Sofa Enlightenment

by Robert Broughton

Table of contents


There’s a mystery beyond the mind. This may touch you or it may not. However, I have a story to tell and now is the time to tell it. At this time of writing I am in my fifth decade and have mostly followed the road less traveled. That journey has held many frightening, chaotic, poignant and, at times, bizarre twists and turns which ultimately led to inner peace and a great love for my fellow travelers. It also took me from my home in Australia all over the world in search of myself.

The Dalai Lama once said: “Without great risk, there can be no great success.” This is the story of one man’s journey to enlightenment in the material world. My greatest success was in overcoming myself. Breaking free of the matrix of conditioned thought that I had falsely believed to be “me.” In the process I would walk through the valley of insanity without the knowledge or comfort of knowing there would be light at the end of it. Once this journey is undertaken, there is no path back and safety becomes the first casualty. But I jump ahead. There can be no understanding of the ending until you know the beginning.

What follows is my story. I have written it with a warts-and-all honesty which may offend or shame some, but I have been totally truthful about my life in the hope that my experiences may help you with your journey.

There are many places I could begin this story but I have chosen the time in my life when I had my first glimpses of both the beauty and the terror that formed the deeper hidden recesses of my mind. Abraham Maslow was the first psychologist to study people who were well rather than those who were ill. He saw a common experience among “well” people, which he called “peak experiences.”

The first such peak experience I had was when I was 18 years old. Throughout most of my puberty I carried a large emotional burden, feeling I was unattractive to women. I was intelligent yet lacked the social fluidity that many of my peers, some of whom I regarded sometimes as almost moronic, seemed to have with girls.

In my first year at work, after leaving high school, a friend chanced to tell me one day that a particularly attractive girl in our neighborhood had a crush on me. He told me this whilst we were traveling on a train into the city. It was a beautiful spring morning and, suddenly, the invisible burden I had carried for so long vanished in an instant. I was ugly no longer. This girl had cast her spell and transformed me into someone who was transcendentally beautiful. All because she believed it to be so, and in her belief I found refuge. Till the day I die I will never forget the joy of this moment.

As I alighted from the train I started on my usual twenty-minute walk through the park that led to my place of employment. The rays of the early morning sun held me in awe. I was transfixed by the clearness of the sky and the vivid colors of the many flowers I normally barely noticed. All my senses were heightened and my body felt as light as a feather. I seemed to be walking three feet off the ground in a sea of bliss. All objects around me, the trees, grass, even the normally drab city buildings, seemed suffused with a golden glow.

This altered state lasted the entire morning. Later on in the afternoon, I fell back into my normal state of consciousness, which was that of an average confused teenager. Such experiences confer a taste of what lies beyond the so called “normal” everyday consciousness. A gap is created in the thought stream and you briefly become aware of the Divine.

This experience sharply contrasted to one I’d had at age ten. This was my first confrontation with the awareness of my own mortality. One night, as I lay in bed, the usual random thoughts that would play around in my head suddenly came to a dead end and one thought stuck in my mind: “One day you’re going to die!” I was overtaken by an immense fear and I ran screaming into my parents’ bedroom. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” I yelled, sobbing all the while. I climbed into bed between them and after some gentle reassuring fell asleep. The next night, however, the same morbid thoughts returned, and it was some time before I fell asleep. Experiences such as this are repressed by the subconscious. If I’d had the good fortune of having an enlightened master as a parent, this experience could have been a window into the absolute. To have been able to embrace the fear of mortality at so young an age may well have had striking consequences. Ramana Maharshi, India’s greatest modern sage, was catapulted into enlightenment at age sixteen by being able to remain fully aware while confronting the dread of mortality.

It was to be many years before I would be able to put these early experiences into a meaningful context. However, the seeds for the journey of my adult life had been sown.

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