My best friend Johnny and I were on the way back from seeing the movie Wild. During the drive home, while for a few moments sitting in silence in the passenger seat next to him, I became aware that I was feeling sad.
Just a couple days before the woman with whom I had been exploring a romantic relationship and I had decided to step back to being dear friends instead of lovers. We both realized at the same time that it was the right form for our relationship and did it extremely amicably. Because we both wanted an intimate relationship in our lives we had tried hard to make it happen, but we both came to the decision it was trying to put a round peg in a square whole and very lovingly decided to stop doing it.
What was interesting about feeling sad was that I noticed I was also enjoying feeling sad. I wasn't only feeling sad. I was also enjoying feeling sad.
I began to take a look at this interesting combination of feelings.
First I noticed that I was primarily feeling joy and secondly feeling sad. The sadness was information. The joy was reality. That was why I was primarily feeling joy and secondarily feeling sad. Reality, when you know where it is, always trumps non-reality when you also know where it is.
Secondly, I realized that I now had the words and insights that allowed me to understand why this was happening. It allowed me to know where reality was and where non-reality, we will call it "illusion," was.
Since being a sophomore in high school my priority has been to understand "the meaning of life," as I described it then. "Why," I wanted to know, "do I at any moment choose to do one thing rather than another?"
I am now 70 years old and I belief I now have the knowledge necessary to answer this question. Here in a few words is what I have concluded is the answer.
The universe is an indivisible whole. We can at any moment witness this is true in our direct experience. All the things we see, including the air we can't see, are equally real. They are also all connected to each other: there are no gaps between me and the air or the air and anything else I can see in the room or in nature.
Secondly, I have no evidence in my direct experiences that there is a second place. I have grown up inside many beliefs that there are second places such as heaven, hell, and the theories that there may be many universes. However, it is clear to me that it only makes sense for me to live according to what I can witness as facts in my direct experience. I call this being a "personal scientist." I can still embrace beliefs for which I have no evidence in direct experience, what I now label "super beliefs," but for me now they must always be secondary in importance to what I discover to be true in my direct experience.
Professional scientists study reality in direct experience and tell us what they have discovered. Personal scientists primarily go to their direct experience to identify the truths that will guide their lives.
The reason it is important to primarily be a personal scientist is that each of us only have sole and complete control over what goes on inside our skins. From the inside no one else can move our arms and legs and think our thoughts. If I give priority to the thoughts of others, usually called "beliefs," I have given this power to a second thing that does not exist except in the mutually agreed upon illusion called "a human language."
There are over 6,000 human languages on Earth. Each one is a set of mutually agreed upon sounds and symbols that are not what they are representing. Therefore, they are all mutually agreed upon illusions. They are very valuable! They allow us to be self-conscious: to know what we are doing while we are doing it, analyze the past, plan for the future, and consistently execute the plan in the present. This is, indeed, a wonderful skill that our human languages allow us to execute.
However, to give my power to a belief, any belief regardless of what may be its content, is to give my power to a bunch of words (mutually agreed upon illusions). I may have freely chosen this "outside belief," as I now call it, and therefore think I am still free to exercise my ability and right of individual free choice each moment going forward. This is not true. Once we give priority to an outside belief, a belief we have chosen from the smorgasbord of beliefs we come upon in life, we have ended our ability to exercise free choice except to choose another belief. From this point forward we primarily obey the belief, this second thing within the illusion that there are second things in reality. There are not second things in reality. Second things only exist in the mutually created tool called a human language. So when doing this we are living in what I call "partial freedom" but think it is "full freedom."
Since from the inside of my physical body I have sole and complete power over the moving of my arms and legs and thinking of my thoughts, I want to be exercising my ability and right of individual freedom each moment. To do this it is essential that I primarily determine my most fundamental belief about reality from a study of my direct experience.
Only then in any moment can I confirm that what I have determined to be true is, indeed, true.
I will still put what I determine to be true into the words of a belief so I can talk with others and myself about it. However, this belief will now be secondary in importance to what I can affirm is true in direct experience in any moment. Therefore, I call this an inside belief to distinguish it from all the outside beliefs I could have chosen to give priority.
Now that I know primarily from a study of my direct experiences that the universe is an indivisible whole, I also know that by default everything else is illusion. Everything else exists in the opposite assumption that separate parts exist.
Our human languages assume separate parts are real. They have to. It is the creation of a word for each part of the universe and the relationships among them that allow us to know when we are talking about a "chair" and not the "table," or a "romantic relationship" and not a "business relationship." This, in turn, allows us to be self-conscious parts of the universe, to know what we are doing while we are doing it.
However the fundamental assumption in human language, that the universe is an immense number of separate parts, is not real. It is a mutually created tool that allows us to be self-conscious parts of the universe. It allows us to represent the parts of the universe in words so we can freely choose as individuals and groups how to relate with them.
So it is as valuable as the fact that the universe is an indivisible whole.
It is also true that whenever we are being self-conscious our human language is always present. It is what allows us to be self-conscious. Therefore, we need to prioritize the two.
While fully doing both, I now know that we need to always give priority to the reality that the universe is an indivisible whole and second priority to our human language tool.
This was one of my major discoveries in my search for the meaning of life. It is not enough to have the accurate inside belief. It is also not enough to change my self-definition to be "I am first the indivisible universe that will not die and secondly my physical body, a part of it, that will die."
To achieve full maturity in the skill of self-consciousness it is also necessary to make a third change. I have to change the pattern of my thinking to also have it represent the oneness of nature.
Fundamentally, there are two possible ways we can structure our thinking process.
