Search

E16: Two Unenlightened Podcast Hosts Try to Define Enlightenment


Six-Minute Exercises
.pdf
Download PDF • 95KB

Jacob Derossett

We're here with Sarah Vallely, mindfulness teacher, coach and author Sara has been teaching meditation mindfulness for the past two decades, training and certifying others to teach mindfulness. Sarah is the author of four books. Her latest book is titled Tame Soothe Dwell: The 55 Teachings of TSD Mindfulness. On today's episode, we talk about different definitions of enlightenment regarding liberation, transcendence, egocentric constructs. We also talk about Nirvana and what people may or may not get out of an enlightenment experience. I'm Jacob Derossett. We are here with Sarah Vallely. Sarah, How are you?


Sarah Vallely

I'm great, Jacob. Let's start with a few definitions of enlightenment and break them down. The first definition is: the illusion of the self, liberating the mind, taking a deeper look at what consciousness and awareness really is. One more definition: see the egocentric, individualistic self as a conditional semiotic construct. When I first read this definition, I was like, I have no idea what that means. But I did look up semiotic and it means “symbolic”.



Once I was meditating, my consciousness slowed down to such a degree that I actually saw I thought being born. And what that look like was, imagine taking a gallon of paint and pouring it on the floor, and then a symbol came out of that surface--it was a hammer. And to this day, I can't remember what the thought was that was instigated but it instigated a thought. And I saw that whole process. We do operate in our psyche with symbols, for sure. Maybe our idea of self is an illusion, maybe our self is more of a symbol. What do you think?


Jacob Derossett

That's a pretty far-out definition. Sounds more like it’s from a psychedelic world understanding than from a meditation world. The first definition, I was immediately reminded of, a lot of the stuff that I've listened to. The word non duality is really used a lot and all the things that I've heard and listened to.


Sarah Vallely

The Buddhists use the term Nirvana and enlightenment interchangeably. I think people have different ideas of enlightenment, enlightened might be just a singular experience. Or it might be this permanent state that we attain. For me, I've always considered it to be an experience--we have an enlightenment experience.


Jacob Derossett

So is enlightenment experience different from an awakening experience?


Sarah Vallely

How would you define an awakening experience?


Jacob Derossett

I had an experience in college feeling like I could just let go of worry for about three days. It was just like this voice from somewhere else said, you don't have to care about this. I remember it so vividly. And then I had an experience just a few years ago, after I read a book, of feeling like my thoughts were way in the background, they were really far back there. I don't know if those are awakening experiences or enlightenment experiences, but I've heard that there's levels. There's stream entry, and then all the way up to Nirvana.


Sarah Vallely

The way you're talking about awakening experience is an insight. Those sound like really typical insights, which are powerful. And enlightenment experience, is specifically about the no self experience--getting to a point where you don't identify with yourself at all. You don't even know that you exist.


I mentioned in a previous episode that I had attained enlightenment three times which maybe I shouldn't have just bolted out there because some unnamed individual called me up and said people might think I think I’m walking around enlightened. That's definitely not what I meant. Anybody who spends any amount of time with me and knows I'm not enlightened. I’m doing this whole episode to make up for the fact that opened my big mouth and said all that.


It takes about 60 to 90 minutes of meditation, before I have one of these experiences. Twice when I had this “enlightenment experience”, I was actually doing walking meditation. And walking meditation does not mean you go to the park and take a walk. That's great if you go for a walk, and you try to clear your mind and just stay in the moment. But that's not what walking meditation is. Walking Meditation is very slow, you're not actually walking to any destination, you're pacing back and forth, because it takes too much thinking to navigate actually getting anywhere. And you're walking so slow, that it takes about five minutes to walk about five yards, like you're super slow, and then you might walk the five yards, and then turn around and walk back.


When I had these experiences, I stopped receiving certain information. And the information that I stopped receiving is that I'm a person. I stopped receiving information that I had a body that I had a personality, I stopped receiving information that my name was Sarah, that I was distinct from the objects around me, I stopped receiving information that the objects around me were a certain distance away from me. Because I wasn't getting any of that information, I thought I was the objects around me. My HVAC system was on and I could hear the fan. And so, I thought I was the fan.


