Chapter Twelve: Becoming Spiritually Un-Enlightened

On our path of awakening, many experiences can trap us and cause backward movement. I have found myself in just about all of them. This chapter is about the pitfalls I have experienced on my journey to dissolving my soul. 

Chapter Twelve

Becoming Spiritually Un-Enlightened

Positive Affirmation: I strive to see the spirit in everyone I meet. I live my spirituality through the unfolding moments of my life.

On our path of awakening, many experiences can trap us and cause backward movement. I have found myself in just about all of them. This chapter is about the pitfalls I have experienced on my journey to dissolving my soul.

I have always been curious about spirituality. When my hungry mind first decided to explore it more deeply, I was overwhelmed by a sea of information and the many paths of spirituality that seemed to exist. I didn’t know that being spiritual was a quality that arises from spending time in the silence within, reaching into love, serving others, and building a relationship with God. Back then, I believed that spiritual people were gatherers of information and avid collectors of interesting trinkets. I assumed the standard approach for being spiritual was to talk about spirituality, learn Reiki, and do healings in a “spiritual” room surrounded by posters of ancient sayings and mystical beings. Oh, and we can’t forget the sage and incense. To be spiritual, you needed sage and incense—lots of it! Now, each of these things has validity, but all of this was more about staging my spiritual persona than having sacred objects. When I look back, I was just trying to find my place. Before finding spirituality, I was headed down a dark road leading nowhere. My quest to understand spirituality saved my life.

The Spiritual Ego

As I completed my list of spiritual “must-do’s” such as learning Reiki, reading copious amounts of spiritual books, doing a sweat lodge and a vision quest (well, half a vision quest—a fact I usually leave out since I left the quest early), I started developing a spiritual ego. All of these things were potent tools that helped me on the path of discovering myself, and there isn’t anything on this list that I wouldn’t recommend. The problem was that I started to think I was above other people. In Chapter Four, I wrote that we could become judgemental toward others when we first enter a new layer of consciousness or grow beyond a habit. That’s essentially what happened to me. The beautiful qualities of becoming spiritual, such as finding peace within and moving away from all the things we do that don’t support loving yourself, doesn’t give you a hall pass to criticize others if they don’t have the same qualities. Becoming spiritual means that we start to grow more tolerant and compassionate toward others and ourselves However, we may leave the old ways behind, but our past can pull us back. Because of that, it can be challenging to make changes stick.

When I developed my spiritual ego, it was just another layer that I needed to release. The qualities of humility and gentleness serve us well in letting go of our spiritual ego if it begins to develop. Learning about the spirituality of other cultures, religions, and philosophies (including our own) can help as well, leading us on a beautiful journey of discovery. As we grow in our knowledge, we become custodians of wisdom to pass along to others. Sharing our experiences and knowledge in this way helps keep these teachings alive for us.

Becoming the Healer

In my early twenties during a weekend workshop, I met a woman who told me she taught Reiki. I immediately replied that I wanted to learn. With a Cheshire grin, she said, “You don’t even know what Reiki is. Why do you want to learn?” I told her that I was curious. Not long after that, I received a phone call from her. She explained that she felt intuitively guided to teach me Reiki, and free of charge! After completing level one of Reiki, I decided I was now a healer. Doing healing work for others was a great experience, and it added greatly to my new spiritual persona.

The problem was that I wasn’t emotionally or spiritually ready to be laying my hands on others. Over the years, I have met some fantastic healers. And certain people are truly gifted healers at a young age. One of the problems I’ve seen with healing modalities, however, is that many of the people who are doing this work get into it because they need healing themselves. I certainly fell into this category. I was drawn to Reiki because I was dragging around a lot of baggage from my past. As healers, our job is to do our own healing before we tend to the needs of others. And at the very least, instead of immediately calling myself a “Healer,” I should have practiced first with friends and relatives.

The business of healing can also be a drawback in the community of people who dedicate themselves to this work. In my heart, supporting others in their healing is love in motion. It’s not a business to me. If we earn our living by offering spiritual services such as mentoring and healing sessions, that is perfectly fine. However, there is a fine line between healing as a business and healing as a way to serve others.

