There is a story about a Zen master who lived in a Buddhist monastery. He was being asked some questions by a group of tourists about what it is like to be "enlightened."
"What did you do before you were enlightened?" they asked.
"I chopped wood and carried water," the master replied.
"What do you do now that you are enlightened?"
"I chop wood and carry water."
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Not a very enlightening answer, is it? But it's true. You can't always tell an enlightened person just by looking. You have to get to know them a bit, before you become aware that their words and actions are kind, helpful, uplifting, empowering, or inspiring. Meanwhile, they have families and go to work every day. They dress like everybody else, and engage in some of the same activities. They have problems just like everybody else, too. The difference is in how they solve their problems.
Once you have achieved a basic state of enlightenment, which I described in yesterday's blog, you are on your way, and the process, once started, cannot be stopped. It can only be delayed or slowed down a bit. Let's look at what higher consciousness looks like as Soul moves forward from basic enlightenment. Let me point out, here, that although I am familiar with some of these things at an elementary level, I have not achieved the highest level of consciousness. My description comes from observing those who have progressed beyond my level, and from the observations of others.
At some point, you find a particular path that resonates with you. Although you are aware that there are other paths and other spiritual Masters, you are content to choose the path and the Master that is most beneficial for your own unique pattern of spiritual growth. Your spiritual practice becomes more steady. You meditate regularly and you devote some time every day to reading about or reflecting on spiritual principles. You focus on your inner life and your growth as Soul, and you are aware that your experiences in daily life are opportunities for you to learn in order to be of service to Divine Spirit. Your thoughts, words, and actions are more and more in harmony with your beliefs, to the point where there is total integrity. You tell the truth and keep your promises. Everything you do in life comes from a desire to achieve the highest good for all concerned. You express love for life in all that you do.
As your spiritual practice continues, you become a true devotee of Love, Light, and Truth, and you become aware of all you have done previously to block yourself from achieving enlightenment. You begin to see the perfection and economy in the way the physical world was designed, and you appreciate the opportunities provided in daily life to grow spiritually. You gradually stop judging others and allow them to progress on the path of life at their own pace and in their own way, knowing that all is as it should be. At this stage you learn how to overcome anger, fear, sorrow, guilt, and worry, and you learn how to counter aggressive and selfish tendencies that appear in your life as a test. You become more and more consistent in putting this knowledge into practice on a daily basis. You make choices with an expanded knowledge of cause and effect, and you avoid creating more negative karma for yourself and others.
You learn to manifest detachment, to accept the ups and downs of life without excessive drama. You no longer allow problems to derail you or make you incapable of moving forward. You learn not only to survive, but to thrive in the physical environment, and you figure out how to bring your inner wisdom to bear in everyday physical life.
This is commonly the stage of spiritual development where people expect a person to retreat from life and live in a monastery, and in ages past, this is what a lot of people did. But today, fully enlightened people know that it's best to engage fully in life, because that is where we find the the opportunities for spiritual advancement.
People who experience further enlightenment may achieve a state called "cosmic consciousness," in which they become aware of the interconnectedness of life and their place in the scheme of things. This state is generally achieved for only a short time, but the effects stay with us forever, in the form of a vastly expanded awareness of the meaning of life. If the person has prepared himself for this experience by eating healthy food, getting exercise, meditating regularly, and actively cultivating happiness and gratitude, then the experience is powerful and uplifting. If not, or if the experience comes as a result of using mind-altering drugs, the experience can be extremely frightening, and it may even cause a person to be severely unbalanced. If the person has been working with a true Master, he will be well-prepared for the experience and will be able to process it properly. If not, he may end up in a mental institution.
Another experience of the enlightened state can be called Soul Travel. This can be achieved either in the waking state or during the dream state. Soul leaves the body behind and has inner experiences in the non-physical planes of existence, the various levels of heaven. The person who has these experiences learns not to fear leaving the body. He or she learns to remember the Soul Travel experience and to integrate what was learned during the experience into "normal" daily life.
People at this level of consciousness seem incredibly calm and centered. Nothing seems to phase them for long. They act with courage and purpose in the most difficult of situations. They survive experiences that might send others to a mental hospital or cripple them emotionally. Others instinctively come to these people for advice and comfort.
One challenge, at this point, is to avoid the temptation to try to "play God" for other people, or to cultivate a group of followers in order to exercise personal power over them. Another challenge is to submit to the will of God, which can be difficult, because the ego continually wants to regain control. The person's mantra at this stage is, "Not my will, O Lord, but Thy will be done." The tests at this level are not for the faint of heart.
At some point, every Soul experiences the Dark Night of Soul, at which point many people feel that they have been abandoned by God. Nothing and no one can help a person who has this experience, and despite all the prayers, mantras, and other techniques that they have learned up to this point, nothing seems to work. The person feels totally adrift and helpless. This is really the final letting go of the ego.
At some point, once the person has totally surrendered to God, peace returns and he or she is once again capable of coping with daily life, only this time, all is for God. This is the highest state of consciousness that can be experienced by Soul in physical form. Even higher states await our discovery in the Spiritual Worlds. :-)