What comes after enlightenment?

“At the end of Way to the Peaceful Warrior, I shared a deep realization in the only words I could find:

There is no need to search…achievement leads nowhere…makes no difference at all. Just be happy now. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you think. You are already free.

Lofty words, coming from an ecstatic moment of illumination. A few years later, however, they seemed like the words of a stranger; I could remember them, but I couldn’t feel them. Lofty words don’t satisfy us if our body is in pain, if our relationship is troubled, or if we’re wondering how we’re going to pay our bills this month…

Something Socrates had said helped sustain me through this dry spell. He reminded me that life has cycles – that whatever goes up, comes down, and whatever falls can rise again. Progress can be slow: We remember, then we forget, then we remember; we take two steps forward, then one step back, no matter how enlightened we become, we still face the realities of daily life.

A young man had spent five arduous years searching for truth. One day, as he walked up into the foothills of a great mountain range, he saw an old man approach from above, walking down the path, carrying a heavy sack on his back. He sensed that this old man had been to the mountaintop; he had finally found one of the wise – one who could answer his heart’s deepest questions. 

“Please, Sir,” he asked. “Tell me the meaning of enlightenment.”

The old man smiled, and stopped. Then, fixing his gaze on the youth, he slowly swung the heavy burden off his back, laid the sack down, and stood up straight.

“Ah, I understand,” the young man replied. “But, Sir, what comes after enlightenment?”

The old man took a deep breath, then swung the heavy sack over his shoulders and continued on his way.

Socrates once told me, ‘A flash of enlightenment offers a preview of coming attractions, but when it fades, you will see more clearly what separates you from that state – your compulsive habits, outmoded beliefs, false associations, and other mental structures.’ Just when our lives are starting to get better, we may feel like things are getting worse – because for the first time we see clearly what needs to be done.

‘After illumination,’ Socrates continued, ‘difficulties continue to arise; what changes is your relationship to them. You see more and resist less. You gain the capacity to turn your problems into lessons and your lessons into wisdom.'”

-Dan Millman in his book “No Ordinary Moments”


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