The Spiritual Persona

The spiritual persona is an extension of the spiritual ego. The harmful side of the spiritual persona is when we try to act like a guru—like keepers of special knowledge. Sharing your experience is one thing; people will either agree or disagree with what you believe. However, if we don’t speak from our own experiences when sharing with others, we may want to ask ourselves if we are coming from a genuine place. While I was writing my first book, I remember feeling very insecure about some of the information coming through me. I repeatedly questioned myself: “Is what I am writing my experience?” Some of the material was well beyond my comprehension. I had to be honest about what I was experiencing. I remember telling people that the book was more intelligent than me. Had my ego been in control, it would have been easy to run with it all. No matter how enlightened we are or think we are, it’s vital to check with ourselves to ensure we aren’t developing another aspect of our ego. I never wonder how I will handle failure, but I’ve often questioned how I would handle success. Failure can build humility and character, whereas success can magnify our ego. Many people who rise to fame by their spiritual contributions have fallen prey to this. Once they become successful, their ego can’t handle all the attention they receive.

Seeing Equality

On the spiritual path, no one is ever ahead of or behind anyone. There are no special or chosen ones. We are all equal in the eyes of the Divine. To measure your “progress” or anyone else’s is the working of the dualistic mind. When two turtles crawl out of a pond, neither is more turtle than the other one. The story of the Bhagavad Gita comes to mind.

The Story of Krishna and Arjuna

The Gita is a dialogue between the warrior-prince Arjuna and the God Krishna who is serving as his charioteer. As Krishna drives Arjuna’s chariot into the middle of the battlefield, Arjuna realizes that he cannot bear to kill his family on the opposing side. Over the next eighteen sections of the Gita, Krishna enlightens Arjuna. The Gita teaches us what constitutes right action, proper understanding and, ultimately, the meaning of life and nature of the Divine.

The wisdom of the Gita will forever hold great truth and guidance for all to draw from. The interesting point is that once Arjuna became conscious of his relationship with the opposing side of the battlefield, he lost heart. Arjuna saw his own humanity in the enemy he had set out to conquer. The equality between both sides became evident, along with the fact that God did not favour one side over the other. God lived on both sides of the battlefield. God also lives on both sides of our disputes, grievances, and struggles with others. Looking upon another as a lesser loses all appeal when we see their equality and humanity. The story of the Bhagavad Gita has helped me greatly when I’ve been upset by another’s actions.

Our limited minds could never know the multitude of reasons why people choose the paths they do. Billions of karmic forces and lines of creation are moving into every moment of every day.

The Mystical Experience

In my early teens, I found a 35mm film container with about fifty hits of LSD. That led to my first foray into the psychedelic/mystical experience. As I explored these realms, questions would stream through my mind like, “Is this altered state a truer reality than my normal waking state of consciousness?” LSD helped raise the ceiling of my consciousness, opening my mind to see that there is more to life than I currently believed. My time with drugs only lasted a few years, though. Once I found tattooing, I got lost in the passion of creating art. However, my experiences with LSD and magic mushrooms made their mark. In my early twenties, I started reading books by Carlos Castaneda and Dan Millman. They spurred fond memories of my psychedelic explorations, but instead of taking drugs to get into an altered state, I wanted a  mystical, spiritual experience. My cravings for these experiences became a trap that lured me into mystical phenomena without the proper training. I soon realized that the problem with seeking mystical experiences was that I couldn’t bring them on at will like I could by taking psychedelic drugs.

As I awakened, I started to have experiences with energy in my body and healing experiences with Reiki healers and shamanic practitioners. With each new experience, I felt like I was gaining spiritual merit and growing my spiritual ego. I thought each experience was making me special and that I needed to tell as many people as I could about them. I also needed to find others who were having these experiences as well so they could validate me and my progress. Writing about this is hilarious now, but at the time, I was taking this spiritual stuff very seriously! Thankfully, further down my path, I found a teacher who put these experiences into context for me. Whenever I told him what was happening in me, he would downplay it with something like, “Yeah, that happens.” He would always end our talks with instructions for me to let it all go and return to my meditation practice. I learned so much from these simple instructions. It was certainly a lesson in humility.

The only experience worth engaging is the one that’s at hand.

Mystical experiences are lovely and can spontaneously happen to anyone at anytime. The key is to embrace them while they happen and then let them go when they are over. When we hold on to past experiences, we leave the present moment’s omnipotent power for a daydream. Another reason the mystical experience can be a trap is because when we come out of it, our minds and senses often crave to feel it again. This attachment to our desires or senses draws our attention away from the interior silence within. When we experience deeper awakenings, however, we don’t take our minds and senses with us.

