Conditioning, Consciousness, Existence, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Truth

Keep Looking Inward

I’m sitting upstairs at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. The sun and spring air are coming through an open window and I’ve got an iced Americano at my side. I’ve been listening to enough Beyoncé for her voice to be on frequent repeat in my mind, which is cool with me. All of this is to say that things are still bright and lovely on this strange part of my journey. In a couple hours I’ll take a night train over to L.A., which I can only assume is going to be romantic as all get out.

I could’ve easily gone out to the Grand Canyon, but all I really felt doing was walking around town in the sun and listening to music. It’s all I want most of the time. Often I stop to sit down for no reason but to feel the sun. The need to “do” is dissolving, which my ego-identity occasionally meets with worry: What happens when I don’t feel that ongoing push to do things? How will I survive? What would it be like if I really could just sit quietly in one place forever and be happier than I ever imagined possible?

The answer is I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

I also seem to be losing the need to have “reasons” for any of the things I do. The heart has no reason or aim but to lead you to Truth and yourself (which are the same thing), so I trust it. This makes for strange conversations: “What are you doing here in Flagstaff?” people ask. And rather than go through the whole story about moving to the ashram and all that, I just say I’m traveling. I have no reason for being here or anywhere at all. It just happened, the same way all of life is just happening for no reason whatsoever.

People also ask often “where I’m from,” being that this is a hostel. Honestly, having such conversations already feels old and I don’t enjoy doing it. I get the feeling that it really doesn’t matter, that we are only talking based on what we have been conditioned to talk about. It’s more fun to make it weird and say I’m from Mars or something, or jump straight into jokes because hey we’re all human and where we’re from means nothing about who we are.

I feel like writing something basic (and perhaps a little challenging) about consciousness and the spiritual path. There seems to be an upswell in certain personalities who are getting famous while using the word “consciousness.” They go on and on about archetypes and mythology and their audiences are, for some reason, impressed.

On the level of the rational mind, what they say checks out, and I understand why they’ve gained such a following. But when I tune into their energy it is obvious that they are operating from a bloviating ego-identity, and this is hard for me to watch. They have mighty minds but they are filled with ignorance, which is the state of humanity at large. This is why we really need to take a step back here. We absolutely do not need more bloviating egos; we need heartful presence and the energy of pure awareness.

The trouble seems to be that a lot (see: the vast vast majority) of people mix up the word “consciousness” with the word “mind.” In reality, these are two completely different things. Consciousness is actually an all-encompassing thing; there is a reason why light is the most oft-used metaphor for it. It is both within and apart from the mind, but here’s the kicker: Consciousness created the mind, and the mind is a temporal feature within it. The mind ultimately does not exist, but consciousness will always abide. Remove the mind and consciousness will be there, but until we have practice detangling these things, we find ourselves totally mixed up and making messes.

When we go looking for answers from the level of the mind, we’re starting from an inherently flimsy place. The mind has a beginning and an end, but consciousness does not. We must look at the mind from this place of stability if we are to understand anything about humanity at all.

Another concern is the generally unquestioned assumption of who we are. This is what the path is all about: Who are you, really, underneath all that blah-blah-blahing your mind does day in and day out? Who are you, really, underneath the character you play on a day to day basis? This character is not really who you are, but you have been playing it for so long that you forgot it was an act.

I know that some of you may be reading this and feeling like you “understand” what I mean. And so I implore you to check in and see: Where do you live your life from? Your heart; your self-knowledge as consciousness? If this is so, there should be an abiding peace with you always, and a life that is generally untroubled. There should be an awake stillness to your being and a mind that does not rule your movements or behaviors. There should be no more nagging questions about existence or confusion about what you’re doing here. There should be no need to defend yourself or what you see, nor to make others “get” what you think you’ve “gotten.”

Or, perhaps more likely, do you live from the belief that you are [insert name, job, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.]?

My goal with these questions and statements is not to pass judgment, but to continue to encourage anyone who reads this to just keep. looking. inward. The ego is so so happy to latch onto theories. The ego is so so happy to keep feeding itself with mental concepts of what Truth is, to think that it “knows.” But, since the mind lives on the borrowed light of the heart, it does not know things about itself until the underlying consciousness is expanded responsibly and gradually. It is only from this vantage point that we have any real perspective at all. The best metaphor here is that the moon only shines because the sun throws light upon it. Most of us are stuck believing we’re the moon, and arguing as the moon that we know a lot about the sun. The silly part is that without the sun, the moon is nothing but a cold rock, and we are all the same sun.

We really all desire to be free; to know Truth with no doubt whatsoever. If you feel the need to defend, that’s actually an insecurity; it’s something I see all the time. There is a pull from the heart to become more free and totally light all the time, and this pull (or rather, the ego’s resistance to the pull) is what creates all the difficulties in our lives.

If we are interested in our minds, all we must do is learn to sit back and watch our minds. It is very simple, and yet this sentence alone carries a lot of information that goes assumed: What is the “you” and what is the “mind”? The mind cannot free itself from itself, so, what is the “you” that is going to go about doing this work?

The general false assumption is that you are your mind, but this is actually false. We go around saying this word all day long: “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” and yet very few people have, since the time they (unconsciously) formed their egos in toddlerhood, sat down to examine what exactly this thing is. It is all an assumption. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk my entire life experience on such an assumption.

Obviously there’s a lot more to unpack here, but of course there’s the paradox that there really isn’t anything else to unpack. My recommendation is, as always, to go sit quietly with your mind for awhile and see what you uncover. Resist the urge to defend where you’re at on the path; why what you’re already doing is totally compatible with [insert spiritual teaching here]. I also see that all the the time.

Many people do not have such a practice, and yet they insist on discussing Truth and spirituality anyway. This would be like going to a quantum physics course and arguing with the professor when you haven’t even gone through Physics 101. Start a practice, commit to finding your true self, and things will start becoming clear on their own.

Anyway, next time I write, I’ll probably be in Los Angeles.

Love to you all,


Culture, Personal, The Mind, Transformation

With Love from Santa Fe

Sitting on the railway platform in Albuquerque, I soak up the sun and notice how much it affects the way I feel. I think maybe I was only ever depressed because I didn’t spend hours walking in sunshine back home because the sunshine was blocked by cloud cover like 70% of the time. Maybe if I’d been born in Arizona or Texas or Southern California I wouldn’t have gone insane or ever wanted to destroy myself.

Of course it’s more than UV light, but it’s true that we become much more in tune with our bodies and what works for them once we wake up. For instance: I don’t eat meat or use drugs because I feel way better as a sober vegetarian than I ever did when I drank and smoked and ate meat. When I was younger, the whole no-meat thing was about ethics, and if I indulge in righteous indignation I can still get all riled up about that industry as well as the way booze is marketed (it’s cray cray).

I could work myself into a lather over any number of things I see being carried out in this world, but I’ve decided against it at this point. Why would I voluntarily disturb my inner peace? Anger is a form of suffering and I’ll never forget that. I don’t want anger; I don’t want hatred; I don’t want judgment. These things do not serve me or anyone else, even though the mind fights to hold onto them with many rationalizations. It really can be a shock when we start to pay attention to how hellbent we are on remaining mired in this kind of suffering. The mind says many things to convince us it’s necessary to dwell in certain awful emotions.

Yes, yes, yes. The culture is insane. The culture—our culture—is backwards and needs changing. We go about this by refusing to follow our cultural programming, thereby living revolutionary lives on a cumulative level. We are agents of collective transformation by transforming ourselves.

I know all of this, and yet my reasons for living the way I do are actually completely self-interested: I feel freaking awesome when I don’t weigh down my consciousness with unhealthy habits, and life has become significantly more beautiful since I surrendered to my heart. On the path, we actually sacrifice nothing even though it may look like we’ve “given up” certain worldly pleasures. Even better, when we dwell in peace and true happiness, others naturally benefit. Living freely begins to free others on its own, no matter what you’re doing externally.

That last paragraph reminds me of something I heard Sadhguru say once: “Everything is selfish; it just depends on how big your sense of self is.” So, if you’re mind/body identified and think of this current form as your whole self, you’re more likely to engage in actions that are what we traditionally think of as “selfish.” There is little motivation for someone to develop empathy if they can’t sense his or her self in other human beings.

Once your idea of self is expanded a bit, your choices and energy will begin to uplift all those you identify with (family, community, nation, etc.) If your sense of self includes all human beings, you’re probably not going to be down with violence, genocide, or hierarchical classism, because that hurts us (you) deeply. Expand it so far that it includes non-human life, and you’ll probably try to give up a lot of Earth-ravaging behaviors as is feasible, including the consumption of our animal friends. Again: This is because you truly and sincerely feel and see yourself in other living beings. It is not merely theoretical or rooted in mind-based judgment; you know you are a part of a much larger fabric than the contents of this current form. You are personally affected because your person includes everything. This is also the point where things like depression and anxiety become rampant: We feel all the suffering, but likely don’t have the strength of mind to hold it skillfully in our awareness.

Expand the sense of self so far that it snaps and disappears? This is when you merge with God and get to know/be the capital-S Self. Here, all bets are off, but you’ll still probably stick with healthier choices because they keep your energy so high and nice and clear. I won’t get into this too much in this post, but I am highly skeptical of any “enlightened being” who uses drugs and alcohol (in excess especially). It’s whack and I don’t trust it.

I arrive in Santa Fe and take a free bus to the hostel (so many things on this journey have been free and/or discounted; it’s beautiful). The guy who checks me in tells me that Whole Foods donates the food they can’t sell anymore to the hostel, and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with apples and peanut butter toast and chips and pumpkin pie, oddly enough. All I can think is “divine abundance,” and I’m laughing inside because that kind of talk used to annoy the shit out of me. And yet, here I am living in the light of God, being taken care of so well I could cry.

Within an hour I’ve made a friend who tells me about the motorcycle accident he got into 7 years ago. The brush with death threw him out of his old life and to Hawaii, where he took nothing but a hammock, essentially built a new family, and now appears well-established in his self-awareness. Around the hostel I hear him comment under his breath, “it’s all divine,” and I feel so happy. Because yes, it is all divine, and not just because we’re in this sweet little hostel grubbing on free organic mangoes.

We are both people who have experienced the terror of mortality and broken through this falsehood to some degree, changed our lives, and embraced the process of letting go. The vast majority of spiritually aware people I know are not doe-eyed and ignorant, even if some of the rhetoric may come across that way. They know hard shit and have decided not to let it rule them anymore. They have tapped into the nature of Reality on a level the mind instinctively backs away from, and worked to become nearer to this nature.

This new friend offered to show me around Taos, an spiritual/artistic community about an hour and a half away. There’s a (surprise!) free bus that goes up there during the week; in the town there’s something called The Snow Mansion, an ashram, and some hot springs. I don’t know what universe I am living in, but I am filled with gratitude.

In the morning at the hostel, I catch a ride to the Unitarian church service with another guest. I dash out of the hostel in semi-manic fashion, throwing random clothes on and chugging my cup of coffee so as to not keep her waiting. She’s a woman who has been traveling on the road in a van since October; her kids have moved out and graduated, she sold her house, and she’s free. I like her innately, though I’ll also say that the more I grow, I realize I pretty much like everyone innately. I also love everyone at the soul level.

Just like yesterday, my energy feels sharp: I’m going to do everything be everywhere save everyone yes yes yes yes. Fortunately, at the service we do a meditative qigong exercise that helps me calm down. Message received: Even if I’m flying, I have to eat more food; I have to be still. This is all aligning better than I ever could have planned, but I will not get overconfident. Humility all the way: I’m nothing, and all those whacky folks who believe in breatharians are on a whole different level (though I actually don’t dismiss any possibility).

After the service I return to the hostel to do my daily task—we all choose one in the morning as part of the agreement to staying here. I choose the “angel chore” card and end up saran-wrapping up about 50 pastries and putting them in the communal fridge. Another guest kindly drives me to Meow Wolf, an incredibly badass interactive art space (think Salvador Dali in neon 3D + Donnie Darko). I spend four hours geeking out and spending way too much time looking at everything through my phone; I don’t care, I’m sharing all of this; technology is miraculous.

On the walk to the hostel, snow starts to lightly fall but I don’t feel cold. By the time I get back, Whole Foods has made their Sunday donation and I’m looking at fridge full of dates and candied walnuts and various cheeses and salsa. I’m eating bean dip and kale salad with quinoa and goat cheese; my heart is going to burst I swear. I feel there is very little to say. I just want to sit here and shine.

The sun comes through the window and hits the orange slices I’m eating. A guest notices and mentions how nice it looks, and the only thing I can do is nod and smile. He says “you’re in bliss,” and I say “I am.”

– lish

Personal, Spirituality, The Soul, Truth

Less Mind, More Heart

In Austin, I responded to a craigslist ad seeking vegetarian housemates who were interested in self-awareness. The price was good, the location looked awesome, and I loved the idea of forming a small community of individuals who’d live together consciously. The man who owned the house was incredibly kind and offered to pick me up and show me the space. But when I stepped out of my friend’s apartment to go check it out, I got a very clear and obvious “no, don’t,” from inside. The signal was strong: Getting a place, no matter how beautiful, meant dropping several hundred dollars. It probably meant locking down a job. It meant “building a life,” to some extent.

I don’t really know how to explain my need to not do this, but that’s how I feel. Never has it felt so right to have nothing and be nothing. The soul compels me to stay open, to not move into a routine of predictability and consistency—not yet anyway. I respond to the soul and do not question it, because I’ve learned that obeying the soul is the only way to freedom and deep peace. The mind, of course, does not like this. It watches my bank account get a little lower and says “you need to get a job now,” “you need to know for sure where you’re sleeping tomorrow,” and all kinds of other totally practical concerns. My heart-based response is “I hear you, mind, but you take a backseat to my heart now.”

Even so, I do not advocate a head-in-the-clouds kind of attitude towards spirituality wherein we assume that “God will just take care of us.” Sometimes everything can feel so magical on the path that you’ve got stars in your eyes and it seems as if nothing can go wrong. On the level of Ultimate Reality, this is true. Everything is perfect. Nothing can go wrong. I hear these kinds of sentiments often, and yet when something actually happens in the world (death, loss of money, theft), very few people retain their equanimity. I’m not sure I would either, and I’m not trying to make the claim that any reaction is “wrong” or “unspiritual.” If anything, though, this fact does highlight the rarity and beauty of one who is grounded in the Self at all times. No outer situation troubles their peace. All events, including emotions and thoughts, are accepted immediately and then released. They do not allow others to determine their state of being. For them, the illusion of control in this world has fallen entirely, and surrender is the permanent state.

It also bears noting that if we get too confident in the magic of living spiritually, often something humbling occurs just so we’re reminded of how not special we are. We ought to never think of ourselves as more important or worthy of care than any other person in the world. The divine plays no favorites and takes no sides. It is true that consciousness and trust in the universe can carry us very far and lead to beautiful experiences, but remember: On the path, the ultimate goal is the dissolution of the ego-identity. And in Reality, no experience gets you closer to this goal than any other. Experiences and life situations happen on the level of the mind, but on the soul-level, none of these things feel particularly different. The status of the soul remains unchanging and yet always new, even as the outward configurations change rapidly and unpredictably. Soul is boundlessly complete and shining; mind fluctuates and chases the things that mimic the light of the soul.

Even as much as I’m in love with this nomadic way of living for now, I know that travel isn’t necessary for self-awareness. I have ended up in this conversation with many people who are convinced that travel is a prerequisite for developing a universal perspective. This is simply untrue. One whose sole possession is a cardboard box in a small village who traverses their consciousness easily understands more about the human condition than someone who has traveled the world collecting experiences. Once you know the root and the source of your own being, there is nothing that “exploring other cultures” can really teach you. Everything we need to know about ourselves and the state of humanity is right inside of us and requires no physical relocation.

As my heart said “don’t settle in Austin,” it simultaneously said, “go to New Mexico.”

It’s kind of jarring how abrupt and obvious my intuition can be. One minute I was thinking “Oh, I’m going to check out this nice house near Barton Springs,” and in the next it was like “Nope; I’m done here.” My intuition has, on its own, become more developed the longer I stay sober, meditate, and otherwise listen to it. I know well the risks of denying my intuition. Suppressing the heart’s movements and wanton passions is a recipe for misery every time. The heart wants what it wants and points directly to those things and people you need to become self-aware. Listen to it. Your mind will protest, but maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll just lose your mind someday.

In order to responsibly follow the heart, some maturity is needed. For example: If I went wayfaring like this five years ago, I would’ve been drunk all the time and could’ve easily ended up in some less-than-ideal situations. Fortunately, I’m older and grounded now, and was in the awesome situation of having musician friends in town to play South by Southwest. I ended up watching music with them all day long, and the next day they graciously let me get come along with them to Albuquerque. Unceremoniously I grabbed my things (two bags and two boxes) and got into the car. We hung out at a house show for a while, the guys drove through Texas until 4 in the morning, and then we crashed at a Days Inn. I dropped off the boxes at a local post office in order to jettison more stuff. Now it’s just me and two stuffed bags. Driving around with the band was really amazing and hilarious; I basically laughed for 24 hours straight and felt great even while totally sleep-deprived.

Today I sit at a coffee shop in Albuquerque, waiting for the train to Santa Fe to arrive.

