What is Enlightenment?

by Leisa on April 3, 2008

Last night I went to a talk by Dan Millman, author of the classic book “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior”, as well as many other inspirational writings.  I first read this book in the late 1980s and it encouraged me to think very deeply about the themes presented in it.  It became one of my favourite books, and I have read it many times over the years.

Two of the interesting topics that Dan mentioned in his talk, were the concepts of spirituality and enlightenment, and what it means to bring these ideals into our lives. 

People have varied impressions of what these concepts mean, and to many they see living “spiritually”,  in association with being a monk in a monastery and spending life in devotional meditation.

And in regards to enlightenment, one definition states that it is “characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness”.

Which is why I have never aspired to be “enlightened” in that particular manner. 

To my way of thinking – we are here on earth as humans, with a complete range of feelings and emotions, desires and dreams – and to deny that, to aspire to leave those parts of our humanness behind, is to deny who we are in this world.

The range and depth of our feelings is what gives our world colour, texture and meaning.  If we transcend our very human feelings, then we are transcending what it means to be human.  If we weren’t meant to experience ourselves being human, then why are we here?

Dan spoke about a concept that I have been familiar with since reading his books 20 years ago, and that is about practicing spirituality whilst living in the real world.  As he says, it is easy to be “spiritual” whilst living as a monk, but try being “spiritual” when you have a full time job, family, mortgage, and the daily demands and pressures that we all face. 

Practicing the concepts of love, kindness, compassion, gratefulness and joy in these circumstances takes a strong and focused individual who will be constantly challenged.  This person gets the opportunity to “practice” these higher principles daily, in a way that the monk is never challenged to.

To me, everyday spirituality, living gently in the world rather than removing yourself from it, is something very worthwhile to aspire to.  We can use idealistic notions of transcendence as inspiration and guidance, rather than as a rule to live by.

That doesn’t mean that we stop growing and working on healing our stuck negative emotions and the harmful patterns we can get into – but it can mean losing the idea that you can’t experience spirituality and enlightenment in your life right now.

Even though it isn’t always easy, embracing the rhythms of life, the highs the lows and the moments of perfect grace, brings with it a deep sense of peace and gratefulness for all that it means to be human.

And that for me, is what enlightenment is all about.



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