My muse is a shapeshifter. She’s indiscriminate: a divine whore and angelic trickster up to her knees in mulch and butterfly cocoons. She’s in sunshine and dogs and fleeting thoughts and pain. She isn’t something other than me, but I can’t control her. She is my daemon, my guide.
She would also like me to tell you that I don’t understand her and have no idea what I’m talking about.
After busting some enlightenment myths, I thought I should look at what enlightenment actually is, with the rather obvious disclaimer: I am not enlightened, although I am working on it…
The first thing to say is that it isn’t possible to say what enlightenment reveals. The true nature of reality is beyond concepts and language, so cannot be expressed. It can only be lived as Being.
What comes to mind when you think of enlightenment? Saints glowing with divine radiance? Gurus with unfeasibly long beards chanting incomprehensible mantras? Endless do-gooding and lots of smiling? Floating on a cloud of bliss while dispensing otherworldly wisdom?
Enlightenment is often seen as a one-off event that changes your life forever. Darkness is banished and you spend the rest of your days bathed in light and goodness.
“Mindfulness of Breathing, monks, cultivated and regularly practiced, is of great fruit and great benefit. Mindfulness of Breathing, cultivated and regularly practiced, brings to Perfection the four Foundations of Mindfulness. The four Foundations of Mindfulness, cultivated and regularly practiced, bring the seven Factors of Enlightenment to perfection; the seven Factors of Enlightenment, cultivated and regularly practiced, bring wisdom and deliverance to perfection.” – Anapanasati Sutra
The Four Immeasurables is a Buddhist meditation that is often used to dedicate your practice to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. It can be directed at yourself as well as others, and helps you to feel more compassionate. Practising the Four Immeasurables will remind you why you practise in the first place. It helps you to focus on your intention to awaken and to share your light and kindness with others.
Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice of giving and receiving. You take in the suffering and pain of others, and breathe out love, compassion and understanding. It’s a very powerful practice that uses visualisation to develop compassion and unconditional love for all.
Savasana is a very powerful yoga pose which can bring healing to the body and mind. Savasana means corpse pose, but don’t let that put you off! This pose is usually performed at the end of a yoga session and is ideal for total relaxation.
This is a guided meditation taken from the therapeutic practice of Psychosynthesis which was started by psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli. It is a process of gradually stripping away the layers of false self-identification to reveal the true nature of the Self underneath.
The Body Scan is a guided meditation that is simple to do but brings excellent results. It can be done sitting or lying down and is a good way to check in with your body to see if there are any changes you need to make to improve your health. Using the information gleaned from the body scan you’ll be able to make timely changes to your diet, exercise regime or lifestyle that will have long term benefits. It’s also an excellent way to get back in touch with your body as it keeps you grounded and stops you from getting lost in your head.
Centring Prayer is a form of meditation that has a more spiritual meaning than many other types of meditation. Mindfulness, body scans, watching the breath, and even vipassana can all be practised without focusing on spirituality at all. They’re all great ways to learn to concentrate and discipline the mind.
Meditation doesn’t always have to be practised sitting down. Moving meditations can be practised while running, dancing, doing the gardening or cleaning, and when exercising or walking.
Martial arts, Tai Chi and Yoga are all forms of moving meditation. Athletes often have peak experiences while training or competing. The meditative awareness induced by being totally focused and present in the body as it moves can trigger a spiritual awakening.
Vipassana meditation is about looking into the true nature of the mind to discover who you really are. It’s also known as Insight meditation and was the form of meditation practised by the Buddha in order to attain enlightenment. Through practising vipassana he realised that suffering could be overcome by seeing into our true nature.
A mantra is a sacred word or phrase used in meditation to help focus and calm the mind. The mantra can be spoken or chanted out loud, or repeated as a thought in the mind. The idea is to focus on the meaning of the mantra as you chant, and doing this can have a transformative effect on your whole life.
The simplest mantra, and probably the most well-known, is ‘Om’. This comes from the Hindu tradition and is known as the source of all mantras. Om is the foundation of all existence, the seed from which the universe came into being. Chanting Om helps you to focus on the oneness of all and acts as a reminder of your true nature.