Illuminating the Darkside of Enlightenment (Guest Post)

Having practiced meditation for just over two years I’m still certainly a long way from Buddhahood. I have however experienced rare and beautiful moments when suddenly everything makes complete sense; where I’ve disappeared into nothing and everything and felt the universe move through me.

When you enter that limitless space and it transforms your being, the prospect of ever forgetting this feeling is impossible. But you always do.

Whilst in some cases I’ve been able to retain the high for many days, in sharp contrast I’ve also started to experience massive drop-offs in mood- sudden internal panic, feelings of being overwhelmed, as though some sort of dark inertia literally grips at my heart and pulls it downwards.

Recently I’ve had moments where everything inside seems to have been obliterated and I can’t move, others where I suddenly feel like I need to escape- pure anxious energy where I just want to punch something.

How can my entire being swing from total ease and acceptance to such anxious unknown depths?

I was recently recommended a book After the Ecstacy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield, which addresses this phenomenon.

Focusing on the experiences of Buddhas, nuns and sages, whom have often sat for decades in spiritual bliss, Kornfield examines life after ‘enlightenment’ and the ability of the real world to rob the detachment and calm that they have cultivated over a lifetime.

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Many of the accounts shared spoke of the way in which negative feelings of loss, anxiety, shame and past trauma became forgotten and consequently suppressed by those engaging in increasingly strict spiritual practices – buried without ever being acknowledged or examined.

Whilst withdrawing from these emotions was often not conscious decision by the individual, failure to recognise and process them once in a cloistered environment meant that even after years of dedication to bliss, this pain lay deep, dark, dormant and ready to be disturbed if and when the outside world came knocking.

‘You can only deal with the shadows by letting them in’

This masking of pain is also true of a ‘normal’ life.

We subconsciously adopt coping mechanisms, protective habits and shape our personalities in response to the thousands of negative experiences that bombard us – often tiny moments of pain that we could never place a finger on but that dwell in our most vulnerable core and control who we are.

This accumulation happens without recognition, and in the absence of self-reflection, it manifests itself in ways that we never connect to this root cause.

I believe that as my spiritual practice has deepened and other barriers have been understood and stripped away, life is pushing me closer to whatever pain it is that I habour in this place- the thing I have often bumped against and felt as a physical presence but not known what it was.

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I am beginning to understand that my massive dips in mooed is me presenting myself to myself, and whilst not knowing what exactly it’s saying, beginning to acknowledge and accept this I think for now is for now enough.

For the first time ever I have begun to probe and question these negative feelings, slowly exposing this vulnerability by talking openly about them to myself and others.

As a ‘normal’ person, even acknowledging that I have something shut away is hard to comprehend, but as it continues to abruptly be brought to my attention I respect that it’s something I must try to face.

‘We can only learn some truths by descent, that bring wholeness and humility in surrender- in our hearts greatest vulnerability we come close to the selfless mystery of life’

This leads me to appreciate Kornfield’s belief that enlightenment is not a state- there are only moments of enlightenment, in which you let every feeling pass freely through, accepting with a full and open heart whatever you’re experiencing.

If the bad comes to visit, to live an authentic spiritual life one must accept and acknowledge this pain fully and not try to meditate it away; to let it come to me as freely as the bliss.

To experience the darker regions of myself is what I’ve actually been searching for on a path to self-growth. The true master knows ecstasy as he has embraced despair.

Read more: Alan Watts Insane and Rebellious Guide to Meditation

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