Looking through the biography notes on Arjuna Ardagh (author of Awakening Into Oneness, the book I mentioned in the previous post) I came across this interesting quote about the culmination of Ardagh's search for enlightenment:
(Ardagh) had the profound realization that he had been seeking for what he already was, and always had been. He realized that it was in the abandonment of seeking and wanting that his heart found its fulfillment.
What might he mean by this?
It seems to me that if people think about enlightenment at all - and it helps to remind myself from time to time that not everyone does - then it's usually in terms of lots of foreign travel. People are expected to journey along perilous mountain passes to isolated monasteries, where they rise in the middle of the night to pray, drink yak's milk, and smite themselves with sticks at frequent intervals. If they are lucky and survive twenty years or so of this, they become enlightened, which means that they sit around with their knees crossed and make cryptic remarks to their students.
Whatever this enlightenment thing is, the idea goes, it is out there. You have to go out and find it. It is all about long haul flights and frequent flyer points. You have to search under every stone, and having searched, search again. There is no such thing as a long weekend to enlightenment.
And yet increasingly, people like Ardagh seem to be suggesting that this popular concept of a lonely soul scouring the world for some hidden truth is mistaken: that enlightenment is really closer to home than we think. That if we only understood, we could have it here, right now, in this moment.
But if so, then what is it? What is this truth which is supposed to be staring us all in the face?
Eckhart Tolle tells a story about winning a million dollars. This is something which makes people happy. But why should that be, he asks?
We know from reading the newspapers that many people who win such a large amount of money don't stay happy for very long. They may be bouncing off the ceiling a while, but when the elation has worn off, they find that they just have a new set of problems. They may be besieged by people begging for money; they may have trouble with jealous relatives; they may have arguments with their partner about how to spend all the money; or they may simply become morbidly obsessed with the fear of losing this vast fortune, in spite of the fact that they have managed perfectly well without it until now.
So with all this in store, why are people still so happy to win the lottery?
It clearly isn't the money itself, not really, for even if they manage to hang on to it, the chances are that some of these problems will come along to make them miserable anyway. Even at best, it seems inevitable that the elation will start to dwindle away over the weeks and months, even if all the money remains.
So if it's not the money itself, what causes that initial burst of elation?
Eckhart Tolle points out that we tend to spend a lot of our time 'disagreeing with reality'. We refuse to accept that things are the way they are. He describes this as a kind of madness, and if we think about it a while, we can see that he's right. Things are the way they are. Period. There's no getting away from it and no amount of raging against it is going to change it. We might wish we'd done this or wish we'd done that, and want to have this or want to have that. We might want politicians to tell the truth, or our relationship not to have ended, or to have got that job we wanted, or to have eaten a bit less chocolate for breakfast. We might want it to be warmer in winter and cooler in summer. We might want the trains to run on time. But things are the way they are are the way they are - and banging our heads against the wall and wailing isn't going to make them any better.
Now don't get me wrong - I'm not saying we shouldn't take action to change things. If we notice some injustice that's being done to us or to someone else, or if we see how something might be done more efficiently, it's perfectly reasonable to set out to change that. But it's important to distinguish between that will to change and our absolute point blank refusal to accept the less than perfect nature of how things presently are.
The truth is that when we see something we think is wrong, we don't put all our energy into changing it. We don't do that at all. We channel a lot of that energy, perhaps most of it, or - let's face it - in most cases all of it into moaning about how things are right now, in refusing to accept reality, in resisting what we can see in front of our eyes. "The buses should run on time," we will say. "You shouldn't have walked out on me." "Chocolate ought to have less calories and then I wouldn't get fat!"
This resistance does nothing to change things and neither does it make us happy. It makes us tense. It makes us angry. It makes us frustrated. In the end, it is not the situation to which we object which causes us so much pain, but our blind, obstinate, utterly mad refusal to accept that it is so.
And this, Eckhart Tolle suggests, points to the reason why winning all that money can make us happy: because for once in our lives we are willing to accept that things are the way they are. We have won a million dollars - yes, we can accept that. So just for once in our lives, we can drop our resistance to how things actually are. We can drop our disagreement with reality. We can drop our obsession with how things were or how they might become, put our plans and dreams to one side, finally stop resisting and let in life. It is not the money itself, it is the great relief of doing this, of letting go of that struggle, which feels so wonderful.
Which brings us back to Arjuna Ardagh "seeking for what he already was, and always had been". Ardagh reports that he found fulfillment when he stopped this seeking, when he abandoned his wanting. In other words: when he no longer disagreed with reality, when he simply accepted the way things were - and accepted the way he was.
So perhaps it is this acceptance, this surrender, not just from time to time but continuously, from one moment to the next, which forms the cornerstone of enlightenment. Which means that we don't, after all, have to search the world for the ultimate truth. It really is waiting for us right here. We just have to give up the struggle and accept the way things are.
So if you want to know what it feels like to win a million, just try accepting the way things are in this moment, really accepting. Then feel the tension ease...
Feel the lightening.
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