As will be discussed, Enlightenment is not something to be achieved or a goal that involves will and focus, but rather complete surrender and dissolution. I posit, however, that wisdom and “Functional Enlightenment” can be achieved, not by retreating, renouncing or escaping from life, but by living fully, learning from our experiences, and through integral alignment of our thoughts, words, deeds and being in the present moment.

Prior to discussing “Functional Enlightenment” and why it is important to personal and collective growth and transformation, it is valuable to discuss “Enlightenment,” its elusive nature and how it is vital to the world we create.

Many believe that Enlightenment is something to be obtained, a destination that when reached, will provide the holder perpetual wisdom and joy. Often Enlightenment is sought for egotistical reasons such as feeling special or obtaining the admiration of others. There is also a general belief that Enlightenment can be achieved by disciplining oneself to sit for hours meditating, or studying under a guru, or becoming an adherent to a religion or spiritual practice, or living a monastic life.

The spiritual and metaphysical author, Rob Brezny, has this to say about Enlightenment:

“For some seekers, spiritual enlightenment is the ultimate commodity. They believe that through diligent meditation and self-improvement, there will come a day when it will no longer elude their grasp. Breaking through to the singular state of cosmic consciousness, they will forever after own it, free and clear. Permanently illuminated! Never to backslide into the dull ignominy of normal human awareness!

Here’s what I have to say about that: It’s a delusion.

The fact is, the nature of perfection is always mutating. What constitutes Enlightenment today will always be different tomorrow. Even if ­you’re fortunate and wise enough to score a sliver of “Enlightenment,” it’s not a static treasure that becomes your indestructible, everlasting possession. Rather, it remains a mercurial knack that must be continually re-earned.

If you want to befriend the Divine Wow, you must not only be willing to change ceaselessly — you have to love to change ceaselessly.”

As we change, our perception of the world changes. When we have those moments of Enlightenment or a new revelation, we just “weeded our garden.” We are then given new experiences and challenges for growth and need to again weed and tend to our garden. One of life’s purposes is to continually weed and tend to our garden, consistently improve ourselves, and plant seeds that will grow into abundant crops of love, beauty, wellness and awe.

Part 1 –Enlightenment and the Illusion of “I”

Enlightenment is empty and meaningless. . .

We have been conditioned to believe that fullness and meaning are of value while “emptiness and meaninglessness” are somehow negative and valueless. Meaning arises from the emptiness just as our next thought arises from the space in between thoughts. It is the emptiness and meaninglessness that allows us to have the space to objectively choose our next thought, perspective and meaning.

The “Illusion of I” occurs upon entering the state of dualistic, subject-object consciousness. In this state we busy our minds making meaning from our sensorial perception of vibrations and therefrom create our phenomenal “reality,” including the illusion of a separate physical self. “I” experiences the relative difference between such things as motion and stillness, noise and silence, light and dark and creates meaning from these experiences.

When we return our awareness to stillness, silence and emptiness, we enter the realm of Enlightenment and enjoy peacefulness, objectivity and the realization that we are the creators of our phenomenal “reality.” When we allow ourselves to be still and quiet, we increase our ability to be objective and give ourselves the space to choose, our next thought, our beliefs, our perceptions and create our reality rather than react to our conditioning and environment.

By discussing that which is not, we make nothing into something. This is the paradox of dualistic consciousness and limited phenomenal language attempting to experience and describe non-dualism. Let’s just call it “ ”.

Upon complete dissolution of “I” into the “ ”, the experience of “I” ceases to exist. And the nonexistent “I” doesn’t experience the “ ”.

The term “Enlightenment” is difficult to define and is often used interchangeably with the words like illumination, awareness, clarity, mastery and wisdom. Those that have achieved uncommon levels of illumination, awareness, clarity, mastery or wisdom are often considered by others to be “Enlightened,” however, those that are Enlightened generally do not consider themselves Enlightened. In this regard, Adyashanti writes:

“Do not think that Enlightenment is going to make you special, it’s not. If you feel special in any way, then Enlightenment has not occurred. I meet a lot of people who think they are Enlightened and awake simply because they have had a very moving spiritual experience. They wear their Enlightenment on their sleeve like a badge of honor. They sit among friends and talk about how awake they are while sipping coffee at a cafe. The funny thing about Enlightenment is that when it is authentic, there is no one to claim it. Enlightenment is very ordinary; it is nothing special. Rather than making you more special, it is going to make you less special. It plants you right in the center of a wonderful humility and innocence. Everyone else may or may not call you Enlightened, but when you are Enlightened the whole notion of Enlightenment and someone who is Enlightened is a big joke. I use the word Enlightenment all the time; not to point you toward it but to point you beyond it. Do not get stuck in Enlightenment.”

