I’ve always had this problem called being an overachiever. I frequently have unrealistic expectations of myself, and mentally beat myself up when I fall short of these ideals. So when I first started becoming interested in Buddhism I said to myself, “Oh great. Enlightenment. Another ideal out there to hold myself up to that I will never achieve. This is good.”
I began practicing meditation during a very tumultuous period of my life in high school, when two of my family members became ill with cancer. Prior to this I was a good Jewish girl, and when all this sickness started happening, my shaky grasp on religion couldn’t keep holding on. This was around the same time as 9/11, and as cliché as it may sound, it felt like all the supposedly infallible institutions in my life (mother, God, country) were floundering. Thankfully my family members made a full recovery, but for the first time in my life, it got me thinking about death.
Calvin and Hobbes really tends to hit it home for me, with pretty much everything.
When I first started meditating, not knowing anything about Buddhism, I’d become fixated on certain sensations I’d get in my body, or light patterns in my visual field. When these sensations would come up, I’d say to myself, “Oh. Good. That’s it. I’m getting somewhere. This is what’s supposed to happen. I feel different. This is special. This is it.” I think the “it” I was looking for was proof of something meaningful, because not a whole lot felt meaningful then.
I didn’t become obsessed with achieving enlightenment, but the idea of drastically changing my perception was definitely on my mind. Can you blame me? And the thing was, at the time, those little flickers of light and buzzing feelings ultimately gave me what I needed: I was so interested in this new thing called meditation that I was motivated enough to go out and seek a community. This community got me through painful times without even knowing it. I heard their personal stories of sadness, the things they struggle with. Along the way, it hit me:
Other people don’t need to be enlightened in order to help me…and I don’t need to be enlightened in order to help others.
I want to be aware of my actions and the way my mind and emotions work. But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to screw up, a lot. My idea of practicing Buddhism is doing the best I can as a human being for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world. That’s meaningful to me.
I’m going to practice meditation and do the best I can, and I’m not going to worry about enlightenment.