This is a personal perspective on collective enlightenment, not a scientific one. Scientists are trained to look at our existence objectively. Here, instead, we will explore more fundamental, subjective sources of information available to all of us, which science excludes by its own limiting rules. My goal is to help you directly experience the perennial presence of unconditional love that underlies life and existence. Maybe this is what is meant by enlightenment. When such an understanding is attained through one’s own direct experience – as opposed to the logical analysis of objective evidence or abstract conceptual systems – it can help us act more from unconditional love and less from fear. The key may be to learn to trust our feelings and intuitive faculties. Based on my own experiences, insights and reflections, I shall speculate on how reality may work. I invite you now to join me in this intimate exploration.
1 – Thought as blinders
Let me share a little bit of my life story so you can get acquainted with me. In the Netherlands, in the spring of 1945, on the cusp of peace after years of war, I was born. Eleven months after my birth, tragedy struck. My older brother, Bob, who was only four years old, died due to congenital heart problems. I can only imagine the utter heartbreak it caused my parents. Bob’s death, however, was not openly discussed in our family. Like so many others in the post-war years, my parents could not dwell on painful events. Life needed to go on. They needed to focus on rebuilding their lives and providing for their young family.
Looking back, this tragedy illustrates how my parents dealt—and many of us still do today—with emotions: by repressing them. The conversations in our family were always about elements of the outside world, as opposed to our own inner world of feeling and intuition. To be open and honest meant, for example, to confess: “yes, I took that pear.” Honesty and dishonesty were determined by reference to external events that could be verified through consensus observation. Openness wasn’t about sharing one’s feelings, emotions or thoughts.
I was raised in a family with a pragmatic attitude towards life and was not challenged with deeper questions. To be honest, in the first decades of my life I did not really bother. I conformed to mainstream values and behavior. When flashes of deeper questions came up, I did not pay attention to them and just went on with daily life. To be conscious meant to use my brain to achieve something practical in life.
I remember driving from my hometown to my office, one day in the seventies, after I had become a father of a young family myself. Each day I drove through the most beautiful countryside. Although I knew of it, I never allowed myself to actually experience and enjoy it. My mind was preoccupied with meetings planned for the day ahead, who I needed to call in between, how to approach a possible financial risk, and so on. At the time, I could not see the beauty of trees blooming in spring, the sunlight coming through the slow dance of clouds in the sky, or the joy on children’s faces as they built snowmen before going to school in winter. I wasn’t really present.
Back then I could not see that. In the eyes of others, I was successful: I worked for my father’s succesful company, had a comfortable life and a wonderful family. At some point I even had a driver, so I could use my time in the car to read business documents. I followed a script prescribed by human society and its artificial values.
The way of life I am describing exemplifies how most of us direct our awareness even today. We follow beaten paths artificially laid out by human culture, like the asphalt roads that connect our manmade urban structures. Yet these roads represent but a tiny fraction of the unfathomable possibilities offered by nature. There is so much more to be experienced and realized when one goes off-road; so many trails to blaze and explore beyond the boundaries of social conventions; so many perspectives and landscapes that can’t be seen from the road. Do we ever stop to consider that our inborn navigation systems can do much more than just follow these culturally-determined beaten paths? At the time, I didn’t realize that. Everything was comfortably planned, structured, negotiated and thought through in a certain order, as imposed by society. The countless other possible paths offered by nature, beyond the artificial boundaries of culture and habit, escaped me.
Indeed, our thought processes have become so much structured and limited by culture and habit that we are now hardly aware of our natural potential and freedom. We don’t even notice that our choices have become shackled by our anthropocentric circumstances. Ordinary life seems to consist now largely of acquiring information about what happens in the social milieu around us, through listening, reading, thinking, studying, and so on. In other words: life now consists largely of obtaining sensory input about an anthropocentric world and then translating this input into the words we use to communicate with each other, so to compare the products of our thinking and put them in order. In this context, my early adult life was very much like the infancy of my consciousness: it was all about external facts and logical thoughts, not about emotions, feelings or intuitive information.
