A dangerous thing happens when a man discovers his own truth. Suddenly, he no longer finds himself at the feet of some guru. He no longer buys into the pretty pictures his teachers once held up for him as bait. He no longer finds himself bound by the dogma of some body of thought that supposedly holds the keys to his salvation. He has fought his way out of the cage and earned his freedom. And no one who controls him or hopes to in the future wants to see that happen.
The fact is no one holds the key to your own enlightenment except you. It is yours to use at any time you choose. It is my position that the only reason you haven’t recognized this before is that others have, knowingly or unknowingly, encouraged you to look elsewhere for that key and you believed them. You don’t need to chant, believe in spirits, shave your head or give your life over to a guru. Again, you can do these things and find enlightenment. But, if you’re like me and turned off by such approaches yet still feel pulled toward enlightenment, there is another way.
In fact, my purpose in writing this book is simply this: to get you to stop looking “out there” for the answer and, instead, simply recognize the power you have had all along, a power some would rather you never discover.
(From pp.13-14 "Why Seek Enlightenment")
On Inner Conflict(s)
Early in the movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, finds himself squarely in the middle of an inner conflict. He is torn between honoring his own values and those of his country. He handles the conflict well enough until his unwillingness to serve his country leads to some devastating consequences in his own life. He is now distraught as he considers what part his own actions have already played, and may continue to play, in the misery that is unfolding around him. Does he continue to honor his own inner values or does he serve the “higher good” of his nation? As he sits in agony, contemplating this question, a loving relative tries to help him resolve his inner conflict. “You have done nothing for which you should be ashamed,” she tells him.
This person truly cares for Mel Gibson’s character and is troubled by seeing him in so much pain. She has his best interests at heart and is doing her best to help him. Now, think of how most of us might react to her kind words. In an effort to resolve our inner conflict we might be tempted to accept and embrace her words.
But with that one response we would have given away all our power. If Mel Gibson’s character had responded this way, the movie would have been over right then and there. His opportunity to become a hero would have been washed away by his relative’s compassionate words.
But, what if Mel Gibson had sought to distract himself from his inner conflict? Maybe he would have agreed with her and then asked her to go for a walk or have a bite to eat. That would get his mind off his troubles. But again, it would also destroy his opportunity to change his life. No, Mel Gibson’s character doesn’t attempt to resolve his inner conflict or distract himself from it. He faces it head on. When his relative tells him,
“You have done nothing for which you should be ashamed. He responds, “I have done nothing. And for that I am ashamed.”
And it is here that his hero’s journey begins. His response doesn’t resolve his inner conflict and it doesn’t take his mind off of it. His response turns the conflict into an inner source of energy that propels him to act. Is he still ashamed of his previous actions? Yes. Is he still aware of them? Yes. But they no longer cripple him. They empower him.
You see, the very situations we seek to resolve often contain the very keys to the power we seek, if we can leave them be long enough for their lessons to appear. Clearly there are contradictions and conflicts that must be handled immediately to ensure the safety of ourselves or others. But not all contradictions we become aware of are emergencies. And for those that aren’t, if we can learn to entertain them and continue on in our lives in spite of them, they can become some of the greatest sources of power and wisdom in our lives.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(From pp.54-56 "Embracing Contradictions & Conflict")
If you recall the night I woke up and experienced my life in an entirely new light, you can see the very qualities of the experience I have asked you to remember. It was unexpected, it was sudden and it was dramatic. And it was these qualities that gave me the “jolt” of enlightenment. For the briefest moment in time I was in a psychological freefall as my old way of seeing life gave way and a new one had yet to take hold. This freefall was the core of my enlightenment experience, not the hour of bliss that followed. During that hour I became “attached” to the idea that my life was a gift. What a wonderful attachment. But that’s not enlightenment. Enlightenment is that moment between perspectives when everything you were just certain about is now up for grabs and your future is wide open.
Sounds a bit blasphemous in light of what we have been led to believe about enlightenment, doesn’t it? Where are the fireworks? Where is the chanting and the meditation? And where is the guru to take all the credit? Nowhere. There is only you and a “jolt” of enlightenment and that is all there needs to be. Until you recognize this, you will always be chasing the elusive and illusive notion of enlightenment that is always just a book, seminar or guru away. But if you stop chasing the fantasy long enough to consider the power of your own experience, you may be surprised at what you find.
