New Frontiers Inside Out


“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
May 15, 2023

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Thus goes the famous Ram Dass quote.

It’s a funny — I so get it — statement. Who hasn’t been reduced to a squabbling teenager brought about by a trigger so old we had forgotten that it had ever existed? Unfortunately there is so much wrong with this statement, both for seeking illumination and for your family. If you are reading this, chances are you have thought about enlightenment or maybe even have journeyed down the path of enlightenment, regardless this quote gives us a chance to look deeply at enlightenment itself and look into what’s you, you.

What is enlightenment?

In the west enlightenment was used to describe the Age of Reason, in the 17th and 18th centuries. It marked a shift away from the authority of the church towards reason, investigation, critical thinking, empirical evidence, tolerance and personal responsibility. Emmanuel Kant first used the term in his paper, “What is Enlightenment?” Kant defined Enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity” and advocated for the use of reason and rational thought to free people from ignorance and superstition.

In the Indian tradition of Vedanta Hinduism the term we translate to enlightenment is moksha, which represents the realization of the true nature of the self and its unity with Brahman (God)

In Buddhism the term is Nirvana, which also features the end the cycle of rebirth and an end of suffering, which is caused by attachment to our desires. The Buddhist finds the deep truth in that everything in the universe, including ourselves, is in a constant state of change and interdependence.

As there is always some confusion between the eastern and western usages of enlightenment, I prefer to speak about illumination as a state of greater understanding and awareness, where one becomes aware of their true nature, their values, and their place in the world.

Back to Ram Dass and what we can learn from his quote. The first part, “If you think you are enlightened…” is actually a teaching in and of itself. Let me break that down for you. If you -one who exists- are enlightened. In both Vedanta and Buddhist contexts you don’t really exist. In Vedanta, you are one with God. In the Buddhist context it is the belief that there is a separate self from the things outside of that is the root cause of our suffering and what keeps up from enlightenment. That leads me to remix the quote to be:

If you think you are enlightened, you are not. Or If you think you are enlightened, go back to your meditation cushion and try again.

That’s amusing and perhaps a little illuminating, but when we look at the second half of the quote we can really gain some insight into what it means to be a human being, and access to a way forward towards enlightenment. Ram Dass says, “…go spend a week with your family.” Let’s take this as a spiritual instruction and do as we asked, let’s go home and spend a week with our family. Doing so, the first thing we will likely notice is “the way that they are”, including everything that is endearing and everything that drives you crazy. The second thing that is bound to come for us is old ways of acting and feeling. Maybe your father was a bit critical and you are defensive or withdrawn. Maybe your mother was intrusive on your private space and you hold her at arm’s length. These patterns often feel weird, like you suddenly became a kid or a teenager again. Well that certainty does not feel enlightened.

Yet, the teaching is right there for us to witness. When we were children or teenagers there were certain patterns that were strongly present for us and for our parents. As we grow up, move away from our families and experience life new patterns emerge, ones that are often quite different from the patterns from our youth. We feel that we are different from who we once were, until we come home and the young patterns kick off again, for ourselves and our family, no matter what the dynamic is.

The key to unlocking the learning here is that we are made up of patterns, ever changing, yet interdependent. Our identity seems to be fixed — we are who we think we are. Yet at home we are suddenly who we once were. Perhaps you might be tempted to think that you are who you were and who you are at the same time. By extension that would mean that you are also who you will be. Extending that through all of the time of your life and there are tens of thousands of you — probably not a very good conception of self.

The answer right in front of you is that you are not who you were, and you are not who you think you are. What?

Try this on, at any moment you are a collection of patterns that arise in complex interdependent combinations.

This includes patterns that are more associated with times in the past than in times in the present. Recognizing this is the first step.

Once we can sense patterns arising in us we have what I call free won’t, which is like free will but comes after a pattern is triggered. Let’s say your father is critical of you while visiting home and your defensive pattern arises. With the pattern is a whole world of things to say back to him. You know the drill and you know what happens next on his end, and so on and so forth. Let’s say that you recognize the pattern and exercise free won’t and don’t follow the script. What then?

