In 1927 a small woman with a big heart named Lee Morse sang, “Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money. Maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along, singing a song – side by side…” It’s a song about enjoying good times and bad together but it could be about enjoyment and enlightenment. They go together.
One might even say they’re one and the same.
In 1784 a small man with a big head named Immanuel Kant wrote “What Is Enlightenment?” In it he called people cowards. He said that except for a few men (and no women), most people are too lazy, immature and afraid to think for themselves. Kant believed that mature thought and reason is enlightenment.
He said, “Dare to know!” is the motto of enlightenment.
Spiritual types say otherwise. They say it’s not about thought. It’s about heart and love and letting go of what you think you know. A teacher in the Zen koan tradition, Joan Sutherland, said that enlightenment is “more true than our ordinary self-oriented ways of experiencing life… Enlightenment is our true nature and our home… it’s not about being a better self but about discovering our true self” (Lion’s Roar). But most people wouldn’t know their true self from a hole in the ground.
We can’t help it.
Neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz said, “The brain puts things into our consciousness, but it is the active mind that makes choices about whether to listen and how to listen.” He said that our brains trick us with deceptive brain messages that come to us as mental chatter.
Schwartz said, “Deceptive brain messages are any false or inaccurate thought or any unhelpful or distracting impulse, urge or desire that takes you away from your true goals and intentions: your true self” (“It’s not me. It’s my brain”…).
When we try to improve ourselves, we can’t seem to because the one that needs improvement is the one trying to improve! Spiritual entertainer Allan Watts said that it’s the equivalent of trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and it can’t be done.
Thinkers think enlightenment is thought, feelers feel enlightenment is felt and scientists say it’s a matter of re-programming. Enlightenment sounds hard if not impossible, but it isn’t! It’s like enjoyment. It’s easy. The word enlightenment has light in it. Lighten up!
It’s like that scene in the show Breaking Bad where a tough guy who broke the law and lost everything sits watching a river and waiting to die.
Everything he tried to do was for naught. He’ll never see his beloved granddaughter again but just before dying, he finds peace. He simply enjoys watching the river and is enlightened (the Breaking Bad river scene).
It’s not just that the river is tranquil, soothing, and the best place to chill beer. Rivers are wellsprings of ancient wisdom (in a good way). In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse uses a river to represent existence and time. Through a river Siddhartha is enlightened: “You’ve heard it laugh,” he said. “But you haven’t heard everything. Let’s listen, you’ll hear more.”
They listened. Softly sounded the river, singing in many voices. Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him in the moving water: his father appeared, lonely, mourning for his son; he himself appeared, lonely, he also being tied with the bondage of yearning to his distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy, greedily rushing along the burning course of his young wishes, each one heading for his goal, each one obsessed by the goal, each one suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering, longingly it sang, longingly, it flowed towards its goal, lamentingly its voice sang.
“Do you hear?” Vasudeva’s mute gaze asked.
Siddhartha nodded (chapter 11).
Rational thinking may be necessary for day-to-day responsibilities, but sometimes, in an odd moment of awareness, when you realize that doing something won’t help you and not doing something will also not help you (like the old man in the Breaking Bad scene), you are in the zone of enlightenment. You step out of “the quicksand of time” (Moody Blues). You watch. You listen.
When we listen to what others have to say about enlightenment, it’s like trying to see through a dirty window.
We get caught in the middle like that Stealers Wheel song that goes, “Trying to make some sense of it all. But I can see that it makes no sense at all… Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with you…” (Rafferty & Egan).
Who is the clown? Who is the joker? How do you know? You Kant. It’s all opinion. But when it comes to enjoyment and enlightenment it isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s direct experience. A feeling of peace and tranquility is not a matter of opinion. It is enjoyed. Like music.
In 1969 the Moody Blues sang “Watching and Waiting” with the words: “But don’t be alarmed by my fields and my forests / They’re here for only you to share / ‘Cause here there’s lots of room for doing / The things you’ve always been denied / So look and gather all you want to / There’s no one here to stop you trying.”
And there it is. No harm trying. Watch and wait. That’s all it takes. Enjoyment is enlightenment enjoying.