Enlightenment

Caren della Cioppa

One morning while walking along the beach in Orebic, Croatia, I suddenly had kind of a life changing epiphany.  It wasn’t that I suddenly stumbled upon a totally new concept, but instead, it was as if a bolt of lightning scorched its way through my brain eliminating all the extraneous material, while leaving only the one essential truth.  What I discovered in that flash of thought was really something that I didn’t know I already knew. 

In that instant, I understood what it is that all humanity has sought throughout the history of mankind. It is the enlightenment sought by Eastern Religions, the perfect love taught by Christ, and the road to happiness that even the staunchest of atheists seeks.

It was the profound difference between myself, who I consider to be a relatively happy person, and some people who seem to have everything; wealth, loving families, fantastic educations, the ability to travel all over the world, everything anyone could ever want, and yet are unhappy and miserable people who find nothing but fault with everything and everyone, that brought me to this realization.  I pondered why some people are so blessed,  yet are miserable, while I am happy although I live quite simply and never seem to be able to get ahead. 

I had attributed my happiness to my ability to be happy with fewer material things, my delight in being free of clutter, or my religious beliefs.  But there along the beach in Croatia, I realized those things were only incidental and not the real answer.

When I was a child, I had this strange concept that I was totally special and different from everyone else.  I always thought that one day I would do something great, because I was me, and it was as if only I was in that position.  In my childish way, I guess you could say that I felt the world and the entire universe sort of revolved around me.  But one day, somewhere on my road to maturity, I became quite disappointed when I began to realize that probably everyone else was just like me.  I really was not particularly special, or different, although of course, I do have my own gifts, talents and strengths.  I came to the realization that the world doesn’t revolve around me. 

But way back then, whenever that was, I had no idea that there was anything profound about that concept.  It seemed nothing more than an obvious fact.  A bit disappointed upon realizing that I was not really that amazingly special after all, I then went on to seek out the answers to the big questions as to why we exist, is there really a God, life after death, and all the questions all humans ponder. My answers have changed and evolved through the years, and through several religious disciplines, but I knew that the answer was still far out there drifting somewhere in some distant universe, far from my reach. 

But there, along the beach in Croatia, it wasn’t some brilliant line uttered by some ancient philosopher, or the perfect wisdom of Christ, or some other profound literary masterpiece that came sailing in with that bolt of lightning.  No, it was something almost ridiculous!  Something you can see written on tee shirts, something bandied about like loose change in a pocket.  It was the little catch phrase “It’s not all about me” that was left after all the other stuff was cleared from my brain. 

How simple that is!  Those who remain  miserable in spite of wonderful blessings do so  because in their  minds, the world still revolves around them.  So, they will never be happy. It is impossible to ever satisfy yourself if you live for yourself! 

We constantly hear people say that they want to go away for a while so they can “find themselves.”  It is not in finding ourselves that we find happiness!  It is in losing ourselves that we reach enlightenment. Of course this in itself is not a new idea. All the religions of the world urge us to do this.  But I don’t think I ever really understood why until a morning on the beach in Croatia. 

We don’t need to seek to lose ourselves, become totally unselfish, put aside our worldly desires, because it is the “right thing to do” or because it will get us into some beautiful heaven somewhere “out there” floating in the universe, or because we will be more successful in life, or because people will like us.  But instead, we must embrace this concept because it is the only pathway to enlightenment, and the only way we can possibly ever achieve any shred of peace or happiness. 

The realization that “It’s not all about me” is true enlightenment.  We don’t need to go live in some monastery somewhere, or read every religious document ever written to find enlightenment.  All we have to do is realize that everything in the universe is dependent on everything else.  Everyone is dependent on everyone else.  We are all part of one great big giant whole. 

Everything exists because of everything else!
 

So, suddenly, there on the beach in Croatia, I realized that it doesn’t matter that it is raining when I had planned a day sunning on the beach, because the rain is bringing water to someone who is thirsty, or it is watering the crops for someone struggling to grow food.  It didn’t bother me anymore that my airplane needed some expensive work done, because somewhere, probably within a matter of only a few feet of where I was walking, someone else was probably hoping to simply have enough to eat.  I don’t mean to imply that I now think everyone should just throw their arms into the air and say, “oh well, nothing matters,” but I just realized that there is no reason to be unhappy when all of these daily little things don’t go exactly as planned.  The universe doesn’t depend on our activities.  Our little activities simply add to the universe.  We all work together helping each other, and taking each challenge as it comes. Some things will go as we hoped and others will not.  Bad things will happen.  We will get injured, we will get sick, and we will lose loved ones.  But all of these difficulties simply help us to have the compassion we need to help others when it is their turn to suffer difficulties.   

In Paramedic school, I studied about various handicaps, but I didn’t learn what it is to be handicapped until I had the experience of six weeks with my own leg in a cast.  That was a terribly difficult period for me, but now I look back on it as one of the greatest learning experiences of my entire life, because for that short period, I got to walk in the shoes of the handicapped.  Now I am much more aware of handicapped people, and am much more able to help them when I see them struggling with crutches or a wheel chair.  Even a miserable broken leg turned out to be a gift to me, to teach me to understand the handicapped. 

After my stroll along the beach in Croatia, I no longer have to ponder the path to enlightenment.  The billions of words written throughout the ages on that subject can be reduced to only five little words: 


“It’s not all about me”


All photography Caren della Cioppa