The path to enlightenment is an interesting journey. Most of us begin this quest driven by some vague, inner emptiness. Although many people search, everywhere their intellect guides them, most stop before ever reaching any level of spiritual satisfaction.
Assuming this premise is true, why would this spiritual prize be so elusive?
The simple truth is that most of us are not willing to pay the price required to experience the bliss promised by bringing heaven into our earthly experience.
What cost could be so exorbitant, so unacceptable that it manages to prevent ninety-nine percent of seekers from becoming finders?
The answer is simple. People want to experience the bliss of enlightenment but they want to do so without giving up their sense of personal identity. I have literally had people tell me that they had no interest in continuing their spiritual journey if it meant the goal was to lose their sense of self.
Consider these words from Nisargadatta Maharaj:
There are many persons who have a great attachment to their own individuality. They want first and foremost to remain as an individual and then search, for they are not prepared to lose that individuality. While retaining their identity, they want to find out what is the truth.
But in this process, you must get rid of the identity itself. If you really find out what you are, you will see that you are not an individual, you are not a person, you are not a body. And people who cling to their body identity are not fit for this knowledge.
Typically on our spiritual journeys we ask the question, “Who am I.” This question cannot be answered in Truth, for there is no “I” to identify. The correct question, as stated by Imelda Shanklin, is “What am I?” Consider her words for a moment: “You will never know your true identity until you let the Mind of God instruct you as to what you are.” In order to allow the mind of God to teach us what we are, we must give up our personal identity. It is impossible to hang on to the intellect and still surrender completely to God. The biblical idea of it being impossible to serve two masters addresses exactly this idea. We cannot surrender and still be who we think ourselves to be.
I do not have the exact words available to me as of this writing, but I recall reading St. Teresa of Avila and exploring her teaching that our interior spiritual search was like a castle which had seven steps (moradas). She taught that in order to reach the fifth morada (mansion), one had to abandon all sense of a personal self, and fully surrender to God. She said the riches found there were beyond words, beyond the human mind’s ability to comprehend. She also said that most of her sister nuns would never make the jump from the fourth mansion to the fifth.
It is not easy to abandon our sense of self. From our earliest recollections we have been collecting our identity. The story of who we are is strictly an intellectual tool of separation. Along with the naming of our self we also identify all that is not us. Identification with this story of who we are is the root cause of all of our suffering and pain. Yet, most of us will never let go of these stories long enough to even catch a glimpse of the Truth.
I will leave you to consider the words of Jean Klein: “We are completely unaware of our true nature because we constantly identify ourselves with our body, our emotions, and our thoughts, thus losing sight of our unchanging center which is pure consciousness. When we return to our true nature, our thoughts and perceptions no longer appear as modifications of a single substance, they come into being and subside like waves of the ocean.”
My suggestion, if you are not afraid of challenging your intellectual perception of who you are: Keep meditating until you experience that moment between thoughts where there is nothing. From this nothingness all that “IS” arises, even this unique expression of the Oneness which you are. Just one taste of life, without the baggage of the story you have been carrying around since birth, and you will realize that freedom can be had simply by letting go of the identity your human mind insists is you.