For so long, I believed that being spiritually awake meant never having another negative thought. Sometimes, after getting on a very strict and complicated program/practice of meditation, diet, exercise, or whatever I thought at the time was THE answer, I’d feel like I had attained this most elusive state. I’d feel delighted until I inevitably fell off the spiritual wagon and then I’d think, “You are right back where you started! You’re never going to get it, are you?”
One day I realized that my approach to life wasn’t working. I wondered how these seemingly enlightened people “got there”. I knew (intellectually) that we were all, at our deepest level, divine beings and thought, “It can’t be so hard to be who we really are. Why does it seem so complicated?” The answer that came surprised me. It was, “Stop feeling bad about yourself.” My pattern had been to notice when I was thinking a crappy/critical/judgemental thought about someone or something and then after I’d noticed it, I’d feel bad about myself. That self-critical thought would lead to more self-condemnation and then I’d just spiral down.
I believed that the only way I would change was by being hyper vigilant; catching every negative thought or action, and then treating myself like a tight-lipped school master would treat a misbehaving child…but one day I saw all of this differently. I would notice a crappy thought and say to myself something like, “Whoa, that is some thought! Are you having a rough time, Mary?” Softer, gentler, and more loving thoughts started to be my response to my thinking (instead of following hard, harsh, and mean thoughts with more of the same).
I began to realize that I was awake/enlightened many times a day. It wasn’t the “once and for all” way I’d thought it would be…but it was enough…and it was so simple.
“People think that they need to get ‘enlightened’ in order to be free, and nobody knows what enlightenment is. Yes, it’s in the sacred texts, and yes, this guru or that lama says he has attained it, but that’s just a concept; it’s the story of a past. The truth is that there’s no such thing as enlightenment. No one is permanently enlightened; that would be the story of a future. There’s only enlightenment in the moment. Do you believe a stressful thought? Then your confused. Do you realize that the thought isn’t true? Then you’re enlightened to it. It is as simple as that. And then the next thought comes, and maybe you’re enlightened to it as well, and maybe not.” page 29 from A Thousand Names for Joy, Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, by Byron Katie