More and more people are starting to search for inspiration and meaning in their lives. They are experiencing firsthand that life is more than work, money and stuff. As they take take courses and workshops, read books and meditate, something creeps in — nearly unnoticed — that until recently seemed reserved for saints and gurus: the pursuit of enlightenment and a reduction in the burden of worry, pain and frustration. Life is… being enlightened.
A few years ago I was sitting around with several friends. We were exchanging experiences and meditating on issues such as friendship, silence, enlightenment, God, and the aims of life. It became a weekly tradition. The group has now become so big that we need to move to a new location.
Nearly everyone I’ve met over the past few years is on the path to enlightenment – although almost no one calls it that. But whether you refer to it as self-realization, freedom, God, flow, mastery or effortless living, it all comes down to more light (more wisdom, insight, inspiration, clarity, flow) and less darkness (fewer question marks, encumbrances, baggage, frustration, depression). At every crossroads in your life, the real question is whether you choose more light or more darkness.
Although the pursuit of enlightenment is probably as old as humanity, such concerns seem out of step in modern consumer society, with its emphasis on instant solutions. Yet sooner or later, we hear a voice inside that reminds us of this mystical quest. For an increasing number of people, enlightenment is no longer an abstract term but a daily reality. Here and now. They have learned to give more meaning to their relationships and work. They have more energy, handle obstacles more quickly and realize their dreams with less effort. They are enlightened in the supermarket and at parties.
Enlightenment is an everyday affair. Saris, begging bowls and orange gowns are no longer necessary. Even in jeans you can be enlightened.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS TAKING RESPONSIBILITY
It was wet and cold at my grandmother’s burial. I was 12 and the minister had just told the group of mourners that Mrs. Touber “may have gone too far in her perception of religion.” That was an understatement. A tyrannical God who looked down with wrath overshadowed her life.
I cried tears of horror, not sadness, because my grandmother died an unhappy woman with an unfulfilled life. Her belief system did not allow her to be happy. At the crossroads in her life, she made choices that took her further away from the light. And now she was dead.
That day I realized that we always have a choice and that it’s not wise to give your life away, even to God. It’s dangerous to think that someone else is to blame for your unhappiness. If Nelson Mandela had thought that, he’d probably be dead. But he didn’t want to be a victim, and even under extremely difficult circumstances he took responsibility for his thoughts and feelings.
One of the first insights on the path to enlightenment is that the world is not outside you but inside you. You create your own reality based on your views, belief systems, ideas, desires, feelings, traumas and memories. You unintentionally project that way of thinking onto your current reality, which then reflects it back to you. The world is therefore just as you see it. Isn’t it remarkable how wonderful the world looks when you’re in love? But if – like my grandmother – you choose to allow an angry deity to govern your spirit, you live in fear. And there is no one you can blame, not even God.
No one but you is responsible for your inner world. Most people find this difficult to accept because they have the feeling that other people are doing them all kinds of injustices. But can someone else make you angry or unhappy if you don’t give them permission to do so? And even then, as soon as you are furious or sad, it’s your fury and your sadness. Blaming another person makes you a hostage because you are relinquishing power over your own life.
Enlightenment is the realization that you are a master. Each and every moment you create your own reality based on your own thoughts (which in turn create your feelings and your emotions). Your only responsibility is your consciousness. If you make your inner world beautiful, your outer world will automatically follow suit. Enlightenment is taking responsibility and never being a victim again.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS LISTENING
I was a successful pop musician at age 24. I had just written the title track for the film Amsterdamned and my band, Loïs Lane, was on the verge of a breakthrough. And yet every so often I heard a critical voice inside asking, “Isn’t it time you learned a trade, young man?” To squelch that voice, I studied scales and practiced complex chords. Hard work, practice and discipline. During those months of plodding, I couldn’t write a decent song. It seemed like I was cut off from my own emotions.
Then one morning I put on an album by Otis Redding, the old soulman who once sang a heartrending live version of “Try a Little Tenderness” in Paris. The wind section was off key and the recording crackled, but after hearing it I had tears running down my face. Otis touched my heart with his inspired simplicity. That was the way I wanted to make music. I decided not to go to the conservatory, but instead to listen to my feelings.
If you’re cut off from your heart while at a crossroads in your life, the choices you make will be unnatural. Deep inside you know what is right, and the trick is to listen to that voice. Listening takes time, attention and silence. I usually get up early to listen to myself and to a higher voice which I have started to call God. These silent moments color my day and whisper to me at crossroads. I no longer spend a long time thinking; instead, I hear answers.
When at a crossroads, you can do one of two things: think or listen. Thinking is doubting and usually takes you further away from your inner knowledge, whereas listening brings you toward it. Mozart heard his symphonies before he wrote them down. It cannot be a coincidence that nearly all brilliant ideas involve flashes of genius. These inspirations often come during unguarded moments, when you’re not thinking too much and are open and receptive.
