Enlightened living sounds like a grand undertaking, but in reality it is actually very simple. It means to be here now and to know yourself. That’s basically it. From there, it gets easier and easier to understand why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do. In turn, this allows you to make truly conscious choices in your life. Until you have that aspiration to focus on the present moment and understand yourself, you can be easily swayed and manipulated by your hidden fears, other people, and the many social, economic and political currents swirling around in life. As such, living an enlightened life isn’t just a noble spiritual ideal; it’s a requirement if you want to really live.

A puppet on strings

Most people don’t realise that they’re essentially a puppet. They don’t realise that they’re attached to many, many kinds of strings. These strings are social beliefs, emotional traumas, biological instincts and much more; but often they are complete mysteries to most people. However, when one of the strings pulls on an arm, the arm immediately reacts.

For example, a young girl is insulted in school about the red shirt she is wearing. She doesn’t know why, but she instantly smacks the other girl’s face for the affront; it is completely reactive, and she thinks it’s because of the insult. In truth, it has to do with her lack of self-worth, which is connected to a deeper fight or flight survival mechanism. An ensuing fight creates more turbulence in both girls’ lives, and that creates additional pain and suffering for them, people at the school and their families. Later on, when asked about why she did what she did, this girl says, “I don’t know.”

These reactions happen for a lot of people in many situations because this is reactionary nature and it doesn’t stay limited to childhood and school life. It ripples upwards to heads of nations and states. Heads of countries feel slighted, so they cut off trade with other countries. Or worse still, they go to war. Imagined slights become real issues that become death and atrocity. It’s a horrible state of life that keeps happening over and over again, but it always begins at the level of the individual and how their strings are tied around them.

Identifying the strings in your life

I never say that living an enlightened life will be easy. Instead, dedicating ourselves to the spiritual path helps us to see where we make life hard for ourselves. When we address that, then things get easier within ourselves. The external world may still be very challenging, but at least we are no longer reacting mindlessly to the stimuli, insults and obstacles that are thrown our way. We do this by identifying the strings that are manipulating us. In general, I’d categorise these strings as:

  • Biological and genetic
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Subtle energy

The biological strings are simply the core animal instincts that still operate in us. They are mainly concerned with survival and procreation to continue the species. Many people are completely overwhelmed by these impulses, and they tend to be part of the backbone of many of our core fears and issues. For instance, money gets tied up with a fear of survival. We feel like we won’t be able to survive without money. As such, people can become incredibly fearful if they ever feel like they’ll lose their job. When this core fear tugs on someone, a person can react in very poor ways.

The genetic aspect is where we have differences from one person to another. For instance, one person may have more biochemical imbalance that tends towards a depressive personality. This is simply something one must account for and understand as part of what is influencing their lives. How to be without reaction is something we need to learn.

The emotional level is where a lot of our raw and most basic feelings are. They are not really separate from any other levels. You’ll notice as you do your self-introspection that these strings are tied up into a big bundle. But they can be addressed separately as you begin to understand how these things all interact within you. As such, a primal concern around survival such as the losing your job example can ignite a lot of fear, but living an enlightened life means that we learn to simply watch our inner reaction rather than to take action upon it. If we believe in the fear, it becomes 10 times worse.

The mental level is home to all of our stories about ourselves, about our families, and about how we think our lives should go. It is built out of the ideas and patterns that we learned as children from our families and society as a whole. It is the home of the ego, which we have usually learned to defend at all costs. All kinds of beliefs and ideas are collected here that are trying to serve different purposes. Until we explore them, we don’t really know why we are doing what we are doing.

The subtle energy field has many interesting energetic connections, and it’s usually the one that we deal with last as the other three are already a huge amount of self-work. It’s enough to say that we are energy, and we are all interconnected. Those of you who are naturally sensitive to energy will find that you can learn a lot about yourself by noticing how different places and people affect your mood. When they do, you know that a subtle energy string is pulling on you and creating a reaction.

Cultivating non-reaction

The first steps to cutting the strings and finding your core issues are being present and having the desire to know yourself. After that, it is important to practise being non-reactive. I am sure that life will offer you plenty of opportunities to be either upset or excited about something. Both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feelings should be watched. You can ask yourself simple questions such as “Why does this make me happy?” and “Why does this make me unhappy?” I am not saying to have no emotions at all and be a robot. I am encouraging you to be curious about how and why you behave the way you do. Until now, this was probably an invisible process, so this step is an important one.

As you go, you’ll probably notice a lot of unhealthy behaviour patterns. This is good news. Before you couldn’t see them, now you can. I often outline the most basic steps on healing these issues as follows:

  • Identify
  • Accept
  • Embrace
  • Let go

When you can identify something, you can then accept it. Embracing it means to understand the story or feel the feeling. Letting it go means just that. Once you’ve deeply understood something, releasing it is natural, so that new space within you can open up.

Deeper openings lead to deeper understandings

The more open we are, the more we can see about ourselves and others. This is a crucial thing in these times when so much information is coming at us so quickly. A lot of stuff has sped up, and this is why it’s important to slow down. Bringing our awareness more firmly into this moment allows us to see clearly and, as we continue to open, it tends to get easier to know what needs to be done in any given moment. It also tends to be easier to let go of things that do not serve us and to not get caught up in minor squabbles with others. In time, this just becomes how you live, and it’s not really a big deal.

Living an enlightened life, as I said in the beginning, is quite simple and quite sane. It isn’t anything extraordinary. If anything, it is about finally accepting the ordinary and everything else exactly as it is and continuing to learn about yourself so that you can enjoy this present moment—whatever it is—to the fullest.

This was first published in the November 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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