On the Value of Personal Experience
Imagine that sitting before you is a mysterious old envelope. Something about it strikes you as familiar, but you can’t recall what it is. You gently open the envelope and discover a delightful collection of long lost photographs from your past. There you are riding a pony. In this one you’re squinting with a forced, toothless grin in your third grade class picture. Here’s one of you and your best friend before he moved away and you never heard from him again. There are some photos of your old family vacations and even one of your first car. Nothing particularly earth shattering, but they do bring back warm memories. Though the pictures themselves are old and faded, some even out of focus and cracked, you hardly notice; it is the memories they evoke that count.
Now imagine the same envelope sitting before you. This time when you open it, it contains not faded old pictures from your past, but recent, crisp, full color photos of overseas vacations, black tie affairs and romantic getaways. They are the kind of pictures that take one’s breath away. Each picture is in and of itself a work of art, the kind of picture you might find in a gallery somewhere. There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t find these photographs to be of higher quality and more valuable than the first ones. Not a person in the world that is, except for you. You see, these new photographs aren’t yours. The beautiful, smiling faces within them belong to strangers. The exotic places where the pictures were taken are unrecognizable to you. And the beautiful memories they contain belong to others. No matter how beautiful the new pictures are, no matter how desirable others may find them, they cannot compare to yours. The pictures from your past may be cracked, faded and out of focus; they may be of “ordinary” events in “ordinary” locations, but the memories and emotions they stir in you are strong. They are your memories based on your experiences and that is what gives them their power. We wouldn’t think of trading our own cherished family photos to someone else for new, more exciting photos of strange people and unknown lands. That would defeat the purpose of the photos themselves. Why then, do we routinely hold the experiences of others to be more beautiful, meaningful and profound than our own?
I assure you that, if you strip away all the flowery descriptions and heavenly explanations from the enlightenment experiences of others, you will find a common core: a sudden, dramatic and unexpected shift in the way they saw the world. Nothing more, nothing less. Sound familiar? Perhaps like something you may have once experienced? No matter how ordinary your experience appears to be in light of those you may have heard about, no matter how insignificant it may seem next to the “miraculous conversions” of others, it has the one vital element that the others do not: it is yours and that is enough.
You see, in the face of an unforgiving reality, we often reach for help. We tend to hold others above ourselves and often respect their wisdom and intelligence more than our own. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, there is a source of help that can topple all others. And what is that source? Remembering. Remembering that we have faced an unforgiving reality before, and that in an instant, it crumbled before us and left us with a new understanding of our world. And when we can remember this, we can leave the gurus behind. Remembering that your understanding of the world can change at any moment isn’t always enough to make it do so. But it is enough to generate the doubt that is necessary to begin the process. When we doubt, we begin to question. When we question, we begin to uncover new ways of seeing the world. And when our absolute certainty in our current perspective gives way, we are free to adopt the way of seeing the world that best serves our interests.
Still, there is one obvious question that must be addressed. Where’s the so called bliss of the enlightenment experience? After all, the promise of bliss is what makes enlightenment the ultimate carrot of mankind. Except for the sexual orgasm, this state of enlightened bliss may be the most sought after experience of mankind. If there isn’t necessarily always bliss involved, what’s the point in pursuing it?
Perhaps you didn’t feel blissful during the experience you identified in our exercise. If not, how could this experience truly be referred to as enlightenment? Because, again, enlightenment is simply an experience and experience is subjective. What thrills one person may frighten, bore or even seem irrelevant to another.
As long as you equate enlightenment with bliss, you will likely be searching for a very long time. Though you may in fact feel bliss during the experience of enlightenment, it isn’t the defining characteristic of the experienceand it isn’t always a part of it. If, on the other hand, you hold the notion that “detachment” is the core of the enlightenment experience, you will no longer need others to show you the way, for these experiences are common. You need only recognize the experiences when they occur.
(From pp.68-71 Chapter 8 "Discovering Your Own Key")
On Everyday Events Wisdom
Though it is commonly thought that great wisdom comes from studying ancient scrolls, long-dead poets and celebrated martyrs of days gone by, there is just as much wisdom available in the day-to-day circumstances of our lives. In fact, the everyday events of our lives may in fact be the greatest source of wisdom we can discover. Why? Because this source of wisdom doesn’t come with convenient how-to instructions and centuries of experts proclaiming its authenticity and validity, but rather must be uncovered, translated and celebrated by no one but ourselves. In discovering the wisdom available to us in everyday life, we must learn to question, learn to see, and ultimately be strong enough to accept the lessons we learn on our own authority.
(From p.73 "Now What")