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Charles Day*

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Following is an attempt at summarizing and defining the

characteristics of enlightenment. It is based on what has been said
by and about mystics in different religions, as well as personal
conversations with persons who report having had a spiritually
transformative experience that resulted in a complete breakthrough
into that enigmatic and exalted state called enlightenment, realization,
or union with God.
Defining the characteristics of enlightenment
1. Dissolution of the ego or sense of an independent, autonomous,
controlling, and enduring self, following which there is no longer any
fear of death, and all life is experienced as a manifestation of grace.

2. Realization of the interdependent unity and perfection of all reality,

of everybody and everything, of all physical and mental phenomena.

3. Living in the present moment, in the here and now, mindfully

attentive to moment-to-moment sensory and cognitive experiences,
without judgment, commentary, and unnecessary concern about the
past or future.

4. Complete acceptance of and surrender without resistance to the

continuously changing flow of creation, whether attributed to God,
Allah, ground of being, pure consciousness, or whatever name is
given to the mystery.

5. An affective component consisting of profound equanimity, bliss,

gratitude, and awe in experiencing life as part of a perfect and unified

These characteristics, I think, are evident in the following essay by

Ron Porter from San Diego, CA, who had an enduring transformative
enlightenment experience four years ago. His essay is followed by

an email exchange between us, comments related to a conversation
we had when he was in Des Moines recently, and some further
reflections on experiencing enlightenment and defining its

In Enlightenment Who Accomplishes What?

by Ron Porter

A writing class instructor told us to write about an accomplishment. I

threw the question out to the Universe, “Who am I to write of
accomplishments? There were none I had to speak of before his
request, and there is no wish for any to come.” This was the response
I got:
You are a handful of feathers thrown to the wind, not something you
can keep or grasp or hang on to. One feather may land on a flower,
even if just for a short time. Smell it, then touch it. Enjoy it for what it
is, and know it will not be in your life forever. A breeze will come along
and blow this feather here or there. In the meantime know you are all
those feathers, some floating up and some down. One may get stuck
in a thorn bush or a thistle for awhile. One may land on a flower,
maybe for a long time, maybe a short time. It will fly away too.
You are not the thorn, just as you are not the flower. You are the
feathers! And the handful of feathers that you are will run into a
handful that is another. And it may be wonderful, and it may not be.
Maybe your feathers and theirs will write a poem together or sit and
love together.

Maybe you will have to deal with insurance companies and disputes,
but the breezes come along. The breeze of Allah or God or whatever
you choose to call it will come along and blow you up-and-away and
scatter your life into sunshine and rain and night and full moon, and
sometimes it may feel like all of these at once! And you’ll call this your
story, and you will take credit for the triumphs and losses and
direction you’re blown in, and that’s OK. But the whole time it is the
hand of God, of Consciousness, that has tossed you into the breeze
of Love and Light, blowing you about both randomly and all planned
at the same time.

Recognize your true nature. What is to regret? What is to miss? What
is to have remorse for? Did you choose to and where you may land? I
have seen the sorrow, the longing, the incompleteness all felt within,
and these hold no reality – they’re what is false. The journey, the
wind, the Light and Love - this is what is real. There is no end to this,
just as there is no destination. Be flower petals and feathers tossed to
the elements.

Accomplish this: Recognize that it’s the breeze who accomplishes.

Recognize the hand that tossed you. There is a higher degree and
deeper understanding of this. The pot can not exist without the clay,
nor can the clay exist without the minerals. Recognize that you are
the breeze and the hand that tosses.

You want to accomplish something? Accomplish knowing who the

accomplisher is. For now laugh. Be the feathers. Enjoy the ride. This
is the only thing to accomplish. (End of essay by Ron Porter)

Describing Ron Porter

Following is an email exchange I had with Ron after he sent me the

above essay.

CHARLIE: When I put your essay on the website, Ron, is it all right to
describe you as “a meditator and spiritual friend who has had an
enduring transformative experience.” I'm searching for terms that are
broad enough to be descriptive and contextual without unnecessarily
defining or solidifying the ego/self (with a lower case “s”) of either the
author or the reader. I simply want to communicate that you've
experienced what you talk about. Communication is so difficult when
it comes to the inexpressible, but it's important that it be tried in order
to encourage others to recognize their enlightenment experiences,
their already enlightened nature, and to help them differentiate such
experiences from those the illusory ego/self takes credit for.

RON: I understand what you’re saying about searching for terms to

describe the inexpressible. No wonder Buddha so often spoke of
what it isn't. Ha! In addition to experiences that the ego/mind takes
credit for is the Understanding that all experiences have a beginning

and an end. The Self (with an upper case “S”) has neither of these
and is the only True permanence. The Awakening is more of a
beginning, the true beginning, than an end or goal, a beginning into
that which no mind can comprehend. In this place is the awe,
standing in the face of All, God, Consciousness, Allah, with the
humility of a child who knows nothing. Very likely the word "fear" of
God was misinterpreted and more accurately means "awe".

Perhaps you could describe me as one who is very lucky to know

nothing! It seems to be accurate. I think of “my” story, who “I” am, as
reflecting that sometimes God has pity for a fool. Everything I know is
what I have come to call being "Led to Understand." What is written is
from trying to put into words the indescribable. I can not take credit
for what I write. There is no affiliation with any religion or belief
system. If you want to describe me as "a meditator and spiritual friend
who has had an enduring transformative experience," that’s OK. It's
well said. (End of email exchange)

Seeing perfection in all that happens

I asked Ron to send me some of his writings after meeting him when
he came to Des Moines to attend the funeral of an older sister. His
other sister and her husband live in Des Moines and have been close
friends of mine for years, and she had been telling me about Ron’s
transformative experience for some time. So, I was eager to meet
him. We all had lunch together.

