I get it. The road to enlightenment, nirvana, self-actualization—whatever you want to call it—is long. Or not, depending on whose life story you happen to read.
Some people do seem to “wake up” right away: A single bop on the head, a whispered word from a master, an angelic or otherwise otherworldly visitation—and hey presto!—the inner light goes on, the true nature of reality becomes manifest, and suffering bites the dust.
I am not one of those people.
Every once in a while, of course, I do enjoy a little bit of stillness in the midst of modern mega-multi-tasking life. But sometimes I want more. I want to actually experience that bright, juicy, fret-free state I’ve read about in scores of spiritual texts of both the modern and ancient varieties. At the very least, I’d like some prompt, temporary relief from chronic existential pain.
All too often, I’ll run through my routine of mind-centering/mind-stilling meditation practices:
And still, caustic sugar plums leap into action, bopping and singing noisily around inside my head.
They can range from mundanely upsetting (“How could I have forgotten to buy toilet paper—again?”), to achingly remorseful (“Why did I say that to X?”), to genuinely frightening (“What if my refund check doesn’t arrive in time to pay the rent?” … “What if this project falls through?”), to the perennial favorite of a childless, partner-less adult (“What am I going to do if I can’t take care of myself anymore?”).
So one day recently, I chucked the usual routine and uttered a quiet, desperate, “Help!”
To my surprise, a voice-from-somewhere-deep-within replied, “Hang it up.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
The reply came in the form a fleeting sort of vision. No colorful strobes or angelic choirs. Just a simple impression.
I saw all my quivering anxieties, expanding to-do lists, and assorted attention-grabbers (“Litter box? What litter box?”) as a suit of clothes that I’d gotten used to wearing. I could just take them off for a moment and hang them on an imaginary hanger beside me, and have an experience of what it would be like to be just free of them all.
I didn’t have to repress them, get rid of them, or solve them. They were all still there, thrumming and quivering, waiting to be donned again at a moment’s notice. They had permission to be.
But for about 30 seconds I enjoyed a delicious sense of total release.
Was it enlightenment? Was it nirvana? No. Those, as I understand it, are ultimately sustained, unshakeable states.
But I did feel lighter. I did get a sense of “Oh, that’s what these guides and gurus are talking about.” There really is a purpose behind the sometimes-seeming-slog of practice.
And when I looked at the suit of clothes hanging next to me, I noticed a new accessory had mysteriously been added. A small scarf-like garment called Hope.
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