Off the Shelf in the Spiritual Supermarket
(The Easy Way to Enlightenment)
I had this dream once. The whole of the human race was marching up the hill towards enlightenment. I was there too, elbow-to-elbow, amid the general throng. There was a sense of elation and bustling expectation.
Then, as we were nearing the top I began to notice all these little scenes.
Two people were sitting in the dust by the path comparing hands and feet.
“Look,” one of them was saying, with child-like wonder, “we have fingers. And toes.”
And they giggled.
There was another couple across the way. She had on a printed, flowery dress and was sat back on her haunches, while he was leaning forward on his knees immersing himself in her eyes.
I had a sudden feeling of revulsion. There was something cloyingly saccharine - not to say, infantile - about the scene.
I looked up, and across the valley, to where I could see another hill. Over there were all these wild anarchists jumping up and down to thunderous music with their fists in the air, whooping with joy. I knew that that was where I wanted to be.
“Fuckin' hell,” I thought, “I’m on the wrong hill!”
Which only goes to show that enlightenment is a matter of taste maybe. One man‘s enlightenment is another man‘s Mills & Boon novel.
The question is: where can you buy your enlightenment these days? Can you get it off-the-shelf in the spiritual market-place, or does it have to be made-to-measure? Is it always one-off and unique, or can it be mass-produced? Can you pick it up along with the soap-powder and cat-food down the supermarket, or do you have to work at it over lifetimes of arduous mental and physical application on the top of a mountain somewhere, while living off a grain of rice a day and bathing in cold water?
Can you do it, like the knitting, while you are watching the telly, or is it more like brain-surgery: something you have to get good at before you practice?
You wouldn’t let just anyone become a brain-surgeon, would you? But almost anyone can become a guru. All you have to do is write a book.
Enlightenment is big business these days. The bookshelves are groaning with self-help manuals on how to activate your auric chakras while bringing up a baby, teaching yourself divination and having ecstatic sex, all at the same time. This is multi-tasking gone exponential, and is surely designed to make us all feel inadequate.
Actually I suspect that a lot of these self-help books are more like celebrity slimming videos than true spiritual texts. They represent the author’s idealised view of themselves: how the writer would like to be rather than how they really are.
Why should we expect a fat celebrity to know more about slimming than we do ourselves? Why should we expect someone else’s half-baked platitudes to be any more useful than our own?
Mostly these books are just a good marketing ploy for the multi-nationals, another off-the-shelf commodity item for sale down the spiritual supermarket.
Special offer: two for the price of one. Buy One Get One Free. Collect enough spiritual nectar points and you can win a lifetime trip to paradise!
But then, I’m not really sure that enlightenment has to be worked out over lifetimes either.
Maybe just being born is a start.
I read somewhere that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.
It's more about learning than it is about consuming.
Learning how to walk and talk is the first thing. After that, we have to learn to relate. Then we have to learn to work and to play, to read, to write, to enjoy each other’s company, to grow up, to separate ourselves from our parents, to discover the quiet satisfaction that comes with responsibility, to reserve judgement. We have to learn honour and integrity, how to apply ourselves with diligence and care, and how to be humble about the product of our skills. After that we have to learn how to grow old without growing bitter, how not to be scared of our impending end. Finally we have to learn how to surrender our lives to the mystery beyond.
In other words, we only have to learn how to be human.
Isn’t that enough?
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