2 – Glimpses of infinity
In 1977, my father passed away and I got a substantial inheritance. Call it what you want but, at some point, a few years later, only focusing on making even more money just didn’t cut it anymore. In the Eighties, I started volunteering for the Red Cross/Red Crescent and, as a result, our family moved to Geneva, Switzerland. I became the leader of a worldwide program aimed at the reduction of child mortality and morbidity related to the diarrhea-induced dehydration. In the early Eighties five million children, under 5, died related to this cause. Staggering! It was an enormous challenge to help and deal with that hidden tragedy.
As a result of my involvement with the Red Cross / Red Crescent, I gave up the leadership role I had in my family’s business. It was a difficult transition for me: to forfeit the status of my position and all that it meant for my self-image. However, I also lost the nagging sensation of ‘being lived’ instead of living, which many of you may relate to.
It was then that I first encountered a world beyond Western normality: a world where people did not have something as basic as a toilet and where children died because the 25 cents necessary to pay for oral rehydration salts were not available. Sure, I’d seen all that on the news, but those sensory inputs had just never found their way into my heart. My visits to countries where people were really suffering opened my mind and heart. I was bewildered: How is it possible that we, in the West, hardly bother about the awful living circumstances of others on this planet?
Diabetes runs in my family. During the time I lived in Switzerland, I underwent a few alternative, preventive treatments, including one whose after-effects proved to be rather unexpected: I entered a superbly relaxed state, fully occupying my body. My intellect ceased thinking compulsively, which somehow opened space for a spontaneous, unfathomably rich influx of intuitive information experienced with great clarity. Although this information didn’t come through my five senses, it was irresistibly compelling: I knew it to be true.
I knew, for instance, that a friend of mine, who was skiing while I was undergoing the treatment, had broken her right collarbone and would be there with me, within 15 minutes, to ask for transportation to a hospital. Sure enough, just as foreseen, within 15 minutes she showed up, with her right collarbone broken, asking to be transported to a hospital. This event made a deep impression on me. It became eminently important to me to find an explanation for how this kind of extra-sensory information influx.
Thanks to this event I allowed myself to open up to a much broader world – a much broader view of reality – than the one I had been taught. It was a breakthrough to a deeper level of consciousness.How to describe it? How to describe in words what cannot be put into words, as conceptual language does not even exist in the realm of infinity?
Let me try a metaphor. Imagine this sensory-based, sequential reality we all share as one half of a room divided in two by a curtain. Standing on one side of the curtain, I see objects I can describe with words, such as tables and chairs; I can hear someone talking, feel the smell coffee, turn the page of a newspaper, etc. On this side of the curtain, I am in a realm where the past grows each day and the future shortens. The other half of the room, beyond the curtain, is ordinarily inaccessible to me.
Still metaphorically speaking, what happened to me after my surprising alternative treatment was this: I found myself on the other side of the curtain, the holistic, the Infinite. There, I could not ‘see’ anything as such. When I turned around and looked back, I expected to see the curtain, but I could not see it either. I experienced a superb feeling of flow and non-resistance, such as I had never experienced in my life before.
Indeed, I had never felt more welcome anywhere. All dualities faded. There was nothing and there was everything at the same time. It was timeless, non-local, endless and, more importantly, blissful. In that non-dual reality outside space and time, I let go of everything, including the ‘I’. The constant thinking we are so accustomed to was gone. I experienced nothing but feelings. No, even stronger: my experience was beyond feelings. It was sheer beingness accompanied by a sense of immense love. I felt utterly peaceful and at one, which filled me with a profound gratitude. Subjectively, it seemed to last countless eons. My intellect was silenced: I wasn’t burdened by my usual compulsive thinking and that’s exactly why the experience was so extraordinarily clear. I allowed myself to be thought, as opposed to thinking; that is, to receive information from the Infinite without intellectual interference.
At some point during this experience, the thought “why me?” arose. This immediately disrupted the experience and brought me back to this side of the curtain, the finite realm. Only much later did I come to realize that this the kind of sabotage is inherent to the ego.
