February 25

How Enlightenment Killed Me

Posted by William Berry | Filed under Blog | 7 Comments

I was a pretty ordinary guy, at least I believed myself to be so. I had experienced a rough path in my earlier life, which resulted in my turn toward a search for enlightenment. I guess its best to start there. My name was Joseph Egareva.

I was born in 1960 to working class parents. My dad was a truck driver, my mom a homemaker. I was the oldest, and following four years of being an only child, my sister was born. About 10 years later another sister was added to the Egareva family. My childhood didn’t have any significant events worth mentioning. Of course there were family arguments, fights with my sister, parental marital discord, but most of this was considered normal.

Bleeding hearts would say I was abused. Conversely, many of that era would say I was disciplined according to the times. Religion dictates “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Despite the physical punishment some would still consider me spoiled.

Whatever led to my trouble, it seems inconsequential now. Or perhaps it was rather destiny. That is for you to decide. In my teens I became very rebellious and began drinking alcohol at 14. I quickly graduated to marijuana, and by 16 was using nearly every substance I ever would: paint thinner, methamphetamine, Quaaludes, Valium, Percocet and codeine. With the substance use came more trouble, driving violations that would result in a suspended license, petty theft, arrests for assault, and other public decency offenses all culminating in a few nights here and there in jail.

Then I found myself at a crossroads. The path I was on was killing me, and although I wasn’t abject to dying, I felt this was a far too painful and torturous way to go. Something inside of me wanted to go on, and to find the good in life. After some counseling I was introduced to other philosophies including metaphysical, occult and naturalistic. I eventually gravitated toward Eastern ways of thought. I also embraced the classic masters like Plato, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, James. I found similarities in their different philosophies and they all appealed to me. I began consuming this literature and my transformation began.

First, I became stoic about life, less involved and more detached. I intellectualized everything, and felt above the normal life most led. I found it took a lot to pry me from this superior (at least in my head) way of being. I required great tragedy to feel, or great elation. Otherwise, I remained detached and felt this was being the “Buddha”.

After a while this detachment felt more like a depression. It seemed I craved the strong emotions to feel alive. I returned to reading, and was introduced to Ikkyu, a Buddhist master who felt a way to enlightenment was to engage in things other monks felt apprehensible. This way seemed more invigorating. Other Zen books, when interpreted in this light, made this life seem like the correct choice. I became more alive, embracing the moments, making impulsive decisions and letting what I thought was the flow of the universe, the Tao, guide me.

It wasn’t long after this transformation I found existentialism in modern words, through the work of Irvin Yalom. Again, much of the existential writing coincided with Buddhism. Embrace the moment, take responsibility for your life, do not work for rewards in the next life, and find your meaning in this life. I became a born gain existentialist, denying the existence of any higher being, seeing those that chose to believe this way as less enlightened, and attempted to educate whoever would listen to the virtue of the present.

Though I kept working my job at the warehouse, I hungered for more knowledge. I took a couple philosophy classes at the community college. I kept buying books on enlightenment, Eastern religions, and spirituality. I read everywhere: on breaks at work, after work, small captions before work, even on the toilet. I meditated in the morning and again in the evening. I went from eating massive hamburgers with bacon to a vegetarian diet. I cut down on sugar and cut out caffeine. I continued to embrace life, to live in the moment, and to find the balance between detachment and being immersed in life. I was self actualizing moment to moment, and being the best person I could be. I was so close to enlightenment I could taste it. A professor commented on what a positive energy I bring to the class, to the discussions, to what seemed everything. People at work started coming to me for advice and guidance. Some wanted to know how it came to be that I was so happy.

I imagine when they found the body I used to inhabit on the bathroom floor it looked like any other, save the Sanskrit words tattooed that many would mistake for women’s names: Tanha (craving) on the right ribs, Anitya (impermanence) on my lower left back. The coroner would say it was a heart attack, probably too many years of eating poorly. No one would know the truth until their time came. Next to me was the tipping point that resulted in the culmination of my enlightenment. Page 32-33 of Stillness Speaks by Ekert Tolle:
The egoic sense of self needs conflict because its sense of a separate identity gets strengthened in fighting against this or that, and in demonstrating that this is “me” and that is not “me.”

The very moment I read that passage I began to feel one with all that is. Although I had had this experience before, this time it grew inside of me like never before. I attained satori, I attained enlightenment. But unlike all Buddhas I did not renounce nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened. I stayed. Since I did, you never will get to hear this story.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 10:04 AM and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “How Enlightenment Killed Me”

  1. William Berry on February 25th, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    This is a stab at creative writing, likely inspired while reading Yalom’s fictional work, some of the passages in my “The Psychology of Personal Growth” class text, and the endorphins of working out combining to make me think I had a great idea. I welcome comments, good or bad.
    Thanks for reading. And special thanks to those that added their editing comments prior to posting it.

  2. Ari on February 25th, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    I love the editing and proof-reading in this story; it is amazing. I hope you keep writing some more stories, whether inspired by endorphins or by other things. Remember, practice makes better.

  3. Mary Swanson on March 1st, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    lovely stab. But, I have questions after reading the section that involved “being detached, and requiring great tragedy to feel.”
    - What if you don’t see anything as a great tragedy? How do you “come back” from being so fucking detached?


  4. William Berry on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    Those are pretty interesting questions.
    First, I’d suggest exploring some of this in therapy, if that is an option. People often equate therapy with being emotionally disturbed or having problems you can’t handle alone. Although this is occasionally the case, therapy is also a place to gain insight into yourself and glean a better understanding of why you do the things you do.
    If therapy is too costly, I suggest some reading in the Way of Zen. Buddhism is a philosophy that attempts to bring about both detachment and compassion. Zen takes this a step further into being in the moment. Some Yoga, and perhaps mindful meditation may also help.

  5. William Berry on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Thank you for your comments and the suggestions you provided previously.

  6. Jordan on July 30th, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    Dude… I typed “enlightenment is killing me” into google and this story popped up. I loved it. It gives me some clarity throughout my own enlightenment/death journey. I typed it into google as a kind of cry for help because things are at the stage of confusing, wierd and scary. Fragments of my “self” are bit-by-bit breaking off and fading away. It can be incredibly disorientating. I live a rather simple life at the age of 23, and have very little on my plate in regards to planning my future/working my way up in the work force. I don’t know where I’m going, and I often don’t know what I’m doing. The only thing I know is that my breathing is shallow, my nose itches, and I am stuck here. But here is never good enough, I keep convincing myself.

  7. William Berry on July 30th, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    This is certainly an interesting comment. You state it’s a cry for help. I strongly suggest you seek some help with what you are going through. I completely get becoming more awake as disorienting, and generally I perceive that as good, but perhaps that is causing more difficulty than good right now. Therapy can be of help, or perhaps a self growth group. Most counties have counseling centers that are funded, and the client pays minimal, if money is an issue.
    You seem to be doing a lot of things (simple life, etc) that are in line with enlightenment. I hope it goes better for you. Perhaps some help will be of assistance.

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