"Levels", Relationships, The Ego

Transformation & Relationships

Head’s up: I don’t always have time to make pictures. I like to do it, and sometimes I find illustrations helpful for my own conceptualization. But writing’s my real thing. Waitressing’s my money thing. Time is limited, and being in nature on sunny days will always win out over drawing weird stuff on my Chromebook. Words only today.

Also, the word “relationship” is too often used in reference to “romantic partnership.” That’s not how I’m using it. Every one of us is in relationship with everything in the universe, whether directly or indirectly, and that’s how it’s meant in this post.

When we fight the evolutionary process, the effect is like damming a powerful river. While this can force a desired result, it creates all kinds of problems in the total system. And now we’re back in metaphorland: By clinging to false identifications and limitations, we put dams in the rivers of our selves. Soon, we end up miserable, stalling joy and feeling totally paralyzed.

Of course this is unconscious: The dams, we think, keep us  safe and “productive.” What might happen if we allowed ourselves to move more freely? Such freedom might not guarantee our (maybe miserable) security. And on a global scale, we resist the emergence of consciousness because it doesn’t always fit into our parameters of what the world “should” be like, what we “should” be like.

If a dam comes down, nature rights itself with no anger. No one can predict exactly what will happen to the river, but we do know that life will be restored where it was once deprived. In time it will take its own shape, effortlessly moving with the rest of the planet. It will be beautiful no matter what.

But alas, we’re not rivers. We have these tricky little minds and egos. We get torn. We want the function of the dam and the complete power of the river: Full consciousness and an ego that keeps us superior to others. We know innately that these two things are at odds, and we know innately that the river is going to win out. This is the kind of pressure that’s building, in individuals (as evidenced by growing rates of illness, mental and otherwise) and collectively (as evidenced by—well, check the news.).

It all feels really scary, and that’s why we need each other.

Since making The Upward Mind public, I’ve connected with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. I find this incredible and life-affirming and all the other good feelings. In a time where socializing is often kept rather surface-level, it can be hard to remember that there are a whole lot of people yearning for human-ness.

Of course we all need deep connection, and of course not all connection needs to be deep.  But there are always those who are grasping for depth more urgently than others: They’ve begun to navigate their own complexity, ready or not. Going inward, facing crises, hitting the “wait, this is my life?” moment—such intensity is only made bearable by seeing that other humans have stood on the precipice and survived. (I promise you, many people have!)

What I am talking about here is a transformational, existential kind of pain. To me, death is the root of all fear: Knowledge of mortality without understanding existence necessarily makes one a little crazy. It’s like having a housefly buzzing around as you’re trying to meditate. Sure, you can do it—or can you?

In blundering ways, I desperately sought people to help me through (not that I mean to imply that I’m, like, “done” or anything). I never fully found what it was I imagined I needed in another person*, but I did find it in books. And I found it in a million Google searches: “Alternative explanations for bipolar disorder,” “Existential crisis how long to resolve,” and my favorite: “What is happening?!”

My hope is that maybe one day, someone who is losing it will come across these words and take a tiny bit of comfort: Everything you are experiencing, from the most crushing despair to the highest of expansive messiah complexes, is simply part of the evolutionary process. I know that’s not immediately relieving, but it is the most valid excuse for madness ever: We were bat-shit crazy, now we’re healing, and healing has good days and bad. It moves in waves.

You may be told there is something wrong with you; there is not. You may be told to get it together; don’t even try. You may want to escape it and numb out with drugs and alcohol and television and food; it won’t work.

Also, perhaps magically, I think that anyone reading this is doing so because they’re meant to. The world is changing. The collective dams are coming down. Some amount of us  have become exhausted with fighting ourselves and the rest of nature; we want to be rivers, even if our power feels overwhelming. Sure, the dam’s generating a whole lot of jobs and electricity, but the cost is our health and happiness (not to mention screwing up the whole “natural system” thing), in which case: What is the point of jobs and electricity?**

All such awareness occurs on the rational level. In the far vaster internal/emotional realm, it feels way heavier.

*Of course I found (and continue to find) solace and healing in others, but my intellectual understanding of this stuff was only made possible by people I will probably never meet in person.

**Jobs and electricity are not necessarily at odds with a beautiful world, contrary to what certain fringe movements may say.