Objectively, the experience lasted perhaps 15 seconds. However, it has been more impactful than my whole life up until that moment. Those ‘15 seconds’ changed my perspective on existence, life and death forever. I had experienced an infinite reality, an infinite consciousness that, in fact, had always been immanent in my finite life.
Ordinary life represents but an illusory confinement of our inherent natural freedom, defined by the conceptual language and respective mode of thinking underlying questions such as who, what, when, how and where. These realizations have mesmerized me ever since. Why do we express everything in finite terms, excluding the ever-present infinite in, and beyond, the finite? Why do we repress the essence of the Infinite, the experience of sheer bliss? How can mankind cause so much chaos and destruction when our essence is the experience I have just described?
Having visited the infinite realm, I was able to look differently at my life. It has been like finding out that the Earth is round, not flat; a paradigm shift. This kind of shift in perspective is somewhat illustrated by this image, in which there are two women but initially you only see one. When you finally see both of them, you still do not see them both at the same time. Yet they are always there.
Through my experiences beyond the curtain, I have gained access to a reference frame that continues to reassure me, on this side, that unconditional love is a real experience. I’d like to share with you three of my main resulting insights.
Although I cannot prove these insights in objective terms, grounded in verifiable external facts, the experiences that inspired them are available to anyone. It is my hope that, in articulating these insights in my own words, I will evoke in you, through some form of subtle sympathetic resonance, the corresponding intuitions. This way, perhaps you will be able to validate these insights not through intellectual argumentation or appeals to external evidence, but throughdirect recognitionof their eternal truth.
3 – Life is a gift, not a given
The blissful experience of becoming part of a field of unconditional love left me with a sense of profound gratitude. It made me realize deeply that life is not a given; it is not something inescapable we just have to go through. This gratitude comes from my awareness that the life-force running through my body has not been created by me, or even by my parents. By being aware of receiving the gift of life, I can express my gratitude for the force or power that has created me. That same force or power has created the finite: everything and everyone I am aware of through my senses. These senses, too, have been given to me and to all of us by the same power that has created us.
This shift in perspective had a profound impact on my life.Gratitude energizes and maintains an invisible umbilical cord: the connection we all are part of the infinite! Gratitude for the gift of unconditional love opens the door to a continuous influx of inspiration from an infinite source. But the attitude of gratitude, like that of love, needs to be nurtured constantly. The purpose of being alive is to develop our consciousness in such a way that we can experience the source we stem from again, and then act accordingly; that is, in the interest of the whole and all, the furthest away from the ego.
3A – description of an experience is not the experience
I remember when, as a young boy, I saw snowbells for the first time – before I even had words to name them. It is not so much the aesthetic beauty of those little flowers that I remember, but the profound and unfathomably delightful feeling of pure essence that accompanied my looking at them; an experience unencumbered by the restrictive intermediation of words. Can you relate to this kind of direct experience, which precedes the phantasmagoria of conceptual storytelling we ordinarily mask our feelings with?
You may relate better to the following example.Think of observing a child who does not master language yet. Not too long ago, my youngest grandchild, for example, still lived fully in the unencumbered feeling of direct experience, without naming or interpretation, as long as she was not challenged by any form of fear. I believe her to experience, for example, pure excitement when I, her grandfather, enter the room. She expresses this excitement without any reservation. When an innocent child smiles at me, the smile expresses itself in every cell of its body and I really cannot help but join with it.
I believe that experience without naming or interpretation corresponds to infinite essence and sheer bliss. The babies and toddlers are still in the domain of direct experience without the intellect contaminating it with conceptual interpretations. My snowbell experience is a first-hand example. The feeling faculty of babies and toddlers is still open and is hardly influenced by opinions or judgements. When the mastering of language starts to kick in, the child begins naming and interpreting and risks to drift away from the experience of essence.
Life in a society forces us, as adults, to describe our experiences through words and other signs. But the activity of describing is merely a form of documentation of the past; it fails to capture the essence of the original experiences in themselves. For example, describing snowbells after the fact is not comparable to the immediate feeling of seeing snowbells. Descriptions do have their function: by describing we communicate and can thus compare and order information. But we’ve become so addicted to this practice that we now—absurdly—take it to be our sole gateway to reality. We’ve lost contact with direct experience and live, instead, insulated from the real world by a layer of abstract conceptualizations and stories.
