I once believed that spiritual enlightenment was a state of mind one accomplished at the end of a very long journey. My understanding, however, has changed. Enlightenment is not about achieving a level of development that transcends the soul’s present condition. Enlightenment is experiencing this journey from the awareness of the soul’s completeness. There is no place on earth we can go to get more of who and what we already are. No amount of study will increase the force or constitution of the soul. No achievement can bring us closer to the omnipresence of God than we are already.
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 doesn’t 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 call me. The spiritual inadequacy I feel is not remedied by the consumption of more spiritual information. 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 is a spiritually debilitating myth. Instead of embracing what I am, this concept directs my focus on what I am not. If I live with the hope of one day becoming something more than I am right now, I do not allow myself to consider the truth of my fundamental nature. It sounds arrogant to say I am complete, for the myth of soul development says that only a rare handful of humans have attained spiritual enlightenment. How can I claim that I am even close to having what they had?
The problem is that we do not know what they had. We only assume we know. We lay upon them our manufactured template of enlightened master with the negative assumption that whatever they had was obviously something more than we have. If this were true, why would these enlightened souls bother to tell any who would listen that the things they were doing, others could do as well, and greater things? Why would they circumvent the religious elites, the blind guides who loved their positions of authority and the wealth it generated from keeping people as spiritually confused as were they themselves? Why would genuine teachers of the soul devote their lives to opening the spiritual eyes of others if those others were restrained by laws of evolution that ensured their spiritual blindness? Of what value is a spiritual teaching that promises fulfillment in a future state that cannot possibly exist outside this now moment?
The soul is not a thing to be developed. It is now complete. Being unaware of this truth does not make it less true. Spiritual enlightenment occurs with the first glimmer of understanding that it is true. The morning sun does not peek over the horizon to tease us with the promise of light and warmth. It does not place the condition of its appearance on years of study and discipline. It does not withhold itself from those who retreat into the shadows of ignorance and superstition, or believe they must acquire something more to be worthy of its gifts. The sun appears in its fullness and freely gives itself to all who will partake of its radiant being. We can believe in the long shadows we cast while looking away from the sun, or we can turn our face to this perfectly placed star and partake of its life-affirming gifts.
Though we don’t always live from the truth we know, this momentary lapse cannot pull us back over that threshold of understanding we’ve crossed. We can never return to our former conviction that we are something less today than we will be tomorrow. We are bound by the truth that omnipresence can never be something more, that we can never be closer to God than we are right now.
Because of the conditions we place on the notion of spiritual enlightenment, it is probably best to purge such terms from our vocabulary. It stirs 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 cannot, at least not yet. We do not see it because it does not exist. We are chasing the phantom of false perception. What we intuitively long for, what we deeply seek to experience, is found with our eyes open or closed. It can be known in quiet and busy moments. We can experience it in the peaceful rush of the surf, or in the noise of the busy city. It is not possible to be separated from the presence of God.
We will never find what we hope to become. We can only find what we are already. And what we are already exists fully and completely in this moment. It cannot be anything less or anyplace else. This now moment in which we exist is the holy ground of the Eternal. It is here and here alone that our quest for enlightenment ends.