According to A.H. Almaas, Ph.D. in The Pearl Beyond Price:

“There is no universal or agreed upon definition, or even understanding, of the concept of Enlightenment. Different traditions use the word differently. Different teachers refer to different realities when they use it. And most people have not the vaguest idea what they are talking about when referring to Enlightenment. Sometimes Enlightenment means the attainment of a certain stage of Being. Sometimes it refers to a certain insight, perception or understanding. Sometimes it refers to a certain stage of inner development, usually the final stage, which becomes problematic since different traditions take different conditions to be the final stage. Sometimes it signifies the transcendence of ego, other times the death of ego, still other times the transformation of ego. . . The concept can be useful only in a teaching that defines it very specifically. But we cannot use the concept assuming it means the same thing in all teachings or traditions.”

Having said the foregoing, Almaas defines Enlightenment as follows: “Enlightenment does not involve simply the perception that the person is only a concept. It means that all conceptualization is ended; all images and representations in the mind, whether conscious, preconscious or unconscious, are eliminated, or at least not identified with. When this profound stillness of the mind is achieved, it is asserted; true reality is perceived, not by an entity which is a separate individual. The experience is one of unqualified Being, wordless existence, infinite and eternal.”

In Hinduism, when used as a technical term in Raja Yoga, the phrase “nirvikalpa samādhi” refers to a particular type of samādhi that Heinrich Zimmer distinguishes from other states as “a mergence of the mental activity (cittavṛtti) in the Self, to such a degree, or in such a way, that the distinction (vikalpa) of knower, act of knowing, and object known becomes dissolved — as waves vanish in water, and as foam vanishes into the sea. The difference to the other samadhis is that there is no return from this samadhi into lower states of consciousness. Therefore this is the only true final Enlightenment.”

A generally accepted definition of “Enlightenment” in Buddhism is “the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire, suffering and individual consciousness.”

“Beatitude” is defined as a state of supreme bliss and happiness. However, if all individual consciousness is extinguished, who is it that is experiencing the beatitude? Also, in order for beatitude to be recognized as such, it requires a subjective experience of that which is not beatitude. Moreover, the desire to experience “the beatitude” as an individual is what keeps the individual in suffering. Again we are faced with paradox. What if Enlightenment was the extinction of individual consciousness through the dissolution into “ ” with nothing at the other end — no awareness whatsoever?

Defining “Enlightenment” is like defining “Love.” There is no universal definition. Unlike Love, which “I” can experience in dualistic self-consciousness, the non-dualistic state of Enlightenment cannot be fully experienced while in the subject-object dualistic consciousness of “I.” Enlightenment, like love, has many meanings and no universally accepted definition. For conceptual purposes, Enlightenment is empty and meaningless — there is no subject, object, state, place, relating or dualism, nothing to experience, nothing to do, nothing to achieve and nothing to prove. Again, it is best defined as “ ”.

When there is no self to perceive space and time, the perception of space and time is no longer a reality. Thus, words such as “infinite” and “eternal,” or any words for that matter, that are dependent upon space and time are inadequate to explain Enlightenment. Thus, all words fail. Even “empty” requires the conception of space and “meaningless” requires some basis of cognitive meaning in order to have any significance.

Enlightenment is not an achievement. The more we attempt to achieve Enlightenment, the less likely we are to do so. We can achieve expanded states of consciousness, transcendence, trust, surrender, acceptance, mindfulness, equanimity, love, awareness, clarity and wisdom, but not the Enlightenment of self completely dissolving into “ ”.

