Why Enlightenment is Not my Path
When I first started studying yoga and spirituality, I hoped it would set me free from depression.
My journey with depression began with a trip to the bookstore, where I walked out empty-handed after browsing for over an hour. I was shocked by my inability to find a single book that interested me—I’d been a bookworm my whole life. I brought myself to the doctor, where I received the bad news.
I’d always been a self-help kind of person. I’d never faced a problem I couldn’t fix with a pair of bootstraps and some willpower. After some research, I decided that yoga could be the answer.
The faces of bliss on those magazine covers beckoned to me. I craved that feeling of peace for myself. But it didn’t take long before I wanted much more than peace.
I wanted enlightenment.
The way I understood it, enlightenment promised not only freedom from depression but freedom from all the pain of human life.
If only I were enlightened, I believed, I could skim the surface of this life — touching it, but not diving deeply into it. The deep dive was where the pain lived. I wanted up, and out, and beyond. I wanted transcendence.
For me, the pursuit of enlightenment became an addiction — not all that different from alcohol, television, or shopping. And it was an escape in the same way, too.
But now, I believed I was finally back in control of my destiny. I’d been a long-distance runner in my teens, and I viewed this as just another race. The sooner I could get to the finish line, the sooner I could be the calm, sweet, easygoing, and, of course, the enlightened person I wanted to be.
I don’t think I’m alone with this kind of attack-dog approach to self-help.
Meanwhile, beneath my perfected poses and sustained meditation practices, the depression lay, unaddressed.
Finally, a crisis erupted, ending with a visit to the emergency room, followed by several months of recuperation time.
Like the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, I found out the hard way that I had not “beaten” my depression after all. All I had done was delay the inevitable confrontation.
Unable to move through even a gentle yoga class without exhausting myself, I came to terms with a hard truth: until I embraced all of my humanity — including my depression — I would not feel anything at all, let alone peace or bliss.
I took a deep breath, broke the surface, and dove deeply into my body.
There was pain there, just as I suspected.
I also discovered suppressed anger, sadness, loss, fear, and disappointment. But along with learning about enlightenment, I had gained new tools from yoga, such as discernment, self-love, and curiosity. All of which helped me accept my findings with grace, humor, and humility.
From my new, intimate vantage point inside my body, I began to engage in long conversations with it. I learned how lonely and betrayed my body felt. How hard it had worked trying to keep up with my ambition. How sad it was for my body, watching me try and get out.
I listened and spoke with my emotions. They explained that they are not enemies but messengers. And that they have so much to teach me if only I’d listen.
I let go of the idea of seeking bliss and enlightenment for good.
I sought additional support from qualified professionals — particularly those wounded healers that could lead from personal experience. I engaged in deep conversations with trusted friends and family about my thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. I practised speaking with a voice that honored my truth.
I opened the doors to every emotion and every human experience, especially the ones I’d denied the most vehemently. It was time to get back in my body, to create a living space for myself that was healthy, whole, truthful, and honest. This is what embodiment means to me.
Maybe this sounds like I gave up or quit my spiritual journey. Sometimes, that’s what my ego tells me. After all, I am not enlightened.
Nor do I live in a constant state of bliss — like any of us, I find fleeting moments of something like bliss, but they fade away.
But I am embodied. I am present. I listen to my body and honor my emotions as much as possible.
Today, I can report that I have still not “beaten” my depression. I’m not trying to do that anymore. Instead, I consider depression a life companion that needs attention and care from time to time. It is no longer the adversary it once was.
Maybe that’s because there is another emotion that I have found deep in the depths of human experience that I never would’ve discovered in the upper reaches of the etheric realm.
That emotion is joy — true, grounded, human, ridiculous joy. It feels as beautiful on the inside as the magazine faces looked on the outside.
As far as the books, well, my piles runneth over.
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