Life feels more enlightened since I gave up my quest for enlightenment.
Many people remember youth as a simpler time, before maturity compelled them to ponder the meaning of life. My youth was rather different. As the daughter of hippie parents whose wanderings had led them to an austere Indian spiritual community, my childhood was molded by their fervent pursuit of “higher consciousness.” We lived in an ashram housing several dozen spirit-seekers, the walls adorned with pictures of gurus, the rooms abuzz with vegetarian meals, group meditations, daily yoga. From my first day of life, with my father lovingly chanting in the delivery room, I was being preened to transcend the difficulties of daily life and become a prodigy of spiritual attainment, a baby bodhisattva in a new generation of enlightened youth.
While other kids in elementary school were wearing He-Man t-shirts and eating junk food, I wore a turban and was forbidden any meat or sugar. The teachers were all apprised of my various restrictions; when children brought birthday cupcakes for the class, I reluctantly nibbled at celery sticks. I was introduced to yoga while still in diapers and began teaching it when I was sixteen. I even went to high school in India to further steep my young mind in the motherland of Eastern spirituality.
But even with such an impressive head start, it turns out that enlightenment is tricky. Into my twenties, I grew disappointed that I had not yet reached the golden gates. I mean, if I wasn’t completely enlightened by now, shouldn’t I at least be partially enlightened? After years of earnest spiritual instruction from my community, I should be angelically poised in a warm mystical bliss while the petty world of money, dating, and ambition floats harmlessly past my impenetrable calm. Why did I still have days where nothing made sense?
I plodded through graduate school and various jobs, and part of me still waited for the beam of spiritual transcendence that would evaporate term papers, taxes, and bad dates into a puff of cosmic insignificance. Ah, transcendence – I would understand the grand plan that the universe had for me. I would spend my time with other enlightened ones, knowingly smiling as we exchanged meditation tips over cups of organic tea. I would find my like-minded soul mate, and we would glide together toward loving serenity.
Transcendence never showed up, but I did make peace with it.
This year when I turned 30 a friend sarcastically goaded me, “In your profound 30 years’ wisdom, what is the meaning of life?”
I thought about it. “I think this is it,” I said, gesturing to the mundane world around me. As I said it, I had a comforting realization. “Maybe this is enough.”
Wow. Maybe this is it. Maybe I can find contentment in satisfying work, dinner with friends, a morning jog, a kind, if unenlightened, boyfriend. Maybe a tiny step in my personal enlightenment is, well, giving it up.
I believe that this is it. But now “this” is enough.
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