Developing A Post-Modern Vocabulary of Enlightenment

Written by Philip Walter on Jun 21 at 4:58 pm in iSPIRITself, itBODYnature, weMINDculture

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For those of you keeping score at home, it has been a bit over two weeks since the last post. One post a week was my goal when I started this blog 6 months or so ago, and up until now I have surprisingly been able to keep that pace. Now, however, work has begun in earnest on my book, I’m in training for a Prasara yoga instructor certification at the end of the month, and I’m working with my cameraman Robert to develop a 6-part Brickhouse Bodymind TV series chronicling his transformation from stressed-out, pot-bellied twenty-something to peaceful, hard-bodied heartthrob using the Brickhouse Bodymind Blueprint as it will be laid out in the book.

In the mean time, the amount of posts will probably diminish a bit, but rest assured that if you maintain your subscription, you’ll be among the first to be privy to the exciting new content coming later this summer. In an effort to keep some content flowing, I came up with the following post. It is an adaptation of a thread I started on the Tao Bums forum today in conjunction with some stuff I’ve been developing for my book. Hopefully y’all will get something out of it. As always, I encourage anyone to comment below if you have thoughts.

I believe we in the post-modern age, particularly those of us in the Western world, have done a wonderful job of compiling and translating ancient and foreign ideas about this thing called enlightenment. This is fantastic, but I fear that a largely borrowed vocabulary lacks enough relevance in the post-modern world to be as effective as it was all those centuries ago. These terms are more likely to make enlightenment seem like some distant thing than part of our fundamental nature. Let me be clear that I know the value of these ancient systems, and that I myself practice some of them, and am influenced by them. My purpose here is not to poo-poo these traditions but to frame their conceptual foundations in terms more familiar to those of us who have survived the Technological Revolution.

The terminology I’m talking about would be integral – both comprehensive and balanced – comprehensive in that it would take into account pre-modern, modern and post-modern sources alike, and balanced in that it would not leave behind any aspect of the individual (mind, body, spirit being the three major aspects).

So, where do we begin. Well, one way would be to simply talk about our impressions of enlightenment without using the traditional terms borrowed from other cultures. When I talk about enlightenment, I am really talking about perspective. I am talking about awareness of context. I am talking about freedom from suffering. I am talking about happiness and flow state.

How do all these things relate? Well, first let me say that freedom from suffering, of course, does not mean immunity from pain. What it does mean is that the proper perspective leads one to awareness of context. And when we understand where things fit in context, we are no longer wrapped up in the existential pain and sorrow that is the consequence of being human. Emotions still come up, when we’re cut we still bleed, if we fall we still try to catch ourselves, but with the right perspective, with an unclouded awareness of context, none of that really matters.

Another example of this is saying that enlightenment is unfettered happiness. Those of us in the States can certainly relate to this as it’s a part of our constitution (the pursuit of happiness), it’s ingrained in our cultural identity. And what about the athlete who’s “in the zone?” That’s just modern terminology for enlightenment. Another example would be the phrase “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Damn right it does. We all know what that feels like. That’s the flow state. That’s enlightenment. In this way, we frame the esoteric concepts of enlightenment, nirvana, samadhi in a way that doesn’t seem so distant and foreign – in a way that doesn’t isolate people who are automatically put off by supposedly New Age mumbo jumbo. These are more tangible things that provide a clearer cultural context for Westerners, and really for modern human beings in general.

Another way to begin defining an integral, post-modern vocabulary of enlightenment would be to discuss practical strategies for accessing the flow state within the Big Three (this is sort of like ITP or ILP). The way I envision this is that you have the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which correspond roughly to Mind, Body and Spirit, which in turn lead to the flow state being played out (or unbound) in three different contexts – the relational, the physical and the personal.

There are then different strategies for accessing or unbinding our flow in each context, and the only way to develop in a healthy, balanced way is to pay attention to all three. An example of this might go as follows:

  1. Relational Flow – Unbound through differentiation cultivated in the context of long-term, healthy human relationships.
  2. Physical Flow – Unbound by reversing the effects of fear-reactivity (ala Scott Sonnon’s Circular Strength Training system).
  3. Personal Flow – Unbound by eliminating the incessant need for transference objects, which we grasp onto as a response to the fundamental human anxiety (as discussed by Ernst Becker in The Denial of Death).

Keep in mind this is just one example of how these strategies can be organized into a post-modern, integral terminology. I am very interested in hearing what you all have to say about this line of thought.

To wrap things up, I would point out that the flow state is really no different from enlightenment, nirvana, samadhi, whatever terminology you want to borrow. It is explored brilliantly in the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. What happens when we delve into the anatomy of the flow state is that we begin to realize how literally every activity contains the opportunity for enlightenment. I explored this in more detail in a series of articles on my blog called The Search. I like to think of myself as a Tantrica, so I’m not really interested in ascendancy or transcendency. I see the opportunity for flow (enlightenment, nirvana, samadhi in borrowed terminology) in drinking a beer, making love to my wife, or walking down the street, just about anything.

I fear that as we continue to think about happiness, flow state and enlightenment in terms borrowed from ancient and foreign cultures that the experiences themselves will seem foreign to us, that they will alienate people and seem unattainable, things meant only for the most dedicated of yogis in some far-away land. The truth is, enlightenment is our natural state, regardless of what terms we use to describe it. As Scott Sonnon puts it in his book, Prasara Yoga: Flow Without Thought, “Who we are is what is left when we burn away the slag that is our fears … Remove everything that is not our greatness. What remains is our flow.”


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