The Myth of Attaining Enlightenment – Cate Montana
The old Biblical saying “seek and ye shall find” is absolutely true. Unless we seek knowledge, we’ll be forever ignorant. Unless we seek greater answers to the fundamental questions about existence, we’ll blindly accept whatever dogma is fed us. Unless we seek to change over the course of our lives, we’ll remain stuck in a rut, going nowhere.
When the accepted truths of religion and society fail to satisfy the hunger inside for truth, there’s nothing else to do but seek alternatives. And therein lies one of the primary problems with spiritual seeking.
After leaving one system of thought, it’s just human nature that most people are quickly and easily enticed into an alternative system. We’re trained from childhood to believe having the “right answers”—whether to a math problem, a history lesson, or what happens to us after death—is of paramount importance. The need for right answers is so deeply ingrained we don’t even notice it.
So what happens when we leave an established religious system that no longer suits us? Most of us go straight out and quickly adopt a new system of thought that is … um … just another system of thought. Certainly that’s what I did.
As soon as I reached escape velocity from my Episcopal and Catholic roots I went on a seeking binge, devouring books about angels and spirit guides, yogis and kundalini energy, vegetarianism and high colonics. I fell into the arms of New Age thought and settled in, thinking, “Aha! Now I’ve found the truth! Now I’ve found my tribe!”
I had no idea I’d simply replaced one system of “truth” with another much more exotically intriguing but equally hide-bound system. Ten years, a million books and two teachers later, I knew everything there was to know. All you had to do was ask me. Reincarnation? Check. Astral projection? Check. The origin of Creation? Check. Manifestation? Check. Meditation? Check. Holotropic breath work? Oops. Missed that one.
Above all else, the new belief system I adopted held forth the ideal of seeking enlightenment. The ultimate place of ultimate answers—the Holy Grail of spirituality—enlightenment is what all serious seekers sought. So I sought enlightenment too. And because I was a nice spiritual person I wanted the whole world to become enlightened—just preferably not before me. After all, part of the appeal was getting there ahead of others. I quite fancied the vision of myself in white robes on a stage, teaching others “the way.”
Never mind enlightenment isn’t something that can be acquired. I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I wasn’t happy and that I didn’t particularly like myself and that a lot of books and teachers said enlightenment was the answer to my misery, self-doubt, fear and confusion. Once I had that in my pocket, all would be well.
Being a high-achieving “lean-in” type, I started climbing the enlightenment mountain at a furious pace. I isolated myself in a one-room cabin with no indoor plumbing in the mountains of north Georgia in the US and spent three years living on my savings, meditating, sometimes for days on end, taking only a short break every 24 hours to feed my dogs and have a small handful of food and some water myself.
Almost 20 years and some 20,000+ hours of meditation later, I discovered the joke was on me. Falling into deep states of non-dual awareness where all sense of self is absent and knower and known become one, I came face-to-face with the inescapable realization that “I” can never become enlightened because enlightenment is the absence of all sense of “self.”
Ha! The absence of “me” is bliss. Oneness arrives upon “my” departure. How could I take credit for that?
The discovery that seeking enlightenment was a fool’s errand driven by my ego’s desire to accomplish “the ultimate” and escape the painful condition of being “me”—the discovery that enlightenment cannot be attained because the very act of seeking enlightenment concretizes the ego doing the seeking—was the single-most ghastly and cosmically funny moment of my life.
But what about liberation?
It took me years after that to realize liberation while still living as a human being is possible. Granted, it’s not the ultimate liberation. But hey, what good is ultimate liberation if you’re not around to enjoy it?
Transpersonal consciousness, on the other hand, is totally do-able and enjoyable.
A state of mind psychologists are aware of where the illusions of the ego’s separation from life and others (and all the fears that come from the illusion of separation) fall away, transpersonal consciousness is the middle ground between personal ego consciousness and egoless transcendence. A liberated stepping-stone state where genuine connection and security, peace and fulfillment, creativity and self-love reside, the transpersonal is the state of mind where ego awareness expands beyond personal boundaries and a profound sense of connection with all beings and life itself is experienced.
Best of all, unlike enlightenment, transpersonal awareness can be taught. And don’t you know the world would be a better place if it were.
In my book The E Word: Ego, Enlightenment & Other Essentials I outline numerous meditations and practices to aid people in moving into transpersonal awareness. Here is one of those exercises.
Practice – Hi Me!
This exercise is designed to stretch your boundaries and expand your awareness to consciously include other beings and more of life. Mostly I do this whenever I’m walking outdoors.
As I walk and notice things—the branches of a tree dripping with rain, a blossoming rhododendron, a Great Horned Owl hooting in the forest, a crow calling overhead—I greet them saying (or thinking) “Hi me!”
I consciously acknowledge their individual presence while acknowledging the larger Truth that these beings are not separate from me: that at the deepest level of what’s real they are me.
Just in a different form!
Sometimes I’ll see a horse galloping across a field or an eagle winging overhead and call out, “You’re so beautiful!!” Then, acknowledging union with that being I immediately add, “I’m so beautiful!”
Or standing in awe of a sunrise or a view I think, “How stunning.” And then I open my arms wide, taking the view into me and say (or think) as I include myself in the picture:
“I am so beautiful!”
Usually in that kind of glorious moment I say it out loud more than once. If no one’s around, I SHOUT it. Of course if I’m at a backyard barbeque I just pause and drink the beauty in, then, in my mind’s eye, step into the picture and include myself while thinking thoughts of gratitude and appreciation that include: “I am so beautiful!”
I do the same thing when I meet people. This is trickier because I’m usually so busy remembering names and responding to the person that I forget. But when they walk away I often watch them go thinking, “Hi me. So nice to meet you and see myself in such a unique form doing such different work.”
And for a few moments I try to imagine that I’m walking away as that person. I put myself in their shoes for a few seconds.
This really helps drop barriers and judgment against people who think and believe differently than I do. They are me—just in a different form!
Author of The E Word: Ego, Enlightenment & Other Essentials and Unearthing Venus, Cate is a dauntless explorer of inner and outer worlds, has a master’s degree in humanistic psychology, and writes and teaches about the ego, transpersonal consciousness, evolution, and quantum physics. She lives in the US, in the Pacific Northwest. www.catemontana.com