When we bare our truths, we draw people to us who are aligned with (or drawn to) our levels. That’s why I think if you’re reading this, you’re supposed to be. I don’t know what “my” “level” is and I don’t particularly care. I still haven’t figured out a better way to write about this than with the “levels” concept, perhaps because our language is inseparable from its egocentric cultural history. I dislike it because the ego’s competitive nature often just uses the whole “spirituality” thing as another way to elevate itself. How very wily! (On that note: I, too, am already sick of the word “consciousness.”)

In any case, I do know that as we grow, we move towards things and people that facilitate the process. We become literally like water following the path of least resistance to the ocean—except we don’t know yet that we are the ocean. So, we go out looking for conduits to “it:” Is it here? Is it there? Is it in this lover? Is it in that group? Is it in this job? Of course it is never in any of those things. We hit dead ends, over and over and over.

Whether consciously or not, we “use” each other and our circumstances to grow. Every relationship, every work environment, every addiction—it is all for the purpose* of evolution, even if the “how” is not apparent to our logical minds. The universe doesn’t care how we think life “should” go.

We also “hover” around the levels of those who are seeking in the same way we are. If we’re seeking wholeness in drink, our friends are also heavy drinkers. If we’re seeking it in “that one perfect love,” our activities are built around this chase. If we’re seeking it by “solving all of our personal problems,” we’re always in therapy and obsessed with self-improvement.

I constantly feel the need to say that no behavior or substance is, in and of itself, indicative of being “lost.” I have sought myself in all of the above, and you know what? Some of it was super fun at least, and sometimes it was growthful. No one but the individual can determine why they do the things they do. All I know is that many of my old behaviors existed for numbing and ego inflation.  Therefore, I can only imagine this is true with a whole lot of other people.

So our immediate relationships reflect where we’re at on the path. Near the “end,” you may not align with anyone at all. You’re busy in your chrysalis, where no caterpillar or butterfly can help. At best, you may peek out and see that others have made it. Then you take a look at your hideous insides and you cannot fathom how you’ll get where they are. But really, you will— unless of course you choose to stop yourself. You can always try to go back caterpillar life, but it requires focused, concentrated unconsciousness to do this.

If we’re not aware of what’s happening, it can feel very lonely. Even if we are, it may still feel lonely, but at least it’s understood. You can say with confidence: “I’m alone because I’m undergoing radical transformation.” This is much more empowering than believing that you just have no friends and no one likes you and you’re a defective individual.

Being around others during this time can get a little awkward, because it’ll feel like there’s nothing to talk about except how seriously insane you feel: “How are you?” they will say, and you will be thinking “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS HOW ARE YOU.” And since all forms of inauthenticity are going out the window, maybe you’ll say exactly that. Before you know it, you’ve got a reputation for being weird or off-putting or crazy. (To be fair, you could very well be all of those things for a time, and that’s fine.)

At this point, you tend to start staying home. A lot.

*I use the word “purpose” loosely, because evolution defies conventional human notions of good/bad, as well as linear progress.

This notion of “alignment” simplifies why certain people fade in and out of our lives. What you need in in order to grow might be different from what everyone else in your life needs. There is nothing “right” or “wrong” about being unaligned with someone else; it just happens. It only becomes a problem when we remain attached to those we’re no longer aligned with. This occurs because (surprise!) we’re not secure in our own wholeness. This insatiable insecurity is the Great Modern Disease, and I won’t pretend that I’m beyond it.

In this case, we prolong relationships that need to be changed (or let go of), often trying to force the other one to be where we’re at, to “see things our way.” This makes for very unhappy friendships and partnerships. The anxiety we feel over letting go of a “15-year-friendship” or a “30-year-marriage” is nothing but simple attachment to an idea of a person (or a life) rather than sober acceptance of the way it feels in the now. Such stagnation is obvious when you see it, even if it is “the norm.”

Yes, we can continue to love all those we have ever loved, but when actual relationships become forced, it is a disservice to all parties.

Through this blog I’m learning that when we bare ourselves—dark parts and all—there are almost always positive results because we all have our dark parts. Wading through them can be truly horrifying and isolating. But when we come to discover firsthand how similar we are, the common complaint of “struggling to connect” disappears: There have been people waiting for us all along; all we ever had to do was be really real.

I certainly don’t mean to imply this is an easy task.  For most of us, there are about 10,000 demolition days that occur before the authentic human springs forth.

