Enlightenment is your capacity to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary. I like this definition of enlightenment because it “demystifies” it and suggests that everyone has a shot at it. In fact, enlightenment is your natural state and doesn’t mean you have to renounce the world and meditate in a cave to achieve it. Enlightenment is a process not a goal. If there is a goal, it would be the goal of becoming more – more joyous, more conscious, more expanded, and less contracted, fearful, or worried. But enlightenment is not free, and in general, doesn’t just happen. I believe it takes work, intense self-inquiry, honesty, dedication, and a practice that cultivates healthy habits on all levels, body, mind, and heart.
I love the title of one of Jack Kornfield’s books, After Ecstasy, the Laundry. After enlightenment or a high experience during a meditation or during a retreat, you get to return to your daily life. Enlightenment is the process of becoming more and being able to live in the ordinary world from the perspective of the extraordinary. In the Tantra, it’s the process of living in the Relative world from the place of the Absolute.
When I was younger, I had a spiritual dream. This led me to pull away from the world, away from a “normal” path in search of the esoteric. I visited a yoga ashram for ten days and stayed for 13 years! I still believe living in the ashram was a valuable experience for me. But in a way I made my spirituality dependent on the externals, including separating myself from my family and the world, living in a “spiritual” environment, and doing renunciate practices. Maybe a life of seclusion can help at times. But I no longer believe it is a permanent solution. At least not for me. Enlightenment is much bigger than that. It isn’t dependent on any external measure. Enlightenment is an internal experience that blossoms from within.
Recently, I taught a spectacular part 3 teacher training in San Antonio, TX. We had an amazing week. There was so much transformation. The learning was deep and the heart awakening was profound. The theme for the week o f teacher training was the Bhagavad Gita, “Song of the Lord”, one of India’s most treasured texts. A key teaching of the Gita is dharma. Dharma is derived from the Sanskrit root “Dhr” which means to make firm, nourish, or support. Dharma also means duty, truth, Tao, the way, or to align with nature. The Gita is based on a dialogue in the middle of a battlefield between Arjuna, the warrior (representing our individual self), and Krishna, his charioteer (representing the universal or our divine nature). Sva Dharma means to do one’s own duty. In Chapter 3.35, Krishna explains to Arjuna that it is better to perform one’s own duty however imperfectly, than to do another’s perfectly.
In the tantric view, we all have various roles to play, i.e. husband, wife, partner, parent, teacher, student, employee, boss, home owner, daughter, son, etc. Each person on the planet has a particular calling, a life-agenda, unique gift, or purpose in life. When you play your role well and be yourself, there’s harmony, dharma. When you try to be someone else, be someone you’re not, or compare yourself to others, there’s struggle usually followed by frustration or disappointment. In dharma, there’s alignment with nature. When you are aligned with nature, you open to a bigger energy and your life becomes a flow. Insight opens and you gain a “mini enlightenment” – a wider perspective on life.
On my flight home from the teacher training, due to a late departure out of San Antonio, TX, I missed my connecting flight in Baltimore. I had to stay overnight in a hotel to catch the next flight out in the morning. At first I was upset about missing my plane. I was exhausted and looked forward to sleeping in my own bed after being away for a week. But as I let go of my expectations and stopped trying to change the unchangeable, I watched with amusement as the next series of events miraculously unfolded…
I flew on Southwest Airlines which has an excellent customer service program. The agent in San Antonio alerted me upon check-in that the first flight had a late departure time and I might not make my connecting flight in Baltimore. I asked what their contingency plan was and she told me they could set up an accommodation for me in Baltimore just in case I missed the flight. I said okay.
When I arrived in Baltimore, my connecting flight had already left. What I didn’t know is that Southwest automatically booked me on the next flight out at 630 a.m. the next day. In addition, they gave me a $200 voucher for the inconvenience, paid for my hotel room, and confirmed that my bags would arrive in Hartford when I arrived. Everything flowed so smoothly that I felt I was gliding down a divine slide. In addition, everyone I interacted with was so kind. There were a few others who missed their flights as well and we all bonded. In fact, one of the travelers was a dental hygienist near Portland, ME who does yoga. I told her about my upcoming workshop in Portland, ME and she said she would check it out.
