Eckhart Tolle once quipped that if you think you’re enlightened, stay with your family for a week.
I did that over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and came home with the definite conclusion that I’m not enlightened.
Not that I ever thought I was. I hoped I was, but strongly suspected I wasn’t. This time with my family locked that suspicion into the realm of what is known.
When home, I lead a sedate life. Rob and I agree on everything except minor things, like whether bananas are fit for human consumption (I think not). We know who’s doing what, and when. I go to work four days a week while he mows, brush-cuts, and waters the property, picks the evening salad, and squeezes in a cartoon sketch or two. There are no sudden changes to plans, unexpected visitors, or severe weather warnings. So, we live happily, accept what is, and live in the moment. Sort of quasi-enlightened.
But on that holiday in the city with my family, there were some things I found hard to accept, and some moments that seemed to drag on for hours. Quasi-enlightenment went out the proverbial window.
Bananas weren’t only eaten. They were smeared by energetic grandchildren on chair legs and tummies, providing a coating for the strawberries and avocados already present. Christmas shopping traffic jams stretched to the moon and back. Formal dinners I’d meticulously planned turned into blustery beach parties. Tires went flat overnight. I wilted in a heatwave. My nose burnt. And shops ran out of red onions, which were to add the last dash of flavour to my splendorous Christmas salad.
My thoughts, which usually generate an average of one a second and are easy to ignore, went on overdrive — at least ten per second. My emotions, usually as unflappable as a length of Axminster carpet in a corporate corridor, undulated wildly.
Why is this happening? I’m not happy! The whole world is attacking me! I want to go home where enlightenment dwells!
I wonder bitterly whether Buddha’s local market ever ran out of honey for his favourite barley-meal balls. Did Christ ever have to change a dirty diaper? Was that haloed animal lover, St Francis of Assisi, ever butted from behind by a he-goat? How enlightened did these three men feel when these things happened?
I sit in a corner and stew about it all.
In other words, I create even more suffering for myself through my unconscious thought patterns.
I look around for a bodhi tree to sit under, thinking that if I find one, I might also find enlightenment, just like Buddha did. But I know in my heart of hearts that life doesn’t work that way. I didn’t come to earth to sit under a bodhi tree. I came to live an enlightened life amidst my lively family.
Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Speaks:
These unconscious mind patterns tend to come to an end simply by making them conscious, by becoming aware of them as they happen.
Recalling these words, I leave the stewing corner and step back into life. I look back now at those ten days with a smile on my face, knowing I’ll do better next time.
I’m back home now, where life is definitely more sedate, but ups and downs are still happening around me. A kangaroo tried to jump the garden fence and destroyed a row of flowering petunias; a young woman backed into my pristine silver car in the supermarket car park; shops ran out of watermelon; permission has been granted for a controversial lime pit to start operating nearby, despite serious environmental concerns; the fig tree we imported from France three years ago still isn’t producing fruit, and on it goes.
I could get upset about any or all of these things and walk around with a storm cloud of unconscious thoughts enveloping me. Or I can bring them into the light of consciousness. In this space, I can accept what is happening, do what can be done about it at the moment, and move on.
Living with Mindfulness
What do you get upset about?
The thing is to notice what your mind is unconsciously doing. Once you notice, you’re set free from unconscious thought patterns that make you feel angry, impatient, annoyed, resentful, or bitter.
Set yourself free by noticing unconscious thought patterns.
That’s what Buddha, Christ, and St Francis of Assisi did.
With love, Marlane
A good way to start is to take the FREE 7-Day Mindfulness Challenge! It's just one click away!
First published on Medium.com/Illumination