Enlightenment evolves from a place of listening. Dare to be sensitive and be prepared to shut down your thoughts. When you break free from thinking, you experience the peace and quiet of your deepest self. From this inner point of silence, you are open to a higher wisdom.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS ACCEPTING AND LETTING GO
When I give the odd lecture, one of the questions that always comes up is how to work through the pain of the past. Because I’m not so good at this myself, I put the question to every wise and holy person I meet. A liberating answer came from a yogi friend. When I asked him, I saw a twinkling in his eye, but all he said was, “Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance.” Later he clarified his answer: “Don’t push away the inner voices of pain, but let them in. Accept them completely. Embrace them.”
Embrace the pain, the sorrow and the resentment. But how? We are so used to suppressing pain – beating it away, reasoning it away, zapping it away. But instead of spending your life running, you might also consider sitting and listening. A voice that is heard and accepted settles down and stops constantly asking for attention. This is the first step on the way to working through and letting go of old wounds.
We lose a great deal of our life energy because we do not accept ourselves, others and circumstances. Many people have even made it their life’s task to change others. Ever tried it? Did it work?
The reason why it usually doesn’t work is because someone who doesn’t feel accepted will rebel. The shutters close, the gates shut and the defenses go up around the views you find objectionable. But when you start by fully accepting others as they are – and you show that you’ve done so – they relax and open up. The paradox is that the less you try and change others, the more influence you have over them. The more force you use, the greater their resistance.
The same applies to a painful past that you haven’t accepted.
The inner and outer battle that is a source of struggle to so many of us is the result of not accepting – and therefore suppressing – all voices, even though voices that are not accepted start behaving like outcasts. From ever deeper foxholes and trenches, they can harass and terrorize you. Complete acceptance is possible only if you let go of any moral judgements. If you see a voice as wrong, sinful, damaging or stupid, you’re not accepting it and in turn it will go more deeply underground. Enlightenment means that nothing stays in the shadows; every voice stands in the light, including those that express your pain, sorrow, fear or hatred. Then you become who you always were: yourself. Enlightenment is being yourself.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS THE REALIZATION THAT YOU ARE IMMORTAL
I remember it well. Sixteen years ago I was sitting in a tram next to a guy who looked incredibly happy. When I smiled back at him, he said, “I’m a ray of sun.” I looked at him with surprise and said, “I’m a star.” He told me he had a day off from the asylum where he was being treated for delusion. I told him I thought he wasn’t far from the truth.
Two nut cases in the tram?
Crazy or not, I am alive thanks to the fact that I’m a star. Or, put another way, I’m immaterial energy, a being with a spiritual identity. During meditation, I increasingly experience myself as an entity of light and less and less as a physical being. Once I had the experience – just bear with me here – that I rose out of my body and came in contact with spiritual dimensions that stand above time and space. I understood then that I am immortal, and that the only thing that will die is my physical body. The realization that I am in this sense a star has freed me from a lot of my unconscious fears of death and loss.
But then life put me to the test. One night two men with knives mugged me. They were nervous and threatened to kill me if I didn’t immediately give them all my money and the key to the meditation center I had just left. There were people sleeping inside, and they figured there would be money to steal. I gave them my money but not the key. After the initial scare, I recalled that I was immortal and a serene peace replaced my fear. They must have caught the feeling, for the mood shifted. They put away their knives, let me keep the keys and gave me back my Parker pen.
If you see yourself as energy, you get lighter and lighter. You realize that, just as Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” After all, what do you ever really stand to lose? Everything outside yourself – relationships, houses, jobs, cars, even your own body – was never yours to begin with. You can’t lose something that doesn’t belong to you. And everything that does belong to you – your strength, love, peace and inner beauty – you can never lose. At most, you can lose sight of it.
Enlightenment means your awareness of your own inner beauty increases and you cherish it. Enlightenment means that your inner light starts to shine again. There was once a king who could do that. He was very rich without being miserly. A wise man from a neighboring country visited the king and wanted to know how he could be so detached. The king said, “Tonight I will reveal my secret. For today, be my guest and enjoy the palace and the gardens. Make yourself at home.” Before the wise man went on his way, the king gave him a candle and asked that he keep it burning until they saw one another again.
That evening they enjoyed a sumptuous meal together. The king asked what the wise man had seen. The man described the exquisite tapestries, fountains, ballroom and flowering gardens. “But,” he said, “I was also constantly aware of keeping the candle lit.”
“And that,” the king said, “is my secret.” By keeping the light of his soul burning, the king remained enlightened.
