On The Destructive Nature Of Enlightenment
Updated: Apr 6
A spiritual life does not promise you a way out; it promises you a way in. How you respond to the world after going in is totally dependent on how far you allowed your false self to die in the arms of truth.
Make no mistake about it: the way in is merciless. It does not comprise of objects, things, or relationships you can cling onto. It comprises of reality, in its most naked and abundant state. When you get there, you are alone—totally and beautifully alone. And all the things you have relied on for so long—like your intellect and your imagination—fall by the wayside. For both must be humbled in the face of reality. I don’t want to make this sound like a sacrifice, but after all, that’s what this is all about. You have to sacrifice who you think you are in order to awaken to who you really are. Or, as Evelyn Underhill once said, you have to die in order to live.
Without sacrifice and destruction, we remain ignorant to our true nature; and being ignorant, we act from ignorance, causing a ridiculous amount of suffering in ourselves and the world. As Jesus said, “If you do not find what is within you, what is within you will destroy you. If you find what is within you, what is within you will save you.”
But here’s the thing: that which destroys you is the same thing that saves you. You don’t really have a choice. That is really what Jesus is trying to get at here. It is an apocalyptic warning. You either die into who you really are now, or you face the wrath of existence that will destroy you in order to bring the real you into the now.
Because, you see, if there is an actual truth underlying the cosmos—if there is an essence underneath this mess—it will find a way to make room for itself, no matter how much you resist it. Resistance is actually a result of the ego's world falling apart. During this time, it can be incredibly difficult for some people to let go of their identity, especially as a "seeker." Being a seeker is a great excuse to not go all the way. And too many of us are afraid to let go of that identity, because it means we will have to face the reality of what the mind perceives as nothing. The ego is doing everything it can to run away from this nothingness. In fact, that is the role of the mind. It would rather figure out, do, solve, plan, and become than see what is so obviously true.
The mind thrives on complexity and identity. Without these two, it is screwed because it has nothing to do. But in the very moment that it is still, if you pay attention, you might discover the subtle miracle of Being. That's why the mystics emphasized silence and stillness over and over again. When you are still, the "I" is absent and you see.
For some expressions of God, like Ramana Maharshi, the deepest realization of this truth can occur within an instant. And in that instant, they are saved. No more pushing. No more dreaming. But for others, when a realization occurs, it takes a considerable amount of time for the body and mind to adapt to the truth of the formless. And there can be an incredible amount of resistance to this process of unbecoming, because it requires you to let go at the deepest level.
So, seeing the light does not guarantee you will will abide in it. Adyashanti calls this a “non-abiding” awakening. There may have been a moment, for example, in which you felt at one with the totality of existence, but before you knew it, you were back in the world of duality, playing the games of con-men. This type of situation can be extremely devastating for some people, because they could’ve sworn that the experience they had was it, that they were it. Once they come out of it, however, they are haunted by the vision (or whatever it was) for many years and it takes them a significant amount of time to adjust the timeless into the cramped and sweaty world of form. During this time, the body goes through a ridiculous amount of changes, thoughts begin to dissipate, and relationships that no longer serve the unfolding of consciousness start to crumble away.
Even though this is necessary, the person it is happening to might push and shove. But in order for consciousness to flourish, it must let go of all false identifications. If it does not let go, or make space, it will continue to dream and more destruction will ensue until the person is willing to surrender.
Waking up, therefore, is no different to letting go.
For consciousness to open, it must close the book on its dream of being a person. The hand must let go of its grip and the finger must let go of the pen. The author of existence must stop and ask himself if the story he is writing is more important than the person who is writing it. For if we do not inquire into the nature of consciousness itself, we will obsess over its capacity to put on a show.
The purpose of this book, then, is to show, by gentle and sometimes passionate means, that the spiritual life, for all its joy and exuberance, is inherently destructive. In fact, it finds its joy by destroying the false.
Without destruction there can be no space for the real to move through. As my guru, Neem Karoli Baba once said, “If you do not make it empty, how will it fill up again?”