Let’s talk about what enlightenment is so you have a better idea of what we are describing with that word because it is a word that is used in so many ways. Interestingly, there is a period of European history in the 1700’s known as the “Age of Enlightenment,” but it has little to do with the way we use the word in a spiritual context today. That period of history was characterized by the belief in the power of human reason.
One common view on enlightenment is that it is a blissful event that transforms your consciousness into a state where you feel at one and all your questions are answered and you have reached the ultimate goal of life. Actually, enlightenment is a continuum of evolving awareness that goes far beyond the mind-expanding experiences that are often described.
There are limitations to the view that the enlightenment experience is the conclusion of one’s spiritual quest. For one thing, there is the fact that many people who have enlightening experiences do not maintain the awareness level of those experiences, but rather often express a feeling of not being able to hold on to the experience, or even loose it completely and revert back to a former state. So, what is happening?
It is not unusual for people to feel a great sense of ease, lightness and grace pervading their lives for days or even weeks after an awakening experience. But, sooner or later, and often to their great dismay and disappointment, they begin to feel a return to the conditions of ordinariness and the resurfacing of conditions they thought they had dissolved or left behind. When this happens they may feel they are losing their enlightenment. This is quite common, and clearly something has happened. One factor affecting them is their experience has not cleared the issues stored in the physical body, the brain, the nervous system, the subtle bodies, the unconscious, the subconscious, the chakras, etc. In addition, there is still a karmic momentum plaguing them. As these patterns rise to the surface they can be a strong reality check and be quite discouraging if the person doesn’t understand what is happening or what to do about it.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROCESS
The first level of commitment to attain enlightenment is that it is necessary to live congruent with your deepest truth, and have a dedication and commitment to the path that takes you to higher and higher levels of wisdom, love and enlightened consciousness. This may seem simple enough, but what I am talking about here is a resolve to be on your path and do what is necessary on a daily basis to attain your enlightenment goals.
The second major level of commitment to enlightenment is reached through the purification of your heart and mind through your intent. Your intentions take you from one level to the next, and enable you to enter into refined states of being. The key to all I have emphasized in my classes and retreats for over thirty years is to hold your intentions to heal and clear yourself and others and progressively move into higher levels of consciousness.
The third commitment level is to live in the new-elevated world of the purified heart and the soul. This is the state in which you live in a state of illumination with light and love and share and radiate it to all. As you enter the illumined life, you begin to see everything as one. Through the classes and retreats you will attain this state by being guided with many special meditations, and you will bring in more of the clearing light of consciousness.
Once you experience this, then you are ready to merge into a state of completion of your whole being. I refer to this level as the soul merge. I use the term soul as an equivalent term for the Higher Self or true self. This is the real you. It is the truth of your being and who you really are. You will discover the precious purity you were created with, as you reach this state through deep surrender. That means you have released all holding and attachment to everything that has kept you from connecting with your deepest truth. This is your beginning in the enlightened levels of consciousness. You will experience peace, contentment, comfort, completion, equanimity, and non-judgment. This is a very peaceful and beautiful level to live in, and it prepares you to enter into the greater states of expansion into God consciousness that is yet to come.
The goal of all spiritual paths is the same. The goal is enlightenment and the realization that you are one with God. This is quite a wonderful state of awareness and understanding, but it is not the final state that can be attained. When a person reaches this state through following a path they may believe they have completed their path, and they are likely to stop at this level. Sometimes you will encounter some who seem to be very aware and enlightened, but have an air of arrogance. This is due to having attained the awareness of unity consciousness or the awareness of being one with all existence, but they have done so through the mind.
A more beautiful and complete way is to go through the heart center. It will lead you into very purified states of consciousness, and you won’t fall off track because your enlightenment is profoundly present and pure. Your heart leads in this process and brings another dimension to your enlightenment process.
ENLIGHTENED EXPERIENCES OR ENLIGHTENMENT?