Language is the vehicle through which the mental faculty – the intellect – expresses itself. But it is not a vehicle suitable for the equally important feeling faculty, this being precisely the crux of the problem: our culture’s reliance on language leads to an overvaluation of the mental faculty. Consequently, the intellect ends up hijacking the feeling and intuitive faculties and, with them, human consciousness as a whole.
Could we accept, as a hypothesis, that maybe the human intellect and the brain that hosts it operate as a limiting filter of infinite consciousness? Might it be the meaning of our existence here to expand our consciousness from an exclusively local state to a transcendental one? Could we try to not just comprehend the world, but also to be conscious of the infinite energy ebbing and flowing inside us all?
4 – The grace of resistance
As discussed earlier, in the first part of my life I saw our finite world as the only truth, till I finally realized the infinity that had been immanent in my reality all along. In my view now, there are two realities: the infinite and the finite one. The infinite includes the finite but transcends it. The finite, in turn, is a partial manifestation of infinity.
One of the most fundamental intuitive insights I’ve had about the relationship between the Infinite and the finite is also one of the most difficult to convey in words. I shall appeal to your own felt intuitions in an attempt to make this insight recognizableto you, as opposed to trying to prove or substantiate it in an objective manner.
But first, let me simply state the insight as straightforwardly as I can: the Infinite expresses itself in the finite by the grace of the phenomenon of resistance, which holds polarities – such as positive/negative, past/future, here/there, etc. – apart. Without resistance, the polarities cannot be held apart and, consequently, there cannot be space or time. After all, space depends on the distinction between here and there, and time on the distinction between past and future. Without the resistance that maintains these distinctions, the polarities would collapse into each other because of their underlying mutual attraction – such as the inherent attraction between positive and negative electric charges – there remaining only infinity or eternal essence.
Indeed, it is not too difficult to see that all natural events in the finite realm reflect an attempt to overcome some form of resistance intrinsic to this realm. For instance, matter resists changes in movement, an intrinsic property we call inertia. Living beings strive against the resistance posed by their environment against their survival. Even the dynamics of our own psychology is often governed by the resistance offered by hidden emotions and beliefs.
Without resistance, wherever nature needed to go, it would already be there; whatever nature needed to become, it would already be it. That things happen in an intellectually cognizable way is a reflection of resistance. Even the striving against this resistance is itself a form of resistance. Without it, there would be no finite realm, as there would be nothing to hold back the instantaneous manifestation of all potentialities intrinsic to the Infinite. Past and future would collapse in an eternal now; good and evil would collapse in a coincidence of opposites; all striving would cease.Resistance is what holds the polarities apart and allows the finite realm to exist as a dynamic tension between these opposites.
Next to physical polarities, we can also identify the expressions of other types of polarities in our daily life, such as the pairs described in this table.
|male principle||–||female principle|
|mental faculty(thinking – to be thought)||–||feeling faculty(feeling emotions – to be felt/intuited)|
|physical power||–||power of vulnerability|
When a harmonious dynamic balance between the polarities is achieved in our consciousness—which includes the acknowledgment and acceptance of their differences—we can experience unconditional love or enlightenment. In reality, however, there are enormous imbalances between the polarities, which brings forth all kinds of distortions such as wars and harm to the environment. Indeed, even climate change is a result of this dysfunctional human behavior.
We have, for example, put physical power on a pedestal and are destroying the power of vulnerability, which we see as a weakness. Yet, without the power of vulnerability life would be impossible: think of all unborn human, animal life, plant seeds, fungal spores, etc.: how vulnerable, yet powerful, they all are! The use of physical power is perfectly okay as long as it is dynamically balanced with the use of the power of vulnerability. Yet, even a cursory observation of our social dynamics reveals that we are far from achieving such a balance.
