Can You Be Enlightened And Neurotic At The Same Time

The purpose of most spiritual teachings is to reach enlightenment, a state of pure awareness and inner joy. This may appear unattainable when compared to the likes of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, or the wise yogis, but those of us on the spiritual journey diligently meditate and follow well-trodden paths so we can also touch on awareness and peace beyond understanding, freedom, and unconditional happiness. For within all of us is hidden the potential for such awakening.

Yet, at the same time, we are human beings dealing with human issues. As we wrote in a recent blog: “Saints have headaches and the Buddha had stomach upsets.” So the question arises: does enlightenment mean the end of all neurosis, or is it possible to be awake and aware while also having some measure of hang-ups? This question was the topic of a conference in England that we attended, and the resounding answer was ‘YES!’

Ed trained in India with a brilliant yoga master, and other luminous beings. He immersed himself in the teachings, tasted the sweetness of essence, and experienced vast radiant emptiness. Even so, he saw how he could be as neurotic as anyone else, and learned that the only difference between an enlightened being and a madman is the enlightened one knows he’s mad

Awakening doesn’t mean we become perfectly compassionate, infinitely generous, always understanding, kind, wise and wonderfully peaceful all of the time. Becoming more aware, kind, and compassionate arises naturally as we witness the suffering and confusion in others, but we also get to see, accept and befriend our own humanness, whether it manifests as anger, grief, insecurity, or doubt, to name but a few.

Our humanness doesn’t just dissolve the more aware we become. We still feel everything that happens, still get angry, frightened, sad, just as we also feel happiness, joy and laughter, as these are all part of the human condition. But whatever we are experiencing is just that, a feeling or a thought, and not the whole of us.

A young man was eagerly sitting at the feet of his enlightened meditation master, when the master was told that his son had just died. He started weeping. The student was aghast. He couldn’t imagine that such a luminous spiritual being would be so affected by ordinary human feelings. He asked his teacher why he was crying. His teacher replied, “My son died.”

As awareness develops and awakening occurs, so there is an inner spaciousness around whatever we are feeling or going through that allows us to embrace the feeling without owning it; we can witness the story without becoming an actor in the drama. We attended a ten-day meditation retreat at Suan Mokkh ‘Garden of Liberation’ monastery in southern Thailand. The abbot, Ajahn Po, taught us: “Whatever arises, whether fear, hate, or any other feeling, you can see this as just that. No need to identify it as ‘my fear’ or ‘my anger’. Then it can come and go without disturbing your mind.”

One of India’s greatest teachers, Ramana Maharshi, urged his students to meditate on “Who am I?” He likened our true self to a white cinema screen before a film starts. Then the lights go out, the film goes on and we experience every feeling and emotion played out in front of us. When the film is over the lights go on and the screen is white again.

We view the dramas of life in the same way, often taking them so seriously that we get drawn into every emotion, every scenario being enacted, but who we truly are is pure awareness, awake consciousness that is behind and beneath the performance. In this way we are both enlightened and neurotic at the same time, just as are both human and free at the same time.

In our Be The Change Meditate e-Conference we interviewed neuroscientist Richie Davidson who proves how meditation affects the brain; we also spoke with Congressman Tim Ryan, who shares how to practice mindfulness with politicians, the armed forces, and others. Altogether we interviewed 30 meditation practitioners, teachers and experts, all of whom happily confirmed that their meditation practice keeps them sane and balanced by connecting them to a greater awareness and expansive consciousness. They spoke about their neuroses, while also sharing profound truths and deeply moving awakenings.

Does Climate Change Mix With Religion?
To Be Right or to Be Happy?
Losing Your Mind and Finding Yourself


Be The Change Meditate e-Conference will uplift and inspire you. It includes Marianne Williamson, Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Mindful Nation, Sharon Salzberg, Gabby Bernstein, Gangaji, Joan Borysenko, Seane Corn, neuroscientist Richie Davidson who proves how meditation affects the brain, and us, Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of the conference companion book, BE THE CHANGE: How Meditation Can Transform You and The World. Expect your life to never be the same again!

For more information:


Alan G.
Alan G4 years ago


My wording is unclear, so :

Congressman TIM Ryan = :)
Congressman PAUL Ryan = :(

Congressman PAUL Ryan is the Ayn Rand devotee.

Alan G.
Alan G4 years ago

Ed and Deb - I have enjoyed your writings in the past. Regardless of the issue raised your response to Heather G. is disappointing. Your wording comes across as patronizing. And to claim "she seems out of touch with reality" from such a brief statement seems to be a pretty big assumption to me. She could possibly be mistaking Congressman Paul Ryan for Congressman Tim Ryan, who has a pretty awful record (and he is an Ayn Rand devotee).

Latoya B - While panting the US military with a broad brush as evil isn't accurate or helpful, painting them with a broad brush as noble protectors of freedom is pretty naive as well. While there are many who join with admirable intentions, there are many (I've known some) who joined up because they want to blown sh*# up and other more ignoble motives. There is unfortunately plenty of example of rape, torture, and other abuses taking place that show this. And even in the case of a soldier who serves with noble intent, it doesn't mean that the people who order them to go or the real reasons they are sent are noble.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga4 years ago


Sandi O'Donovan
Sandra O'Donovan4 years ago

I'm fairly tuned in, aware of my surrounding's, can see thing;s for what they are, try and stay rational, calm and deal with problems head on, problem solver to my friends, people come to me and ask advice because they think I have a good head on my shoulders..... But I can tell u, I'm off my rocker at times, hangin on by a thread and some day's wud gladly eliminate half the neighbourhood without a blink of an eye!!..... I wudn't just making a point, Neurotic, psychotic and mental that's me all while being enlightened!!

Latoya Brookins
Latoya Brookins4 years ago

Heather G, the US military is not trying to unleash suffering on the world. They are going into dangerous situations to protect others, risking themselves for what they believe is the greater good even if it means they will personally end up suffering in mind or body. Most people would have no idea what it is like to run towards the danger instead of fleeing from it, to be on the frontlines or in the thick of the violence instead of waiting for someone to rescue them or fight their battles for them. We are safer because we have others willing to defend us with their very lives. The same is true for police officers/S.W.A.T. teams/etc.

Most soldiers fight for peace. There are a lot of humans out there that do not respond to reason or talk. I know that if I was walking down a street and I was being attacked and then someone else came along who was able to physical stop the attacker, I would hope that they would do more than try to talk him out of attacking me.

Ed And Deb Shapiro

heather g - you couldn't be more wrong - you sound like a silly billy - making assumptions can cause suffering - I know Congressman Ryan & he is a jewel of a man- men (or women) good men like Tim who can bring sanity and compassion to this world are needed wholeheartedly. You are making a judgement without knowing what you are talking about. Seems like you are out of touch with reality! Get out of your head & into your heart!
Treasure yourself,

Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey4 years ago

A balancing act with the forces of energies inside and out...

Ron B.
Ron B4 years ago

Can I?? Tell me about it!

Yvette T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Very good article and am familiar with some of the very analogies and stories, as I also know a yoga master.

heather g.
heather g4 years ago

The previous article I read was by Deepak Chopra entitled "Can Spirituality heal Suffering".

Ryan's name in this article, as someone who 'deals with US military' appears out-of-place, considering all the suffering that the military unleashes on the world. The connotations of the words 'enlightenment' and 'military' seem to be diametrically opposed...

Those who are enlightened are certainly human and on occasions would suffer from forms of anxiety, etc. Just like psychiatrists who also occasionally need a few sessions conducted by other psychiatrists. We all need others to help us to look inside ourselves...