I remember a client who said her goal was to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, yet as we talked, I noticed she had trouble standing up for herself. She was scared to quit a job she was miserable in and too insecure to leave an unhappy marriage. She even called me during a panic attack meltdown she was having while shopping because she couldn’t pick out curtains by herself. The truth is, if we’re too afraid to do what we need to do in the world, like change jobs or decorate the house, we’re not exactly ready to transcend mortality.
We worked on this woman’s self-confidence, and once she gained enough self-respect to be decisive and communicate her needs, she blossomed. She switched jobs, got a divorce, tackled her fears, and became much more independent and fulfilled.
We can’t skip steps up the ladder of enlightenment. Our quest begins right here, today, exactly as we are. It’s true that no one becomes enlightened with a drinking problem. And no one can fully love herself yet hate her thighs. No one is free who carries monstrous debt. And no one reaches self-mastery by being duplicitous or hurtful or despising himself or anyone else. Not because we’re being punished if we do those things, but because our choice to do those things blocks our happiness.
Awakened ones, those who are enlightened, meaning they are “in the light,” have no lack—they have awakened to the truth that all they need is within. Our wounded behavior, on the other hand, reflects our sleeping mind. And a sleeping mind is not aware it is sleeping; it desperately and unsuccessfully looks for its fulfillment and peace in the world. But our only real purpose here is to wake up, which we begin to do by using whatever has been keeping us from achieving that—addictions, phobias, grievances—as a means to heal, rather than a means to stay asleep. Anything can lead to awakening. Whatever you have created in your life thus far can help you achieve a new way of being.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, hypothesized that we spend the first half of our lives developing an ego and the second half trying to get rid of it. I interpret this to mean that we must express individuality before we can know oneness. That’s why people rarely seek to know their spiritual self in their youth. They’re too busy figuring out who they are in the world—through their talents, their appearance, their intellect, and creativity. We first need to know how unique we are and gain self-esteem before we can see the truth that underneath we are all the same. We must develop a keen sense of our individualized, egoic self before we can transcend that self and become truly revolutionary.
The spiritual journey is an inward journey of healing your mind, not an outward excursion. You don’t have to trek through India, do yoga, or spend long hours meditating. All those things can be important if you feel guided to do them, and certainly the world would be a better place if we all stilled our minds each day, but everyone’s path is different. It’s a mistake to think the spiritual path is big and fancy and brightly lit or that it involves only what we think of as “spiritual.” The spiritual path is actually quite small and quiet and doesn’t necessarily look good in purple. It’s so humble that we constantly overlook it. You may be expecting a magic wand to change everything while neglecting the potential miracle of growth right in front of you.
Your daily grind is your India. It is the spiritual classroom you chose in order to learn your lessons and wake up. Each new day brings you to a precipice and the opportunity to leap into greater awareness. You may not see it, because it’s hidden in the mundane, like washing dishes after you use them, accepting your body as it is, healing your addictions, being able to receive a compliment, expressing your feelings, learning to walk away or to stay, and finishing what you start. Such perfunctory tasks can teach us the mindful qualities of integrity, discipline, forgiveness, responsibility, and respect—all necessary ingredients for self-realization.