‘Go as deep as you can into life,
and you will be able to let go of even blossoms.’
– Ryokan (1758 – 1831), Japanese Zen poet.
Enlightenment is a state in which there is such a depth of peace and satisfaction that there is no desire for anything more or different. If we are really present in this moment, this is enough.
I spent years longing to become enlightened. I had experienced a glimpse of enlightenment when I had an awakening during a meditation retreat in 1997. I became aware that prior to this I had been unconsciously suffering. Seeing this, there was really no option for me but to try to free myself from my suffering. This became my only real desire and I was driven by it.
Sitting with a group had great benefits. The group energy definitely had a strong effect on my practice, but I noticed that meditating under the guidance of an enlightened teacher had a huge effect on me.
Everything was mysteriously intensified when the teacher was present. Sometimes I would experience an energetic vibration in various parts of my body, or a feeling of deep peace. Sometimes there would be a disturbance in my mind as it tried to cope with something unfamiliar that it couldn’t explain.
It was a slow process of breaking down habits and beliefs, and the teacher was the catalyst. I eventually realised that my deepest habit was the belief that I exist as a separate self. Once I fully realised this, all fear disappeared.
I was very reluctant to go to my first meditation evening. My partner had been meditating on and off for years, and although I could see that he was becoming more relaxed and contented with his life, I was still quite resistant to the idea.
At that time I was reasonably happy with my life. I had a good relationship with my partner and children and enjoyed working as a freelance artist. I did wonder why I was often powerless to deal with the strong emotions that arose in me from time to time. There was a desire to become a ‘better’ person but there was also a fear of change.
In 1995, at the age of 37, I finally agreed to go to a meditation evening with my partner. It was a non-sectarian group run by a Buddhist-trained teacher. The technique was quite simple – to watch the breath and the sensations in the body.
I survived the first evening, and even though I wasn’t consciously aware of any great difference in how I felt, I quite enjoyed the experience, and could see no harm in going again.
It was probably during the third or fourth evening that I started to become aware of what I can only describe as a ‘depth of experience’. It was the realisation that there was more to life than there appeared to be, and I was keen to explore this further.
Meditation soon became a major part of my life. My teacher became my inspiration. He had been meditating for many years, and had reached a point of such clarity and depth that he was able to guide me through the highs and lows that came with intensive meditation practice.
I could see that my practice was affecting every area of my life. Situations that had previously caused me great anxiety were no longer a problem. As my inner strength developed there was often a feeling of deep peace.
Over the years I had two more enlightened teachers who encouraged me to keep practising. The technique was basically the same – sitting in silence (my mind was often not silent), watching the rise and fall of the abdomen as the breath enters and leaves the body. Very simple, very effective, but certainly not always easy.
Slow walking meditation became an invaluable part of my practice. My whole life eventually became my meditation. Whether I was formally sitting or washing the dishes, there was really no difference.
Everyone can benefit from meditation, sitting regularly in a group with an experienced teacher. Whether we want to reduce our stress, deepen our experience of daily life, or go further into exploring our consciousness, and what makes us who we are, sitting and carefully watching our own reality moment to moment is the most effective way.