When I first started my spiritual journey, I was studying teachings from people whose lives were wildly different from mine. Many of them were monks, or spiritual teachers who seemed to live in a spiritual bubble devoid of the push and pull of my day-to-day existence.
I resonated with what they were saying, but I shrugged off that kind of inner peace and freedom as something only attainable once my responsibilities settled down. I felt I had to choose between my life and self-realization.
I was internally torn between a deep desire to wake up and honoring the reality of my circumstances. I would’ve never imagined it was possible to be the CEO of a company and parent three teenagers from a place of absolute freedom.
I had an unlikely ally on this journey: the ego.
The Search for More
I’ve always been a highly driven person. I suspect the same is true for many of you reading this. My conditioning was constantly pushing me to achieve more: more success, more recognition, more knowledge, more possessions. More, more, more.
For much of my life, my focus was on attaining material things, I was good at it. When I started my inward spiritual journey, I thought the rat race was over, but in reality, it had just shifted targets. I was now focused on being more conscious, finding more peace, experiencing more freedom.
The same fuel that I had leveraged to be an overachiever was now driving me to spend a lot of time chasing “the now” and go to dozens of week-long silent meditation retreats. I ran towards enlightenment at full speed. I had many incredible experiences of awakening where the world of separation collapsed, and oneness was as evident as my hand. But they wouldn’t last long. How could the nature of things be so clear only to be veiled again and again?
I did the obvious: I tried to hold on to those states and strove to replicate them when they were gone. I was certain there was going to be a point in time when finally, after accumulating enough awakening experiences, the big one would come, leaving me in an eternal state of blissful empty oneness. This is the spiritual seeker’s dilemma, and I was stuck in it.
You Can’t Get Enlightened
See, the spiritual persona is looking to arrive somewhere better, somewhere where they will experience constant elation and peace and where they will be untouched by the comings and goings of humanity. The problem is, YOU can’t get enlightened.
The you that is seeking does not all of a sudden see everything clearly. The you that is seeking falls away, and life is enlightened to experience itself as you. This may sound like semantics, but it’s a critical distinction. You do not get to experience oneness; oneness gets to experience you.
What this means is that all that seeking and striving to get somewhere is, in itself, being done by oneness.
For some, it may be as simple as understanding this conceptually. For me, there was value in all the running. Its purpose wasn’t to arrive somewhere, but rather to run me down to such a degree that I had to face the futility of all my doing. Because in the heart of that disillusionment, in that instant of exhaustion, the seeking momentarily stopped and there was room for me to notice the aliveness that was there even before I went looking for it.
Every moment is an opportunity
We’ve all likely experienced instances of deep presence. They tend to come unexpectedly, whether in meditation, while watching a sunset, looking at a baby’s smile, or even during emergencies.
When we experience those moments, the mental chatter stops, and we feel deeply intimate with life. We could say we are in a state of flow and present in the now; however, it’s more accurate to say the “me” fades into the background and presence fills the moment.
This presence isn’t selective, though. It’s not reserved for just those situations. It’s always here. It’s the aliveness that is seeing through your eyes right now as you’re reading this. It’s actually the same aliveness that gets hungry and tired, and the same one that tries to be present.
Whether you’re parenting, running a business, or being an Uber driver, you can notice how every moment is illuminated with this awareness. As soon as we recognize this, we realize that enlightenment isn’t something to be achieved, it’s something to be revealed.
Coming from a different place
I imagined that when this realization settled, I would become a perfect human, one that no longer experienced the difficulties of life. But the more mature the awakening, the more capacity to experience humanity in all of its forms, with all of its very human quirks. Awakening is not about transcendence; on the contrary, it’s a leaning into life in such a way where the space between you and life disappears.
The byproduct of being rooted as that presence is that the wounding of your persona loses its grip, and you get to play your role with greater coherence and less inner division. All the managing and controlling that was required to protect and aggrandize the identity of a “you” can relax.
Of course, none of this means that you are free from heartache, desire, or any other emotion. But all those experiences are seen as happening to the wholeness of life and not to a limited sense of “you”.
If you’re a spiritual seeker looking for awakening or just someone looking for greater inner peace, take a moment to contemplate if those things aren’t already here before you start looking for them somewhere in the future. Whatever is here right now is as close as it gets to the deepest peace. The awareness of this moment doesn’t diminish or grow because of what’s happening; it is the unchanging light that perceives all change, and you are that light.
For more guidance on the unraveling of the self, you can find The Mystery of You on Amazon.
Emilio Diez Barroso was a lifelong seeker—seeking recognition, achievement, love, success, and finally, the ultimate carrot: enlightenment. In his pursuit of enlightenment, he was forced to face what all the seeking had been trying to avoid: his own sense of unworthiness. Defeated at the game of avoiding and humbled by the realization of his true nature, he is now dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world. Emilio is married and is a father to three incredible teachers. He sits on the board of over a dozen companies, is the CEO of NALA Investments and is an active philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur. He has a master’s in spiritual psychology and resides in Los Angeles.