– Lish

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Reality, Spirituality, The Ego

Your Ego is Always Dying

Although I avoid using words like “mission” and “purpose,” I will say that I have a loose goal with this thing: It is to write about human consciousness—the most powerful force on Earth and the biggest issue we collectively face—in a way that is relatable to those who are new to the journey. I could’ve really, really benefited from this information in the last couple years, but I largely ignored spirituality because it seemed so irrational.

When you start digging around for stuff related to “consciousness” online, you usually aren’t too many steps away from stumbling across some archangel-and-alien stuff. To me, it has always felt premature to go on about the “5th dimension” while millions of human beings (on this Earth, in this dimension) are starving to death. These are the kinds of things that need to be addressed, and this is what the rise of consciousness could solve very quickly.

There are ways to understand consciousness without going that far. In the end, firsthand experience is necessary for full awareness, but there are still precepts we can grasp along the way.  One of the most important concepts in all this is the ego: It’s everything you think you are (except you’re not).

The most common metaphor for the ego is a bubble. In my first post on the ego, I likened it to a balloon because I didn’t want to plagiarize the metaphor from some unknown lineage of buddhas. Don’t think I’m missing the irony here: My ego’s desire for specialness decided it should use a more unique analogy for itself even though the best one was probably thought up by a nameless sage many centuries ago.  The ego really delights in specialness.

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Air = pure consciousness.  The bubble’s surface = ego.

The metaphor works great for a few reasons:  Within the bubble—and the very thing which gives the bubble its shape—is air. No matter how big or small or how long it stays afloat, it is always made of air, and all bubbles are made of this same thing. Consciousness is the primary principle of the universe; it is that which imbues all that we can perceive, as well as that which lies beyond conventional sense-perception. Beyond the mind there is this thing. Within and throughout all phenomena, there is this thing. It is your true identity, and it is mine.

Secondly, the surface of a bubble is ever-moving. This is a response to the way the outside air interacts with its properties—chiefly, water and soap. The surface of a bubble is truly beautiful: A cluster of them may look similar, but a close looks reveals that they are all undulating independently, constantly acting out a subtle play of iridescence. And of course, because a bubble has no thoughts, it doesn’t resist this movement in a frantic attempt to find “stability.”

It does not try to force the outer environment to stop moving for its own comfort. Clearly this would be a ridiculous thing to do, and yet we do this all the time. Whether externally focused (as in desperately trying to control others and our surroundings) or internally focused (as in mentally resisting every situation we find ourselves in that doesn’t suit our desires), the human mind has great trouble simply being. Similarly, we struggle with allowing nature to simply be around us. The bubble, being mindless, simply behaves in accordance with its nature, within and without*. If stability is to be found, it will only be in the air within.

When we cease to fight the constant change of the outside world and abide in the consciousness within, we are in peace and in power. We each move in unique and beautiful ways: Higher essence animates the ego rather than conditioned impulses, and we become both exquisitely complex and very simple—just like the rest of nature is.

*The point is not to glorify mindlessness, of course, but to learn how to put distance between you and the mind.

I will reiterate again: The ego is the false self, or, if we prefer, “the temporary self.”  The ego is human; the ego is of a certain profession; the ego is race and gender and belief systems and even personality. These kinds of things are usually taken to, altogether, make up who we “are.” On our temporal surfaces, this is true, but considering how fleeting and fragile a biological human life is, we cannot find much safety in it.

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Another common metaphor is a shadow: Yes it exists, but only because our bodies do.

We can do incredible things with our egos: Play music, share stories with friends, write blog posts about our egos, dance, make love—everything.  It is this “separateness” which makes individual creation possible.  And yet we can also do horrific things with our egos: Kill others, make war, rape, abuse, and exploit one another as well as many other living beings. The ego on its own has no quality; it is the state of consciousness within that determines what is done with it.

The goal with the ego is not to drive it out or to “kill it,” as some people seem to think. The ego is a necessary part of this human experience: To move throughout the world independently, the ego is what holds you together. Without it, there is boundless expansion of consciousness.  That can be super fun (until it isn’t), but without assistance and understanding, it is not an experience that can be easily navigated.

The idea is to continually occupy a state where the ego is seen as a neat illusion. From here you can inhabit the pure consciousness—your true identity—within. This is the only place of true power and balance:

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When we are acting from an unconscious ego, believing ourselves to only be the surface of the bubble, we are prone to much suffering. We’re unstable and unsafe, constantly looking outside for security, where it simply cannot be found. This can result in frustration and derision (or reverence) of others who seem to have something better “figured out” than us.