TO BE ENLIGHTENED IS TO BE WHOLE
“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” Glenn said. “It’s all black.” He couldn’t remember a single moment in his life when he felt safe. Which is why Glenn got into drugs and why I was sitting opposite him in prison. But after the meditation lesson, I could go home and he had to stay. Through a guided meditation, Glenn had come into contact with the spiritual dimension. For the first time in his life, he felt safe. He had come home inside himself. He never realized that safety was so close by.
A lot of people are missing a deeper feeling of safety. They live in a transitory world and seldom experience eternal spiritual identity. From near-death experiences we know that it is freeing to experience this dimension. It feels like coming home – like deliverance, liberation and enlightenment, all rolled into one.
The good news: You don’t have to die to experience enlightenment! In meditation you can “nearly” die. People sometimes ask me why I started meditating at such a young age and say, “You can do it when you’re sixty-five too, right?” But maybe it will be too late. Maybe you’ll look back and think if only I’d known that sooner. Why wait? Why not come home now to yourself and to the source – God, the creator, the highest soul or whatever name feels right to you.
There is no dissension in the spiritual realm. There is no contrast and therefore no conflict between good and evil, man and woman, north and south. There are no problems, only solutions. Here you experience yourself as whole, as a human – more precisely, a soul – all in one piece. If you know who you are, your life’s path will become clear. Doubt disappears. Your path is enlightened.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS VISUALIZATION
In my neighborhood, landlords nailed broken windows shut instead of replacing them. I wanted to move, but I didn’t have the money to buy a nice, new home. I had heard and read about people who visualize needs like a new job, a lover, good health and money, so I decided to visualize my new home. My dream house is tall, I thought. From my bedroom I can see the ocean, from the other side I see woods. It is on the outskirts of a big city. It is spacious, has a lot of windows and is in a quiet neighborhood where people greet one another. Every morning I visualized my dream house. In my mind, I walked through it, stood in front of the windows and smelled the ocean and the trees. I heard the cry of seagulls on one side, the coo of doves on the other.
Three weeks passed. One morning I had an appointment in Kijkduin, one of The Hague’s beach areas. I was early so I drove around a little. A nice building caught my eye. Way up at the top I saw a “for sale” sign in one of the windows. I called the agent and made an appointment right away. The price had dropped almost $120,000 because the owner needed money right away. All I had to do was say yes. I now live in the house that, in fact, I already knew.
When you understand the mechanism of creation, you no longer have to toil to get something done. A more enlightened life starts with effortless creation. If deep inside you’re convinced of your objective, you become like a magnet and pull what you want toward you. All you need is a sense of deep trust and the conviction that you can achieve your goal.
In the classic book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill analyzes the success of people like Thomas Edison, Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Walt Disney and other pioneers. What they had in common was a belief in their dream. Henry Ford saw the cars rolling off the assembly line, Edison saw the light bulb burning. Einstein saw the theory of relativity. The more powerfully you visualize your goal, the more powerfully you will anchor the image and the more distinctly you will transmit it. Then it’s only a matter of time before your dream manifests itself in the material world.
When you start to visualize, direct your attention not to the future but to the present. If you tell yourself, “I will become happy,” you’re implicitly saying that you’re not happy now. If you want to be happy, imagine that you already are. Tell yourself, “I am happy, I am rich, I am healthy,” and behave accordingly – within the ever-expanding limits of physical reality. Don’t set your aims too low. If you no longer think from a place of scarcity but from one of abundance, your life will become increasingly full.
The reality is that you don’t have to become enlightened at all. You already are enlightened. If you allow this to sink in, you will make a tremendous leap forward. In one go, you’re no longer on your way somewhere; you’re already there. The only thing you have to do is remain aware of the fact that you’re already enlightened. And that requires regular moments of reflection and daily practice to expand your consciousness. Make your inner world so big that so-called reality has less hold on you. Keep dreaming, keep visualizing, dare to fantasize and prepare yourself for a miracle!
ENLIGHTENMENT TAKES PRACTICE
Enlightenment takes practice. You have to try it out. Try to be kind for a whole day. Kind in a traffic jam, kind to your colleagues, kind when cooking, speaking, listening and vacuuming. At the end of the day, review what went wrong and why. Or try experimenting with how it feels to be in the world but not of the world. Or be consciously grateful for everything and everyone on your path.
Experimentation means you will inevitably make mistakes. But that, too, is useful. For many people, making mistakes is paramount to being wrong. But do you really need to punish yourself if you make a mistake? Remember that if you don’t risk making mistakes, you won’t grow. Of course, it’s another matter if you keep making the same mistakes, but if you remain alert you’ll only have to make mistakes once. And if you’re not alert, life will give you another chance. When it comes to mistakes, be as kind to yourself as possible. Don’t punish yourself and smile as much as you can.
There are universal principles and spiritual patterns that help you to get in harmony with yourself and life. Not everyone likes study or daily practice, but it is essential. Insight will set you free. The more you meditate and study, the more power you have to maintain enlightened thinking in a world that is often dark. Sometimes you feel like a fish swimming upstream. That not only requires strength, but you also have to explain to just about every fish you come across why you’re swimming in the other direction.