Jacob Derossett

This is probably going to need some clarification for some people listening. You thought you were a fan? How do you think that your are a fan? And how is that desirable? How is it desirable that I didn't have a body? Why would this be something that I should strive for?


Sarah Vallely

I'm with you. I think that enlightenment experience is overrated. I think part of it for me, what it comes down to is, I could have seen the true nature of reality, I could have seen that really, “I am everything”. Or I could have just deactivated a part of my brain that gives me that information. To this day, I don't know. If I was a pure Buddhist, I would know that I saw the true nature of reality. I don't know if I was overriding a part of my brain. Does that make sense?


Jacob Derossett

Yeah, I'm going to keep harping on this book, until you read it eventually. The Headless Way. Douglas Harding grew up in some war torn country long time ago, he was actually an architect, but he had this experience in the Himalayas, looking at it and then he said that all of his thoughts ceased. And he began looking around and seeing hands but not connecting with the hands that he saw. So very similar experience to what you described. When I'm listening to someone talk I'm able to just let myself melt, and just look at that person and that person is there. I am not seeing myself.


Sarah Vallely

I think if people who are pure Buddhists have that experience, I think probably what they take away from it is, “Oh, I had that experience of interconnectedness with all things.” That wasn't necessarily what I took away from it. More what I took away from it was, “Oh, I get all the people who are talking about we're living in a simulation. It makes sense now.” That's pretty much what I took away from it. It does remind me of the documentary, a glitch in the Matrix. I think you'd like it. It actually didn't get great reviews but if you have any interest in this whole idea that we're living in a simulation, it tackles that question.


Jacob Derossett

I listen to a physicist talk about how we were not living in a simulation. And you know what the reason was, that it's very inefficient. Everything is made of atoms. And atoms are so complex, he was like, it's a waste of time for toilet paper to be made out of out of atoms. He was like, so if somebody did design it, they must have been very bored before they designed it. Because it's like, so complex, it doesn't logically make any sense.


Sarah Vallely

I don't want people to take away from this, that I'm saying I think we're living in a simulation. I don't, I'm a spiritual person. So that's not my line of thinking. But it's definitely an interesting topic. The other thing with these enlightenment experiences is, I didn't gain any healing from the experience. I believe, when we have deep experiences, the ones that involve healing are really important. And I actually teach a method for attaining a certain experience that's called integration and that's more spiritual based and it is very healing.


Here are a few things people say are the outcomes of an enlightenment experience, or possibly the way we could define somebody who has gained some enlightenment. I'm going to give my opinion on these whether or not I believe this enlightenment experience supports us to attain it.


We recognize that your thinking is based on an illusion: I think a simple mindfulness practice does this. By the time I'd had these experience, I'd already been practicing mindfulness for quite a while. I already was at the point where I understood a lot of my thinking was based on illusion.


We stop perceiving events as desirable or undesirable. I consider this to be a practice in neutrality. No, I don't think that these enlightenment experiences I had helped with this, because I still struggle to be in a neutral place. It is difficult. And that's definitely something I'm still working on. In my practice.


Jacob Derossett

There's an amazing book called After the ecstasy, The Law by Jack Kornfield. And I had read that around the time that I had had a couple of breakthrough experiences. And I realized that you can go on retreat, and then when you come back, you still have your life. Just like when you have this amazing experience. When you come back from it, you still have your whole past, your whole self is still there, real or not. Your conditioning is there, your opinions and everything that you forged over time. I think a lot of people when they first start, they want to be enlightened, they really push for a long time to try to get to that place. And then once you touch it, you think your whole life is better. And it probably lasts for about two weeks, and then you explode on somebody and then you know you are not as enlightened as you thought.


