What is enlightenment anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been thinking about this for some time wondering what on earth ‘it’ is all about.  Not life that is….I think I have figured that out to a degree, but now I am focused on the concept of ‘enlightenment’.  A term which is bandied about as much as ‘journey’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘self-discovery’. Yoga is now being used to advertise yoghurt and ‘gurus’ are being sought like personal trainers.  With depth being devoured and authenticity plummeting, do we actually reflect upon the true aspiration of yoga? Enlightenment.

Is enlightenment living on some remote rock face in India infused with so much ganja that you don’t know whether you are coming, going or in fact being here now? Travelling through India as I do, I am often dubious about the ‘enlightened’ beings I encounter.

I guess enlightenment is synonymous with the Dalai Lama; his constant laughter and luminous smile!  He can’t be that happy all the time.  Or can he?  I doubt whether he is smoking anything!  He just ‘is’!

Actually, he is my pin-up boy!  I have a picture of him in this very room, hoping that I shall ‘catch’ everything he exudes – warmth, compassion and selflessness as a start.  His total love of the human race – and that infamous giggle!   Now that would be good.

Some years ago I was in Kerala, India.  I was on my way to visit a friend and in order to get to his home I had to traverse a narrow pathway in the middle of a paddy field.  It was sultry and warm, with a velvety black sky.  I was serenaded by the night choir of insects; the sounds of summer that nestle in the hot humid air; and the distant chants emitting from the temple priests that were echoing through the village….so mystical, charming and ethereal.

It ‘occurred for a split second (or so it seemed). Everything merged as though I was cocooned into an instant.  I was in a timeless place. No past.  No future.  The ‘now’.  The knowing of ‘now’.  The joy of that one enchanted, albeit fleeting, moment.  All had merged and I KNEW that I was exactly where I was meant to be and I was experiencing a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what it must be like to be totally present.  And I mean….totally!  I didn’t think ‘it’.  I felt ‘it’.  I didn’t analyse ‘it’.  I knew ‘it’.  Oh for the joy of that instant to be relived again and again.

I get ‘it’ intellectually.  Not being controlled by the ego.  Not being burdened by the past.  Not fearing the future.  Not being caught up in my thoughts.  Not reaching, seeking or striving.  Just being right here now.

I did get a true glimpse!  And that is enough for me to keep expanding.  Not being limited by this physical world but expanding beyond the realms of my own self.  In other words – getting out of my own way!

It’ happens now and again and it is divine.

Letting go of preconceived ideas, habits, beliefs and behaviours that contract rather than expand my persona is part of the deal.  Easier said than done of course!

I asked a friend last evening what she considered ‘enlightenment’ to be.  She simply stated “waking up to your truth”.

A question you may ask is that when the great masters become ‘enlightened’ what changes?  Are they still human?  Do they still have foibles and make mistakes and behave like us?  I asked this of one of my fellow yoga teachers one day.

His response:

“Before enlightenment: chop wood carry water… After enlightenment: chop wood carry water.

So enlightenment doesn’t change the day-to-day expectations and demands (but obviously quality of life changes to the max…)”.

And what does Deepak say?

“You resurrect your soul.  Your soul gives you a life of joy, effortless spontaneity, love, compassion, kindness, peace, equanimity, joy at the success of others…..unlimited imagination and creativity. To be enlightened means to be ‘in the light’ – literally.  To be free!”

One can only hope.

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A Beginner’s Journal Part 3 – Deep Relaxation & Meditation

My first meditation class was a surprisingly emotional experience.  The mechanics of the class seemed simple enough – some gentle stretching, some deep breathing and a lot of lying on my back in a darkened room.  With the dulcet tones of Annemaree guiding and lulling the class into an ever-deepening state of relaxation, I then succumbed to silence – and lots of it.  Pretty straight-forward really.

So why then, when I “came to” did I feel like someone had cut my boat adrift from the jetty?  Let go of my rope?  Why was I experiencing such an overwhelming feeling of loss and grief?  Why did I feel like a huge balloon was about to burst in my chest into the ugliest, wettest, snottiest tears ever?   Hadn’t I been feeling quite chipper on the way in?  To the naked eye, all I was doing was sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed, breathing and being silent while Annemaree spoke gentle words about letting go. There was no bolt of lightning – the earth didn’t move.