As soon as we see shine the light of awareness onto emotions such as jealousy, anger, and pride (all based in the ego’s need to be separate, special, and “more” than “others”), we become a little more free. This psychological process of checks and balances can be demanding and seemingly endless, but, hey: Freedom. I am still very much in the phase of checking and re-checking the impulses I have that serve my unconscious ego. This usually occurs in the form of tiny thoughts that place me either “above” or “below” others. From a higher space, I know how absurd these thoughts are; that we are all on the same crazy ride. When I’m hurt or tired, it can be hard to remember this.

The ego thrives on false identifications. We cling to these identities because a loss of self can result in a meltdown if one is not prepared—take it from me. Even seeing oneself as “good” and acting in ways that are “compassionate” can lead to a superiority complex, and imagining ourselves like this denies the parts that are shameful and sick. Integrating the self into one whole being requires us to face this stuff—all of it. Ego-based goodness is limited in what it can achieve, because it is still delusive.

The process of setting aside/humbling the ego is seen in most spiritual journeys. Possessions are given away, family is left behind, and the mind is given a total work over to explore and dispel delusive ways of seeing the world. Basically, anything we’re using to make ourselves feel “complete”—including our believies—must go.

Giving stuff up is not merely done for the sake of generosity: What’s being done is a systematic, deliberate relinquishing of the ego. The idea is to discover what is left when all has gone away, and to avoid becoming identified with any Earthly thing:

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However, there is only one difference between someone who is “on the path” and someone who isn’t: Conscious recognition. Consciousness evolves just like everything else, and since you are conscious, you are evolving. It isn’t an opt-in/opt-out thing we have going. The shedding of the ego is an evolutionary leap that is usually made up of a lot of little steps. Sometimes it all collapses at once, and if this happens to you in a highly ego-identified culture, you’re probably going to have a bad time.

Whether or not you are seeking to go through the process of ego-shedding, your ego will be taken from you in death. And before then, it will be injured in myriad ways: Losing people and things you are attached to, offhand comments that offend you, self-created thoughts that harm you, societal “failures,” etc.—these are all things that weaken the ego. That is to say, your ego is always dying.

The question is only whether we are accepting of its pre-physical death in order to find the peace beyond it, or continually propping it up in search of transient safety.

– Lish

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Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being

Doing Away With “Mental Health”

Everyday: More changes, more evolution.

I’ve decided to move away from my focus on mental health, even though this issue has played a huge role in my life:  At 25 I was diagnosed with major depression, 28 brought me bipolar 1, and all of this was laid atop a solid foundation of substance abuse that kicked in shortly after my Dad died.  I was 17, and the subsequent plunge into alcohol abuse was not a coincidence.

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Dad’s the one with the beer.  It always runs in the family.

I’ll continue compare the view of yoga psychology to mainstream psychology throughout my blog, and it is a goal of mine to help dispel the myth that mental disorders are “forever.” Humans were not meant to be slaves to themselves. We are each the operator of a brain and a mind, and we can learn how to master them.  As I said in this (long) post on the mind, it isn’t necessarily easy—until it is: At some point, your old ways of looking at life become nonsensical, and deepening awareness is the only goal.

What consciousness really comes down to is holistic well-being. A person doesn’t need a diagnosis of any kind to be unwell: Stress, worry, anger, negativity, and apathy are very common emotions to carry around. It’s taken as a given that stress is factually “a part of life,” and numbing out is a favorite pastime. These are “normal” modes that “normal” people live in. They may not be in therapy or take psychotropic medications, but that doesn’t mean they are well.

If we look at people’s eyes, we can discern which emotions are playing out within them, and it usually isn’t great. It is only a rare individual who carries him/herself in joy wherever they go. Again: I am not this person, but I know it’s possible. This is this level I aspire to above all else, because I know there is nothing more beneficial to this planet than getting there and maintaining it. A place of enduring, unshakeable joy is where the exploration of consciousness can get us, and this is what we’re aiming for: Permanent recovery from all forms of unwellness, be it a formal DSM thing or the simple stagnation that routine life brings to us.