And how many gurus out in the world--meditation gurus--have caused a lot of harm to people. And they've done a lot of atrocious things and abusive things. But these are people that are recognized as having real insight, people whose books sell a lot of copies and, and people trusted them with their money and their life. Even if they had a deep, deep insight, it doesn't mean that they still are very defective in other ways, and they need more work.


Sarah Vallely

Going back to this idea of neutrality. I mean, it's a hard one, I mean, take a moment and think of something that you feel neutral about. Last time I did this exercise, one of the only things I could come up with is an avocado. I'll eat them because I know they're good for me. I don't dislike them. I don't love them, I just throw them in my smoothie. And that's that. I have a neutral perspective on avocados, but pretty much everything else in my life--it's positive or negative. I think we're just really designed to proceed that way. And it takes a lot of practice to override that.


Jacob Derossett

The only thing that I see right now--I have my liquor shelf over here with my nice bourbon collection. The only thing I got is gin.


Sarah Vallely

So you're neutral about gin?


Jacob Derossett

I liked gin well enough. But I don't seek it out. I don't push it away. If somebody said, “Oh, I got you a gin and tonic.” I’d say, “Oh, nice. Cool.”


Sarah Vallely

That’ll do.


I think all of us can be open to bringing more neutrality into our practice, it's a Buddhist idea. If we're feeling positive or negative about something, then we're attached to something about it. And when we're in that neutral space, there's a lot less attachment. Lack of attachment can help with perception, we can actually perceive things more correctly, if we're less attached. And when we're in a more neutral mindset we can heal better--mentally neutral. When we're mentally neutral, we can move through healing much more easily because it's actually our positive or negative, especially the negative perceptions in our mental capacities that get in the way of our own healing. When I work with people with past trauma and do healing work, part of the work is moving into more of a neutral mindset about their emotions, and just sitting with their emotions.


Jacob Derossett

I wanted to share a realization that I had about the idea of impermanence. Everything is going to come and go, good or bad. And that to me was where I found the middle way. When a good thing is here, enjoy it, it's not going to last and when a bad thing is here, don't freak out, it will also end. And to me, that was how I found my neutral. Neutral is actually the absence of the grasping and the pushing.


Sarah Vallely

Here are some of what people say are outcomes of an enlightenment experience. If we have an enlightenment experience:


We will stop perceiving problems as problems, but instead become part of life which seems to flow: This seems to be Jacob, what you were just mentioning. Did this get better after my enlightenment experiences? I think this is something that I'm getting better at, but I don't attribute it to those experiences. I think just a mindfulness practice/mindfulness mindset has helped with this.


We understand that we are not the voice of the mind but instead we are the one who hears it: Meaning, not be the one who's thinking the thoughts, but being an observer of those thoughts being thunk. This is something that develops as a result of mindfulness practice. I don't relate this at all to the enlightenment experiences I had.


We receive insights. I do agree with this. It's been a while since I've had those enlightenment experiences but I'm pretty sure I had some insights as a result. But I will also say that mindfulness practices--short exercises or sitting practice--definitely open us up to insights. We do not need to have an enlightenment experience to start having insights. When I work with my clients, and my students-- they start having some really important insights.


Jacob Derossett

I spend a large amount of my time when meditating, focusing on the illusion of the self and breaking free from that--essentially breaking from this notion of the small self to the larger self. I think it was Jack Kornfield who said, “You're real, you're just not really real.” This is not necessarily the nature of the way things actually are. That is what I'm cueing into. Everybody has different things that worked for them. I don't think I would have ever been interested in mindfulness if there was no notion of achieving something. I needed a goal I needed the Olympics of meditation, where is it, I want to go to it, I need to get enlightened, that's what I want. And now that I've touched it, I try to go back to that as often as possible to have these because as soon as I do, then I'm now way more busted open and accepting of things.


I definitely don't think I've ever met anyone who is enlightened. I know, for a fact, I'm not enlightened at all, by large stretch. But for me, having the non-dual Insight was a pivotal moment, in my practice. It helped me become interested in all this. But very similar to you that in and of itself, did very little for helping with my integration into society, except I will say my listening ability probably went up 10x. I think I became 10 times the listener I am but was, after that insight.


