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Let's De-mystify 'Enlightenment' a bit...

Updated: Dec 17, 2022

Let’s De-mystify ‘Enlightenment’ a bit...

So, the word ‘enlightenment’ isn’t just some out-there new age concept. It’s a concept that dates back thousands of years, and is simply referring to a process of developing awareness.

In modern psychology, we would call it self-realization or self-actualization.

Before we start, I want to say that background is primarily scientific. My undergraduate degree was in the Health Sciences, and most of my credits were taken through a medical college. I am currently in an MSc program for psychology - clinical mental health counseling.

That being said, I’ve also really delved deep into esoteric traditions over the years, especially Buddhist schools like Vajrayana and ancient Tibetan Bon and Dzogchen.

(I like being objective and viewing all sides of stories)

One theme that seems to unite all of these spiritual traditions, or seems to be a part of this perennial philosophy is the concept of ‘enlightenment.’ In eastern traditions, we also hear this process leading to liberation, or freedom, or nirvana, or moksha. In Christian circles we may hear salvation, the act of being ‘re-born’, and Christ Consciousness. In Islam, we may hear the concept of Tawhid, oneness with God...

Let’s stick the the term ‘enlightenment,’ though.

If we break the term down, it can mean literally ‘to lighten,’ or ‘to have lightness within,’ or ‘to be illuminated with...’, or simply ‘to bring about clarity and understanding’.

But all of these terms refer to a letting go - un unveiling - a returning back to an original nature, free from social conditioning.

The process of enlightenment is referred to as ‘self-actualization’ by humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow, Kurt Goldstein, and Carl Rogers. It is also referred to as ‘individuation’ by Carl Jung.

In the words of Maslow:

“Self-actualization can be described as the complete realization of one’s potential as manifest in peak experiences which involve the full development of one’s abilities and appreciation for life.” (Maslow, 1962).

Given this quote, and from my understanding, self-REALIZATION must first be achieved, then one can self-actualize by utilizing their inherent realized interests and skills, the things that light them up, to build the life that they choose.

Going back to eastern terminology - enlightenment is simply the process of deconditioning the mind - freeing the mind of the obsessive compulsive patterns of thought, habit, and routine that have been passed down to us over the course of generations.

That loop that people seem to be trapped in is known as Samsara.

Then, once one realizes their true Nature, who they truly are as a person, underneath said social conditioning, they can build a life truly based in their own Freedom, a life based in one’s own unique abilities and interests.

Again, in the words of Maslow:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself... to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

(And maybe everything we are capable of becoming is unlimited… that we are the entire universe seeing through the eyes of a human for a brief period…)

I want to emphasize: I’m not claiming to be fully self-realized/self-actualized/enlightened.

I also want to emphasize: this concept of enlightenment or self-realization isn’t some out-of-reach attainment reserved for a few special individuals - Jesus, Buddha, Moses...

All beings have it in them.

In fact, Maslow considered people like Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein to be self-actualized.

But it is our duty as human beings to realize our full potentials so others in turn can do so, so we can all grow and thrive TOGETHER as a HUMAN race.



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