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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Transcendence and Enlightenment

The subject of wellness is integrally connected to the subject of waking up" or "enlightenment," as it is called in many spiritual traditions. In fact, throughout this section we have hinted at a type of consciousness that is universal, cosmic perhaps, and one that is certainly not limited by the notion that we are, have ever been, or could ever be separate entities, or that we could manage our lives alone, apart from everything else that exists.

While many people think of this quest for enlightenment as being largely a self-obsessive "navel gazing" endeavor, the fact is that mystics and sages throughout time have pointed to the necessity of microcosmic understanding (or self-knowledge) as a prelude to understanding the macrocosm. They point out that the two merely mirror and reflect one another - a view that contemporary science would affirm.

Attempting to change the world "for the better," when our own minds are plagued with confusion and uncertainty can definitely feel like a futile gesture. At the same time, however, we must recognize that enlightenment may not really be equivalent to some state of perfection - some magical place of total balance and harmony. Rather, to be "awake," as many of the greatest teachers and sages have always indicated, is to be fluid and receptive to all that life has to offer - including the states of confusion and uncertainty that dominate our consciousness for periods of time.

Our goal then, in wellness as well as in the quest for enlightenment, should probably not be about achieving some static state of nonreactivity. Rather, wellness will be about learning to ride the waves, and gaining every greater clarity about what is optimally called for moment to moment.

Here's what Buddhist teacher and writer Pema Chödrön has to say about this:

There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same. A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.*

* Chödrön, Pema. The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness (Shambhala, 1991), 3.

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