The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Types of Enlightenment #1: World As Self

In the West, this is probably the most common definition of enlightenment: You experience yourself as everything in the world, including people. Among others, this is the traditional definition for Hermetic Mages, though they don’t call it enlightenment. It is also the most common definition of enlightenment in Hindu folk tradition (though full Hinduism has many.) If someone says “non-dual” this is what they’re talking about.

This type of enlightenment is based on the simple fact that we never experience the world directly, but only through symbols created by our consciousness. You don’t see a tree, you see a symbol of a tree. You don’t know your body as it actually is, but only feelings from the body and reflections. You never experience another person as they experience themselves (their consciousness), but only see their bodies and actions — though we may get some hints of their inner experience through the various mechanisms of empathy.

But even with empathy, what we experience is ourselves, trying to mimic another’s state.

Human consciousness, which is all we ever know, is hopelessly symbolic. It is nothing but symbols for a world we will never feel directly. You cannot directly experience anything that is not you.

In this style of enlightenment, what changes is that you no longer feel an inner or outer; everything is you and it is felt to be you. This often occurs in stages, we have a hard time feeling animals and especially humans as ourselves, and they are generally the last to be integrated.

Unlike some other forms of enlightenment, this one is entirely theoretical to me: I’ve never had even a glimpse of it. But those who have, describe it as immensely enjoyable and freeing.

It is also in some ways a more truthful way of seeing the world, including yourself. A world may or may not exist, but you live in your consciousness and, in this style of enlightenment, you know that you are consciousness. This is the style of mysticism where the mystic talks about being the sun, the moon, the reeds in the river, the wind on flesh, and so on.

Getting this sort of enlightenment, or a glimpse of it, usually requires specific types of meditation. You can find some of them in this series of guided meditations from Michael Taft (to teach you how to do them on your own).

I’ll continue this series with other definitions of enlightenment such as “the end of suffering” and the Indian Jiva Mukti, which is the breaking of conditioning and thus the enlightenment of freedom (it also breaks the bonds of karma/fate/wyrd and so on, which is a lot less esoteric than it sounds; karma needs to no mystical mumbo-jumbo to explain). Tune in next time for more.

(The more people subscribe or donate the more I write and the happier


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 23, 2021


CDC Decides to Just Not Count All Covid Cases


  1. AB

    “Unlike some other forms of enlightenment this one is entirely theoretical to me: I’ve never had even a glimpse of it.”

    That’s because there seems to be a “me” that wants to achieve or get something. But the “me” isn’t an entity. It’s just a pattern of thoughts, arising spontaneously. Can a thought experience anything?

  2. gnokgnoh

    The connection between my consciousness and my person/body has always been a puzzlement to me. The only connection between the universe and me is through this person I call myself. Why me, how and why do I find myself here? It feels a little telescopic.

    This occasional musing is the antithesis of your essay, an assertion of the opposite of a telescope, coming out from behind the view finder and our senses. Familiarity and slowing down help me move past experience as novelty. This goes far beyond aging, but the rush of youth and purpose were huge blocks to that discovery. I am impressed by young people who make that discovery much earlier in life. It’s very antithetical to our culture.

  3. someofparts

    Reversing bad conditioning and changing my karma is something I’ve finally had the opportunity to do a lot of work on lately. I am keenly interested in anything you can share about how the traditions and practices you understand could help with that.

  4. Ché Pasa

    Not to be too judgmental here, but it’s seemed to me that the Indians often make things much more complex than they need to be. There’s a tendency toward obscurantism that isn’t unique to Indian mysticism by any means. Many in the West seem to get off on it.

    Then, of course, I recognize that some people need that complexity, those many layers of actuality and a progression through them, in order to reach whatever spiritual awakening and/or enlightenment they’re looking for.

    Enlightenment comes or it doesn’t, but the understanding of “self-as-all/all-as-self” can be a step toward enlightenment.

    Looking forward to Ian’s further explorations of this topic.

  5. gnokgnoh

    Che, all those steps and layers in Indian mysticism are the point, enlightenment is not. How would we ever know, anyway? To quote Ian,

    “This is the style of mysticism where the mystic talks about being the sun, the moon, the reeds in the river, the wind on flesh and so on.”

    That is very sensory and actually quite a simple concept. That sensation does not come from thought. Nor do you stay there, it’s not an end game.

  6. Chicago Clubs

    >this is the traditional definition for Hermetic Mages

    Where are you getting this from? I’m not saying you’re wrong, exactly, but I’ve done a lot of reading in “western esotericism” and I’ve never really gotten that impression.

  7. Jason

    There’s a tendency toward obscurantism that isn’t unique to Indian mysticism by any means.

    It’s found everywhere. Take La0-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which appeals to so many. A simple manual with deep insights into human nature? Or a maddening exercise in esotericism? Or a little of both? Depends on the day, perhaps. Static identities are so…static. Yet there’s a comfortable, often necessary feeling of equilibrium in said static-ness. But too much equilibrium results in a debilitating stasis.

    The most common interpretations of Buddha’s message are usually boiled down to something akin to: Suffering is caused by desire; in order to stop suffering so much, cease desiring so much. Of course, one will eventually come to the realization that in engaging in this most noble of exercises, one is simply desiring not to desire. A vicious circle, it would seem.

    Interestingly, Leibniz, who “gifted” the west with his binary arithmetic, which is at the heart of all our nauseatingly techno lives – Leibniz got this idea from the Tao Te Ching. The idea that everything in life is a state of on/off, “now you see it, now you don’t” dichotomy.

