What is enlightenment? I obviously do not know - and even if I have had the experience, I would be unable to communicate it1. But still, what is it that so many people aim for? What do I aim for? What does inner growth mean to me?
A crucial part of inner growth for me is overcoming illusions and subconscious influences. We are subject to many illusions - about ourselves, our value, and our abilities (“I am not good enough,” “I cannot sing,” “I need somebody to love me”), illusions about what is really important and valuable (being young, healthy, and having a big house and a yacht, as the commercials present it). We have accumulated these illusions - or unfounded beliefs - from early childhood, from our parents, society, experiences. We are even not aware of many of these, though they drive our lives. These ingrained conceptions, values, self-images and suppressed desires enter our subconsciousness and fire our emotions and wants, without us having any idea where this all comes from. We speak so much about freedom - yet we are slaves to these invisible influences. To regain control of our lives, achieve true freedom, and be more happy, we need to uncover these deep beliefs, fears, likes and dislikes. Uncover, question, and transform. (Note: judgements - about ourselves, others, situations - are part of this.)
Gounelle’s The Man Who Wanted to Be Happy (my review and highlights) is a fascinating and entertaining account of one man’s journey of discovery of how we are controlled by various illusions. Zen - especially as presented by Peter Ralston in his contemplation-related works - is an excellent path to discovering and overcoming these illusions. Jung’s individuation process is focused on this, namely on acknowledging and integrating all parts of psyché, I believe.
When we overcome our illusions and get rid of false values, we have to work to discover what really does have value in life - and act accordingly. So all of this is, in a way, a search for true values.
An important aspect of spiritual growth for me is the transcendence of self, the surrender of “I” to the Being, Universe, God, or what you choose to call it. (I will use “Being” from now on.) “It is not me that is acting, it is Being acting through me.” A part of it is gratitude, the realization that everything we have - from a beating heart to air to love - we got, it is all a gift (or rather a loan). I think it is not just about overcoming one’s Ego and self-centeredness but more about realizing our connection to - and dependence on - everything.
(Peter Ralston once commented
becoming conscious of what’s already true. So overcoming one’s illusions seems pretty much to be a step in the right direction :-).)
Some keywords that come to mind here are: Love, freedom, transcendence, presence.
1 It has been the experience of many “holy men and women” who had deep spiritual experiences that they were unable to communicate them through language. That is why they tried to use poetry and other means.