Another example: although each man and each woman carry both male and female faculties within them, men clearly carry a surplus of the masculine faculties and women a surplus of the feminine ones. Therefore, for these faculties to remain in harmonious balance at the level of a society, men and women must be treated equally, so their respective surpluses can balance each other out. Yet, this is often not the case. Although some progress has been made in several countries, by and large men still oppress women on many levels.
Another big roadblock on the path to collective enlightenment is our common belief in scarcity and the fear that such a belief brings about. The general consensus about there being scarcity of resources causes fear-driven competition, with all its detrimental consequences, such as war and environmental pillage.But notice that the finite is an all-inclusive dynamic phenomenon. It is more consistent with its intrinsic nature to include everyone in our social and economic systems than to exclude so many. The logical approach, which is also the loving approach, is to ask the following question: How can we compare with care in order to share with care? By comparing we can develop ever more efficient ways to create products and services, respecting natural law, so the illusion of scarcity can be eliminated and all can share in the richness of nature. When there are surpluses somewhere, we can transport these surpluses to those areas where there are shortages. To compare, although usually associated with competition, can be very functional insofar as it contributes to ever more efficient production and distribution of resources within the boundaries of sustainability. Unfortunately, this is not how we choose to go about business today.
When we use our male and female faculties in a functional way, by giving them equal caring attention, we can rebalance ourselves both as individuals and as a species. It is through this change of consciousness, individually and collectively, that we can achieve dynamic balance in the practice of life, acting out of love, gratitude and inclusiveness.
Of course, I realize that we are far from this ideal dynamic balance. We all struggle, including me. And every day I fall flat on my face. But every time I also get back up, and so can we all, collectively, with an attitude of forgiveness. The seriousness of our present predicament is not a reason for hopelessness.A schematic depiction of the ideas I have been discussing may be useful at this point, so consider this diagram.
How can we bring our awareness to dynamic harmony between polarities? Let’s focus on the mental faculty and the feeling/intuitive faculty and try to explain how dynamic harmony between the two might work and how that balance connects us to the Infinite.
5 – The mental faculty
Our mental faculty is basically a skillset and, as such, essentially empty of contents. We fill it with thoughts and then put the products of our rational thinking on a pedestal. There is nothing wrong with thinking, on the contrary. However, it is also healthy to keep some mental space free—through, for instance, meditation, silent contemplation, etc.—so that we can allow ourselves to bethought. Here is what I mean by this: to open ourselves up for ideas that pop up spontaneously in our mind, in a way that has no rational explanation. Mozart, Einstein, you and me: we have all had this kind of experience. Moreover, if we keep our minds less congested with ego-generated thoughts, we stand a better chance to really feel our emotions and eventually let go of them.
Let’s dwell a little longer on the perils of thinking. Thinking can only express itself in comparisons of signs and words. But when we compare signs and words, we often end up with opinions and judgements defined in terms of right or wrong, good or bad. Our choices become thus liable to exclude, rather than include. Since my blissful experience described earlier, I came to realize the utterly unnatural dominance of the rational intellect in the manmade world, as well as the diminishing role of our hearts in the decisions we make. Every decision to act or refrain from acting, if not filtered by the heart, becomes prone to exclusion and can hit like an unguided missile, leading to great harm and suffering.
In conclusion, overcrowding our mental faculty with ego-generated thoughts creates a barrier to beingthought. For the reception of transcendent information from the Infinite, such as the information I received about my skier friend and her broken collarbone, we need to have a relatively empty mind.
6 – The feeling faculty
I make a distinction between ordinary emotions and the capacity to allow oneself to be felt. Allow me to explain.
Let’s compare our human bodies with a musical instrument; say, a violin. When the violin is played harmoniously, the sound harmoniously resonates with the body of the violin and is then released freely into the environment, which is what allows us to hear it. The violin thus vibrates along with the sound, but does not ‘hold on to it,’ so to speak. The violin has no opinion nor is it aware of emotions. Now let us use this image as a metaphor of ourselves. We are played, like the violin, by all the experiences of life, which our bodies vibrate along with. If we had no opinions and no judgments whatsoever, our conscious experiences would simply flow, without blockages or hang-ups, through our bodies in a constant process of letting go, go, go.