Somehow, we’ve gotten all chopped up.  We have overcomplicated and split the whole of the human experience: In reality, we do not have a work life, a love life, a family life, etc. We only have life and are life. Cutting it up into discrete chunks is a surefire way to create confusion, for from this perspective we are no longer viewing ourselves as complete, singular people. Only certain parts of us are acceptable in certain situations, and figuring this out requires much thought: “Don’t say this around so-and-so.” “Don’t drink around family.” “Don’t get into politics at work.” Anxiety sprouts if we unthinkingly show a side to someone who may not be accepting of us. Before we know it, we’re doing backflips to try and smooth tiny incidents over in our minds, forgetting where we are, and acting unconsciously.

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Endless wisdom from the illustrated Tao Te Ching.

Similarly, there is no sense in cutting “health” up into a bunch of different categories: Physical health, mental health, sexual health, emotional health, etc. For pragmatic reasons there are of course sub-specialties, but overall we are either well or unwell, and this is primarily a state of mind. A happy person on their deathbed is well; a physically fit person with suicidal thoughts is unwell. It is possible to become such a way that even the threat of death cannot shake our joy. (In part, this is because we learn that the death we fear is fictitious: The decay of a physical body is not the “end” of consciousness.) This inner state lies beyond the realm of what is known as “mental health” in our society.

In the West, being in “good mental health” tends to more or less mean “capable of semi-comfortably holding down a job.” If you are able to do this, you will avoid much of the mental healthcare system. But if you are sensitive (by which I simply mean more affected by cultural memes and negativity), you probably will get a diagnosis someday.

I’m not interested in whether or not an individual can “function in society.” This is the largely the goal of mental healthcare in the Western world: Get people to be stable and functioning. This is a relatively low place to rehabilitate a suffering individual to in comparison to the total human potential.  Both parties—practitioner and patient—know this on some level, but to admit it would violate the rules of capitalism: People have to do the jobs and make the things and keep the machine a-runnin’.  Because the economy is more highly valued than our wellness, base-level functioning is how mental health is measured.

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My interest lies in human happiness: If someone is homeless and happy, I find him/her more successful than a miserable person making $150K per year. We need to examine the reasons why it is so difficult to be happy in a day and age where we can literally sit around and have food brought to us by tapping a phone screen. Our material and technological comforts haven’t helped psychologically, and we’ve pillaged the Earth to create complex forms of hollow, fleeting happiness. In short, we have taken down innumerable other life forms in order to be miserable. There is only one more place to look for that which we so deeply desire: Inward. This is where it all is.

I’m not here pushing for well-being and joy just because it’s awesome: I’m all for these things because reversal of the fear pattern requires it. There are many causes aimed at “defeating” evil in this world, but it all comes to a very basic principle: People who are blissful don’t hurt other people or other living beings, and when we feel whole on our own, we do not take from others. With deep inner peace, the need to hoard resources and wealth evaporates.

Higher consciousness brings about great joy and an equanimity that cannot be touched, and these are the attitudes we must cultivate if we care about life on Earth.  And, hey, if you’re not really interested in saving the world and just want to be happy for yourself, that’s totally fine.  Whether your intent is to enjoy your life or benefit all life on Earth, the deepening of consciousness will achieve both.

Lastly, I’m axing the focus on “mental health” because it’s become a pejorative term. The word “mental” says it all, I think. Even more excitingly is that I am not convinced that “I am bipolar” or even that “I have bipolar disorder.” I’m a sensitive person on an unstable planet that taught me nothing about how to be a human. We are at such a low level overall that severe healing and growth paradoxically presents as illness.

The intensity that has come through me without training or awareness has resulted in behavior that is totally regrettable from a higher perspective. But I will not dwell in shame, for it only hurts me and others. And I will not doom myself to a lifetime carousel of highs and lows by committing to the “I’m bipolar” story.

I encourage all people to examine the stories they’re telling themselves, and see if they can find one that is healthier and truer to them.

– Lish

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Meditation, Mental Health, Narratives

We Need New Narratives.

Dear Readers,

After I put this blog on Reddit and received some feedback, I felt compelled to put this piece up lest I be misunderstood so early on. I’d also planned to save some of it for several different posts on medication, but, stuff changes. I’ve definitely noticed that the more I grow, the less I plan, especially when it comes to self-expression.

I do not promote any alternative treatment. Recovery from mental illness is a private and unique process that each individual must take the reins on, provided they have the insight to do so. What I promote is an alternative narrative to the mainstream disease model.

