For centuries in the West there was no discussion about the mind without bringing in God; higher states of consciousness were considered blessed or miraculous. This wasn't so in the East, where higher states were discussed on the basis of experience. Someone who claimed to be in such a higher state could wind up being venerated -- "saint" is still a common term in India, and holy men are woven into the fabric of society. What's missing in both traditions, East and West, is the possibility that higher states of consciousness are not religious or holy, not blessed or miraculous, but normal.
In the last post we saw that the ingredients of enlightenment are already present in everyday life. Everyone possesses some degree of self-awareness. Everyone can go inside to consult what's happening subjectively. We all exist and feel like living, sentient beings. Enlightenment can be described as a state where these universal qualities come to the forefront. You identify with them as your primary point of reference. At the present moment, however, these same ingredients take a back seat to the material world "out there" filled with objects, events, and other people. There has not been much motivation to turn the picture around and give preference to experience "in here."
One benefit of living in a secular society, however, is that we can set aside religious and sacred terminology. We can examine higher states of consciousness without traditional prejudices. Then a simple question can be asked: Is it normal to be enlightened? Clearly it's not typical or usual, but normal implies a natural state of mind and body. Medical research has immersed us in the abnormality of modern life, with its high rates of depression, anxiety, and disorders related to lifestyle and stress. Something as natural as getting a good night's sleep is out of the reach of millions of people. The typical American diet, loaded with fat, sugar, and artificial ingredients, has become the norm for many people, yet the choice to eat such a diet is more important than the food being consumed.
Let's concede that so-called normal life contains many sorts of lack. Enlightenment doesn't. It's a state of self-sufficiency that stands on its own ground. To be enlightened, you first have to be. Once you are secure in your own being -- meaning that your sense of self isn't swayed or shaken by outside events -- you can confront modern life differently. The domain of objects and events "out there" still exists, but it's like a movie that you are observing without being drawn into the illusion that the movie is reality itself. Because you place awareness, being, and existence at the forefront, they become reliable. They form a ground state that cannot be wounded, much less destroyed.
When you break it down to its simplest expression, everyone's life depends on interpretation. We use concepts, stories, and memories to create "how the world looks to me." Interpretations and stories constantly shift, and what looks good, desirable, and true one day can look bad, undesirable, and false the next day. We cling to "how the world looks to me" because we are conditioned to. It's next to impossible to encounter anyone who approaches life without interpretation. Yet that's the more normal state, the more natural way to be.
If you dive into the ocean, you don't have to interpret that the water is wet and salty, that the sky is blue and the sun is shining. These experiences come directly at us, without filters, concepts, stories, conditioning, or memory. The same is true when you dive into the present moment. It speaks with immediacy and presence. Yet for most people, the present moment is kept at a distance. The mental mechanisms that separate us from the here and now are well known and not esoteric. The most common are
Avoidance of pain
Pursuit of pleasure
Anxiety and depression
Mental confusion, restlessness, and distraction
Expectations, both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
Anticipation of the future
Memories of the past
These things very effectively block, censor, and filter what is actually real. Remove the blockages, and what is actually real shows itself automatically. There is no longer "how the world looks to me." Of course you have to be motivated to find that place in yourself that directly knows reality. There will be little motivation if society accepts everything on the list as normal. In no way is it normal to be blocked from your own natural existence. Denial, habit, anxiety, and all the rest are the building blocks of illusion, but we can't realize this fact when the mind is overwhelmed by the chaos of experience and all the defenses we raise to keep the chaos at bay.
Yet all of these blocks and distortions testify to the normal state that lies hidden out of sight. Someone in chronic pain can be so focused on the pain that they overlook the fact that a normal body is operating, with the precise coordination of thousands of cellular functions, in order to make experience possible. The same is true of the mind. It takes awareness for experience to happen. The fact that we tag certain experiences as good and desirable while other experiences are bad and undesirable is secondary. First comes the experiencer, without whom nothing can exist.
It's normal, then, to be clear about your status as the experiencer, to be clear that existence is united with the experiencer, and that this union brings fullness and presence to the present moment. Nothing could be more normal. Any claim that finding fullness in the present moment is special, gifted, mystical, or somehow privileged totally misses the point. Being estranged from yourself, you become estranged from reality. Then the present moment has no presence; it's just the passing scenery.
It is beginning to sink in, as more people become interested in consciousness, that normal existence isn't what it seems to be. Reality "in here" isn't separate from reality "out there." Everything exists in consciousness and nowhere else. Since this realization seems totally foreign to anyone who identifies with the separate self, we need to discuss how to get from A to B, where A is the state of separation and B is the state of wholeness. The path to wholeness will be the subject of the next post.
(To be cont.)
DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. Super Genes co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD will be available on November 10th, 2015 www.deepakchopra.com