When I went to the ashram I did not know I’d go to Austin or how; when I got to Austin I did not know I’d go to Albuquerque or how. I have the delightful sensation of leap-frogging through the unknown and being pleasantly surprised at every turn.

One day I feel I may need to write a series of posts about developing intuition and staying grounded, but for now I’ll just say that heartfulness is the most needed quality in this world. We need more people grounded in heart, people who are willing to let their presence and energy do the talking for them. An untrained mind will always try to convince you otherwise. It thinks people need to be “told” about what is right, what needs to be done, how to be spiritual, and on and on. It’s obvious that this is ultimately ineffective and a tactic of the “spiritual” ego-identity. One who silently radiates Truth teaches more powerfully than the most verbose intellectual does.

The harsh news is that unless we’re capable of sitting in one place with ourselves and knowing peace, we can’t spread peace throughout the world. Miraculously, once we’re straightened out, we find that the rest of the world starts to follow suit, and all of life becomes infinitely more beautiful. Even a world that is as unconscious as ours can be viewed through calm, divine eyes; these eyes do not judge or hold anything against the world for not being what the mind might call “perfect.” These are the eyes that know perfection is already here. They are the eyes of the heart.

– lish

Awakening, Transformation, Truth, Uncategorized

Happiness and the Heart

I keep trying to write the best “oh hey I’m back in the world” post, but I’ve accepted that it isn’t gonna happen. The truth is that I have very little to say. I am happy and free; I am so happy that I didn’t even know happiness could exist in this way. The coffee shop I’m sitting at is playing “Shadowplay” by Joy Division, I am caffeinated, I am fed, and in my backpack I have Don Quixote and Leaves of Grass to read. I admittedly feel like a bit of a cliche as a spiritual wanderer; I’m also totally okay with this. My phone is charged up and yesterday I downloaded a playlist of rap from the early 2000s. I cannot imagine what else I could need at this moment.

I feel somewhat wary that if I say too much about the joy that surges through me on a daily basis, it’ll come across as braggy or disingenuous. There is even sometimes a sense of embarrassment for how freaking happy I am. And yet, at the same time, we’re living in this world where there is such a dearth of true joy that I  feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops: I’m healthy, free, happy, stable, and grounded, and this is possible for everyone on Earth. I am calm and often feel naturally meditative… all this, even though I’m not clear at all on what my next move in life will be. I have no job, no car, no permanent living space, no plan, and yet it feels completely fine to be falling in this way. There is a sense of having nothing yet having everything. There is no fear and I feel safe and taken care of. I am confident in what I’m rooted in: It is a safe space within that has no end, but no longer feels so big that I’m afraid of it.

It is very beautiful indeed, and that is a tremendous understatement.

This is not to say every moment is bliss. Two days ago I hardly felt real. I sat in the Texas State cemetery and cried a little for no particular reason, wondering when I’d finally be the “fully whole and integrated” person I expected to be by then. There was a wash of nothingness in my being, and even though I wrote quite a bit, the words felt hollow and empty. My energy was low, but from where I sit now I see that the low energy wasn’t even a problem. The problem was that I started the day from the wrong mind which said I “should” be busy “accomplishing” things (write a short story, write a blog post, read 30 pages, go for a run).

Quite simply, that’s crazy. I know this is what we do in our culture—make goals and attack them—but achieving worldly goals really isn’t what I’m going for here. I’m going for inner freedom, full stop. How free can we be if we’re beholden to the mind that forces us to go-go-go, even when what we really need to do is sit in a cemetery and cry for no reason? Being in tune with our energy and allowing it to move us (rather than forcing an action due to our conditioning) is the only way to live. Furthermore, when I allow in this way, I actually get things done while dwelling in a space of deep peace and aliveness. When we are not living in a state of surrender to the way things are, including our ever-changing energies, we make ourselves miserable.

This platitude, this thing we hear over and over again with regards to spirituality—surrender—makes more and more sense the further you go: Stop trying to be somebody; stop clinging to the memories and beliefs about what your life should look like. Applying “shoulds” to life negates our ability to accept what is and reveals an attitude of thanklessness. We deny our very lives by insisting that they “should be” going any other way than they are, and grasping onto the ego identity when the soul is ready to wake up only brings suffering. The answer is to just keep letting go of all the things you think you know; jettison as many thoughts and beliefs as you can while maintaining stability. Just trust and breathe: If your life is not in immediate danger, you can access profound peace. The more I do this, the better and better I feel.

And yet, surrender is not the kind of thing we can be taught “how” to do in the same way we are taught to do other things. It is very subtle, and consists of bringing yourself back into this moment over and over and over. It requires a gentle vigilance with the undisciplined mind, which can often take us away and convince us to be very worried and stressed and sad. We must be gentle because if we try to “force” the mind, it will always rebel; we must be vigilant because we’re working on many lifetimes of conditioning here. When we slack, the egoic mind easily gains a foothold.

Still, no matter how we overcomplicate it, life is really very simple if you seek to know Truth: Drop into your heart. Take care of your body and purify yourself in this way (I’m generally talking total sobriety and veggies, guys; sorry not sorry). Sit with yourself in silence. Be grateful and stop blaming others for your state of being. One day, an unending fountain of peace will appear, and whatever happens after that is fine.

This peace is necessarily found outside of the mind and inside of the heart. A lot of people get caught up in arguments and discussions about Truth, but once it is found, these things become less and less interesting. Truth is not something to be right or wrong about; it is not something to defend. The mind cannot make sense of this peace, and this peace cannot be thought to. All the books and theories on consciousness are not important, and I say that as someone who was once totally identified with “writing about consciousness.” Reading and writing are nothing in comparison to simply dwelling in the presence of God, which is also You in your purest form.

The main difference between egoic happiness and true happiness is that the former can be taken away.

