(There has been a rather long break between the last part and this owing to sickness to great that I couldn’t care about much and watched too much bad tv).
It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. – Albert Camus
I prefer the term awakening to enlightenment because waking up seems so much more attainable than acquiring great knowledge. Awakening can refer to a lofty spiritual state, or it can be used as in the Camus quote above, to imply awakening to the falsity of the world in which we live, a notion that may or may not have spiritual implications. And finally, it seems less divisive. Just as every sleeper has the capacity to wake, so does every person, and the person who is awake is no better than the one who is still sleeping. These are states each one of us can relate to while the concept of enlightenment may seem alien or distant from our day-to-day experience.
But how can we know what awakening is in the spiritual sense? In The Myth of Sisyphus Camus argues, “Properly speaking, nothing has been experienced but what has been lived and made conscious. Here, it is barely possible to speak of the experience of others’ deaths. It is a substitute, an illusion, and it never quite convinces us.” Which speaks to my own skepticism – as one who is asleep – about the existence of people who are awakened. Because we cannot experience what we haven’t lived, it’s difficult to believe this state exists, even though I have encountered people in the world who clearly have some particular clarity the rest of us don’t possess.
When I am in a deep state of meditation or bringing mindfulness to bear on some routine activity, I have on occasion felt an intense and almost-indescribable pleasure. For example, in walking meditation, if I bring my attention to the soles of my feet, I experience a feeling as though my feet are being massaged by the ground. Since discovering this particular sensation, I have experimented with it in daily life and discovered that I can bring this attention and stimulate the “foot massage” effect in any situation where I am able to be mindful. Likewise in a reclining meditation, when I bring my attention to the points of contact which are touching the ground or bed, I experience an almost-overwhelming feeling of being held which is accompanied by a similar good feeling of warmth and homecoming.
From this limited vantage point I believe to be awakened is to live in this state of calm and well-being most of the time and to meet all suffering and struggle from that place. This is my experience point from which to inquire, and thus my own projection of what awakening must feel like, but on a much grander scale. I also recognize that such a state must be indescribable, as I find my own ability to talk about something as basic as meditation effects severely challenged. These sensations are not translatable to language in a typical sense because they are so deeply felt, and I suspect very individual to our own inclinations and openness.