenment: What do you really want? By Alx Uttermann
I live in California, in the US, which is an interesting experience from a spiritual point of view. On the one hand, California is far and away the most progressive region of the United States; early to adopt vegetarian diets, green consciousness, and spiritual curiosity beyond the offerings of organized Western religions. On the other hand, because it was in many ways the pioneer of consciousness in America, there are time when it seems that people have become convinced that they have all the answers, spiritually, whether they’re coming from the New Age perspective, gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, different Vedic traditions, Native American, or the Wiccan path.
This is of particular interest to me as a teacher of Eastern knowledge in the West, having spent a number of years living in India, doing hard sadhana and studying the ancient Vedic knowledge closely, especially from the angle of healing. Coming back to America was a shock — especially when I began to listen to people talk about spirituality.
What I’ve observed is that there are hundreds of differing ideas and viewpoints about what constitutes enlightenment — it seems that no two people are using the same definition for the term, and yet they’re conversing with one another as though the meaning is identical. This creates interesting conversations and misunderstandings often ensue.
I’ve also learned that there appears to be an idea in popular spiritual culture that either enlightenment is a pretty easy thing to achieve, or that it’s not even something to strive for because everything’s perfect the way it is and we’re all already enlightened as we are. (To which my response is: “Really? If we’re all already enlightened, why aren’t we acting like it?”)
It seems obvious that enlightenment isn’t so easy to attain (or else millions of people would already have done so!) and it’s a little painful to encounter people who’ve been sold a bill of goods otherwise. A general sense of disillusionment after a few months or a year of doing a spiritual practice, thinking that it would give a person instant enlightenment, is something I come into contact with, a lot, as a spiritual teacher and healer. Worse, some people think they are enlightened (because they did such a practice, surely it yielded the results) and are walking around acting as if they are — when it’s clear that the enlightenment is perhaps a bit more elusive than they’d have hoped.
What I learned in India — and no, I wouldn’t consider myself enlightened, but I’ve had the great good fortune to encounter a number of souls who are — is that enlightenment doesn’t come over night. It requires hard work, dedication, sadhana, surrender, faith, patience and an open heart. It takes a surprising amount of stamina to stand strongly in one place while a great deal of one’s life is dissolving and dis-integrating around one!
Attachments, desires, resentments, negative emotions — so many things have to go, to be let go of, in the process of doing spiritual practices. Being willing to endure the purification of the body, heart, and mind (especially the mind!) — all of which are sometimes quite uncomfortable — isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. Or at least, it didn’t come naturally to me!
Even our dearly held and cherished belief systems about what constitutes spirituality, or enlightenment, have to dissolve as well. The reality is beyond any ideas or constructs of the mind — at a certain point we start thinking more with the soul than with the mind.
But finally, I think one key question needs to be considered by everyone who is undertaking a spiritual practice, or feels drawn to this subject of enlightenment… and it’s a simple question but not necessarily an easy one to answer: “What do you really want?”
When I was first asked this question by a sadguru, I was stunned by both the simplicity and the weight of the question itself and could barely stammer any coherent response. No one, I think, in my whole life, had ever asked me such a bald, clear question — especially in terms of spirituality! — and in answering it, I felt that a great deal of gravitas was being demanded of me, to be super-clear and sharp and serious about my ideas, aspirations, and inspiration for my life.
Each one of us will have a different response to that question, depending on our level of awareness, a sense of our dharma (mission in life), ideas about enlightenment, spiritual knowledge we’ve acquired, and so on.
But it’s really vital to ask ourselves, and frequently, “What do I really want?”
What I discovered was that it wasn’t enlightenment per se that I was after — it was more about wanting to know the truth of this creation, the underlying reality of life and death and beyond those states, and somehow I had a notion that this tied into healing other people effectively.
Some people really want to know the truth. Others want to experience peace of mind, or a blissful state of awareness. Still others want enlightenment — and really need to define, for themselves, and to the divine, what they mean by that term. Is it a blissful state of feeling connected with all beings? Is it a state of unconditional love? Is it a place from which manifestations happen? Does it mean unlimited gyan, tapping into the cosmic knowledge? Does it mean that the individual “I” self melts into something larger, or dissolves altogether?
What do we mean by ‘enlightenment’, really?
What do you mean by it? And if it’s enlightenment that you want, deeply — then, why do you want it? What do you imagine yourself doing, once you’ve gained enlightenment?
If I’ve learned anything over years of spiritual work, it’s that being vague with the divine matters doesn’t really answer. Having clarity and being able to articulate something succinctly, in ourselves, creates a kind of sankalpam, a divine intention, and sets it into motion, in nature. Speaking our true desire for our lives into nature starts activating Nature itself to create a response to that desire. And then the adventure really begins to show itself!
It’s a beautiful place to start, when considering our true nature, as human beings, and what we really came here on earth to do. It’s so simple, but not easy to do — but why not start now, and ask yourself, deeply, “What do I really want?”
You might be amazed at the truthful answer that wells up from the inner depths of your being. And what’s more, you may end up delighted, as your own journey starts to unfold in powerful and unexpected ways…!