The paradox of enlightenment

The paradox of enlightenment

The willingness to look at the things you don’t want to see is what sets you free.

Enlightenment, the liberation from suffering, requires us to turn towards, rather than away from, the very things we fear and want to escape. How unfair!

Over the last three years, I have been diving into a modality called parts work, and there are many overlaps with the spiritual teachings I have studied over the years. It comes down to radical acceptance of all of you and your experience—radical acceptance of everything that is happening in your life. It means saying yes to every thought, every feeling, every challenge, and every victory. Our main challenge is that we resist reality. We resist and reject non-stop.

When we say yes to everything, it doesn’t mean liking or agreeing with what happens. It means dropping the resistance to what is already there, mostly inside our own experience, in our own mind. The yogis discovered many clever techniques centuries ago. The way out of suffering is to look it straight in the eye. The thing we are not willing to feel is where the magic happens. What we do not want to look at will be the part that transforms us into what we never expected possible.

The Paradox of Willingness and Release

The willingness to face and accept our pain leads to the release of suffering. This concept is central to many spiritual and philosophical traditions. Much of our suffering is caused by our resistance to reality. When we resist or deny discomfort, we create additional layers of mental and emotional distress.

By willingly accepting the discomforts and pains in life, we reduce inner conflict and resistance. This acceptance can bring a sense of peace and clarity, even when faced with very difficult circumstances. Mindfulness teaches us to be fully present with whatever arises, including and especially with what we do not want. It’s not a passive accepting, we still have to take action on what is up, but by observing discomfort without labeling it as “bad” or trying to push it away, we can see it more clearly and understand its transient nature. This can diminish its hold on us and gives us clarity on our path forward.

When you read the stories of different enlightened beings you will see there is a thread of them finding the ability to be in pain without identifying with it. They recognize that discomfort is a part of their experience but not the entirety of who they are. This detachment doesn’t mean indifference, because that would mean bypassing or suppressing, but rather creating the willingness and capacity to be present with what is already happening. The willingness to face discomfort with compassion rather than self-judgment softens the impact of pain. It creates a nurturing inner environment over chaos, and it also deepens our empathy for others, reducing the feeling of isolation that often comes with suffering.

Mindfulness: Observing and Accepting Your Inner Experience

Mindfulness teaches us to develop a habit of observing thoughts and emotions without attachment or judgment. When pain or discomfort arises, consciously bring your attention to it. Notice where you feel it in your body and how it affects your mind. Practice accepting sensation rather than resisting it, relax into the feeling. Stop gripping on so tightly, this is what creates suffering. Let go of the resistance. Acknowledge fully what is there, allowing yourself to feel it without trying to change it. Support yourself with encouraging self-talk: “It’s okay to feel this way, or “I welcome this feeling”, or “I bring my love and acceptance to this feeling or to these thoughts”. 

Through self-inquiry, you can get to the root of your pain

Ask yourself questions like: “When was the first time I felt this way? Where was I?” or “What is this pain trying to tell me?” or “What beliefs or desires are making me cling to this pain?” Journaling can be a great tool for this exploration. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend. Recognize that pain is a universal human experience. Self-soothe with simple practices such as placing your hand on your heart and speaking gently to yourself. Remember to see the discomfort and pain as a visitor rather than a permanent resident.

A Personal Story

I used to resist everything; my baseline was to resist and reject. Bless the teachers, coaches, and therapists who have been so patient with me. It is funny to discover that the things I rejected and resisted the most are the things that were so needed for my transformation. So when I find myself in that space of judging and rejecting, I know I have hit gold.

Years ago, when I was still working as a tax consultant for Deloitte, I went through a rough patch with work and was on the edge of burnout. You know, one of those moments where everything happens simultaneously and you just can’t catch up. Now, resting was never my strong suit, and I loved giving it all 100% of the time. I was just a busy bee enjoying myself. However, this was not sustainable. At a certain point, the law of time takes over and will force you into taking some neutral time and to clear away the accumulation of unprocessed experiences.

One of the HR consultants recommended I try mindfulness. It felt almost like an offense, “No thanks, that woo-woo stuff is not for me,” and I went on with my day. Bless her. I wish I could go back and correct my attitude toward that well-intended person. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself again struggling with a bout of depression, and I was sick of it. By that time, we all had access to Google, so I went online and typed: “How to heal depression naturally?”

Oh no, not that! Bloody mindfulness? Really, mindfulness? Okay, let’s have a look at this stupid mindfulness then, I said. I signed up for a training, got the books, and BOOM, there it was. I learned how to observe my thoughts and grab that little nasty thought that would drag me into the dark hole of desperation.

The more I practiced and learned about mindfulness, the more I loved it. I cannot recommend it enough; it is the foundation of all the work that I do. So, I ended up becoming an absolute fan of mindfulness, and I cannot imagine a life without meditation and mindfulness anymore.

Same for healing the nervous system. What nonsense is this now? Everyone talks about it. I resisted even looking at it. I thought I was pretty set with that because of the yoga and meditation practice I have, but boy, how I was missing out on some very powerful tension release that was stuck in my body for a lifetime.

Now, what does this all have to do with enlightenment?

Saying yes to the little nudges that we get on our path and having a curious look at what we reject and resist might get us sooner rather than later to that space of peace and freedom we long for. The willingness to be uncomfortable, consciously accepting and exploring our pain, helps us to release the grip of suffering. By reducing resistance, cultivating mindfulness, understanding the causes, and cultivating compassion, we transform our relationship with pain and discomfort. This transformation does not mean that pain and discomfort will disappear entirely, but they will no longer have the same power over you, helping you to experience more inner peace and freedom.

So, if you are on the fence about something or you are resisting the hell out of something, maybe, just maybe, there is something beautiful for you to discover.

With love,