There are three important steps which are crucial aspects in moving in the direction of living an enlightened, awakened life. Any one of us can take these steps. The first step is “earnestness.” To achieve enlightenment, you really have to want it. Saying, “I’ll work during the day, sleep at night, and during the weekend I’ll work towards enlightenment,” won’t cut it. We must eat, drink, and sleep our paths towards enlightenment. It must consume our lives. Many have travelled down the path towards enlightenment, but most have failed. It’s a lot like running a successful business. If you want to achieve recognition as a Fortune 500 company, it can’t be a casual endeavor. I have known many CEOs over the years because of my clinical psychology practice in Newport Beach, and they all have one thing in common: they work day and night at building their companies into international empires.

Work Hard in Earnest, and Let Go Completely
The same applies to enlightenment. The difference is that we’re not competing against anyone except ourselves, our egoic selves. Our egoic selves are very entrenched inside of us and they’re constantly working against us. They don’t want us to wake up because that means they’re going to disappear. In reality, that isn’t quite true. What will happen is that instead of being the master, our egoic mind will become the servant. That’s what it is intended to be. But it has become the master to almost everyone on the planet and this is what causes us to struggle. Our minds are part of the egoic illusion. When we wake up, everything that we think we are and everything our egos have identified with (all that is impermanent) will go away. These things aren’t part of enlightenment; they are an illusion.

Whatever is real and permanent always has been and always will be. Nothing that our thoughts and our egos identify with fits this. Nothing. Part of the waking up is saying goodbye to every fear and desire, as well as all the attachments that our minds have created. If we hold onto them, we’re not going to have an awakened life. There are very earnest individuals who clearly wouldn’t identify themselves as being awakened. Earnestness is not enough. What else is needed? Are there concepts or pointers that can get us there and help us to understand who we are?

Impermanence, a Helpful Tool
This leads us to step two of achieving enlightenment. One of the concepts that can help us is impermanence. The impermanent helps us to identify who we are and in a sense helps us to get rid of our other concepts. It’s a lot like having a thorn in your foot. You could find another thorn to pluck out that first thorn and then throw both thorns away. Our concepts are similar because they help us identify who we are and they point us to the truth. Everything that is, everything that has ever been, is created out of who we are – our non-dual, permanent self. The ocean is able to take different shapes, such as ice, but it’s still the ocean, just as it always has been and always will be. Since we are permanent, and the only thing that can be permanent is that which has always been and will always be, everything comes out of this permanence. Or, using the same metaphor, it is the ocean that can literally take an infinite number of shapes and forms. It has and will continue to create many universes. Who we are is the ocean; we are that out of which all the universes originate. Each of these universes is a manifestation of who we are. But this second step is still a concept. Although it is pointing towards the truth, be mindful of concepts because they can’t ultimately be the truth.

Quiet the Mind and Just Be
The final step towards enlightenment is to try “being.” When you are in a mostly secluded place, go outside late at night when there isn’t a full moon and look up at the stars. Imagine for a moment that instead of it being you standing there, you’re everything that you can see. Then imagine that everything you see is merely a little drop in an infinite number of universes that have been, are, and will be. Imagine that for a minute and then quiet the mind. Be still and see what happens. If you are able to do this, you will have gained a little taste of what living an enlightened life is like. There are no words for it. Ultimately it is silence because it is pure being-ness. The first step is earnestness, the second step involves helpful concepts, and the third step is to quiet the mind and just be. Realize that everything you see and experience, every memory you’ve ever had or ever will have, comes out of the pure empty silence of who we are. Be that.