Grace continued to flow when I received a wake up call at 4 a.m. I then realized that I had forgot to set my IPhone back to EDT. If I had relied only on my IPhone alarm, I would have missed my shuttle back to the airport. Although I only got 3 hours of sleep, I felt rested and energized. How can that happen? The boarding pass I was given for the morning flight was TSA Pre, which is randomly given out to travelers not in the TSA Pre program (me). Given all of the media lately on how long the security lines have been at the airports due to TSA being short staffed and underfunded, I expected to have a long wait in security. However, with a TSA pre-boarding pass, I went straight through security with no delay. Plus, I was given an A priority seat.
I arrived at the airport 90 minutes early. I wanted to get some breakfast, but being gluten-free, I couldn’t find anything to eat that wasn’t wrapped in bread or a bagel! However, as I kept walking down the row of fast food vendors, I came across Asian scrambled eggs (eggs and vegetables). OMG! Grace put this in front of me so that I could have my normal healthy breakfast (although I’m fairly certain the eggs weren’t organic). In addition, I found a vendor selling organic, free trade coffee (my favorite).
I sat near my gate enjoying my breakfast when I noticed a janitor walking back and forth from one end of the seated area to the other, pushing a cleaning cart. She was obese and walked with a limp. At first glance I felt sorry for her thinking that every day she must have to pace back and forth like this. And the fact that she was limping, I assumed she had an injured knee or hip. The walking probably made that worse. I couldn’t figure out why she was pacing back and forth. I assumed she was just putting in her hours. How boring. How sad.
But then she pushed her cart right up close to me and gave me a big smile and said, “May I take that?” pointing to my empty breakfast container. I was surprised, but said, “Yes”. Then she said, “Looks like you are still working on your coffee.” I said, “Yes, I am. Thank you.” Then she just walked away. I then realized why she was pacing back and forth. Her job was to collect people’s garbage so they didn’t have to get up and take it to the trash bin themselves.
My heart softened, eyes watered, and insight began streaming in. I felt so much compassion for her. But even deeper than that, I saw the perfection of dharma. Everyone has a role to play. This woman was just doing her dharma. Her role was to serve the customers to make their lives easier. She did it with a smile and without any complaint. She was so kind and aware of the fact that I was finished with my eggs, but not with my coffee. This moved me. This is when I saw the perfect orchestration of the universe. Without judgment of good or bad, higher or lower, I saw the dharma of life. Everyone matters. Everyone has a role to play. No one is higher or lower than anyone else.
It reminded me of another aspect of dharma from the Gita: “The soul’s purpose is how to play the game of life. The game can’t be won. It can only be played.” I felt such appreciation for this woman and how well she was playing the game. I felt loved and cared for by her. I returned home safely with a heart full of gratitude. The janitor inspired me to do my dharma with even more love and gratitude.
In Ashaya Yoga®, it’s not how far you go. It’s how you go far. It’s not how far you can stretch into the pose or how long you can hold it. It’s the quality of your presence and awareness of alignment in the pose that matters. Joy is in the journey. It’s the process on the inside rather than the result on the outside that matters. When you are aligned with your dharma, you align with nature. Then everything flows more smoothly. And if not, then more lessons become available. Either way, it’s all good. You can’t lose. Everything in life is for your awakening, remember? To me, this is enlightenment. When you live from your heart, when you do your dharma, your world expands a little and you become more. Then everyone around you benefits.
There is a beautiful inquiry I do to see if my action is dharmic or not.
- Does this action benefit my highest good?
- Does this action benefit others?
- Does this action benefit my community, the world, and life?
If it does, then it’s probably dharmic. If it doesn’t, then I need to reconsider my action.
Here’s my challenge for you: Experiment with this inquiry the next time you are faced with a difficult decision. See if your action satisfies the three inquiries above. If it does, go for it and act. If it doesn’t, then maybe you need to reconsider.
May you follow your heart and live your sva dharma. May you offer your unique gift to the world and live with integrity. Enjoy the journey!