Enlightenment: Give Up the Spiritual Chase

pool, enlightenment, swimming,
I know many of you have heard this before, but I'll add my voice to the chorus anyway:

Give up the chase for enlightenment.

Now, I didn't say to give up spiritual discipline. I didn't say to stop coming back to awareness. I didn't say to stop doing inner work. Those are the tools that help peel away the ego to realize that you ARE.

But that's not what the spiritual chasers are doing. They're chasing an idea. They're chasing a happy ending. They're chasing a resolution to all their problems. They chasing whatever ego goals they have been taught to have, and those goals aren't enlightenment. So when I say to "give up the chase," I'm really talking about giving up these goals.

Now, I could probably stop the whole blog post with the above points, but let's continue on for a bit, shall we?

What Is Enlightenment?

I typically use the term spiritual freedom instead of enlightenment. The latter word has become too associated with the mind for many people, and in modern society in the U.S., freedom resonates more strongly. But they're the same words to me as are spiritual liberation, Nirvana, Self realization, and other related terms. So for today, we'll use the word, "enlightenment," which means to be free of suffering and to truly understand reality (which includes realizing truths like we are all one and all is consciousness).

To be additionally explicit, ego suffering is how we respond to life, and there are deeper levels of the primal animal body that also cause suffering. These unconscious attachments to our bodies and our sexual drive predate the ego in my opinion, and they dissolve much later. The dissolving of our attachments to these most basic drives is usually when it is possible to realize total enlightenment/total spiritual freedom.

But don't hold onto these ideas. Don't turn them into goals. If they become goals, you'll continue to chase something and likely get stuck going around and around in circles.

Your Ego Mind Is Not Here Now

Right now, you're very unlikely to be here now. Particularly for the long-time seeker--who is often the worst kind of spiritual chaser--you are reading my words through a lens of past experiences. While we may learn language in the past and continue to re-use it in the present--which is helpful--we filter every word and every experience through a lens of past experiences. So what many of you are doing right now in your unconscious ego mind are things like:

"Do I understand this concept based on the concepts I currently understand and accept? No. This isn't interesting to me. I'm going to forget it."

"Do I understand this concept? Yes. This is what my teacher from 1975 said. I really liked her. She was nice. She said similar things. I think I like Jim Tolles too. Body! Produce happy hormones!" [The body starts producing the appropriate hormonal, neurotransmitter, endorphin, etc. responses to make the person feel good.]

"I don't like this concept. All the people I watch on YouTube talk about chakra balancing and energy healing, and they tell me I have to get somewhere. [Body starts producing unhappy feelings.] I want to get to another feeling. Jim Tolles is full of shit."

And there are many of other unconscious dialogues going on that filter and vet every single word here and every moment of your life. In short, you are living in the past and are controlled by a whole lot of unconscious responses.

The Impossibility of a Vague Chase

Part of the power of the unconscious ego is that it makes many things ambiguous. If you know you want an apple, you can go to farmer's stand, grocery store, apple orchard, a friend's house, or some place else to achieve that goal. If you want to feel ____________, how do you achieve that?

When we really look inside ourselves, that vague blank space is a very common goal. This ambiguous goal is usually a mix of seeking health, safety, and happiness. As I've mentioned many times before, if you do your work to peel away the layers of your many goals and ideas, those are the 3 that are usually sitting at the bottom level of what we chase after (or protect if we have something that we want to keep). But they're hopelessly vague.

Since most people don't ever question their unconscious motivations, they can get on the spiritual path pursuing vague goals mixed up with any number of spiritual ideas. The result is that they remain enslaved to their attachments.

Declaring Spiritual Victory!

For many people, they feel the impossibility of the spiritual chase for enlightenment. But instead of truly turning inwards, they do something else:

They declare spiritual victory!

This type of person gets out of the spiritual tourist trap and falls deeply into spiritual ego arrogance. I continually warn people about the trap of spiritual ego, but deciding that you have "achieved it," "that you already know it," and so forth is alluring. It's easy. It sounds correct. A person like this has already heard that there is "nowhere to go." So why not just decide that you're here and be done with the spiritual path? Heck, why not become a spiritual teacher and put up a YouTube channel to tell everyone else the same thing?

And people do.

Spiritual Realization: Deeply Understanding Reality

Once again, this path is about reality. It's not about claiming to understand reality; it's about truly understanding it. That's what a spiritual realization is. 

When someone has a spiritual realization, they've understood a small, tiny piece of reality. However, the result is that doing so even once can have a life-changing impact on someone. It also tends to be very ordinary, and as a result, we say things like, "There is only this moment."

But it's totally different if you have realized this. You can't just intellectually know it. I can know how to intellectually swim, but it's a completely different matter once I'm in the water. Truly aspiring to be enlightened is an invitation into some deep waters, and any attempts to just think "you are there" will be met with a rude awakening--a proverbial splash of cold water into your face.

Truly Turning Inwards

Truly turning inwards is a serious matter. It means that you are going to look at your beliefs, deeply held assumptions, and the very reason you are on the spiritual path to enlightenment. In so doing, we see both difficult and beautiful things about ourselves. We are learning to see the whole of ourselves whether our ego likes it or not. In so doing, we surrender control of how our dissolving process will go. We may go through dramatic external world changes or not. How our external world situation is is only important in how it facilitates or obstructs looking within ourselves. So running away to an ashram is not necessarily helpful. For some people, it is the spiritual chase. For others, it's a necessary break from their life to get perspective. Ultimately, the spiritual path and enlightenment are always here now. We don't need to go anywhere to find them.

And turning inwards isn't really going anywhere, is it? We just start to look at ourselves. We look at how we think, who we think we are. We question ourselves. That questioning is an important re-training of the mind, and it also includes questioning the questioner. 

What is s/he asking? 

What is the importance of the question? 

What is the goal of the question?

As a person gets practice in turning their attention inwards, they realize more and more about themselves, and usually, that's a humbling path.

The Path to Enlightenment Ends

Some people--usually on the self-improvement path--think this is an endless path. It isn't. It isn't a path at all because it is always here.

Rather, this path is about unlearning, not about endlessly learning new spiritual tools, beliefs, and so forth. Thus, seeking ends, and realization arises. We can dissolve all our attachments to be enlightened/totally free, and the "time" that that takes entirely has to do with how much we hold on. Certainly, a great deal of holding on is done unconsciously, and it is a practice to learn how to dredge up the unconscious.

But as you dredge, discover, and dissolve, the truth is seen, and you realize that you are free.


  1. Hi Jim, greetings from Bogotá, Colombia. During the last year I've been struggling with physical pain and a lot of resistance from my ego to the fact that this pain doesn't go away, it came out of nowhere. Today I asked my guides for help and one of your videos showed up on my Youtube account. I've been having amazing synchronicities over the last 7 years and also, I've received countless divine information when I was on the right path (at least I thought I was). But the cronic physical pain came and I feel like I've been abandoned by the Universe, and the funny thing is that is nothing serious that's killing me, but it is scrutiating. I know is my ego talking and I have a lot of resistance but is very difficult to align with one's soul and to stop identifying with thoughts when the pain is real and is draining the energy and will of my body. I'd really appreciate If you could give me some advice. Gracias

    1. Practice coming back to awareness. Observe your ego and the pain. If the physical pain persists, talk to a trained health practitioner.


Post a Comment