The goal of enlightenment: get to the true Self, the source of meaning, freedom, peace, and perfection
The basic point of the spiritual search is extremely simple: it is to get in permanent touch with the true Self. This true Self is not the true self in the sense of what you are really like apart from societal and family pressure, though getting in touch with that self is in fact part of the search.
No, the true Self that I speak of is simply a pure peace and serenity beyond words, concepts, and experience. It is not merely a hypothesis or an abstract idea. It's quite real, and you can experience it. But it is not an experience in the way you think of experiences. And it is, literally, what you are.
The Illusion of Little Self
What prevents you from seeing this true Self right now, that is, from experiencing what you really are, is what you think you are. And what you think you are is an individual.
You think you are a person, a mind, a body. Shocking to say: this is not what you are. And you can know it quite directly. This idea that you are this little, false Self, is the blockage to seeing the true Self. The idea that one is the little, false Self is the obstacle that must be seen through to experience the truth.
The process: a quiet mind and a looking inward
This basically requires two things: a quiet mind and looking at yourself to figure out what you are.
The little Self is essentially one long distraction which attempts to stop you from seeing the Truth. So your mind must be quieted -- which means concentrated -- to minimize these distractions. Then you must look inward and investigate just what you are.
In the end, it's extremely simple. What makes it difficult is our own attempts to step in our own path, to block our own way.
A quiet mind requires that you resolve your intellectual doubts about enlightenment
To get a quiet mind, you usually need to work along two fronts. The first is intellectual -- you need to know, roughly speaking, what enlightenment is, why it is desirable, why you can achieve it, and what it means. Your mind won't let you alone until you've resolved those questions to your satisfaction. You have to have some model in mind of what you're pursuing.
My full model for this is in my book, but it doesn't have to be your model. Here is the 30-second summary: We all have an experience of the world and of ourselves -- our little "inner movie," aka consciousness or awareness. In that movie, right now you are reading these words. These movies have to be explained. They can't be explained by science alone. This is because we can never access anyone else's little movie directly -- we'd be experiencing it through our own movie first. So each person has to investigate that movie themselves. This is a non-scientific investigation, since science requires that investigations occur out in the open, where everyone has equal access to the data.
This suggests the need for another kind of investigation: an internal investigation of our own movie by looking deeply at it. Mystics and sages across history have reported that when they've done this, they've accessed something permanently satisfying.
That right there is enough for a lot of people.
But I personally needed much more to quiet my intellectual doubts. I needed to understand the whole model of things. For me, I had to ask about the permanent reality underlying everything. Many believe it's matter, but that doesn't explain the movie. But the movie -- or rather, what underlies it, our consciousness -- can explain the perception of matter. And I believe there are very good reasons to believe that these movies -- or in other words our little minds -- are just thoughts in a greater mind or consciousness. What are we, then? We are not these flitting thoughts, but are nothing other than that greater mind. The only thing blocking that knowledge is a thought. See through the thought and we can make contact with that greater mind.
That's an awfully quick summary. I don't expect anyone to be persuaded based on this. For the full argument, look at my book, and if you want to ask me questions, drop me a line. There's a lot more to be said, and you're probably going to have doubts. Those doubts are important. Ask those questions -- of yourself or of a spiritual guide. Those questions need to be resolved or they'll stand in your way.
A quiet mind is also achieved by aligning with your true desires
The other front along which to quiet the mind is desire. We all want certain things to satisfy our needs. We need to get in touch with our deep desires and at least attempt to fulfill them, otherwise they will never give us the mental peace we need to proceed.
We cannot get to complete happiness simply by pursuing desire, but we can get to a state of relatively greater inner peace and concentration. How do we know what it is that we really want? It's not obvious. We listen to our feelings, we express them, and we test various possibilities to fulfill them in our imaginations and the world. I recommend a specific technique of expression called metaphorization, where you try to express what it is like to experience something in terms of other things (it's the basic method behind most art and language). Metaphorization is itself also a way of relieving suffering and fulfilling a deep human need all by itself. I also recommend seeing the discovery of desire as a kind of game, a process that in my book I call the science of desire.
Therapy, yoga, meditation, and other aids can also be useful, depending on the person. But the need for these will all come up through the investigation of your desire.
Inner investigation is a very simple process
Once your mind is quiet enough, then just look at who you are. It's an exquisitely simple process called self-inquiry (I summarize it in this video). It simply takes sincerity and patience. With that, you will succeed. It requires examining and trying to locate the sense "I am" -- as in, "I am reading these words right now." What is that "I"? We're looking for that "I" not intellectually but through our experience. We're trying to locate it the same way we might try to locate a physical sensation -- as in, "the feeling of cold is coming from my left hand, where I'm holding an ice cube." But it could also be a thought or an emotion.
The twist is that we're playing this game with a certain rule. The rule is that any location, sensation, emotion, or thought that you name -- you'll have to notice that "I" am noticing that. So that thing can't then be the I. Whatever you notice, you aren't, that's the rule. And yet the I is there, blindingly obvious. So what and where is it?
Pursue it long enough and you'll have a breakthrough into a different state of consciousness, one where you will see that you thought you were, you never were. You'll slip out of this new state of consciousness quickly, but you'll be able to get back there with practice. Stay long enough, and you'll defeat your habitual tendencies to revert. You'll suddenly recognize that new state of consciousness to be that Self you've been seeking this whole time, and that you have been without realizing it.
And that's it! Super simple, right? Enlightenment is easy. It's our human nature that introduces all the complications.