July 23, 2014

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Two): Evolution’s Case for Enlightenment

rhodesWe wouldn’t want enlightenment if we couldn’t have it. All those things we called “enlightenment” last time – less stress, more peace, more freedom and autonomy, more meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose – are there for the taking.

At least, evolutionary neurology thinks so. I found that out recently when I tackled a stack of books on the subject. The books weren’t exactly a beach read; they went back to the library mostly unread, but not before leaving me with two astounding bits of awareness.

First, creation evolves. That’s a fact – not a desire or aspiration, not a random shot in the dark, not a maybe or a guess, but a fact. Every created thing is encoded with an irrepressible urge for growth, change, improvement, progress.

Second, evolution is efficient. It doesn’t waste itself on what isn’t going to happen. It plays its hand carefully, places bets where the odds are good. No, it’s not infallible, but its batting average is enviable.

Put those two ideas together, and that’s why enlightenment is possible for all of us, not just for people who can sit in the lotus position. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” aren’t just political ideals, they’re an evolutionary impulse evident in the wide world and embedded in the human soul. That dynamic isn’t only in us, but in everything we create – personally, professionally, artistically, and otherwise. We were born this way, and we endow everything we create with the same energy.

Which is why we’re going to see more Star Wars movies.

You’ve heard the quote, “’Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill said that in his 1937 self-help classic Think and Grow Rich. I confess – that’s another book that went back to the library mostly unread. Maybe the book isn’t my cup of tea, but the quote is neurologically defensible: if our brains have evolved to the place where they can hold big ideas about how wonderful our lives can be, then they’re probably ready to take on the project.

We quickly dismiss our big ideas as pipedreams. We might want to rethink our practice, suspend our skepticism, and entertain those ideas instead. The notion that they might become reality isn’t just positive thinking, it’s a possibility supported by evolutionary neurology. Maybe we can’t get all the way to the top of the mountain just by thinking positively, but we can make a start, knowing the odds of getting there are probably better than we think.

If enlightenment is so possible, then why don’t we just grab it? Ah, not so fast, Grasshopper! Probably we don’t leap into the arms of bliss because we know it’s going to cost us. We talked a little about that last time. We’ll talk more about it next.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

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  1. […] cellular level, it’s the aggregate of our brains’ most commonly used neural pathways. As we saw last time, if our brains can conceive of the idea of a life and a career filled with happiness and […]

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