  8. Stirling S Newberry

    This needs work. For example, we see an image that translated into a series of symbols one of which is a tree but coupled with others. For example, say “old America oak with gallows in its boughs” connotes a different kind of tree than “a sampling of birch breaking free of the spring snows.” Both are “trees.”

  9. Jason

    Nor do you stay there, it’s not an end game.

    Perhaps the most overlooked point. I’m reminded of the great mystic – let’s call him an “eastern” mystic for sake of argument – who went off into the mountains – “cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown” – to reach true enlightenment. He was gone for years, and upon coming back all the townspeople were impressed with his incredible insights and seemingly enduring lighthearted nature. They wanted to know how they too could achieve such a state of being. The mystic had indeed reached extraordinary states of consciousness that he himself had never dreamed possible. Of course, he was well aware that this is a very personal journey, unique to each individual. He also didn’t let all that wonderful enlightenment go to his head. He had only a single bit of wisdom to impart to the people:

    I can’t tell you how to reach enlightenment. What I can tell you is that if you ever feel you have reached it, you should go spend a weekend with your family.

    And with that, he was gone.

  10. R

    Reminds me of the book Brainwashed, where CIA-type operatives travel to learn about the “drugs” of the native tribes. Would you like us to show you the gods? they asked.

    Of course!

    The native people led them to a patch of mushrooms..

  11. Ian Welsh

    I didn’t bother with connotations, no, and even before connotations there are differences. Sometimes the idea is to keep an article to the very basics.

    Hermetic enlightenment: getting to the top of the tree of life, which is the unity of all. But I’m no hermetic expert, so perhaps I have made that too wide as a definition accepted by many. It’s certainly what the ones I personally know think is enlightenment, and upon reading tree of life/hermetic cabala I saw why.

    Obscurantism: the Tao Te Ching is very obscurantist. Vast amounts of information are concealed from people without the necessary knowledge or attainments. I only started figuring out some pieces in the last year. A fair bit seems to be protective: knowledge that can hurt people if they get it too soon.

    Youth is helpful for health, age for perspective and wisdom and better ability to use the brain and body. Youthful bodies are better, but I remember asking my tai chi master who learned fastest. Other than dancers (who learn crazy fast) he said the answer was older people learn faster as long as they don’t have actual disabilities: they actually have more control over their bodies and better feeling.

  12. Stirling S Newberry

    What is important is the idea of divergence and convergence in our perception. We know this. While simplicity is good, there are some points that need explanation or at the very least “this will be talked of later.” The complexity of the many minds is key.

  13. Ché Pasa

    gnokgnoh remarked:

    Che, all those steps and layers in Indian mysticism are the point, enlightenment is not.

    Mm, perhaps not.

    I’m reminded of one of my own teachers who said that many, maybe most, spiritual monastics never become enlightened. They can’t. They’re so wrapped up in the minutiae of getting there, they never do.

    According to him, it was probably karmic, not any failure on their part. It was simply something they had to go through. All that ancient twisted karma, no?

    As for Shakyamuni’s insight that suffering is caused by desire and the end of suffering is found in ceasing to desire, the simplicity is ever-appealing, yet the paradox is — often — flummoxing.

    What do you do? Go see your family. Chop wood. Carry water. Eat a peach. Breathe. Notice the song of a bird.

  14. Lex

    This is the one I’ve probably glimpsed the most, though I’m no adept. It’s only because this one just requires letting go so it can be found in moments. I can’t get there if I sit and try to stop thinking, but I can weeding the garden or planing a piece of lumber. (I should admit that as a young man I cheated and used psychedelics liberally.) I certainly can’t stay there though I generally know how to get there for a glimpse.

  15. Jason

    These days, my meditations most often lead to laughter.

  16. lobelia


    Loved your above comments. Been missing you at the other blog and thought I might find you here (since there seem so few blogs functioning anymore). Glad I did, wanted to give you and yours another hug as I’m hoping to take an hiatus (unfortunately my fortitude has been brutally crushed by near daily blows to my loved ones that I’m helpless from doing anything about, as I’m now in very bad shape). Had a comment on an evictions post vaporized twice (I edited the second version and waited the whole day to post that) yesterday that I found inexplicable. Unfortunately, I feel it was deliberate, as un-moderated comment numbers were immediately assigned, both times – it just never showed up (there were no links to get snagged up). Currently, ironically, that post has as many comments by landlords regarding bad tenants (which I feel were totally inappropriate due to the subject, though I politely bit my tongue), as those outraged by ever encroaching homelessness for millions. Can’t help but wonder how many comments were zapped there, as there are surprisingly few comments.

    It, of course, does not help that some of the meanest comments (subtly and not so subtly, I’m reminded of once poster, Osos, bravely noting micro aggressions), many times under the banner of ‘humor,’ appear to pass with flying colors. Not willing to subject myself to that further, it was stunningly painful, and not willing to push back to the point where someone[s] tags me as a Troll™. That ‘tag,’ which is now abusively slung out in the most casual of manners, is one of the most venal ‘products’ of the web to my mind.

    Anyway, I love your humanity, take good care.

    gotta run

  17. roxan

    That state is a sign of the crown chakra opening. That can happen spontaneously from meditation or any experience that causes you to just ‘let go’. First time I went into that, I was walking down a country lane in the rain, at a meditation retreat. I was instantly everything–trees, birds, the soil and little creatures in it, the cow, her calf, and so on. That dissolved into burning energy, all creation singing `om’. It is not a rare experience. Some forms of meditation consider it a ‘problem’, others seek it. There are many kinds of realizations, and different religions foster different states. Catholics go for the ‘divine marriage’, Buddhists want the Clear Light of the Void.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén