The missing piece – what we have lost because we forgot enlightenment

One of the reasons I've had an extended break from writing here is that all of my spiritual attention has been on something rather different to the normal round of Tarot and magickal fiddling around. A few years ago I began learning about, thinking about, and seriously working with the concept of enlightenment.

Connecting with an enlightenment tradition was my eureka moment. The moment when something slotted into place. Finding a missing piece years after coming to the conclusion that the drafty hole at my centre was 'just the way things were' and something I should probably ignore or distract myself from. Frankly, I couldn't believe I'd not engaged with it before. Why hadn't someone told me about this?  Why wasn't everyone talking about Enlightenment? How could something so important be ignored?

But then, of course, I realised I'd just been suffering from cultural myopia. Lots of people are talking about enlightenment. Lots of people are engaged in enlightenment practices. There are books, teacher, traditions, all happy to show you this staggeringly important tradition. It's just… none of the people I was hanging out with (in person, or in book form) were engaged with it. For some reason the magickal, Pagan, New Age, community has become disconnect from what is perhaps the heart of all Spiritual traditions. We just don't take it seriously…

When I first come across the idea of enlightenment it was frequently as a very nebulous, new-age, concept. It was often described as a 'state of spiritual perfection' or 'when you have resolved every problem, overcome every barrier, dealt with all of your karma'. It was suggested that it is achieved after thousands of incarnations, after vast spiritual work, that perhaps one or two spiritual greats in a single generation might get there. It was, also, often described as coming with a side order of magickal/supernatural/awe-inspiring powers.

Enlightenment was also – although this may not be explicitly said it was frequently implied – not something one should realistically aim for. It's not for the likes of you and me. We're not evolved enough, not far enough down the road, we've clearly not done all that work in previous lifetimes or we'd have been born a near perfect individual in this one, ready to make the final assault on enlightenment, fulfilling the promise of a thousands of lifetimes work. We'd also probably have incarnated in Tibet, or at least on top of a mountain somewhere.

Unfortunately, by talking about enlightenment in abstract, distant, very melodramatic ways we do ourselves a massive disservice. By creating a cultural image of enlightenment that is something so unlikely, so special, so all encompassing, we clearly send the message – you'll never meet anyone who is really enlightened, and you'll never, ever, make it there yourself. Either that, or we'll jump to the even simpler conclusion that enlightenment is a myth, or an analogy, or a story told my gurus to keep cults in line.

This is so horribly, horribly wrong, so misinformed as to be painful. It creates an intellectual dead end, stops serious discussion or exploration, prevents us from learning about, understanding, and achieving what is, in my opinion, the single, most important thing, any human being can do with their life. And it's the product of not properly engaging with the traditions that are out there discussing enlightenment, working with enlightenment, achieving enlightenment. Not all Buddhist traditions are healthy traditions who actively engage with their enlightenment heritage. But some are. Not all enlightenment gurus are fully realised and helping their students achieve enlightenment themselves. But some are. Not all magickal practitioners understand the The Great Work is to achieve enlightenment, and that there are magickal technologies to help you do so. But but some do.

Yes, enlightenment is achievable. And yes you can meet people who have done it. I've met a handful. Lovely chaps, all of them. No noticeable supernatural powers amongst them, no real signs of moral perfection, no glowing or levitating. But enlightened just the same.

In many magickal circles, in many Pagan circles, in many New Age circles, we've got ourselves trapped in a horrible misconception of what enlightenment means, and what it takes to achieve it. This vastly important thing has become painted in colours that make us believe it can't possibly exist, isn't worth considering, and should be dismissed and mocked… and yet it's the thing, the thing, which may be the answer to most of our problems, and be exactly what we've been looking for all along.

It's that big a deal. And it was absolutely my missing piece. The thing I'd been seeking.

Enlightenment isn't fluffy and ill defined – it's something specific. It isn't unmanageable hard to achieve – you can do it in this lifetime, in a few years if you work at it. It isn't something that turns you into a spiritual super-hero. But it can be the answer to many of the nagging existential questions that have been bothering you for years. It can be the fulfilment of a magickal career. It can be fully satisfying. It can be what you've been looking for, even if you didn't know it.

But before we can properly engage with it, before we can probably connect our traditions to the source of our traditions, before we get help people to stop fussing around and start solving the real problem, we have to get a clearer idea of what we're talking about. That's not easy… but I'll give it a go next post.

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