“Every challenge you encounter in life is a fork in the road.
You have the choice to choose which way to go – backward,
forward, breakdown or breakthrough.”
~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha
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Exploring the spiritual path is fraught with challenges, especially when we realize that there is no destination.
I often make the distinction between enlightenment as a hoped-for destination vs enlightenment as a state of experience that can be known right now. I actually prefer to use the term “enlightening” rather than “enlightenment,” to further emphasize that there actually is no final spiritual destination. We will continue expanding our awareness forever, because that is the nature of the life force we are.
This process is a world apart from what’s commonly known as “self-improvement. We’ve just turned the calendar and find ourselves in a new year, which means that millions of people are now busy following through on their New Year’s resolutions, in order to improve themselves. But, “according to U.S. News, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.” 1
Why? Beyond the usual reasons relating to motivation and discipline, let’s consider an out-of-the-box possibility: self-improvement programs fail because we’re trying to improve the wrong self.
This is the same self that desires enlightenment. Ironically, it’s that very desire that prevents one from having the experience. That self, with a small “s” can never replace Self, with a big “e.” That Self, who you really are, is already enlightened… because it’s part of the light.
This realization doesn’t mean that we immediately cease meditating to reflect on our perfection! Spiritual practice remains essential, but not to gain an unknown experience. We deepen a known one. But there’s an odd challenge to this. Yes, we inherently know who we are (and always have), but that knowing is hidden from us. So, there is a process of learning, growing, improvement, not to acquire something, but to remember. And success comes, not through accumulating knowledge but from shedding limiting concepts.
It’s often said that breakdown precedes breakthrough. Using a computer analogy, faulty programming must be uninstalled before a new, clean program can run. Fortunately, we aren’t required to seek out breakdown opportunities. Life brings us all we can handle! But we do have a say in how we respond to those challenges. That’s what makes the difference.
A friend told me about someone who felt they were going through a nervous breakdown. Whoever they were commiserating with said, “You mean a nervous breakthrough?” Apparently, that comment changed her perspective and she began to view her breakdown as a breakthrough. What was falling apart in her life was making room for what was coming together, and it was all happening in the same moments.
It’s easy to witness breakdown in the world around us; we read, see, and hear about it every day in the news. But what if this was not the full truth? What if breakdown was also breakthrough? What if that “crap” the media serves up all day was actually compost and that something alive is now breaking through the surface of consciousness, fed by nutrients arising from that decay?
We can complain about compost or witness new life forms growing out of it. That’s a choice, a choice to see from a different vantage point. This relates to the truth of enlightenment. When we learn how to have a consistently enlightening experience, we are always shining light on our circumstances. Light dispels darkness, that’s it’s nature. So, when we identify with the light, we harness our capacity to dispel darkness. This is what a true spiritual experience becomes. Not basking in a glorious state of perfection but exerting an impact in the world.
That enlightening impact travels in many dimensions, from the obvious – what we say and do – to the subtle, our thoughts and our feeling states. We even broadcast through time, whenever we visit memories or project into the future. This is the work of the Self, with a capital “S,” to transmit the qualitative reality of “heaven,” that invisible state of being where we eternally dwell, into the “earth,” this 3D experience in a human body on a material planet.
With this understanding, we can relax from our striving to become better. Relaxing from that pursuit, we can simultaneously open to the emergence of wisdom and blessing, from within our Self. As we express our Selves, then we experience what we are expressing. Here’s the simple formula for a fulfilled spiritual life: embrace your identity in life, then shine your unique qualities without reservation.
Challenges will come. Breakdowns will occur. Turning them into breakthroughs is the best resolution we can make, and it’s one we can keep.