Enlightened Acceptance

I have read many books and articles on enlightenment. And there are so many ideas as to what ‘enlightenment’ really means and how to get there. For some it is achieving a sense of Nirvana or having some sort of ‘mystical’ experience. Some see it as achieving ‘persistent non-duality’ where we are ‘one’ with everything and the self, or ego, is subsumed by the spiritual. Teachers suggest that it’s achieved by certain methods of meditation, or yoga, or chanting. Others say that we need to dig deep into ourselves and remove all that is untrue until we arrive at truth. Every guru, every religion seems to have a unique way to attain enlightenment, often at the expense of the teachings and practices of others.

Enlightenment: The Age of Reason

In looking at the word itself, ‘enlightenment’ I believe that it is a lot simpler than much of the information I have consumed over the years. It simply means allowing more light onto a subject. History refers to the 17th century as the Enlightenment because of it’s focus away from the magical thinking and onto the intellectual practices to arrive at truth which swept away the cobwebs of the middle ages. The latter part of the 20th century began an new enlightenment in a return to the spiritual aspects of our lives, turning away from the material excesses. Eastern mysticism and spirituality came to the west, and Western beliefs in democracy and economics moved east. A movement of the pendulum back to the centre.

If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is “the quiet acceptance of what is.”

Wayne Dyer

I really like Wayne Dyer’s definition of enlightenment. And I think it is what we are all called to be: human adults who quietly accept the who, what, when, where, why and how of the present situation. It’s not pretending to be someone from our past or anticipating who I might become in the future. It is being in the present, using the power of this moment to find peace and know that at one’s core being all well and there is serenity. It means that I have ‘light’ in my life. It also means that I can change to allow even more light into my life.

Dyer used the same definition for enlightenment as I use for the word ‘humility’: the quiet acceptance of what is.

Are humility and enlightenment the same thing then? Quite possibly.

We often mistakenly equate humility with humiliation. They are not the same. Humility is a state of being, a character trait if you will. Humiliation is an emotion, an abasement of our pride. Humility is a character trait that I seek to cultivate in myself. And, if I truly know and accept where I am in life, nothing can humiliate me. If I really know myself, then I am solid upon the ground. I accept where I am in life.

However, Enlightenment, Humility and Acceptance do not demand that we must stay where and how we are in life. In fact, I think it is a challenge to improve. When I know how little I know, I am challenged to find out more. If I see that my lifestyle is not providing the health that I want in life, I am challenged to make changes in what I eat and how I exercise. If my financial situation is below where I would like it to be, I can alter my earning and spending beliefs. But I can’t make any of these changes if I don’t first ‘know’ how things stand at the present moment in time. The proverbial ‘light bulb’ comes on and we see exactly where we stand. We become ‘enlightened’.

That is why Enlightenment is the acceptance of how things are. It is the first step on a new journey to greater knowledge, greater understanding and infinite wisdom. It is a journey that I can work at every day and is, therefore, not a state of being or a moment in time. I became enlightened when I realized that teaching at an elementary school was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. I became enlightened when I started a small business and grew it from the ground up. I became enlightened when I ended a relationship that was no longer nurturing to either of us. I look at my sobriety as a gift of enlightenment. And I can be enlightened by the little things in life too, like walks with the dogs, a sharing of like minds, or a new experience. All of these contribute to my own enlightenment journey; they add a bit more ‘light’ of knowledge, understanding and experience to where I am standing today.

Enlightenment is a process that takes time and patience as well as humility. It is part of my ongoing journey of becoming just a little bit better version of myself today than I was yesterday and for that, I am grateful.

The ‘Good Enough’ Trap

John left university with a business degree and a lot of debt. He had a dream of owning his own retail business but because of his student debt, he was unable to get a loan. So, he took a job as an account analyst at a financial institution. It was a decent paying job to begin with and John soon moved up the corporate ladder. And with each promotion came a raise in prestige and pay. As the years passed, he cleared off his student debt, married, had children, and moved from their townhouse to a comfortable suburban home with an easy commute to his job. He has the ability to buy what he and his family need, has a small amount of debt, and he and his family take amazing vacations every year.

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Yet…

John would be the first to say that he is not really happy, fulfilled or enjoying his life. He has a good life but he has a nagging feeling that there is more. He is not complaining. He’s done what society expects of him. He knows that life has treated him extremely well and he’s living the dream.

But it’s not his dream.

Life for John is good, but it’s not great. It’s not what he really imagined it 20 years ago when leaving university, nor is it a life he really wants. He’s not really happy with his life. He did what he thought he was ‘supposed’ to do and has found what he has achieved is lacking something. But he is comfortable, he has a nice family, home, income and his future will probably continue the same way.

So…

He doesn’t change a thing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘good enough’ trap. Things are ‘okay’. Life is ‘fine’. The family home is ‘nice’. What possibly could make someone like John want to change? Little or nothing.