“All that is necessary to awaken to yourself as the radiant emptiness of spirit is to stop seeking something more or better or different, and to turn your attention inward to the awake silence that you are.” ~Adyashanti

Enlightenment’s great value to us is that, due to it being empty and meaningless, it provides a perceived space in which we can objectively observe our physical world, thoughts, actions and selves. Enlightenment also offers us the space and stillness to consciously choose our next thought or action. We can evolve from being reactive to responsive and proactive when we surrender to complete dissolution and then return to consciousness from “ ”.

Our minds and bodies are constantly receiving stimuli and converting stimuli into information, meaning and response. This process will be referred to as “relational consciousness.” It is through this process of relational consciousness that we develop our “I-dentity” from which we view and relate to the world and universe in and surrounding us. We construct, through cognitive/somatic feedback loops a subjective world we call “reality” . . . each of us experiencing our life as the center of a universe of our creation. The dualistic and relational “I” incessantly chattering away in its mission to seek understanding and create meaning actually generates the veils of illusion and misunderstanding that separates us from oneness.

Most people would use “I” to refer to their human form and identity — a flesh and blood human in finite physical form, born on a certain date and time in a certain location on planet earth, that is given a name, and experiences life through phenomenal sensory space-time consciousness (e.g., breathes, drinks, eats, consumes, eliminates, touches, sees, hears, smells, tastes, thinks, emotes, communicates, reproduces, collects memories and dies).

In oneness, “I” no longer exists, as there can be no observer in oneness. In oneness, “I” just dissolves completely without any help, effort, intention, trying, pursuing, agenda, or attachment to outcomes. “I” cannot achieve Enlightenment. “I” cannot experience non-dualism. “I” cannot release or remove itself (e.g., ego trying to remove ego), as such efforting make “I” even stronger. The subject-object self-awareness of “I” consciousness creates an illusory overlay that masques Enlightenment with meaning, dualism and separation.

The first letter of Identity and Illusion is “I”. Letting go of “I” consciousness is, at once, one of the most simple and difficult of human endeavors. We can experience the edge of Enlightenment the moment just prior to “I” dissolving completely into “ ” and the moment “I” first reemerges therefrom. During non-dualistic Enlightenment, there is no self or “I” to experience Enlightenment.

The infinite and omnipotent “I” that is creating us, living us, breathing us and experiencing us, is not the temporary human form you see in the mirror, but rather the Infinite “I” — the prime creator and observer of all creation. My friend, and a remarkable healer, Nirakar, explains the observer consciousness of the “Infinite I” as follows:

“I” am untouchable awareness of touch and all kinesthetic experiences.

“I” am silent awareness of all sounds audible to this body’s ears.

“I” am peaceful awareness of all activities of life that the senses of this body, that “I” am with, are capable of noticing.

“I” am the unconditional awareness and acceptance of all of this body/mind’s experiences of life.

“I” am life.

“I” am all.

Many people believe that when they are in the observer/creator conscious, described by Nirakar above, they have “achieved” Enlightenment. Granted that when we shift to observer consciousness, we experience expanded awareness and greater clarity. However, there still exists the separation of “I.” The “Infinite I,” as the observer, is still observing our human form as the object.

Letting go of the illusion of physical “reality” to free ourselves from the shackles of limiting belief systems and generational programming, often creates great fear. This is because dissolving “I” is analogous to death to our minds.

When we stand at the edge of the chasm about to drop into “ ” or non-dualistic Enlightenment, leaving the limitations of our dualistic self-consciousness behind, the mind is likely to raise the mantel of fear to prevent the full surrender into “ ” by evoking questions such as . . . “If I let go, will I come back? “Will they lock me up in the psycho ward, if I don’t return to my “normal” state of consciousness in a reasonable time?” “Will I be ostracized?” “How will I make a living if “I” am not here?” “How will “I “stay alive?” “What will my friends and family think?”

It is this kind of mental survival mechanism that keeps us enslaved in “I” consciousness and prevents us from being Enlightened.

It is the illusion of the physical “I” that keeps us bound to the Global Human Agreement. Letting go of our ego and story of self requires letting go of the notions that bind us to the limitations of our physical world.

In the yoga tradition, “Samadhi,” defines a state of compromise. Samadhi is the eighth and final limb one can go while retaining awareness of self. Samadhi has been described as a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object and in which the mind becomes still, one-pointed or concentrated, though the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.