In the following days I reflected upon this a lot.

On a superficial level, I think I found the SILENCE overwhelming.  Being a mother of two small children and after years of corporate tight-roping, I have been conditioned to be on constant high-alert.  With my disaster–radar finely tuned, I am ready for anything and expecting the worst – always having to think around corners, watch my back, think for and protect everyone around me, keep doing, keep going, keep moving at all cost.

Corporate bumper stickers had been plastered all over my brain. “You Snooze You Lose!”, “First is Always Best!”  “It’s The Quick and the Dead!”  But there in the darkness, in the silence – it was just me.  “Nothing to worry about, nothing to do, nothing to think about, just…be.”  For an hour and a half.   One quiet hour and a half to offload 15 years of baggage.  That’s enough to make anybody weep.

On a slightly deeper level,  just BE?  Just ME?  What the hell did that mean?  That used to be easy – it was written right underneath my name on my business card, next to the company logo. That’s who I was. Leaving work to stay at home to raise the children left me struggling with my identity, but under my imaginary business cards I’m sure it says “Devoted Wife & Mother”.  (The one I would show people anyway).

Up to this point I am the result of all of the labels and bumper stickers I have stuck on myself or had stuck on me by well-meaning others.  Good Girl, Good Student, Good Daughter.  I did what I was told to do (okay, not ALL the time).  I followed a career path I was told I should – following my head and not my heart.  I did all the “right” things.  I met and married My Beautiful Husband, we bought a house in a nice suburb, we renovated and we reproduced – twice!  Until one day, I found myself in my early thirties on the corporate “Out Tray”, on anti-depressants, squashing ugly feelings and emotions with wine each night and having a major “Talking Heads” moment – well, how did I GET here?

Common sense or that nagging voice in my head kept yelling “But look at everything you’ve got! What have you got to be miserable about? Just SNAP OUT OF IT!”  And so, embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone other than my divine GP about it, I took the battle inside.

So there I lay, in a dark room, in stillness and in silence – letting all of this go. In the darkness and the stillness it felt like laying a loved one to rest. This was who I WAS. Letting go of that to which I had held on to so tightly, for so long, was like waking in fright from one of those falling dreams. Without all that – who or what the hell am I?

The next morning, in the daylight, it felt different.  I enjoyed one off the deepest sleeps I had had in a long time and woke not feeling loss, but lighter. Rather than feeling like someone had cut me adrift, it felt like someone had kindly pulled up my anchor.

The changes I’ve noticed so far have been small but significant. I didn’t realize how ANGRY I was all the time. Now, as I move from room to room each day making beds and picking up yesterday’s discarded underpants I’m not conducting an internal, raging monologue. I’m not keeping a mental tally of “everything I do which goes unnoticed and unappreciated”, ready to unleash it on My Beautiful Husband if he dares to question me on, well, ANYTHING.

Now, I can find a small smile on my lips, rather than a clenched jaw. I can slide from one task to the next calmly and methodically and there is less mental chatter. Maybe some of those monkeys in my mind have packed up their bananas and nicked off. I can find small joy in the mundane and I am truly grateful for my husband, my children, my home and my life. Yes, A life which now feels a little bit larger, slightly less claustrophobic and ripening with possibility.

I wake each day quite happy.  Calm.  Looking forward to what it may hold. I can answer the phone rather than letting it go to voicemail to be dealt with later. My skin seems clearer. My lower back pain has gone. I can focus on one thing at a time and I’m not white-knuckling it through the day to 5pm when I can claw open a bottle of wine. We also have nightly visits from rats while we’re sleeping but I put that down to wet weather and cookie crumbs, not some mystical “Pied Piper” vibration I am emitting to all creatures great and small as a result of meditation.

What I had thought was going to be a process – through yoga and meditation – of losing weight and learning to put my leg behind my head is actually, for me anyway, an exercise in letting go. I certainly feel lighter – but the bathroom scales don’t show it (I don’t feel the need to even get on them anymore) and I am definitely more “flexible” – but I can’t get my leg behind my head.  In my last Cool, Calm & Collected class, Annemaree informed us that there are thousands and thousands of  yoga postures.  This is a challenge in itself for someone who is used to putting her head down and bum up (I think this is called Downward Dog in yoga) for a few weeks of intense study and getting an A+.  There is no end – this is life.