The ‘good’ keeps us from achieving the ‘great’. The mediocre prevents us from the extraordinary. The average halts an investigation of the ‘incredible’. We bury our dreams, our hopes, and our desires and settle for what we have. It should be enough, we have been told. We don’t think we should want more than what we have , nor should we think we deserve more.

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 “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

The ‘good enough’ trap keeps many of us in a life of quiet desperation. We want to fulfill our dreams. We feel the need to push ourselves further. We long for a feeling of contentment and happiness in life. But why rock the boat? Why risk what we have right now for something that is not guaranteed and could wipe out everything that we have achieved so far in my life? Is it not better to accept what life has given us and just bury those feelings of unfulfillment? We have responsibilities we feel we can not abandon. Sure we know we could accomplish so much more and live a life of our dreams, but we’re not willing to pay the price for that kind of happiness.

And that’s what often happens. The ‘good enough’ wins out over the ‘spectacular’ and the ‘extraordinary’.

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What was John’s dream business? He wanted to open a small tackle shop near a lake where his family vacationed. He wanted to help make the vacations of others more memorable by helping them to discover the joy he found in fishing and everything associated with it. He wanted a simple, small town life where he could walk down the street and know most of the people he saw. It wasn’t a huge dream. It wasn’t complicated and requiring enormous amount of money to fulfill. Perhaps he could have designed and marketed series of fishing lures, or a better type of reel. He could have passed along his love of nature to his children and shared quiet walks with his wife along the local rivers and lakes. He would have had a greater sense of completeness in his life by fulfilling his dream.

But the ‘good enough’ got in the way.

John may not have made as much money, lived in as large a house and travelled the world if he had pursued his dream. And his shop might not have been a success. He’ll never know. He hasn’t the motivation for change, for something new, for adventure in life. He figures that life’s ‘good enough’ the way it is.

Is your name John?

My Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car last year, well, new to me anyway. One of the first things I did with it was look online for an owner’s manual. Yes, it is 2002 model and way past any warranties. But it’s helpful to know what all the buttons do and where to locate things like interior air filters, which would have been impossible to find or even know about, or discovering what that white button on the side of the gear shift does. I have better knowledge of how to maintain and service the car because of this manual. And yes, I am one of those folks who usually does read the manual when I buy a new vehicle, appliance or gadget because, well, there are so many features on things these days that it’s hard to know all the things they can do.

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I discovered some years ago that it would have been very nice if I had been born with an owner’s manual. It would have been so much easier when I was 10 or 11 to read something like: “Tim is a gay male model and will feel an attraction to men.” Or later when I was in my 20’s: “Tim has a tendency toward addiction so it would be best to keep his consumption of mind altering substances completely controlled.” As well it would include some of the basic things about life I never learned in school and had to pick up as I went along. It would have made life much easier to read, “You must learn to live life on life’s terms, not your own.” That would have saved me a lot of heartache, self recrimination and resentments. How about something that said, “You are free to do whatever you want in life as long as you are willing to pay the consequences.” Or, “You can only control things that are within your circle of control which does not extend to other persons, places or things.” Had I read these things somewhere in my Owner’s Manual, how different my life would have been.

My Owner’s Manual would have told me that anger would not solve anything, regrets and resentments cannot change the past. Ninety-nine percent of my fears would not be realized. And that I would survive the other 1%, whatever they were. It would have been nice to know that just because a thought popped into my head I didn’t have to act upon it. That while there would be lots of bad days, they would be tempered by many, many more great days. As well, that whole days aren’t really all that bad; they’re just a few moments that don’t go as expected and I need not label the whole day, sometimes weeks, as a ‘bad’ time.

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And like a vehicle or appliance, I might have found a maintenance schedule that would have included regular rest, proper nutrition, exercise of the body as well as rest, nourishment and exercise of the mind and the soul. It might suggest that every couple of years I go on a retreat, take a course or create an incredible experience for myself to help rejuvenate and restore me to an acceptable level of sanity.

I’m sure that near the front of the manual I would find the words that I have the ability to change. Perspectives can be changed, new skills learned and great people can be invited into my life. It might have included a list of classics that I could read and movies I could watch, classes that I could take that would help me understand the things in life that were happening around me.

The manual would have been several pages under the title: CAUTION. Things like, “This model is equipped with a introvert personality that tends toward aloofness.” And another caution might read, “This model has a self destructive mode which once activated is not guaranteed to turn off.”

Finally, my Owner’s Manual would end with some notes that might say there is no reset button or a factory restore option anywhere on my body. It only continue in a forward direction regardless of how much I might wish to start over. And that it has a variable life expectancy based upon how it is used and maintained over the course of said life.

No. I didn’t arrive with an owner’s manual. I had to find my own way with the guidance of parents, family, friends and teachers who did their best to show me how I and life might function. For those things not covered, it was up to me to discover them; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I am still figuring thing out and I suspect that it will be so until my final breath. Actually, I am enjoying this journey of discovery. Everyday heralds new possibilities that are full of promise, as long as I look for them.

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What’s written in your Owner’s Manual?