It is certainly not easy to consciously be on a path of awakening. Our lives are so filled with activities, distractions and people that lead us away from our center and our serenity. It takes a real commitment to regularly reserve time to go inside and shut the world out. It is not easy to have a normal Western life and not be dragged by the materialistic, entertainment and stressful wave. Being in the world and not of this world, this is perhaps our biggest challenge.
In my case, the choices I have been taking in the last twelve years have been helpful. Starting with giving up my comfortable bourgeois life in Paris, being willing to start from scratch, leading a simple life for many years and accepting complete uncertainty as a companion. Relinquishing so many things I used to think were indispensable prepared me to focus on the essential, on the unchangeable, on the core of existence.
There comes a time in the evolution of every person when the main concern is no longer the survival of the physical body, the accumulation of stuff or winning praise and worldly success, but the growth of the soul.
Getting closer to enlightenment does take a lot of relinquishment, and there is no way around it. Nevertheless, if you do it willingly — not as a mandatory sacrifice — it can be very liberating. It takes quite a few changes in the outer world to leave time and energy to cultivate the path of awakening. You need to make enough room for the search, the preparation, the training. If you change your inner world, you must be prepared to change the outer life and its old structures in one way or another.
In my experience, you do not need to become a Buddhist and go through 3-year silent retreats, follow a guru in India, or completely give up your life in society. But it does take serious adjustments, changes in your material life, and some difficult choices. And this cannot be sugarcoated. How many people are willing to do that? Voilà, that is why there are so very few enlightened people in our society. Because Samsara (in Buddhist terms, the cycle of repeated birth, mundane existence and dying again) is very sticky, and it is easy to get stuck on its mirages life after life.
It takes great commitment to an inner path, not only not commonly accepted but often despised and shunned. It means solitude. It entails walking off the beaten track. You often feel you do not belong anywhere. You may even feel like a weirdo, a member of a rare species that does not share the same values or interests of the vast majority.
Throughout history, sages, saints and mystics have been the outcasts of a society that could not understand, let alone respect, people taking alternative choices of living. Nowadays, you are not going to be burned on a stick or tortured by the inquisition because of it, but at times it can take a toll on you. You need to learn to live with it and hold on there. The path is long but there is light at the end of the tunnel. And the light is so powerful, so joyful and so peaceful that it is worthy of all the renunciations.
As a matter of fact, all those seeming sacrifices are just the way of getting rid of your useless and heavy armors accumulated over time, of all the burdens that did not allow you to fly high, of all the tethers that bound you to the soil and kept you crawling.
As Joseph Campbell wrote: “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness”. And this amazing transformation is so worthy. It is our final destination anyway. We can get distracted and lost for a long time. We can refuse to liberate ourselves for as long as we wish. We can suffer as much as we decide to. We can use our free will to choose how fast we get there. But in the end, all of us will reach Home.