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Enlightenment for Regular People

“Whatever is within the flowers is within us. We are part of this universe! Whether I am looking at a human hand or looking at the galaxies of shooting stars or the flight of a bird … something marvelous is going on and I’m part of it. We’re all part of it!” – Harold Feinstein

YOU are capable of being enlightened

The quote above is a beautiful example of what an experience of samadhi or enlightenment is like. I think it’s important to point this out because so often the ultimate invitation of yoga is written off as something set aside for barefoot sages sitting cross-legged in mouths of remote mountaintop caves.

Please hear me. This is not the case. You are capable of enlightenment. In fact, I am certain that you have already had many precious moments of samadhi in your lifetime.

You just need a little practice

The invitation of yoga is that, with practice, you can have more.

When I was silly enough to think adopting two puppies from the same litter was an excellent idea, I learned a phrase that I will never forget. The woman I hired (in true desperation) to help me train the dogs said, “It’s all about creating situations for success. Don’t want them to eat socks? Pick up the socks. Don’t want them to piddle in the house? Play with them near a door (and watch them like a hawk).”

Spiritual practice is nothing other than creating a situation for success for yourself to see God (Spirit, Life, Love, the Divine, or, as Mr. Feinstein delightfully says, “something marvelous”) in everyone and in everything.

Misunderstanding derails enlightenment

Yoga philosophy teaches that avidya (misunderstanding) is the primary obstacle to enlightenment. (In fact, I’d like to offer up a less popular but perhaps also somewhat less off-putting translation of samadhi – clear seeing.) What is it that we don’t understand or clearly see? Who and what we really are.

Who and what are we? Part of an enormous, wonder-full, marvelous whole. The fact that this whole is incomprehensible to us does not mean it is not truly awesome to sense, to feel, to know that we are part of it. The fact that our role in this whole is infinitesimally infinitesimal does not matter because, the fact of the matter is, that without you and me, the whole would be incomplete.

Sit in the mouth of a cave and ponder that. I suspect that you, like Mr. Feinstein, would feel the realization worthy of an exclamation point. Or two.

What gets in the way of our clear understanding? Two things really. We confuse who we are with our thinking mind. And, almost inseparably, our passionate attachment to what we think.

A simple experiment to prove that you are not your thoughts

Rather than get bogged down in a long-winded proof that you are not your thoughts (if you want to read such a proof, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a great option), I offer you a simple experiment. Close your eyes for a second. Notice what is happening in the “quiet” within you. Notice what you are thinking. Notice the (sometimes hilariously random) flow of thoughts.

Now think about this: if you can notice your thoughts, can your thoughts be you? You are deeper than your thoughts. Your thoughts are simply a part of who you are. The grander, truer, albeit a bit elusive you is the part of you that notices.

Stillness is the key

What is it we need in order to notice? Stillness (nirodha). Can we agree that life is rarely still? Just look back at our opening quote. The “something marvelous” is in motion. Shooting stars, flying birds, blossoming flowers, the human body. We cannot still (a.k.a. control) life as it swirls around us.

So how do we find the stillness we need to notice? We create it within. Because our minds (at least mine) are rather puppy-like, we create “situations for success” (stillness) over and over again when we practice.

Because life is not still, we must create our own stillness

What does this look like? We draw our awareness away from our thoughts, sometimes 60 times in a single minute, and return it to our chosen focal point. You get to choose what you focus on. It could be your breath. A dancing flame. A meaningful word. A beautiful icon or mandala. A daisy.

With enough practice, often after a sort of explosion of rather desperate-seeming thoughts, you will slip into silent stillness. This might only last an instant before your thinking mind kicks up yet another thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m still at last!” But you’ve felt it. And it feels good.

In that moment (or more) of stillness you feel how small you are. How loved and cherished you are. How much you love and cherish the world around you. You feel a part of something marvelous and are overjoyed that this is so.

Enlightenment is being overwhelmed by noticing

With practice, the next time you are snuggling a puppy, or walking in the falling snow, or eating a chocolate chip cookie, or watching your dad help your mom into the car, you will be so overwhelmed with noticing that it is all you are doing.

You will have reached (at least for a moment) enlightenment. And, I promise you, that taste will be enough to inspire a lifetime of practice.


Curious about yoga philosophy and how it can transform your life? Consider taking my on-line class. It would be my very great pleasure to meet with you as you study to discuss what you’re learning.