It arises alongside things like possessions, titles, money, fame, status, and other kinds of external validation. This temporary happiness is the result of the ego’s constant need to be inflated. Egoic happiness is fleeting and ephemeral, which (and I feel I must always make this part clear) doesn’t mean it is bad. It just means that it’s unstable: Wherever an ego identity derives its validation—be it from our relationships, our jobs, our skills, or our Tinder matches—these things will one day disappear.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy when a new lover comes into our lives or we get the perfect job, but that if there is not an underlying foundation of immovable peace in God, they are worthless. It’s important to keep everything in perspective: Life situations are subject to falling apart (or ending entirely) at any moment, and the only true safety is in the timeless perfection of the Self.

Deep gratitude naturally unfolds in this way: Not only am I free and alive in God, but I’m drinking an Americano and eating a banana with peanut butter? Holy shit! How glorious! All of life’s external configurations really are just icing on the cake of the Self. Somewhat paradoxically, we often have to give up all that icing in order to realize the cake. Even so, if we don’t renounce the icing voluntarily, it will be taken from us either way. This is the beauty of the fiction that is death: The lesson is built into the entire experience.

We are all bound for realization, true happiness, and peace that passes all understanding; the only question is how long it takes. It also requires the very unpredictable element of divine grace, an unimaginably powerful force I cannot explain, and so I won’t try. As human beings, we have the opportunity to put effort into our spiritual paths, and that’s the only way to up your odds of self-realization. With effort, we’re more likely to experience deep realizations, but they can happen either way, so it’s best to be prepared.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track, so I’m going to end this post. I hope to write again soon, but, as always, I don’t know—not because I’ve lost my love of writing (if anything, I love it more), but, again, because I honestly feel like I have nothing to say. There’s about 10 gazillion spiritual books that will say this stuff better than I will, though I’m sure I’ll improve. I’m personally reading through Talks with Ramana Maharshi and feeling like shutting the hell up. Perhaps I am just in a particularly still internal phase right now, but I can’t be sure. In the end there is nothing but immortality; there is nothing but this now here; there is nothing but perfect, awake emptiness.

The only plan I have in life is to go forth and carry this peace with me wherever I go, and if it feels right, I’ll update this thing.

Thinking of everyone lovingly,

– lish

Inner Work, Personal, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Transformation

Goodbye For Now

The last few days have been pretty hard for me. I’m being faced with how much I’m going to miss my family and my community when I’m in Texas. Moving to Siddhayatan is by far the most “unknown” leap I’ve made in my life, and it really isn’t easy. As I feel all my attachments being tested, I try to remember that the ego is a master of exaggeration. It will do whatever it can to keep itself safe, even though an unconscious ego is actually one of the least safe places to be. This is in part because it comes with a definite expiration date, but also because the ego keeps us very limited in the things it allows us to do. Often, when we feel ourselves beginning to grow and are in need of making a change, the ego uses the mind to produce discomfort. If we yield to this discomfort and shrink back to the previously written program, the ego learns that this is an efficient tool. It will use this tool again and again, until we end up trapped in known (AKA comfortable) patterns we may not be happy or thriving in at all.

Fear is a very powerful thing, and it is not always bad. I think we ought to give fear a little credit for keeping the species alive so far in the first place. When you’re in a life-threatening situation or an abusive relationship, fear is a great indicator that it’s time to pull back and/or evaluate what’s going on. The problem becomes when fear begins to spring forth in totally benign situations. Every little step off the ego’s entrenched path can freak us out. This could be something as big as being too scared to travel to a foreign country or go for a job you really want, or, for others, simply not being able to take your preferred route home from work. Even the tiniest change can throw us into frustration and discomfort. To me, this illustrates the necessity of continuing to challenge my ego.

All of this is to say that I’m not going to act like I’m only excited and/or totally chill about this. Moving away from the place I was born and raised, from a job which provided me with a lovely community, from close relationships I’ve had for many years—all of this represents a pretty serious threat to my ego. I am aware of that. All this change at one time is bound to make almost anyone uncomfortable, and I am no different. Still, I sort of feel like the discomfort is exactly why I need to do it: I will not be cowed by my mind when I see that this could be a really valuable step for me to take.

The initial phases of my awakening taught me a lot and burned away several of my issues: I no longer use alcohol to numb and I’ve gotten a lot better at being a person even when my emotions are intense. My habits are way better, my mind is significantly more grounded in reality, and I know for sure who I really am. I also learned a great deal about the relationship between bipolar disorder and spirituality, and why things like meditation really do work when we’re ready to start fully healing our own minds, beyond several dozen handouts on mindfulness. I have seen the staggering implications of raising consciousness on this planet, and feel that at least some of my life’s work will be aimed at communicating these implications as best as I can. I also experienced firsthand the illusory nature of the conditioned “I,” and was thrust into something of a 2-year personal study of this experience. Strangely enough, I feel blessed for how insane I have been.

Still, there are some core issues that weren’t burned away in the first fire. Staying here, I am susceptible to falling back into old patterns. Here, I can have everything “just how I like it:” I can meditate in the morning, sit down to write, walk to work, drink half-caf,  read Bradbury in the bath, and turn in at 10 no questions asked. Yes, I have formed healthy routines, but they are no longer challenging. Living with new people in a totally new situation—that represents the kind of challenge I feel I need right now. The fact that it gets to be within the spectrum of spiritual service and growth is really just icing on the cake.

This brings me to an important point about choosing spiritual nourishment. It would also be challenging for me to move into a normal house with several strangers rather than an ashram, but it clearly wouldn’t be as nourishing to me spiritually. I have no doubt that I’d be “okay” in this second situation, but we reach a point in our growth where “okay” is not what we desire. Lateral movements don’t cut it anymore. Instead, we want greater embodiment of the path we’ve set out on, because we see the freedom we are moving towards.

