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By: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2016 (edited April 8, 2022)
Discovering ourselves is a lifetime process, requiring digging deeper, and challenging comforting beliefs. Self enlightenment fuels personal development.
Life beckons in opposing directions, with no obvious correct path. Although we desire a clear demarcation that illuminates positive and negative consequences, reality is vague. All-or-nothing thinking grossly simplifies our complex world. The simple metaphor of a fork in the road doesn’t aptly describe most choices; rather than right or wrong, our options usually are multiple shades of grey. Subscribing to strict dogma alleviates the mental strain of complex choice but at a high cost. The preset cognitive heuristics frees energy for more important work—but the shortcuts also blind us from new applicable information.
History painfully teaches the dreadful consequences of unquestioningly following generally accepted dogma. Beliefs must be periodically challenged. Only through examining closer to we find self enlightenment. Only by bringing light to the dark chambers of unconsciousness do we discover ourselves.
"He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened."
Our lazy mind wants automatic answers. Cursing careful examinations, we function from habit. Constructive living requires more, stepping beyond the automatic to skeptically examine beliefs influencing action. Simple responses that follow unbendable rules reject enlightened deviations from popular thought. Many fear to stray.
Creativity emerges from experimenting with the many shades of grey. When we journey into the unknown, we stumble on knowledge ordinarily missed. As Johnathan Haidt puts it, "suddenly, things that we had not before understood or recognized as important begin to make sense" (2006, location 4060).
Comfort in Ignorance
We find comfort in simplicity. An unchanging environment provides security. Structure and strict rules relieve anxiety. However, we live in a hectic world. Our environment continually changes—flooding with abundance one day, and parched by a drought the next. Grudgingly, we wait to change until necessity forces it upon us. Even after changing, we often return to the comfortable to relax in the predictable and habitual behaviors of the past—even when those behaviors destroyed hopes. Like a dog to his vomit, we medicate our weary souls, dull our senses, and relive painful pasts. We follow trajectories because staying with the momentum is simple and spontaneous.
To avoid guilt, we engage in superficial efforts of change. With a steady diet of noble vagueness and memorized jargon, we cover the crumbling walls of human frailties with a thin coat of paint. Instead of tackling the difficult habits of behavior, we prefer self-justification, concealing and deflecting interpretations.
We Must Act on New Enlightenments
Actions—the doing—begin in the imaginative corners of the mind. We need hope. We need positive thoughts. Sometimes the freshness of optimism sets change in motion. But positivity is not the end goal; our goal should be changing the circumstances of our life. When learning to ride a bike, balancing is important, but to move we also must peddle, consequently making the balancing easier. Positive thoughts and self-confidence grow in conjunction. We need to peddle. No matter how positive the interpretation, when behaviors are destructive, growth is inhibited. Positivity is a tool—a tool that must be used in conjunction with work.
"With a steady diet of noble vagueness and memorized jargon, we cover the crumbling walls of human frailties with a thin coat of paint."
Acknowledging the proclivities of a self-deceptive mind disheartens the gleeful fool; but self-enlightened knowledge is necessary. Habitual thinking is not unchangeable. We can recognize damaging thoughts and challenge them. We can adjust stubborn patterns. We can respond better to disrupting triggers. We can skeptically challenge beliefs and replace them when appropriate.
The grand promises of untold riches and uninterrupted happiness temp fragile wills, drawing attention to unproven theories of simpleness. We will occasionally fall to the sweet lure of a paradise where dreams effortlessly explode into reality. Most of these claims lie flat, distracting us from the necessary sweat needed for improvement.
"The knowledge from an enlightened person breaks on the hard rocks of ignorance."
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Product designers, marketers, and even well-being authors cater to our desires, not reality. Simple ideas that titillate the senses rapidly spread. History repeatedly shows that the popularity of an idea doesn’t correlate with its effectiveness. When the slim, tan model testifies we can gain the body of our dreams by only exercising five-minutes a day, we are tempted, adding one more wasteful charge to our Visa card. Simpleness appeals more than effective weight loss plans that require work and a controlled diet.
We must challenge some accepted ideas. Confronting treasured beliefs is difficult, especially when we have invested energy in those beliefs. Political loyalty provides a perfect example. How often does a political pundit reverse support; no matter how discrediting emergent evidence. Opposing evidence, instead of persuading change, usually promotes more ardent support and boisterous defense. Accusations of misconduct are rejected before even heard. Witnesses discredited without due process.
We simply don’t want to think, evaluate and reverse directions. So stubbornly we hold to old ideas and look stupid, remaining blind to our bias.
Accurate self-appraisals also promote security over time. Self-enlightenment emerges when we examine vast unexplored biases. Hurtful behaviors and sensitive reactions, protected by a thin covering of justification and denial are discovered.
We never achieve complete enlightenment. Jack Kornfield teaches that enlightenment will never be found in perfection (1993, p. 162). Through conscientious listening, exploring and openness, augmented by quiet self-reflection, we achieve some enlightenment—many issues previously ignored come to light. Through these periodic glimpses into the canyons of our soul, we see the deformities—the rough edges.
We don't need to be patient for self enlightenment; we need to be constant in our efforts. Zen master Suzuki Roshi explains that constancy is the "capacity to be with what is true moment after moment, to discover enlightenment one moment after another” (Kornfield, 1993, p. 314). Once some self enlightened knowledge is gained, the real work begins.
Improvements come slowly. Often only in small imperceptible steps, but they begin to take hold. Overtime, small glimpses morph into self enlightening stares. The reality of our being materializes into something tangible. Our lives revealed become a malleable putty to masterfully form.
True self enlightenment invites change. A life we can treasure when viewed from the larger perspective of years—instead of days. We see the growth and the accompanying blessings. Through self-enlightenment, we hold hands with experience, make tough choices, seek continuous insights through openness and purposely intercede, changing the bland trajectories of our lives.
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Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Basic Books; Illustrated edition
Kornfield, J. (1993). A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. Bantam; 1st edition.