Free of ego-generated emotions, the feeling faculty would still be able to discern the experiences that ‘pass through it,’ but would not hold on to any of them, thus remaining free of any form of fear. This is the experience of allowing yourself to be felt.
7 – Emotions
Now let’s talk about emotions. Emotion is not a faculty like the feeling faculty. It has, in a sense, a warning function to help direct our attention to what keeps us away from the characteristics of the whole, such as clarity, oversight, compassion and discernment.
Let us again use the violin metaphor. Imagine that we place a big chunk of chewing-gum on a string of the violin. The effect is clear: when the instrument is played, false tones are produced. The sound is perturbed and we experience it as something unpleasant to our ears. The chunk of chewing-gum blocks the intended harmonics. Going back to human consciousness and the human body, the false tones produced as a result of the chunk of chewing-gum stand for emotions and all forms of fear. In this state, we are handicapped and miss the opportunity to be connected, and in resonance, with the whole and all. On another level, this emotional state can also serve us as well: if we are willing to heed the warning conveyed by the emotion and bring light to it, we can see what opinion or other form of emotions and/or judgment blocks us, we can then learn from it, change our attitude or choice, and remove the blockage.
In conclusion, feelings are different from emotions. Feelings are pure. An attitude of ‘letting go’ is the key characteristic of feelings, according to this definition. We allow our feelings to befelt. Emotions we can feel too. However, the key characteristic of emotions is the ‘holding on’ to thought forms. They block our ability to experience pure feelings and, as such, render us unable to discern what is in the interest of the whole and all. These blocks are expressed in all forms of fear.
In my view, judgements are different from discernments: judgements are associated with emotions and emotions hinder us from seeing the interest of the whole and all. Discernment, on the other hand, is the ability to access transcendental information so that we can make decisions in the interest of the whole and all. Maybe we can regard the power of discernment as the ability to think and feel through our hearts.
8 – Balancing the faculties
Both faculties facilitate the processing of information, that is, that which expresses itself in form constantly. Information processing is not a privilege of the intellect! The use of rationality is perfectly okay as long as it is dynamically balanced with the use of the feeling and intuitive faculty. This balance between our mental and feeling faculties maintains the gateway to the Infinite open. When not anchored in infinity, we fall prey to beaten-path thinking and behavior. But when connected with the Infinite, we can stay loyal to the truth within us.
9 – Conclusion
This reflects the findings of my developing consciousness in the path towards enlightenment. In order to talk about enlightenment, I have had to describe the blockages I have encountered, and continue to encounter, on the way. I have realized that I have been hijacked by my rational intellect just like most of us. Our mental faculty has become dysfunctional, repressing our feeling faculty, whereas both are equally important aspects of human consciousness. Valuing both faculties equally delivers dynamic harmony within a person, between people, and between mankind and its environment. This balance opens up the connection to infinite consciousness as well.
The development of our consciousness will allow us to experience, in our finite world, the unconditional love inherent to the Infinite. This, in turn, will help us act according to universal principles and values, so to lead our lives in ever greater harmony with the interest of the whole and all.
We are learning to do this by the grace of the phenomenon of resistance, which allows us to experience the contrast between polarities. Often, we associate resistance with the psychological meaning of it: fear – for example, of differences or change. However, by letting go of our fear, the phenomenon of resistance will guide us in a natural flow towards enlightenment.
“Love is letting go of fear. Where there is fear, there is no love.Where there is love, there is no fear.”
We seem to live in a paradox, as resistance seems to be inherently associated with fear. An old friend of mine mentioned to me back in the mid-Eighties: “Love is letting go of fear. Where there is fear, there is no love.Where there is love, there is no fear.” And I would add: love and gratitude both need maintenance.
Maybe experiencing love, unconditional love, equals enlightenment. In sharing my story with you, we may have come a little closer to collective enlightenment.
Finally, as you may have noticed, I am far from being enlightened. I have simply experienced glimpses of enlightenment. I am just like you, one of the billions of expressions of life on this beautiful planet, learning to trust all my informing faculties ever more.