Here are the final things I really want to say before I leave. They are not new insights, but they are also not commonly held beliefs in our society, and that is why I feel pulled to say them:

  1. If you’re struggling with addiction, bipolar disorder, or severe depression, you can fully recover from these conditions. You do not have to identify with any of your mental health diagnoses, and it is actually better not to. I want to note that if you have what is commonly called “a psychotic break” (i.e. spiritual emergency), this statement stands in opposition to what most physicians will say. Usually the emphasis is on acceptance of the illness label and finding the right medication. I certainly understand the intentions of this approach. I also understand why we, on the other end of the episode, are quick to follow suit—losing touch to such an extent is terrifying. However, I believe full healing comes when we are able to let go of these illnesses and their corresponding stories as part of our identities.

    Even though the mental health community has fought to have such conditions treated like other diseases, they still aren’t. My goal isn’t to help get them on par with other diseases, because I don’t see that happening unless we, collectively, are able to recognize that we are not our minds. I have no idea if or when this will happen. Until then, you have to remember: You have a life-threatening yet treatable condition. Take your mental health seriously, whether or not anyone in your life has an understanding of what you’re really doing or going through (and they probably won’t). Watching the mind is an ongoing and arduous process, and there is no escape from it. It is imperative that you surround yourself with people who understand the difficulty of the work you’re doing to become whole within yourself. If no one gets it, it’s better to be alone than spend time with people who are not yet aware enough to see the deep healing you are doing.

    I know that these conditions are extremely tricky. Our minds often try to convince us we are better when we aren’t yet. When we make a little progress, we think we’re done. This is the nature of the egoic mind: It wants us to stop before we see all the way through it. However, until you do, old issues and their behavioral manifestations will lurk in the unconscious. I advocate for steady, patient expansion of consciousness which also leads to total healing.

  2. The healing of the mind is made possible by accessing the higher consciousness that lives within you. This is ultimately what we’re getting at in meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy journaling,, etc: There is an element inside of you that has nothing to do with your genetics or even the life experiences you’ve endured. It is extremely powerful, and you can tap into it. This is the part of you that is pure consciousness. Ultimately, I think true sanity exists once the illusory ego is permanently revealed as an illusion. This seems to be a rare phenomenon, however, and depends not only on our efforts but also on divine grace, which lies outside of our conscious control. Even if the “big E” enlightenment doesn’t happen, practice helps us still the mind, focus on (and achieve) our goals, improve our habits, and be more at peace. Accessing higher consciousness is a win no matter what comes of it.

  3. Of all our worldly, human problems, the root of them is the egoic mind. Can we even imagine how we might treat one another if we all saw ourselves as one another? How often would we use abusive language? Would we take part in systems that perpetuate our violent culture? It is the ego that builds layers and layers of separation between “you” and not-you; in this way it becomes the highly limiting identity we dream ourselves to sincerely be. However, we are not our identities, and if we were to see this at once, peace would reign without question. The ego is the chief delusion holding all other delusions in place.

  4. Therefore, the greatest work anyone can do in this world is their own inner work. There are a great deal of movements out there aimed at changing the world. I love seeing people engaged in work that challenges the systemic issues that keep us divided. But it bears saying that unless each of us in also engaged in our own inner looking—into our own psychological worlds with their dysfunctions and egoic justifications—we are not helping nearly as much as we could be. The first person we should each be seeking to “fix” is ourselves. If we find that we are suffering from the same problems over and over again, feeling angry and fearful, we should not expect to able to fix the rest of the world’s problems. This is one of those things most of us know—”be the change” and all that—but still, we are rarely as invested in self-investigation as we are in other activities. Most of us tacitly assume we’re already good if we challenge the existing system, but there’s so much more to it than that. Spiritual work is deeply transformational work that alters your very presence in the world; it has the power to make everything we do more effective.

  5. One of the greatest obstacles towards realizing peace is our lack of belief in its possibility. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing the phrases “people just suck,” “people are garbage,” “peace is too idealistic,” etc. These kinds of statements reflect a deep pessimism and lack of self-awareness. Who are these “people” we talk about if not ourselves? When we see an impossible evil lodged in humanity, it is because we see an impossible evil lodged in ourselves. We must investigate that, because if we really look within, we will find that it does not exist. And further, evil is not really evil: It is generations of fear, trauma, and ignorance masquerading as anger and derision. Externally this manifests as control, violence, and forcible segregation. To move forward collectively, the fear must be faced, the trauma healed, and the ignorance dispelled. Many of us are quite violent in our thought and do not even realize it. These are the things I’d like to see us deeply examining before resorting to the “people are just bad” stuff.

There are many other things about the Self and the nature of Reality I would like to expand upon, but this doesn’t feel like the right post for that.

Mostly I want to thank those of you who have followed my journey thus far. I believe the necessity of spirituality is greater now than ever before, and until we consciously reclaim our souls, the state of the world will become uglier and uglier. Suicide will go up; depression will go up; bipolar disorder will go up. General apathy and numbing out—side effects of being half-alive—will also continue to go up. Because this is not what I wish to see for humanity, I am committed to this path. I look forward to clearing my remaining issues, deepening in awareness, and becoming more spiritually mature.

My best wishes and love to all who come across this post,


Inner Work, Personal, Spirituality

Moving On

In 3 days I’ll be moving down the ashram. My apartment is mostly empty and my last day of waiting tables was Thursday. Even though I’ve been oscillating between fear and joy over this decision, the choice to devote myself fully to the spiritual path has never felt clearer. It seems worth noting that I am not doing this out of a desire to feel moral or noble or virtuous, or because I expect life to be easier at the ashram. It’s just that no step except this one makes sense to me based on where I’m at on my path. A life not rooted in spirituality feels not only ridiculous, but impossible. I feel excited to be living in a community where things like sobriety are well understood to be The Standard for healthy living, a place where we are not treating the path like a hobby. I like that I’ll be able to fall into silence if it feels right; I like that I won’t be expected to act like something I’m not. Deep authenticity is one of the fruits of the spiritual path, and it is sorely lacking in most of our interactions.