Along with seeking mystical experiences, we can fall into the trap of wanting to have psychic readings. We all have psychic abilities that can turn on and off at any time. As we grow in consciousness, these abilities begin to feel normal, not special. As a tattoo artist, I’ve had hundreds of such experiences while designing and applying tattoos. This doesn’t mean I should hang a shingle on my home offering psychic services. What I’m saying is that psychic abilities are normal and happen all the time without us even knowing it— and that there isn’t anything wrong with people pursuing a career as a psychic. The trap is doing psychic work for others or paying for a psychic reading as a form of entertainment when such abilities should be honoured. I fell into the trap of needing validation from psychics for several years. I would seek multiple readings only to keep hearing the same message. Guidance and direction can certainly come from others. However, if we constantly seek answers from outside ourselves, we are undermining our ability to connect with our own source of intelligence.

A Message for the Waitress

My wife and I were at a restaurant in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. When our server arrived, I suddenly knew things about her I couldn’t possibly know. I also knew that she would be more receptive to hear these messages from my wife than she would from me. I asked my wife (Lisa) to ask our waitress if she worries about her disabled son. When Lisa did, the server replied, “Yes, all the time.” I then asked Lisa to let the server know that her brother in spirit watches over her son, so she doesn’t need to worry so much. When the server returned, Lisa delivered the message, and the server seemed to feel relieved. Her reply was, “I’ve always wondered that.” What struck me as funny is how the server never caught on that Lisa talked about personal details she shouldn’t have known about. More importantly, the story exemplifies how our psychic abilities can turn on in purposeful moments to love and support others or ourselves. When this happens, we often dismiss them as flukes. As we grow and deepen our awareness of the Divine, however, these types of experiences will naturally happen and happen more often. When they do, we simply listen to the guidance and serve the best we can.

The Rescuer

The Rescuer personality is another trap we fall into on our spiritual path, especially if we offer healing services to others. The chart below offers a few points to consider:

   Traits of a Rescuer

A rescuer puts the needs of others before their own, depleting their energy in the process. When we tend to others before ourselves or give more than what’s healthy for us, we are implying that we don’t love ourselves enough to tend to our own needs. In the past, I would put others before myself. Eventually, it would cause me to burn out. Once I started getting close to burnout, I would lose control of my emotional intelligence. Everyone around me would bear the brunt of my inability to cope with the smallest situations—and behaviour that could become abusive.

A rescuer measures their self-worth by their ability to help others. They become addicted to the point that their self-esteem suffers if they aren’t “doing their job.” This is how they fit into the world. When the rescuer helps another, they feel useful and needed and that they have a purpose. A rescuer insists on helping even if it isn’t needed, and even if the people they want to help don’t ask or want the help. I speak from experience as a former rescuer. Even though my intentions were innocent, they weren’t healthy for the people I was trying to help—or healthy for me. I was more focused on what I was getting from helping others—validation—instead of what I was giving.

A rescuer makes other people’s problems theirs because without problems, the rescuer has nothing to do and begins to feel unneeded, causing a hit to their self-worth. It’s a noble motivation to help another person, and most of the time, our efforts are innocent and with good intentions. Being kind, compassionate, and serving the world around you is purposeful and needed. A rescuer will not say no because they need others to need them. In fact, they find joy in others needing them. Nothing delights the rescuer more than being needed. The moment they are needed, they can spring into action. Being needed gives them a feel-good boost and reaffirms their position as a saviour. The rescuer personality type is often described as the “White Night syndrome.” All the motivations of the rescuer blend together to create a self-perpetuating cycle of saviour behaviour.

A well-adjusted person, by comparison, seeks nothing outside of themselves to feel a sense of self-worth. Thus, love for self leaves no room for low self-esteem. When we value and love ourselves, we will find a healthy balance of taking care of ourselves while helping and having compassion for others. And it’s arrogant to think that we know what’s best for another. I can always tell if I have crossed a healthy threshold by the way I respond to those in need. If I find my emotions going into overdrive, it’s a good indication that I’m responding to my personal wounds instead of focusing on what someone else might need.

