I have a beautiful mind. It’s no longer an egotistical statement and just a fact, but this wasn’t always the case. The story may be more interesting when I talk about the relationship of mind to enlightenment.
I spoke early as a child. Standing in my crib, I babbled intensely – as if I were giving a passionate talk on my niche topic. As I grew up, I earned the nickname of “professor” in the hood. It was not a flattering name, but more of a putdown for knowing facts and reasoning logically – and not fitting in.
Because I grew up in an abusive environment, I frequently looked for ways to escape. My escape was learning new things and solving problems. To this day, I do puzzles or math and physics problems for fun, but the way I approach these puzzles is different than before.
My IQ was tested in my 20s and I scored very high. My mind was fluid and it felt fabulous to use it. But, my mind was useless for breaking through into enlightenment.
As with any go-to asset, I wrapped my ego around having my intelligence, and the result was a person who relied on intelligence to gain advantage and confirmation of being real. When I met my teacher, I had to face the true reality that I was unable to “think” into enlightenment. This frustrated me to no end.
My teacher was redirecting me to let go of using my ability to manipulate abstract concepts because enlightenment wasn’t a concept. Enlightenment wasn’t an experience, an induction, or a deduction. Whenever I thought that I had “figured it out,” I was inevitably wrong – and discouraged.
Mind is a poorly defined concept anyway. Is this a combination of our awareness and reasoning abilities? Even the latter is vague. When I view the various vehicles (or “bodies“) we use on multiple planes of existence, the mind can be viewed as one such vehicle, and the soul another – there are more. These vehicles are equipped with their own senses and processes and language, much like the physical body, and operate in parallel with the physical body.
However, no body is Spirit. In fact, all bodies are inseparable from Spirit and are its expressions. It amazes me when people talk about Spirit as something contained by and separate from any body when, in reality, Spirit is literally everything. Also, what people perceive as Spirit varies greatly from one person to the next. Currently, there is no way to calibrate what each of us is referring to. Nevertheless, we can say that there is something. This something is expressing through all forms but is itself formless and uncontained.
During the transformation process, I frequently confused perceptions by the various vehicles as enlightenment. For years, I had to go through the ups of feeling like I understood something to the downs of realizing that I was still incredibly confused. The struggle of wanting to quit at each down is real. The intense desire to have everything squared away and figured out is the reason why so many claim enlightenment without having actually broken through. Enlightenment must be tested. The tests are real. These test results are incontrovertible. Only someone who is enlightened can test enlightenment. Otherwise, an individual is biased by the interpretation of their own perceptions.
Letting go of everything that defines us is a lot trickier than we think. In fact, because the ego is the very process of defining ourselves, it won’t easily let go of the mechanisms that reinforce identity. Intelligent people will create an identity around intelligence, and similarly for any faculty or quality. The ego uses whatever is available and whatever we hold most dear. So, enlightenment is about letting go of whatever we feel we cannot let go, and the trap is set.
When we let go of something, there are typically more things to let go of underneath. Imagine letting go – surrendering – something you never thought you could, only to realize that there is yet more to surrender. The will required to continue is immense.
Again, the ego is a process – not a thing. As long as the process is running in the background, we are not free from it and we don’t know it, necessarily, until it gives itself away – it always does, eventually. The ego is obvious to those who no longer run this process, but is mostly hidden for those immersed in the trap. The ego is tricky – when we are identified with something, we cannot tell apart what is it versus our true nature. When ego is threatened, it will respond in less-than-obvious ways.
I feared that letting go of my mind would mean that I would become stupid, so I fought this tooth and nail. What did happen was that I stopped identifying with the mind and the mind became just a tool I use – or don’t use. It is possible to choose when the mind disengages, but this does not result in a lack of intelligence – counter to my previous concern. Interesting.
Popularized meditation techniques are explicit on allowing and observing thoughts without fighting to stop them. Well, imagine not having thoughts without any effort and still being intelligent. You want to reason logically? You can turn that switch on, and now you can allow thought to crank something out. I am amazed I used to think that the process of mind, which I could turn on or off, was me. The state of No Mind is the first level of enlightenment – a first real freedom. There are others.
No Mind is what Buddhist call Sunyata, or emptiness. I guess this is also nirvana. It is a nice, restful state, but it is not complete. After the honeymoon, the transformation process continues and there are more hidden processes to discover and unwind.
If we are not careful, we can get stuck in nirvana – a kind of detachment. This is not the end of the road. Paradoxically, further freedom requires diving into life even deeper and engaging in relationships with others during practice. Having quieter emotional reactivity certainly helps. Eventually, even the entire emotional body (process) morphs into something else. Each subsequent identity is dismantled, circuit by circuit. However, this is not done by the mind. So, what catalyst is responsible?
The catalysts are living beings who are running freedom processes and modeling them for others. Those who are ready will engage, others won’t. Many undervalue life as it is and believe all are here to “become enlightened.” This is simply not true. There is more to life than that. The enlightenment state is not applicable to all people because something else is needed in their lives at this time.
Enlightenment leads to being in the world but not of it. It is a letting go of a large degree of involvement in this plane of existence, which most are not here to do. Why scoff at that? The ego is helping people engage with this level. And why just mechanically scoff at ego? Only in the last possible stage of enlightenment here on earth is the ego dissolved, but not before – the ego transforms with us but remains until we go all the way.