The evolutionary journey is as such: We are like popcorn kernels encased in cement. The cement represents tremendous ignorance—the things that cause us to create unnecessary harm to other beings and consider certain people to be superior and/or inferior to others. As we evolve, the cement cracks and breaks, and over the course of many lifetimes we become less ignorant. The cement wears thin. Then the time comes when we see that we’re a popcorn kernel; perhaps we’re even exposed to one who has popped. We become aware that our ultimate destiny is to break completely open and stay that way. We are to be light and airy and profoundly different than the kernel and/or the cement.

When you finally realize and accept that you’re a popcorn kernel, you will want to be in a microwave. I believe the ashram—or any other place of focused spirituality—is meant to be that microwave. The energy is as such that “popping” is more likely, whereas in “normal life,” we are more concerned with polishing up ourselves as kernels and rolling around to one place or another. (In reality, there is no difference between a spiritual place and a non-spiritual place, but I digress.)

So, if you will, this move is about me going willingly to that microwave. I do not hope to come back the same, but not because I think there is something “wrong” with me right now. Actually, for the first time in my life, I do not feel defective all the time (though I still do on occasion.). But the conditions of my life here are such that I may remain a kernel for a very long time, never reaching the right intensity of heat to see the process all the way through. Until I do, there will be dissatisfaction and cycles of misery. I will be my own prey over and over again. I will be profoundly more at risk for depression and/or addictive behaviors unless I follow through. By making this move, I seek to fulfill my destiny, which is the destiny of all beings, and that destiny is to know and be God.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and I am reeling in my expectations as much as possible. It’s entirely plausible that nothing life-altering will occur. Either way, I will learn something, for when you are hell-bent on learning, every single step is a lesson.

I have been thinking a lot about how my last post might go, particularly the points I want to put out into the world before I take off. I have no idea when I’ll post again, and some part of me wonders if I will at all. This iteration of me loves writing, and as of right now, it feels completely aligned. But part of this thing is releasing all attachments, including the ones the mind currently labels “good and aligned.” Having the courage to let go of it all is how we discover what is always there, underneath and beyond, timelessly, naturally.

I no longer buy the argument from my ego that I am “supposed to write.” Really, I am “supposed to be” whatever I’m moved to be by the greater consciousness that has been moving me this whole time. I am “supposed to be” what I am. Maybe that will result in writing; maybe it won’t. I feel it is important to relinquish all attachments and expectations of “being like” anything or anyone, or clinging to previous identities that once suited me. When we try to hang on in spite of the way the soul magnetizes us towards things we fear and need, we become trapped.

I have no doubt that this has happened to many creators: At some point, the obligation to create can overshadow the purity of its origin. Suddenly the thing that was once done out of pure soul desire becomes as rote as anything else. No longer do we write, paint, or make music because we love it, but because others expect it of us and the title of “creator” has been built into our ego-identities. There have been phases for me where creativity comes effortlessly and gladly. But when I am just “trying to finish something,” it comes out wrong and I am not delighted by the process of ushering it into the world. To me, this is worse than doing nothing at all.

So I want to say I will write if and when I can, but that it is possible I won’t, and that has to be okay with me. Anything the ego imagines itself to be is just that—an imagination, and not the true Self. We can have delusional imaginations about “who we are” no matter how noble the profession. Some work may benefit the world more and sow the seeds for a beautiful future, but neither identity is more real. This is because Reality does not actually run along a gradient; it is known or it is not. One who knows the Self and does nothing but sit in meditation surely benefits the world, perhaps even more than those who put great effort into making change. This kind of benefit is imperceptible to most people, but it is real nonetheless.

Besides, the fact is that there is no new wisdom. The fountain of eternal knowledge is always the same; the words only flow out through seemingly different minds and mouths. It is no surprise that spiritual masters say the same kinds of inscrutable things over and over again, in part because of this principle, and in part because they know repetition is one strategy to overwrite an existing mental pattern.

Anyone with new answers, a new religion, a silver bullet, or a quick route to self-realization is not being honest (though they may be unaware of their dishonesty). Seeing this, I really don’t know what else to say in this or any post. Is there anything more powerful or wise to say than “Sit with your self until you find the true self”? This has been said over and over again, by so many sages, in so many parables and poems. It doesn’t get any simpler: Sit still with yourself. Find out who you are. All other information is extraneous. When this is known, all knowledge is revealed and suffering begins to burn away. It seems difficult until it doesn’t.

Sometimes writing feels cheap in comparison to sitting in silence, and it is said that some of the best teachers teach by silence alone. Similarly, the Buddha said that it is best to speak only when it improves upon silence, and yet is very rare that the things we say—gossip, grievances, complaints, formalities—meet this standard. And I have to ask, with no solid answer, do my words improve upon the beauty of a blank page? I am not so sure. I do this thing because it happens, but I do wonder: If I were to break through every last illusion, would it also begin to feel somewhat arduous or small?

All of this is to say that I don’t know what will happen, and this is always true. This post has written itself, which means I am okay with it. When our actions become absent of the “doer,” I believe we are on the right track. If things write themselves, they will go into the world. If it feels like pulling teeth, I will resume with mindful non-action, which is actually one of the most useful skills to have. It’s not the same as being lazy, and it’s not the same as checking out or getting stoned. It is just learning how to sit and be. Until we are capable and happy simply being, peace cannot flourish internally or anywhere else.

– lish

Awakening, Culture, Enlightenment, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Knowing True Freedom

Colloquially, the word “freedom” is used in conjunction with certain physical and political contexts—freedom of movement, speech, assembly, the right to vote, etc. What distinguishes these notions from spiritual freedom is this: Spiritual freedom is not dependent on anything external to one’s own state of consciousness. This is precisely what makes it the only true freedom. Freedom’s opposite is dependence, so if one’s sense of freedom is dependent on having certain external parameters met, we can see that whatever they have gained is not true freedom. It may be greater worldly opportunity or social mobility, and these things are important. However, we tell ourselves a tremendous lie when we tangle these things up with what it means to be free. I have no doubt that there are prisoners who meditate and that they are more free than, say, an American workaholic with a drinking problem.