However, if self-awareness is retained, then dualism still exists. The most profound experience of non-dualism and Enlightenment is one that “I” can’t remember, because “I” did not have the experience.

As self-awareness dissolves, we experience a momentary transition from “I” into “ ”. As “I” reemerges from “ ”, we are able to gain powerful insights into the function of our meaning-making, time-space-based, subject-object-relating mind.

This raises some interesting questions. . .

Q: If an Enlightened life is one that it is meaningless and empty, then why I am here?

A: I am here to love the creator and all I create. I am here as one of an infinite number of possibilities in a universe of infinite possibilities so the creator can experience itself subjectively and return to creator consciousness to “ ”.

Q: What is the meaning of life if it is all an illusion?

A: Whatever meaning you give it. It is your illusion. You are the creator. The human experience represents a subdivision of infinite consciousness. We are simultaneously the wave of infinite consciousness experiencing the particle of finite consciousness. The emptiness and meaninglessness of Enlightenment allow for a dualistic experience of fullness and meaning.

Q: Why is Enlightenment even worth devoting time to?

A: It is from that which is silent, still, empty and meaningless that we become aware of the illusion of meaning and enhance our ability to objectively and proactively create our reality. When we become aware of our mind's fabrication of meaning, beliefs and limitations, we increase our awareness and open our minds to infinite potential thereby exponentially increasing our co-creative manifestation abilities.

Q: Rather than sitting on a pillow attempting to dissolve into “non-dualistic consciousness” is there a form of Enlightenment that enhances the human experience and fulfills the miracle of life?

A: “Functional Enlightenment” provides us the ability to fully embrace the human experience, observe ourselves, experience silence and stillness, understand the illusion of our lives, and manifest our lives with the power of proactive choice.

Part 2 — Functional Enlightenment

Functional Enlightenment is the integral alignment of thoughts, words, deeds and being fully immersed in the present moment. It is our ability to make conscious and objective choices, live life fully, be in flow, and continually grow from our experiences leading to greater wisdom, love, connection, compassion and joy.

After having delved into experiences and research to define, understand and achieve “Enlightenment,” I realized that Enlightenment is “empty and meaningless.” While “emptiness and meaninglessness” have great value, I, as a human, would rather participate meaningfully in the human experience as opposed to mastering sitting on a pillow for hours with the goal of eradicating my self-consciousness and pursuing the illusory achievement of “non-dualistic Enlightenment” while still in self-consciousness. For those that embrace the human journey and desire to experience it fully, “Functional Enlightenment” is a way of being a wise, fully present, whole, productive, inspired and loving human.

Functional Enlightenment is the concurrent experience of our interconnectivity to infinity and nothingness while in a state of self-awareness. Functional Enlightenment is the present integration of our thoughts, words, deeds and being in alignment with our full creative nature and power of manifestation.

The practice of Functional Enlightenment utilizes our infinite power of imagination while objectively understanding the interconnectivity, influence and impact of our thoughts, words, deeds and being to the whole.

I love being human (for now) and, like many other of my fellow humans, I don’t feel compelled to permanently dissolve into the abyss of non-dualism leaving my body behind in a catatonic state. As functionally Enlightened humans, we can do so much more to manifest new realities that enhance life, love, abundance, wellness and beauty in our world.

Samadhi in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and yogic schools is a higher level of concentrated meditation. In Buddhism, Samadhi has been referred to as an abiding in which “mind” becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience. It is being able to place objects (including our thoughts, emotions, identities, beliefs) in the “space” of empty and meaningless Enlightenment that we are able to observe them with greater awareness and objectivity.

Functional Enlightenment creates a life of powerful awareness, objectivity, consciousness and manifestation by 1) incorporating the empty and meaningless “ ” of Enlightenment as a way of experiencing objectivity, equanimity and mindfulness, 2) aligning thoughts, words deeds and into present integrity, and 3) manifesting new realities with present and whole awareness.

It isn’t necessary to be a monk, live in a monastery, shave your head, wear okra robes, carry mala beads, and ceaselessly meditate to achieve Functional Enlightenment. I have met many people who represent themselves as “Enlightened masters”, but are unable to function in modern society outside of the monastery or cloistered environment.