The one used in language assumes separate parts (the assumption that things or the relationships between and among them are most important). Therefore, this pattern is this-or-that-in-time-and-space. The other pattern assumes connected parts (oneness - the assumption that the universe is an indivisible whole). Therefore, this pattern of thinking is prioritization. Priorities are in all time and all space. Therefore, this pattern of thinking represents the oneness of nature.
When I discovered this I also discovered why the wise throughout all of history have given highest priority in behavior to what is usually labeled "moral behavior." It has usually been defined as "freely choosing to give priority to the common good." The key word is "priority." The definition both assumes that nature is an indivisible whole and, therefore, when fully doing both priority needs to be given to the prioritization pattern of thinking over the this-or-that-in-time-and-space pattern of thinking.
Understanding all of this, when I noticed in the car that I was both feeling joy and sadness at the same time I immediately knew that the joy was real and the sadness was as important as the joy but, while fully experiencing both, it was wise to give priority to the experience of joy.
Are you following me here? What I am stating is that I discovered that enlightenment is when I very self-consciously give priority to the experience of the oneness of nature that is always enjoyment, the pleasure of being a self-conscious part of the universe rather than a rock, carrot, or moose. Everything else is the perception of separate parts that is not real. They are sensations (relative physical experiences), relative feelings, relative wants, the relative need to be able to exercise my ability and right of individual freedom, the thinking of my thoughts in words and pictures, and the choosing of beliefs in words.
What I have also discovered is that we are not born with this skill. We learn it in layers where each smaller skill builds on the one previously mastered and turned into a habit. This highlights the importance of something largely absent as a high priority in our modern developed societies: eldering. We can only achieve the joy of enlightenment as the result of mastering the skills of the seven layers of human maturation in the natural progression. And we can't easily do this until the brain is fully developed which is not until we are in our later teen years. So the absence of giving highest priority to eldering our children and each other up the layers of maturity in the skill of self-consciousness is the most needed addition to what we are doing as families and communities.
Here is a brief description of the basic seven layers of maturity in the skill of self-consciousness I have identified in my direct experience.
As a baby we naturally give priority to sensations, surviving in our relative physical experiences. As a toddler we become aware of relative feelings: mad, glad, sad, or scared. As a child we learn a language and in doing so we assume that separate parts (time and space) are real. Now our priority is our relative wants: we are defining "self" as the only part of the universe over which we have sole and complete inside control, our physical bodies. We are over here and the candy is over there on the table and we want it. As a teen we become aware of our ability and right of individual freedom. Now, instead of only answering the multiple-choice questions of others we realize we can make up multiple-choice questions ourselves. As an adult we discover that our most important free choice is our fundamental belief. Once we have chosen it we give all of our power to it and, as described above, we primarily obey it. At the next layer, what I have labeled an elder, we discover the accurate fundamental belief: the universe is an indivisible whole. At the next layer, what I have labeled a mature elder, we discover we are still giving our power to a second thing, an outside belief, when we no longer believe there is a second thing to receive our power. Here we discover that the only way to keep our power is to primarily go to our direct experience to identify our most fundamental belief with which all our other beliefs will compromise by giving priority to it.
It is only when we have in this natural progression turned these small skills into habits that we can effortlessly experience the joy of "enlightenment," as the Buddhists label it, or "the state of grace" as Christians label it. It is not important what we label it in our mutually agreed upon tool of human language.
What is most important is that we notice, and freely choose to give priority to, the experience of it.
That is what I noticed on the way home in the car. While fully experiencing both I noticed that I was effortlessly giving priority to the experience of joy of being part of the indivisible universe that does not and cannot have enemies and second priority to the relative experience of sadness.
I immediately realized that this was the experience of enlightenment. All the words and everything else were clearly in a second place in the priority pattern of my thinking.
Since then I have often been aware of primarily enjoying each moment and secondly experiencing fully whatever is going on in time and space (the relationship of the parts relative to each another). I am also choosing short statements I can at times use during the day to train myself to primarily enjoying the experience of being a self-conscious part of the indivisible universe. I also now know that my relationship with the whole of the universe is always most important. I trust this will also have me be a better romantic lover the next time I have that opportunity.
This is now experienced as easy to do and I am also always effortlessly doing it except, of course, when I am not. (It is effortless because truth once known becomes a skill and then a habit.) However, I now know where reality is in relationship to our mutually agreed upon tool called "a human language" that allow us to be self-conscious parts of the universe. So all I have to do is simply remember this knowledge again. Then I am instantly back giving priority to the enjoyment of being a self-conscious part of the indivisible universe.
I feel very thankful to the woman with whom I was just exploring a romantic relationship. The fact that we parted so beautifully allowed me to know the joy of giving priority to truth over want. That allowed me to know both joy and sadness at the same time. The above knowledge allowed me to know that, while allowing myself to fully experience both, it was right to give priority to joy (truth) and second priority to sadness (the loss of a relative want).
This allowed me to discover the evidence that reveals if I am enjoying the experience of enlightenment or not. Enlightened is the experience of primarily enjoying being a self-conscious part of the indivisible universe while also fully experiencing the relative feelings of mad, glad, sad, or scared as second in priority of importance.
My life is now experienced as meaningful. Each moment I give priority to the best and unique thing I can do (no one else is ever standing where I am standing) for the maturation of myself, others, organizations, and us all (the universe). I now know that cooperation, not competition, is the fundamental process in nature and that maturation is the particular kind of cooperation that is fundamental in nature: we are clearly going somewhere in maturation. Therefore I have found that nothing is more enjoyable than freely choosing to be a self-conscious participant in this process.
It only took me fifty-five years to answer the question I asked myself when a sophomore in high school. I hope anyone who reads this article discovers it in much less time.