This past week my oldest friend came to stay for a week. And from time to time, patterns that I recognized from being 19 were triggered. My 19 year old patterns are insecure. It feels really weird to the patterns that I am at 56. My first reaction was discomfort and insecurity about my friendship, or about the security of that friendship. Now I am talking about my best man at my wedding, someone who has been there for me for nearly 40 years. The feelings were real and displaced in time. So I used a meditation technique I teach my students, a box breath where you inhale on a five count, hold your breath for a five count, exhale for a five count and hold empty for a five count. I did this silently, eyes open, at the dinner table, without anyone noticing (I think).

After a few cycles of the breathing the emotional intensity dropped leaving me face to face with the pattern. I looked back on my 19 year old self and felt deep compassion. The patterns of insecure attachment and abandonment were reinforced by some traumatic experiences. I sent those patterns to my love and care. Then I thought about my friend at 19 and all of the challenges he was going through. I felt deep compassion for him and sent out loving kindness to him. At that point I felt everything was whole. The pattern was still there but I was no longer the pattern. It was something I had but it did not have me. What was left was a space for me to have gratitude for the precious moments that he and I have together.

Following Ram Dass’s advice to “go spend a week with your family,” we have the possibility of illuminating old patterns and stepping clearly into a new appreciation for life. Spending time with these old patterns can help us loosen their effect on us and realize that the patterns are not fixed in place. We don’t even have to physically go home to do this world, we can simply meditate on our family and imagine the situations that trigger old patterns. Then, we can practice box breathing to calm our emotional reactions and create some space. We can also bring loving kindness to ourselves and our family.

However, if we uncover deep-seated trauma during this process, it is important to seek professional help to heal from the trauma. This work can be challenging to do on our own.

We are now ready to reinvent Ram Dass’ quote:

“If you think you are an unfixed, ever changing, independent set of patterns, go home and spend some time with your family releasing old patterns with loving kindness.”

It doesn’t have quite the catchiness of the old quote, but it is a step in the direction of enlightenment. And every step is a good one.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking for PROOF of a thriving future for humanity.

The Generative Futurist
Editor PROOF

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Proof 48 – New Frontiers Inside Out

PROOF in ACTION – A Seeker’s Guide to Going Home

How to turn a trip to see childhood friends and family can be a spiritual adventure.

In Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again” we are introduced to George, a writer, who returns to his hometown to find that it has changed and he no longer fits in and no longer feels at home. George longs to reconnect with the past but finds that he too has changed. Such is the inevitability of personal change and spiritual growth. In the 1940’s George was an outlier, one of the few that ever left home.

Today most of us no longer grow up with the traditional sense of a place being home. Still we face challenges when we attempt to go home again. Some of these challenges are with memories not matching the current reality. Other challenges have more to do with the friends and family we go back and visit. Somehow we have changed but the relationships seem to be frozen in time. Our parents treat us like children and in return we act like children. If you are on a spiritual journey, this can be very confronting. How can we be evolving if a simple argument with mom, sends us into an epic temper tantrum or a victimized sulk?

The fact is that while we grow and evolve and perhaps even awaken to the true nature of ourselves and our ultimate nature, we still have all of the patterns that we are made up of inside our being. Yes this includes the sulky teenager. The first step to integrating this truth is accepting it. While we would like to be purified of all of our not so nice patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, a human life doesn’t work like that. Although we can take various measures to disentangle the conditions that give rise to these patterns in our lives, we can never completely free ourselves from them.. And nor would we want to be free of them, as almost every pattern also comes with a gift in the right circumstances. The hyper-vigilant protector pattern is useful in a dangerous situation. It is not useful in a situation where there is no danger. You get the point.

So how do we go home as a spiritual practice?