The Un-enlightened Mind

We don’t enlighten our mind; we experience our enlightenment. The most pertinent information we ever need to know is the wisdom that arises from the silence within each passing moment. Deep spiritual wisdom is not complex or difficult to understand. It’s the opposite: simple and direct. One day, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) went to his teacher, the great Hindu mystic Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji), and asked, “What is it going to take for me to become enlightened?” Maharaji replied, “Feed people.” His teachings were profoundly simple: feed people, love people, and remember God. Those three directions could keep us busy for the rest of this life and beyond.

Maharaji’s Three Principles for Attaining Enlightenment

The Enlightenment of Feeding People

There is pure magic in feeding people’s bellies! It’s a simple and intimate way to love another person. I always remember each time I would visit our family cabin on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. If my father was already there and knew we were coming, he would always want to know exactly what time we’d be arriving. And without fail, he would have a meal waiting for us. It was such a comfort to receive a meal after the long drive. For me, it became the ritual of settling into the relaxing environment of the island. Now that my father has passed, my wife and I continue to feed our guests when they arrive at the cabin.

We can also feed people’s mind with positive nourishment by sharing the experiences that have led us into a deeper awareness of the silence, love, and surrender, and by offering tools to help lead them out of their entrapment in negative mental and emotional patterns. Feeding people in any of these ways is the act of service with love. When we feed people’s hearts, we provide nourishment that has the potential to feed them for a lifetime.

The Enlightenment of Loving People

Loving people is one of the most extraordinary acts of service we can offer. And if we ever grow tired of loving others, we can simply turn that love back onto ourselves. As our capacity to love ourselves grows, so does our ability to love others. Because love is Divine, it brings God’s presence between us and another. Loving people not only brings us closer to the Divine; it also teaches us humility and compassion and shows us the power of grace. We cannot truly love another if judgements control our actions. Love reduces the judgements we place on others and teaches us to release the judgements we have placed on ourselves.

The Enlightenment of Remembering God

In our busy lives, we can sometimes forget to look to God. Yet the grace of God’s perfection surrounds us always. We meet the Divine every second of the day. And when we consciously remember God in the reflections we see around us, we make a deeper connection with the Divine. Remembering God is as essential as remembering to swim when we jump into a pool. Our connection to God helps us float more gracefully as we manage our lives.

Moving Beyond our Un-Enlightenment

After my father passed away, I spent two years waiting to write this book. Those two years were a time of healing, growth, and reaching deeper into humility and authenticity. Growing these two traits gave me more stability than I ever imagined. We all have our tests and trials to work through, but each time we come out on the other side, we expand our consciousness and become more aware of the deeper realities of life. And those pitfalls might be just what we need. When we find ourselves on the other side of an experience, it’s always a good practice to look back on the lessons learned and grow from the sideways movement our pitfalls created. It’s not about trying to avoid the pitfalls on our path to enlightenment; it’s about learning and growing from them so we don’t get stuck along the way.

            Moving beyond our un-enlightenment is about letting go of all our ideas about who we are and moving into an authentic experience of life. An authentic life is about receiving each moment as it is, without commentary from our minds or needing to change or fix the moment to suit our ego. It’s also important to let go of any ideas we hold around enlightenment and where we are on the scale of consciousness. We don’t enlighten our minds; rather, we let go of our minds and experience the unfolding moment and the silence within. What really matters is how we love and serve the world and how we love and serve the Divine. Again, feed people, love people, and remember God.

Tools to Deepen Your Experience of this Chapter

  1. Do you ever criticize others for behaviours or habits you used to have?
  2. If you have a practice for healing others, have you worked at healing your own wounds? Caring for yourself is essential in this line of work. Take some time to seek other healers who can help with your own healing.
  3. How do you handle failures and successes? How we react to either one is a good indication of whether our ego is out of balance.
  4. If you have had profound spiritual or mystical experiences, do you try to recreate them? If you find that you desire them, gently set them down and come back to the moment.
  5. Spend some time working with your intuition. If a voice in your mind says you aren’t intuitive, let go of that voice. Practice your intuition with your partner or a close friend. For example, if you are out on a drive with someone close, ask them to think of something they want from a store you’ll be visiting. When you go in, quiet your mind and listen. It might surprise you how many times you pick up what they are thinking. You can also do this without telling the other person what you are doing.

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