I used to think of spiritual enlightenment as a state of mind one accomplished at the end of a very long journey. Over the years my understanding has changed dramatically. Enlightenment is not about achieving a level of development that transcends our soul’s current condition. Enlightenment is experiencing this journey from the awareness of our soul’s completeness. There is no place on earth we can go to get more of who and what we are at the soul level. No amount of study will increase the force or constitution of the soul. No amount of study will actually bring us closer to the omnipresence of God.
The standard model of the quest for spiritual understanding is based on a negative. I am currently something less than I will be in the future. To be spiritually enlightened is to understand that I am already everything that I will ever be. This does not mean that the limited self-image I have adopted is adequate just as it is. The self-image will never be adequate. Nor does it mean that I am finished aspiring, dreaming and achieving. It means that I recognize myself now as something much more than this body-based facade that I have called me. Any spiritual lack that I may feel is not remedied by the consumption of more information of a spiritual nature. The remedy is removing the blinders of the self-image that block the truth of who and what I am at the soul level.
The concept of soul development or soul growth is a spiritually debilitating myth. Instead of embracing what we are, this concept directs our focus to what we are not. If I live with the hope of one day becoming something more than I am right now, I do not allow myself to even consider what is here already. It sounds arrogant, even blasphemous to say I am complete. Only a rare handful of humans, after all, have attained spiritual enlightenment. How can I claim that I am even close to having what they had?
The problem here is that we do not know what they had. We only assume we know. What we assume we know is based on the negative conclusion that whatever they had was obviously something more than we have. But if this were true, why would these enlightened souls bother to tell those who would listen that the things they were doing, others could do as well, and greater things? Why would they devote their lives to opening the spiritual eyes of others if those others were destined to remain blind? Of what value is a spiritual teaching that promises fulfillment in a future state we are not likely to reach?
The soul is not a thing to be developed. The soul is complete. Being unaware of this truth does not make it less true. Spiritual enlightenment occurs the moment we know it is true. That we do not always live from this truth does not pull us back over the threshold of understanding we have crossed. We can never return to our former conviction that we are something less today than we will be tomorrow. The omnipresence of God can never be more present than it is right now.
Because of the connotations we place on the notion of spiritual enlightenment, it is probably best to purge this term from our vocabulary. It stirs an emotional distance between where we think we are and where we think we should be. The hard work of eliminating this perceived gap is misplaced effort. In meditation, we close our eyes and search for something foreign, something we believe the great masters could see but we do not. We do not see it because that which we are seeking does not exist. We are chasing the phantom of false perception.
What we are looking for can be found with our eyes open or closed. It can be experienced in quiet and busy moments. We can know it in the peaceful rush of the surf or in the rush of the busy city. We will never find what we hope to become. We can only find what we are already. This is where our quest for enlightenment ends.