Enlightenment is a loaded word. After reading about meditation and mindfulness for five minutes, you are going to come across an image of an Enlightened person: So, it’s usually some bald-headed monk in robes, sitting in silence with a soft smile on his face. “There you go… Enlightenment” says your brain and tucks away this image in its memory banks.
I’m willing to bet that YOU don’t especially identify with the shiny domed monk, but this Enlightenment meaning thing seems tempting in the extreme. The only thing is, it’s hard to remove the monk from your mental image and to replace it with ourselves in any way that doesn’t come with the sting of self-deception.
Perhaps our understanding of Enlightenment is not useful to us. We might be making too big a deal of it. Let’s take a look at it and see if we can come up with a version of enlightenment (please note the small e) that mere mortals such as you and I can reach.
The Characteristics of Enlightenment
- The ability to notice the arising of impulses without having to act upon them.
- The ability to pay attention without getting lost in thought trains.
- The ability to negotiate with oneself in order to act ethically.
- Acting ethically.
- Naturally arising compassion
Enlightened when seen like this, as hard as it might well be, at least is somewhat approachable. Maybe it doesn’t capture the finer points but, it is a goal that is at least visible. We move enlightenment, then, from the exclusive domain of the spiritual devotee, and bring it within reach of each of us.
Enlightenment is a Practice
Enlightenment meaning shining a light on ourselves; It isn’t all-or-nothing, but a step-by-step process of daily improvement. You can do the exercises that build the characteristics of enlightenment and be happy with each step you take. Each step will improve your ability to live life well, and there’s nothing necessarily esoteric or ineffable about it.
Enlightenment is attainable
This makes enlightenment meaning as rather more a question what what you do rather than any abstract concept of being. The first practice that springs to mind is obviously meditation. This is the space in which we learn the first two attributes (those of noticing the arising of impulses without acting on them and paying attention without getting lost in thought). When you start, you will hardy be able to do it at all. That’s just the way it is.
Enlightenment is more than just sitting
So, now we get; “negotiating with yourself to act ethically and actually acting ethically”. This is obviously difficult but doable. No special robes or beads are required. However, it requires you to NOT be lazy. Tricky!
Enlightenment is Naturally Arising Compassion
The practice of mindfulness is said to result in the natural arising of compassion. One you have a true understanding, the intellectual position of “We humans are all in the same boat. We are all fallible and face the same struggles” becomes a flimsy description of an internal state that completely defies words. The practice holds this as its promise: Just doing the practice is enough.
Neuroplasticity and The Mindful Habit : Enlightenment Meaning
Nowadays, we understand the idea of brain plasticity. We understand that habits that are not indulged will fade away. Habits practiced become effortless. Unwise thoughts, not entertained, fade into nothing and the same fate awaits unwise actions. Each step you take is on a path that you illuminate with the light of your attention. You will never be perfect and, in truth, nobody expects you to be. Just keep going.
So, the very next thought that you recognize as a mere thought, or in fact the very next moment you are able to pay attention, you are in the light of attention. That sounds a lot like en-light-en-ment.