A lot of emotions and reactions are connected to the heart and lower chakras, and many spiritual paths don’t really have an adequate system for dealing with them. I’ve heard teachers say not to go into your emotions or issues. Sometimes they even say to ignore them or “just don’t allow yourself to go there.” The problem with this approach is that by not dealing with the emotions, reactions or judgments they end up being repressed and recycled. You may feel OK while you are in the retreat or meditation, but the old issues come up when you return home, or a situation arises that challenges you. This is what causes people to say they have lost their enlightenment. This is a recognized phenomenon that often happens more often than not, and points out the difference between having enlightening experiences and being enlightened.
HIGHER STATES OF ENLIGHTENMENT
For certain, there are states far beyond what most people understand as enlightenment as we have discussed it so far. Indeed, there are likely states of consciousness that very few have experienced and therefore there is little written to describe them. Clearly there are some who seem to be more enlightened than others, who stay in higher levels of awareness than they did prior to their enlightenment experience, and who have moved beyond the normal human experiences of pain and suffering, and have profound experiences on an ongoing basis.
For those who keep applying themselves to discovery after the enlightenment experience, there are continuous new levels that open. Enlightenment is actually a relative term. That is, there is no “absolute” state of enlightenment, but rather enlightenment denotes a change in one’s state of consciousness with regard to their understanding of life and how they experience life day to day. Dr. David Hawkins has described in detail in his book Power vs Force and his other books what the many characteristics of the various states of consciousness are, and even provides a means of determining a person’s relative position on that continuum which he assigns an arbitrary logarithmic scale from zero to one thousand. The enlightenment threshold is at 600 with considerable expanse beyond that.
Typically when a person experiences a transcendent state for the first time in their life, we would say that the person is enlightened, but this experience of enlightenment is only a beginning, which means that this person can then go on to experience even more enlightenment states than at first, and we would say the person has experienced further enlightenment. So, it would seem to be more appropriate to speak of degrees of enlightenment, but this may also be misleading because degrees of enlightenment may suggest an absolute state of enlightenment, to which we will eventually attain.
Sometimes the awakening shifts happen quickly, in which the person experiences jumping to a new level of awareness in a few seconds or perhaps in one meditation, or sometimes when sitting in the presence of someone who is enlightened. In any case, the initial enlightenment experience a person may have is only a beginning on a beautiful journey in which life begins anew now that the person is more fully awake for the first time. When the awakening occurs the person feels they are starting life anew. Now everything they have ever perceived is seen with new eyes, and after the initial awakening there is a gradual unfolding of greater and greater realizations as long as the person continues with practices that lead to further unfolding.
In Eastern terminology, the next stage is sahaj Samadhi or what the Sufis call bakah beelah. This means that from the crown chakra the light of God has fully integrated throughout the whole system-the heart mind, body and soul. There is a complete integration into God realization that is stabilized–you can’t leave it. To reach sahaj samadhi, you go deeply into your heart and continue to meditate until you reach witnessing God through your crown center and your heart together, and clear all your issues and dissolve the ego.
Generally at this place on a spiritual path you enter some form of service to humanity. That means that whatever you are doing comes from a place within you of serving, and in every person you meet, regardless of outward appearances, you see the divinity within them.
WHAT ENLIGHTENMENT IS LIKE
When you experiences a spiritual awakening commonly known as enlightenment your mind changes and works differently from the way it worked before. Your reactions change. You are in a new and higher light and state of awareness. You no longer perceive in the same way you did before, and not in the same way as the rest of the world. People around you may have no idea of the internal changes you have made, for you look the same externally, but perhaps with a bit more happiness on your face and a more peaceful and loving presence. You certainly feel totally different inside, and in fact, you are totally different. There is a state of deep stillness, purity, clarity, expansiveness, unconditional love, awareness, knowing, and profound peace.
As you reach the progressively higher states of consciousness you will find that you become more peaceful, life is more fun, and you sense a deep inner strength and know that with God you can face anything. As you move further on your path you will sense a deepening of love, and unlimited clarity, expansion & oneness with everything. You will be in love with everyone and everything. Life will take on a harmony and fullness beyond what you can imagine. This is our journey.