All of us “go home” with a different past and a different set of circumstances, so the first thing to do is recognize your past. I recommend doing this as a daily meditation for the week preceding your trip home (or as it may be your home/family coming to visit you). Sit in meditation and cast yourself back into the past. Journey past the standard set of memories, good and bad, to allow memories to arize of simple moments, ones that you may have forgotten before the meditation. Resist the temptation to explain what is happening or how it impacted you. Just observe. After the meditation, write down any new insights into your past. With each successive meditation allow yourself to go deeper in experiencing memories that are not normally present. Notice any feelings and acknowledge them.

If you have trauma in your past and/or encounter traumatic memories, it’s best to seek out the help of a professional that can help you to heal the trauma. If at any time in this meditation you don’t feel safe, please pull yourself out of the meditation and consider seeking help with the trauma that may be there.

Meditating on the past often reveals emotions and unresolved energies that operate at the subliminal levels of mind. These subliminal patterns with energy and emotion are in a ready state to be triggered in your journey home.

When you arrive at home the mix of feelings and energy will be high. The job of your inner contemplator is gently observing the patterns that arise. It is not to intervene and hold you back from the experience, this leads to the pitfall of spiritual bypass which is an instant off ramp to your growth and spiritual development.

When you recognize any past pattern that typically sends you down a path of acting and feeling that reminds you of how you behaved and responded to home in the past or not how you’ve generated yourself to be in the future, that is the moment to practice Free Won’t. Our patterns include feelings, thoughts and actions which arise together. The moment a pattern arises, you begin the associated pattern. Fortunately there is a gap in which you can interrupt the action.

To exercise your Free Won’t, start box breathing on a count of five; inhale, hold, exhale, hold. You can do this with your eyes open, staying present in the moment. It will take your concentration to keep the breathing cycle going. This interrupts the action of the pattern as it is impossible to take the action and keep up the breathing. Keep repeating the box until you can see the pattern as a pattern. With a little practice you can do this without anyone knowing that you are doing it.

At the point where you can see the pattern as a pattern, you can note it for further contemplation when you have a chance to be alone, or you can find a way to take a moment for yourself. A bathroom break is a great way to slip away for a short meditation.

The meditation practice to contemplate the triggered pattern, is to look inwards to see what the pattern is protecting. What is the feeling? What is the memory if there is one? What is the wound, big or small that is hurting? Take all of these things and send loving kindness to them, to your past self. Directly address the pattern and commit to a conscious way to insure that the hurt past self will be taken care of and protected.

Then turn your attention to the source of the trigger or the hurt. Look at the source with compassion, understanding that suffering causes suffering. While there is no justification for someone hurting another, there is suffering at the root of the hurtful action. If you can authentically do so, give loving kindness to the source of the hurt.

Finally ask your past hurt self, what it needs to feel safe. See your future self providing this to the hurt pattern. Acknowledge the pattern and the valuable service it brings to the collective you and let it know under which circumstances it is needed, and how you will take care of the circumstances that don’t rise to that level. For example if the pattern is to be suspicious and defensive, a circumstance where someone is harming you with their actions is a good time to be vigilant. A circumstance where you “read the signs” that someone might be capable of hurting you, is a better time for you to consciously address the situation rather than by a triggered pattern. You will need to explore this for yourself to discover what it takes to calm the triggered pattern.

This is what there is to do when old patterns come up when we go back home or when home comes to us. As you journey deeper into this you will begin to open up new spaces in your relationships with your family and friends.

While we can never go back home, and going home sometimes doesn’t bring out the best in us, we can consciously contemplate our past patterns and actively practice new patterns to have love, grace and ease when we are home.

May this information inspire you to generate a thriving future for humanity and a thriving life for yourself. For more resources please check out our Podcast and Youtube channel.

-The Now Team

BOLD.LY NOW is a movement of co-creative up-levelers who have a burning desire to step free of our collapsing world & take the most daring leap forward to a thriving world.

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The Generative Futures Initiative
Generating a Thriving Future for All

PROOF is a digital magazine published by NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.