I have an idea for some new bumper stickers too: “Meditate Don’t Medicate!” and “Yoga! Embrace The Underpants”.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

A Beginner’s Yoga Journal Part 2 – My first yoga class

I attended my first Hatha Yoga class last Sunday.

I had to shove all of my body, skill and fashion-based fears aside and come to terms with the fact that I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. You know…doe-eyed; rake thin; ultra-cool; effortlessly chic; clad head-to-toe in ‘Stella McCartney for Adidas’ gear; with matching yoga mat, tucked under my toothpick arm – hanging out of my ‘It Yoga Bag of the moment’…

I left the kids with Grandma to enjoy their own bliss – junk food and anarchy – and headed into the unknown.

I took the “loose, comfortable clothing” instruction literally. (Who are they kidding? I’m a mother of two young boys – that’s my entire wardrobe). I was relieved to see that everyone else in the class were literal too. No pretense, not a designer label in sight. Not one BYO yoga mat either. It was a wildly different experience from arriving at a gym class where there must be a sign on the door saying “Do Not Smile or Make Eye Contact with Other Class Members, You Don’t Know Where They’ve Been”; everyone was casual, relaxed and friendly.

The experience level of the class ranged from complete novice (Yours Truly among them) to very bendy 10- year veterans. That Lifer Yogi set – teacher Annemaree included – exude such grace and elegance. Like a small posse of blissed-out ballerinas; so serene, their eyes so clear with eyeballs so white! They were incandescent. If you squinted you could read by them in a dark room; stick them in a corner and enjoy a romantic dinner. I DEFINITELY want some of that!

During the entire class, Annemaree gently urged and subtly reminded us to move gracefully throughout and between the poses and stances. Easy for her to say! If there is such a thing as a “Gracefulness Spectrum”, Annemaree and the Light-Bulb Bunch swim in the “Gene Kelly / Fred Astaire” end whilst I, and a smattering of others, flail about in the “Edna Everage / Basil Fawlty” beginner’s pool.

Having a complete blank on my ‘left from my right’; falling over occasionally; bumping into the odd classmate; and wondering why the whole class was looking at me quizzically during a stretching exercise, I bless Annemaree for not singling me out. I eventually got it after her repeating “to the class” – in gentle crescendo – “Left leg over right and look left…And look left…And look left. And LOOK LEFT!”

The lack of pretense within the class and encouragement from Annemaree gave us all the good grace and humour to giggle and get on with it. The stuff-ups made the class all the more enjoyable – contrasting wildly with my previous experience “Grape-vining” right while everyone else went left. Step Classes? Don’t even go there.

Through the week leading up to my class I was moved by a blog article from zenhabits.com on “The 7 Steps to an Effortless Life”. Amongst the others, two steps stayed with me –  to “Do Less” and to “Have Less”. They became like a mantra each time I found myself slipping into the mental twilight zone of Mother/ Wife- guilt, about not doing enough, or being enough,or doing it right or not doing it like everyone else seems to do it. To close the class we did a deep, blissful relaxation-exercise and one phrase Annemaree murmured within it struck a chord; “Let go of the actions and behaviours which no longer serve you”.

As a recovering “highly intelligent, over-achieving, perfectionist, control-freak”, I immediately thought she was referring to my love affair with wine, drunken faux pas, and penchant for a cigarette or eight. But as the words sit with me now, I think it’s deeper than that. I think, for me anyway, it’s about letting go of that comfortable but harmful thought pattern of not doing enough, or being enough, or doing it right, or not doing it like everyone else does it. Basically, I need to shut the hell up. I AM enough.

I came home from that first class feeling lighter and brighter. However… before you think I’ve swallowed The Little Book of Calm (just like Manny did in an early episode of Black Books) and had some sort of divine transformation – I came home and had a glass of wine and a fag like they do in the movies after great sex. What can I say? I’m still a work in progress. I’m no longer seeking perfection, just inner peace and mental quiet. I will be going back for my next slice of ‘Incandescence Pie’.

P.S.  Check out www.coolcalmandcollected.com.au and meet Annemaree.  You may not be aware that this is her blog and she has been trusting enough to throw me the keys every fortnight to share my journal with you.

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).