There’s a more holistic perspective here; it is one that no one offered when I was tossed into the jittery machine of mental healthcare in America. It’s a view that takes the biopsychosocial stuff (upbringing, socioeconomic status, genes, etc.) into account, but also goes a step further. This step has made life clearer than everything I learned while getting my BA in psychology and from seeing various mental health professionals over the years. It takes evolution into account—more specifically, the evolution of consciousness.

Consciousness is not something that can easily be written about, and whenever I see a theory trying to “pin down” what it is, I know it is going to be incomplete. Its very nature is ever-moving and ever-changing, except in a timeless place of supreme consciousness where the universe was born. I could try to explain what this all feels like, but there’s really nothing I could write that would compare to you delving into your own consciousness. That’s what I recommend for everyone, whether they have been diagnosed with a mental illness or not.

I get how wacky this sounds from a Western perspective, but once fully understood, all of the pieces came together for me.

Most of us seem to believe that normal, everyday waking-consciousness is all there is, that this mode is where “reality” resides. This is not true. The evolution of consciousness is ongoing, and we are conscious beings. This means that you and me operate from consciousness that is always changing. When these changes are noticed, they are usually unplanned and transient: An inexplicable feeling of calm and stillness while standing nature. Some are bigger: Intense, life-changing love in the form of a partner or new baby that transforms the way your world is seen. And some are massive: The universe taps you on the shoulder, a light clicks on, and you are pulled along with the flow of it whether you like it or not.  (Pro tip: Resistance is futile.)

I do not mean to say that all shifts get us closer to the Truth, or that they all feel good. When manic, I was downshifting into extreme paranoia/anxiety and then back to being the totality of the Universe in a matter of a few minutes. The energy going through me was phenomenal: Walking felt like gliding above the ground and sometimes I had to spin in circles while texting. I was also very irritable, short-fused, and obnoxious. I made very poor decisions. This was the result of an unsteady, unplanned expansion of personal consciousness, and it was definitely not awesome.

I encourage no treatment other than that which agrees with your common sense and intuition.  I talk to my doctor, but I always I check in with myself first.  This is because even though my doctor is freaking awesome, nobody knows me like I do.  For now, I’m on daily meditation and medication, but the latter is going to go at some point.

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I take one of those meds regularly, + practice + self-work + nutrition + sobriety.  Not easy, but worth it.

The narrative from a psychiatric perspective goes like this: Because of environmental and genetic factors, I have Bipolar Disorder, Type 1.  This severe illness is no different than diabetes or asthma, and I should treat it the same way—with medication—for most if not all of my life.  It never fully goes away, and going off of my medication will always present a threat to my health and stability.  I cannot help being this way, and my mood fluctuations/out of control behavior are the result of misfiring neurotransmitters in my brain.

The narrative from an evolutionary perspective goes like this: I am a being who is evolving in consciousness.  When my consciousness changes, I perceive the world differently and feel a lot of intense things.  With good habits, information, and practice, I can learn to use these expansions healthily, or just sit and watch it happen.  When I’m well enough, I can go off of my medication provided I take better care of myself than ever before.  I can alter my thoughts and behaviors; these new choices actually change my neurotransmitters over time.  I can be in charge of my whole self, be free from suffering, and live to my true nature.

I have chosen to go with the most empowering (and truest) narrative, live to it, and present it to others who are dissatisfied with story #1.  This does not mean that the psychiatric story is false, only that it is limited in the way it views illness.

I hope this post clears up some confusion about what it is I’m getting at.  In the world of mental health, there are many great treatment modalities, and we’ve come a long way from denigrating those who are honest enough to say “I’m not okay.”

But we need more than good treatment: We need a universal context for our illnesses, or they will never fully make sense.  As patients and as people, we need a new lens to look through.

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Mania, Meditation, Mental Health, The Mind

The Upside of Losing Your Mind

Losing your mind instills you with a special kind of insecurity.  It isn’t just that you can see everyone’s judgment, pity, and/or worry, and it isn’t that almost no one understands what it’s like to touch something so intense.  Those things are rough, and every day post-breakdown can be a battle.  But mostly, you become insecure because of one disturbing fact: Your mind can no longer be trusted.  Reality can apparently fall apart at the seams, and you may be none the wiser.

