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Some Umbrellas Are Just Too Big | The Truth Is You

Some Umbrellas Are Just Too Big

Working with the seeking/awakening game, as I do, I have to deal with the word "enlightenment" a lot. No surprise there. It's probably also not a surprise that I have issues with that word. Anyone who has read this site for a while knows that. 

Recently though I am seeing the difficulty the word "enlightenment" presents a bit differently. For a long while the issues seemed to me to be about poor, and wildly differing definitions of the term. Not very many people can agree on what it actually means. I still think that is a valid problem, but now I see another one as well. The word "enlightenment" just covers too much ground. It's too big of an umbrella.
For some, "enlightenment" means freedom from suffering.
For some, it means indifference too suffering.
For some, the word "enlightenment" means correct knowing of your true identity.
For some it means having a healing impact on the world.
For some it means no longer taking part in the standard games of life, such as politics, livelihood, and ego defense. 
For some it means retreat from the world.
For some it means perfection of the manifest form.
On and on it goes. 
These are not simply differing definitions. They are different areas of concern, wildly separated and distinct. I am not saying that I don't think it's possible for a single state of affairs to resolve all of these areas. What I am saying is I have not seen a good example of that yet. Instead I have seen people casting aspersions when someone doesn't measure up to how they hold the term. There are those who complain that Ramana Maharshi was not "completely realized" (aka - enlightened) because he had difficulty walking and died of cancer.
The umbrella of "enlightenment" has just grown too big. Personally I think all of the above meanings for the term are laudable goals to pursue. However, it does no one any good if you can't articulate what it is you're looking to accomplish. It especially doesn't help you if you can't articulate it to yourself. I was in that second category for quite sometime. I had heard that enlightenment was this great, good thing. So I decided that's where I would head. I plodded along for close to a decade before it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was headed. I would be more embarrassed by that admission if I had not subsequently met scores of fellow seekers making the exact same mistake.

What does the word "enlightenment" mean to you? Do you know? If you do know, does it match with what you are doing to get there? Is it something you can actually get to? These type of questions will help you narrow things down a bit and can at least give you something to match your progress on your path against. 

(Some at this point will raise the objection that enlightenment is not something you can achieve, or progress towards. I think that is both true, and not true, in a certain sense. That, however, is a story, and best saved for another day.)

Here is my suggestion, if enlightenment is what you desire: Take a good hard look at what you think it is. Compare that to what you thought it was supposed to be. See if those ideas match up with the words of the sages you feel a resonance with. Don't just head out eagerly without much idea of what you are on about. If nothing else it will make the journey more meaningful and cohesive. 

What do you think? What does enlightenment mean to you?

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Leave A Reply (10 comments so far)

  1. Claudia
    4 years ago

    My definition keeps changing as I change, grow and learn. I wanted something I could nail down and aim for, but I keep having to remove the nail and change the goal. So now I just plod onward. It's a fun plod though.

    • Travis
      4 years ago

      I am with you there, Claudia. It's definitely a moving target. Personally I think that's a good thing. Makes it a living path, rather than something dead and defined. Cheers!

  2. Ton Haarmans
    4 years ago

    For me enlightenment means knowing who I really am.

    • Travis
      4 years ago

      I get that one, Ton. I found it a really useful one for quite some time. Still do in fact. 😉

  3. Annette Brandes
    4 years ago

    So here I sit wondering about my umbrella. My story; husband died last year; my body has been in and out of the hospital many times this year, otherwise life is just waiting for me to make a move.The cohesive journey for me would be to find Malala like young girls, and help them grow. Thank you for the "enlightened" inspiration.

    Annette Brandes

    • Travis
      4 years ago

      Wow, Annette! You have been through life's roller coaster! I hope things smooth out for a while and you find those young girls to help grow. We definitely need a better relationship with our younger generation in this world. I wish you luck and joy on that path!

  4. bo smith
    4 years ago

    Please excuse me for leaving quotes, but they exspress a pointing to the essence that, to me, is profound.This writing from st. john of the cross speaks of the unspeakable.

    I also like what was written by Rumi
    "Only a fool tries to speak of the unspeakable, so here I go." and I'm so greatful he did. Thank you for the conversation.

    I entered into unknowing,
    yet when I saw myself there,
    without knowing where I was,
    I understood great things;
    I will not say what I felt
    for I remained in unknowing
    transcending all knowledge.


    That perfect knowledge
    was of peace and holiness
    held at no remove
    in profound solitude;
    it was something so secret
    that I was left stammering,
    transcending all knowledge.


    I was so 'whelmed,
    so absorbed and withdrawn,
    that my senses were left
    deprived of all their sensing,
    and my spirit was given
    an understanding while not understanding,
    transcending all knowledge.


    He who truly arrives there
    cuts free from himself;
    all that he knew before
    now seems worthless,
    and his knowledge so soars
    that he is left in unknowing
    transcending all knowledge.


    The higher he ascends
    the less he understands,
    because the cloud is dark
    which lit up the night;
    whoever knows this
    remains always in unknowing
    transcending all knowledge.


    This knowledge in unknowing
    is so overwhelming
    that wise men disputing
    can never overthrow it,
    for their knowledge does not reach
    to the understanding of not
    transcending all knowledge.


    And this supreme knowledge
    is so exalted
    that no power of man or learning
    can grasp it;
    he who masters himself
    will, with knowledge in
    always be transcending.


    And if you should want to hear:
    this highest knowledge lies
    in the loftiest sense
    of the essence of God;
    this is a work of his mercy,
    to leave one without
    transcending all knowledge.

    ~Saint John of the Cross (1542–1591

    • Travis
      4 years ago

      Hey Bo! Glad you liked the post, and no need to worry about the long comment! I love St. John of the Cross and am glad to have the repeat of his words here. Cheers!

  5. david christopher
    4 years ago

    when i was young i yearned for enlightenment. now as an older person enlightenment to me is starting the day with a good bowel movement.

    • Travis
      4 years ago

      David, I am -RIGHT- there with you on that one. Hi5!