Many people, however, who appear quite ordinary, consistently demonstrate a high degree of Functional Enlightenment. For example, a mother may demonstrate Functional Enlightenment in the way she raises her children with unconditional love, devotion, surrender, compassion and service. A chef may show Functional Enlightenment in the way he imbues his food with love and powerful healing energy. A doctor may display Functional Enlightenment in the way she cares for her patients and shows compassion for those suffering from illness. A teacher may exemplify Functional Enlightenment by inspiring children to realize their highest potential. A composer may write a piece of music so exquisite and inspiring that the listener’s consciousness is transformed to experience Functional Enlightenment.

Functional Enlightenment includes experiences that have been described by phrases like “in the flow.” “Flow” is something most of us have experienced at some time in our life.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Ph.D. (pronounced “cheek-sent-me-high-ee”), best known as the architect of “Flow” asserts that “Flow” is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, “flow” is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

The factors associated with flow include:

1. Merged Action with Awareness Leading to a Loss of Self Consciousness. We lose our sense of self and become one with our activity.

2. Distorted Sense of Time. Generally, time just seems to fly by, or in certain situations, slow down so that we become exquisitely aware of every moment.

3. Clear Goals that are attainable and align with one’s skill level and abilities with the challenge level and skill level both high. For example, on the chart to the right, a low challenge level and low skill level result in apathy, whereas a high challenge level and high skill level result in flow.

4. Direct and Immediate Feedback — Successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent so that behavior can be immediately adjusted as needed.

5. Balance Between Ability Level and Challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).

6. Personal Control over the situation or activity.

7. A High Degree of Concentration focused on the present moment.

8. Intrinsically Rewarding Activity. We experience a sense of satisfaction and expansive emotions.

9. Complete Absorption and Merging of Awareness with Activity. The key to flow is full immersion in the activity.

Much like “Flow,” Functional Enlightenment can be achieved and experienced by being fully present in the here and now and immersing ourselves in action. When action and self-awareness merge completely, we experience the state of oneness in human form.

When we are fully immersed in our activity, the drag and interference of conflict, separation, procrastination, self-consciousness, unworthiness and doubt also vanish. However, in this state, we often become self-absorbed and unaware of others and our environment.

For instance, have you ever been so focused on something that you didn’t notice a loved one enter the room or even hear a word they said? Even though you were experiencing the immersive oneness of your higher self, your actions may be perceived by others as rude, insensitive, arrogant and self-absorbed.

While Functional Enlightenment includes the immersive oneness that leads to the experience of “flow,” it also includes a broader awareness of oneness and interconnectedness to all things, including one’s environment.

The practice of Functional Enlightenment requires the concurrent experience of oneness with self and one’s action plus a broader scope of awareness and connectedness to one’s environment. When we experience an expanded state of unified awareness that includes oneness with self, our activities, others, our environment and the universe, we naturally increase our awareness and our ability to manifest in ways that benefit the whole

We can conduct our lives as “Functionally Enlightened” humans by engaging in the following practices:

1. Fully immersing ourselves in life (e.g., service, activities, presence, good deeds) so completely that the subject-object separation of “I” dissolves into oneness with our present action and being (e.g., “Flow”);

2. Dissolving “I” completely on a regular, but temporary, basis through meditation and other immersive practices that allow for dissolution of self without any effort;

3. Understanding our interconnectivity to all things and the impact of our thoughts, words, deeds and being to the whole of the universe;

4. Living in integral alignment of our thoughts, words, deeds and being and expressing our full creative nature and power of manifestation for the benefit of the whole; and

5. The unified awareness of self, action and environment.

“It isn’t by getting out of the world that we become enlightened, but by getting into the world…by getting so tuned in that we can ride the waves of our existence and never get tossed because we become the waves.” ~Ken Kesey

When we become Functionally Enlightened, we then realize there is no separation from “source” and that we have no needs, only choices. We can then let go of agendas, neediness and attachment to outcome by being fully present in our lives. We then start living in unconditional love, acceptance, oneness and creativity. We become the change we desire and can powerfully contribute to creating a world that is abundant, well, Enlightened, loving, beautiful, compassionate and blissful. Then we realize that we are the truth we have been seeking.

Mark Chasan is a lawyer, entrepreneur and financial advisor supporting regenerative communities and eco-social entrepreneurs to foster the Regenerative Economy.