It is unconsciousness itself that has mislabeled “freedom” in this way: If a large population can be convinced that they are free even as they take up soul-numbing tasks in order to survive and dwell in various addictions, the machine continues on unquestioned. We are most hopelessly enslaved when we wrongly believe we are free.

Though the idea that we are “convinced we are free” may elicit images of some brilliant (yet evil) ruling class, this is false. I do not believe there are any masterminds at the top of this pyramid. Sometimes, as we begin to peel back the layers of deceit and/or one-sided information we were fed as children, we can get lost in conspiracy theories. We come to believe that there is an order of shadowy overlords that have been calling the shots since time immemorial. Finding them out feels like juicy, privileged gossip, but, like other forms of gossip, these things are little more than a distraction. I don’t mean to dismiss that corporate conglomerates and wealthy, violent people hold a staggering amount of power in the world. They do, but there’s that key phrase: In the world. If we were each to find the part of us that is not in the world, would we be bothered so much? Moreover, would we allow such other people to run our lives if we felt empowered, whole, and alive?

The world has become this way because we believe we are small and that everyone has a “dog eat dog” attitude. When we live in such fear, these “shadowy overlords” have a foothold over us. Liberation—moksha, nirvana, enlightenment, awakening, etc.—cannot be taken, cannot be granted, and cannot be compromised by one’s outer circumstances. This is precisely why it is the answer to our ailments, both personal and collective: It happens in a place that is completely incorruptible.

A person who is truly free is the most powerful person in the world. Why is this? Because you cannot manipulate or coerce such an individual to do anything whatsoever. They move in accordance with their own compass, which is always pointed in towards truth. They will live in ways that others deem difficult or unpleasant before they sacrifice their freedom, because they know how valuable (and how rare) this freedom is. They need far less than one who is conditioned to require specific comforts in order to feel okay. Even a threat to the life of one who is free can be met with a smile.

Merely having this piece of information is enough to focus my life 100% on the path. It now feels like something of a “sidestep” to seek that which is not eternally enduring, complete, and freeing. The summit is in sight, and every distraction is a detour. As Ramana Maharshi said: “What is not permanent is not worth striving for.”

Looking around, can we find anything that is permanent? There is nothing that can be discerned with the senses that is not subject to decay and disintegration. This is not some “future disintegration” we are talking about: It’s happening now. All is in flux; we are spinning, changing, dying, and being reborn. Nothing in the play of consciousness—a term used to describe the happenings and appearances of our lives—is going to last forever.

Again, this is something most of us intellectually “know.” And yet, with attachments, fears, and desires for safety, our minds try so hard to make this not true. Grasping for safety, we think, if only everything could just stay the same. Yes, we “know” change is a constant, that nothing lasts, and that everything is subject to decay. But when it comes time to accept the end of a job or a romantic relationship, how often do we do so with grace, or even joy at the potential of the new?

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to bargain with the inarguable fact of change. The final change—death—will show us our errors in this regard, but it is not wise to wait until then to see them.

The spiritual path gets to the root of everything. Once we have exhausted ourselves trying to control this outside variable, and this one, and that one, we recognize that there is still a restlessness. It goes right to the middle of us, and it is unrelenting. We are constantly hungry for something ultimately satisfying. What is the thing that soothes this ache? How do we cease the frantic search to be sated?

On a large scale, this is what we have been doing to the planet for thousands of years. The collective ego sees the Earth as a thing to use rather than an organism to responsibly live within. We use one resource after another, taking temporary gratification over long-term well-being. The process of colonization and societal “growth” is indeed an addiction on a wide scale. Soon there will be nothing left to take, but we will still be trying to feed the ego, which, in something of a temper tantrum, will keep demanding the physically impossible: Unchecked biological domination. But nature will not have this; she has made her preference well-known in diversity, and we are inexorably chained to her rules. When we deny this, there is collapse. This has been shown in civilizations over and over again. Where will we turn when this all comes crashing to the ground? What kind of delusion are we living in if we believe this crash can be staved off forever?

There is also a reason why spiritual teachers don’t often bring up politics or systemic issues such as capitalism or the patriarchy.  It is not because they are apathetic, “above it,” or find these issues trivial. On the contrary, one who is on the path acknowledges the depth of suffering created by such hierarchies. We accept that the breadth of this suffering is unimaginable. We choose, however, to focus more intently on the root of these problems, knowing that pulling the root is the only way to effectively deal with any problem. The root is the egoic mind. This limiting, overly-personal mind lives within each of us, and in order for lasting change to occur, it is the thing that must be brought into awareness. The sprouts and weeds of real-world issues are more visible, but hacking at them while the root remains intact is not the best use of energy.

I used to feel like there were two entities within me, fighting. I desperately wanted “the good one” to win, even though it really felt like the evil one would consume me entirely. When we start to develop ourselves more, we do not treat the egoic mind like an enemy—the very idea that we can be “an enemy to ourselves” implies a belief in a caustic kind of separation. It alone is symptomatic of the egoic mind. What we do, quite simply, is notice it. We see that our minds are stocked full with unconscious conditioning, and commit, day after day, to doing what is necessary to dispel this unconsciousness.

Spiritual activists may stand for broader ideals, such as nonviolence and peace overall. To those who are very focused on specific aforementioned issues, this may feel ineffectual and weak. On the contrary: One who dwells in freedom and stands for peace is incredibly strong. They live the peace they espouse in as many ways as they reasonably can, and know that “peace” does not imply a dreamy utopia. (Inner peace can actually be experienced as a jarring stillness that stands in stark contrast to the thought-stream. It is not always welcome at first.) Mostly, they are courageous enough to stand in the middle of a world that is waging war on itself due to madness, and say, “I choose differently.” The will is exercised. The heart expands. The soul rejoices in being acknowledged, and the world wakes up a little more.

– lish