Sarah Vallely

You helped me see something with what you just said. Since I've had these enlightenment type experiences, I do understand these philosophies and concepts in these Buddhist books better when I'm reading a Buddhist book. When they're explaining certain things, I have a much better frame of reference, more concrete frame of reference. Some of the things they're talking about seem so out there and theoretical but are actually concrete for me, because I've actually experienced it.


Jacob Derossett

If somebody listens to this and says, “Oh, I want some of that, that sounds exciting.” That's a liability when teachers share their experiences. That was a big taboo with teachers--they were not allowed to speak about their experiences, they had to just use the teachings that were passed down. And then I believe it was relatively recently in the history of the practices that people started sharing their experiences. The problem is it gives us something to strive for. “I'm going to try to have that experience,” then they're going to be chasing this the whole time. Listening to what Sarah says, enlightenment experiences are great, but you still got work to do. I think ultimately, what we're both saying is, it can help. It's a tool. It's a thing that that does happens. It's amazing. But it doesn't mean that it's going to help integrate into your life and change you fundamentally and make you more pleasant to be around and a better listener and all that stuff. I hear a lot of teachers speak about this stuff this exact same way that Sarah is talking about it, “Sure it's great, but that's not necessarily the point,” especially if you lean into the idea of neutrality.


Sarah Vallely

Personally, I've got more out of my sitting mindfulness practice than I have out of these three enlightenment experiences. I've also gotten a lot out of my, “integration experiences”, which are more spiritual, but that's not the topic of this episode.


I want to talk about a research article I read on this topic. The gist of this article was there is not an assessment that exists that measures how enlightened someone is. And they said that the closest available test to assess how enlightened someone is, are mindfulness skills tests. So if you're more mindful, you're more enlightened. I like that. Mindfulness skills, tests, test your awareness of the present moment, your focused attention, your non-judgmental awareness, your non-evaluation of what's occurring.


The Enlightenment Scale: A Measure of Being at Peace and Open-Hearted; Pastoral Psychology, 2015



For this study, they created an assessment to give to people to find out their level of enlightenment. One of the interesting things that came out of them administering this assessment is that the scores for men and women were about the same. There were several categories of questions in this assessment:


Letting it be: I take that to be letting go of outcome embracing uncertainty. Yes, I think that's a great category.

Non-negativity: I don't really like that name. I would replace non-negativity with neutrality.


Wholeness: I have mixed feelings about using wholeness in assessing how enlightened we are. I'm very broken. I've been through so much I'm broken. Does that mean that I can't ever attain enlightenment? I struggle with this category.


Inner quiet: I'd say yes, that helps.


Flow and trust. Definitely, those are such important energies to move into. And I believe that neutrality and humility are what really help us move into flow and trust.


Aliveness: I struggle with this one too, because I got an accident last year, and I literally was on my couch for five months, doing nothing. I wasn't very feeling very alive. But that was a relatively enlightening experience. I learned a lot about myself.


Open heartedness: I have a really hard time with the term open heart because that also means you're saying that your heart was closed. And I don't believe people are walking around with closed hearts. They might be walking around with hearts that are guarded because of trauma they've been through but I don't like the idea of closed heart. I would change this to “self-compassionate”. How much self-compassion do you have?


Love of nature: I don't know I'm probably going to cross some lines here and people are going to disagree with me but--how much you love nature determines how enlightened you are? I don't buy it. And another category is nonmaterialism. I would say neutrality around materialism would be better.


Jacob Derossett

Just hearing all those categories I'm not very motivated to read that because it just doesn't sound very reputable to me. It sounds nonscientific. How do you define those things anyway? I don't like the word open-hearted only because I've just never had experiences like that in a sense. I have hesitations and then usually my hesitation is a broken at some point. Then I get through to the other side and I see it finally. For example, loving kindness meditation. I resisted it and now it's very important to me.

0 views0 comments