By Satguru Swami Nirmalananda
Trying to understand enlightenment is like trying to learn to swim by reading a book. To swim, you have to actually get into a body of water. To get enlightened, you have to place yourself in something bigger than you — except the bigger thing is you. When you’re enlightened, you’re the water as well as the person paddling around in it. Unfortunately, you cannot understand enlightenment by thinking about it. Yet you must think about it, or your mind will lead you in the wrong direction.
I remember learning how to swim. I was ten years old. My parents installed a swimming pool in our back yard, specifically so my home would be the popular hangout when I was a teenager. It worked, though it was the pool that was popular, not me. Concerned about safety, my parents taught me to swim as well as many of the other teens who came around.
What surprised me was that I floated. Even if I didn’t move, I floated. All I had to do was lift my head to breathe. Then I learned to move my arms and legs in order to move around. But moving around was less interesting to me than being underwater. I spent my teenage years underwater as much as possible. It was quiet in there. I sensed a deep stillness that went beyond the edges of the pool. It was an inner stillness. I was submerging myself in a big cocoon of water to get inside — it was a meditation, though I didn’t know it.
For thousands of years, the sages of India have been using water metaphors to explain that you must dive inside. My Guru said to plunge deeper and deeper within, to discover the Self that you already are. Then he made it easy for us by giving us Shaktipat, the initiation that awakens the Self to arise within. Deepening and arising — down and up metaphors.
There is also the inner expansion, a metaphor using inward and outward, withdrawing and expanding simultaneously. This experience, the expanding within, is also a dissolving into ecstasy, the bliss of Consciousness. Expanding into the bliss of Consciousness sounds pretty good, right?
Except that what you think it is — is not what it is. Every metaphor is limited by the mind’s capacity. The mind cannot know the self, just like an ant cannot imagine what it is to fly like an eagle. I quote the yogic sages, including my own Guru, plus I make up my own metaphors, but I’m not trying to help you understand enlightenment. I’m trying to get you past your mind. Because, when your mind stops, you experience your own Self. Patanjali made that promise, one that is easy to fulfill. That’s the purpose of yoga.
My favorite way of describing enlightenment is that you settle into yourself. Just like you walk down the steps into a swimming pool, then lower down into the water, you settle inward. Just like when you bring a big birthday cake into a room of (safely masked) people, then while they honor the birthday person, you sit contentedly on the sidelines. Just like when you take a cup of tea into the garden or sunroom, and settle down for a few minutes of doing nothing. You settle into your own Self. You are already Shiva. All you do is allow yourself to know. Or get some help, like I did. Shaktipat makes the difference!