Ron explained that his breakthrough enlightenment experience

happened four years ago. His kids were grown and out of the house.
He had been laid off from work, was collecting unemployment, and
looking forward to a relaxing summer with a few weeks to
contemplate the meaning of life in general and the meaning of his life
in particular. It was during this time that one afternoon while walking
around in his garden, he had an epiphany, an experience where
suddenly everything around him and within him was experienced as
perfect, and everything that had ever happened to him or would ever
happen was also experienced as perfect. He said that all thought and
perception stopped. There was only “being.” Everything was one, and

that the trees, the sky, the ground were all the same thing, only subtle
differences in their energy.

After this experience Ron did some reading in Christian and Eastern
spirituality. He discovered that in intentionally reflecting upon the
meaning of life during his time off, he had been engaging in the
classical process of spiritual inquiry recommended by Sri Ramana
Maharshi, a revered India sage who lived in the first half of the 20th
century. That process of inquiry involves continually probing the
question, “Who am I?,” until intuitively realizing it cannot be
answered. The question can be viewed as a Zen koan.

Letting negative thoughts and feelings just rise and fall

I asked Ron if, since his epiphany, he still experiences negative

emotions, and if he does, how they differ from before. I asked also
about how they might differ from the way I experience negative
emotions. I told him that when irritation, sadness, worry and other
negative feelings come up in me, I often find myself dwelling upon
and justifying them and sometime act them out in words and
behaviors that I later regret. He explained that there are times when
his mind still experiences negative thoughts and emotions. But when
this happens, he just observes them rise and pass away as products
of consciousness, remaining aware of their impermanent nature and
waiting for them to subside, without any temptation to dwell upon,
resist, or react to them verbally or behaviorally.

I interpreted Ron’s response as similar to reports in the literature that

after enlightenment, there may remain previously accumulated karma
or conditioned reactions that manifest at times in negative thoughts
and feelings. But because the ego or sense of self has been
dissolved, there is no longer a need to defend or protect “oneself”
against spontaneously arising thoughts and feelings by unnecessarily
indulging or resisting them. And no new karma is produced.

It’s different for me. I too often intentionally or unconsciously react to

negative thoughts and emotions by indulging, resisting, or trying to
manipulate and control them. This only perpetuates them and causes
more suffering. I may analyze my negative experiences in hopes of
learning from them and developing better coping skills, so that they

cause less suffering the next time they arise. This can be a useful
strategy psychologically, but it is different for Ron who is able to just
let negative experiences be, let them rise and pass away without any
need to react at all, particularly in a way that might cause further
suffering. This does not, however, prevent him from realistically
assessing and becoming proactive, rather than reactive, to situations
that call for some sort of appropriate and compassionate action.

Living in the present moment

Dissolution of the ego, I think, was also reflected in the way Ron
responded to certain of my questions. For example, I asked if he
thought he would experience the grief reaction to his older sister’s
death in the same way his sister or mom would. His response after a
short pause and with a kind of quizzical look on his face was simply,
“Maybe.” This, I thought, reflected the fact he lives in and trusts the
present moment without any need to be concerned about or
anticipate the future. Again, it is the ego that so often needlessly
worries about the past and future.

Ron expressed a kind of child-like innocence and delight in our

conversation. He said he appreciated my questions and my
reflections on the nature of enlightenment as providing a kind of
framework for articulating his experiences, while evidencing
absolutely no need to articulate, analyze, or understand those
experiences. Again, I interpreted this as reflecting the absence of an
ego or sense of an independent and controlling self that desires and
feels the need to understand and protect itself.

What happened and continues to happen to Ron appears similar to

the transformation reported by Eckhart Tolle in “The Power of Now,”
as well as by mystics in all religions. My study of their experiences
suggests that they share certain characteristics of what I call a
sudden and radical transformation, a complete breakthrough into an
enduring state called enlightenment. These shared characteristics are
summarized at the beginning of this essay.

Ron emphasizes that he did nothing to cause his sudden

transformation and that his new Understanding and all subsequent
experiences are gifts of grace. His initial full enlightenment

experience appears to have resulted in a complete and lasting
disidentification, to use Eckhart Tolle’s term, with thoughts, feelings,
and experiences. He is no longer identified with an illusory ego, the
sense of an enduring and autonomous self, that attaches to or resists
them. All experiences are now viewed as products of consciousness,
as manifestations of an unfolding universe, accepted, trusted, and
spontaneously and appropriately acted upon.

Experiencing our already enlightened nature

We all are capable, like Ron and Tolle and Buddha and the mystics of
all religions, of realizing our already enlightened nature. But for most
of us, this is a slow and gradual process. We all have glimpses of
enlightenment throughout our lives, experiences of awe and grandeur
in observing a sunset or listening to a symphony, of unconditional
love felt for a partner or newborn baby, of gratitude in surviving an
illness or accident, and of pure joy in just being alive. But we fail to
recognize these as enlightenment experiences because the illusory
ego takes credit for them. I highly recommend that we pay attention
to these glimpses, that we cherish them as partial and significant
breakthroughs that reflect transcendence of the ego and contribute
cumulatively to its eventual dissolution.

When the full breakthrough occurs, the reality within and around us
experienced by our mind will not change, but our relationship to it will.
There will no longer be identification with an ego that regrets the past
and worries about the future. Death will no longer be feared. We will
experience equanimity, the peace that surpasses understanding. And
we will live predominantly, even continuously, and gratefully in the
bliss, beauty, and awe of the perfect present moment.
* Charlie Day is a retired psychologist who teaches meditation and
Buddhist philosophy in Des Moines, IA. He can be contacted at (515)
255-8398,, and