Practice focusing on your pure core. Engage yourself in powerful thoughts and positive images. Don’t focus on your weaknesses and your pain, or they will only expand. In fact, weakness and pain will come along anyway; you won’t have to make a special effort to keep them in mind. Before you get moving every morning, remember who you really are and what you really want. Live consciously from this intention. Yes, sometimes you’ll screw up and you won’t feel enlightened at all. But so what?
ENLIGHTENMENT IS A BURNING DESIRE
When I had been under the same spiritual teacher’s instruction for a number of years, it came time to test how adult I had become. Had enlightenment become a living reality or was I mainly cramming my lessons like a good boy? I threw myself out of the nest and had to fly. The step to independence doesn’t have to hark back to adolescence if you realize that you’re doing it from a place of respect for the teacher and for the courageous men and women that came before us on the path to increased enlightenment. We stand on the shoulders of these giants. The greatest deference we can show them is to continue carrying their torch. They have prepared the path and made it possible for us to take the next step.
Where do you get the strength to turn spirituality into living reality? From earthly passion, which is how you can ground your heavenly desire for enlightenment. You can only be enlightened if your entire being – head, heart and soul – wants it. You have to feel it, want it, understand it and breathe it. It must be a burning desire. Make enlightenment highly personal and throw yourself into it.
When you join heaven and earth, you’ll notice that all realities, including the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, can coexist without excluding one another. You live from the broadest possible perspective. You think inclusively – in terms of and/and instead of either/or. You live simultaneously from your head and your heart. You start to think spiritually while living materialistically. You’re an emotional wreck while spiritually you’re shining bright as the sun. You break down physically while standing strong as an ox mentally.
It has – quite literally – become a matter of life and death to pursue enlightenment passionately. If we are not passionate about expanding our consciousness, there’s a good chance our narrowness will destroy us. Logically, a more enlightened consciousness seems the next step in our evolution.
ENLIGHTENMENT IS SURRENDER
Albert’s dream had always been to live a magnificent and compelling life. Brimming with ideals, always willing to help others, aware of everything, truly here at every moment, completely in the present. But lately Albert had started to have problems. He was 60 and his life still was not magnificent and compelling. Nothing was getting off the ground. The energy simply drained away at crucial moments. Albert was getting weary. He was tired of everything he had to do, of all the piles of paper and the dishes he couldn’t manage to wash. Albert was worn out from fighting with himself.
Recently he was so exhausted he gave up. In his despair, he did something he had never done before. He prayed to God, even though he didn’t exactly know who that is. He asked for help. Finally, Albert felt the battle ebb away. Surrender. Peace. Quiet. And he slowly felt his life force flow back into him. He cried like a baby and asked God why he had never helped him before. God said, “Because you never asked.”
Since that day, Albert has changed. He laughs, cries, beams and is doing what he always wanted. I don’t know if it’s magnificent and compelling, but when I last saw him in a crowded pancake restaurant, I heard myself saying how fantastic he looked. And that the battle had not been in vain. And that he, exasperated and up against the wall, had finally become what he always wanted to be: an instrument to create something larger than himself and pass it on.
Then Albert started to cry. Not just a little but hard, sobbing loudly like children sometimes do. There was no more blockade, he had nothing more to lose. I started to cry, too, overcome by the beauty of the moment. And there we sat, in the middle of the pancake restaurant, as ignored kids whispered to their mothers, “Mum, those guys are acting strangely.” After the tears subsided, we toasted Albert’s magnificent and compelling life.
Surrender is perhaps the final step on the path to enlightenment. Surrender to your own magnificence, surrender to the beauty of life, surrender to the magnificence of God. Albert experienced that surrender when he was prepared to ask for help. He was done fighting and admitted defeat. He became humble, and at that moment his life energy started to flow. Albert had reconnected himself to the source.
Lately I keep running into more and more people who – just like Albert – are prepared to surrender. They’re done with themselves and can feel they are on the brink of a new era in which the little “me” (nationality, race, culture, religion, appearance, brand, car, football club) has to make way for a bigger “we.” These people feel that neither revolutions, reforms, laws, nor a negotiating table can produce a more enlightened society. Instead, it can only come from a more enlightened consciousness.
The time has come to jump. Time to create something new and to listen, accept and let go. Time to experience spirituality, to visualize and to practice. It’s always scary to jump. Where will you end up? The leap to enlightenment is even scarier, because it feels like you’re losing everything. Who are you if you can no longer identify yourself with all your little me’s? What are you worth?
Albert knows the answer. When he was prepared to surrender himself, he was finally who he had always wanted to be. Albert was himself. Albert was enlightened.