When you’re mind-identified—meaning you think that your mind is essentially who you are—this is a very very bad feeling.  The logic goes like this: If I am my mind and my mind is deeply fallible, then I am deeply flawed.  From this perspective, it is not that you have a disease; it’s that you are a defective model. You’re sure it was someone’s mistake that you ever made it out of the factory.  And then, because our society is heavily mind-based (with extreme prioritization of a specific, wealth-generating mind, no less), a non-functioning mind pretty much renders you worthless.

So you’re humiliated from everything-you-did-while-insane, reality is maybe not-real, and you’re kinda worthless.  I’m not going to lie: It sucks.  A lot.  

But there is a way out of the horror show life becomes after you burn everything to the ground. The concepts in this post are also helpful for the more common hellscape of thoughts that millions of people inhabit.  With work, we can even learn to be grateful to our minds for finally forcing us to put them in their place.  It is only from this perspective that we can actually use our minds rather than living in them full-time. It really doesn’t matter what our thoughts are like when we are blissfully far away from them.

I don’t mean to say that it’s easy to get there. I know people hate to hear that, because we are pleasure-seeking creatures and because we’ve been conditioned to believe that good things should be happening like Right Now. Nevermind that your very existence is predicated on billions of years of evolution: If something doesn’t make you permanently happy within fifteen minutes, you’re out of here!  I’m sort of joking, but not really.  We are a culture of instant rewards, and it really screws us up.

The path of growth is necessarily a long game. Nothing about it is “easy,” but later on, you will not even understand what else you were ever doing. Or maybe you will, and it’ll be kind of funny because you’ll find that many (maybe even most) of your activities were done simply to avoid yourself.

If you decide that you want “easy” back, there’s always going to be booze and food and television and gossip and the smartphone and the shopping. It isn’t that these things are “bad.” Most of us have dabbled (and/or languished) in all of them. Sometimes I still plunge myself into bad habits, and I can confirm: They make excellent distractions from growth, and they are decidedly easier than sitting down to transform your way of being. (And of course some of these things can be used in non-self-destructive ways, but the line is very fine, especially with little self-discovery.)

By the time you’re ready to take steps towards not-hating yourself, you’ll probably be at least bored of that stuff, if not downright fed up with the amount of pain said things are causing you. So even though I want to jump in and start talking about the mind in its proper context, it should be noted that the first step towards freedom is to commit to yourself and to this life and decide not to settle for less than what you want, emotionally speaking.

This is the hardest step, and absolutely no one can make you take it but you. Anyone who has ever loved an addict knows this is true. A family’s pleadings pale in comparison to an individual’s commitment to self-destruction. It is the same with unhealthy thoughts and emotions: Until we make a resolute, unyielding choice to deal with our stuff and take responsibility for it, our thoughts and emotions will be subject to a very unstable (and quite horrific) world.  The result is unsurprising: An unstable (and quite horrific) inner world.

Getting out of the terrible thought-pit takes a few steps of conceptual knowledge. It also takes practice.  It also results in increased freedom, so of course, it is worth it.  The aim sounds simple, but if it were, many more of us would be healthy:  It is to step slowly away from your own mind.

The main difference between temporarily “losing one’s mind” and “consciously putting the mind in proper context” is often a matter of intention and insight.  I could’ve benefited from hearing all of these things while I was in-the-depths of self-hatred, and also when I was collapsing.

This first part is key: You are not your mind. Intellectually, you might totally get this, but living from this knowledge is no simple task. If we were able to fully accept this truth, most of our problems would evaporate rather quickly. I’m not just talking about those recovering from psychosis/mania, but for the more common neuroses as well: Depression, anxiety, addiction, cyclical unwanted thoughts, etc. Even seemingly “well” people would cease to take their thoughts so seriously, and the relief from all that noise would be incredible. Understanding that your mind is a small circus occurring within a much larger you is the first step to gaining mastery over it.

With this understanding, you can start to step back a little.  Watch the mind be busy and do whatever it does all day long.  You—the real you; the pure consciousness beyond your mind—just get to grab the popcorn and sit back.  In time, you stop buying into the bullshit part of you that’s been taught to think horrible things.

In order to illustrate the relationship between the real you (pure consciousness) and the mind-identified you, I drew a couple of pictures!

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1: When you are largely mind-identified…

vs.

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2: From no particular identity, with full awareness of the Self.

If this makes no sense, don’t worry about it.  Watch the mind long enough, and it will.

One important aside before I move on:  For me, and probably many others, mania is the result of uncontrollably moving from 1 to 2 without practice.  It is consciousness-expansion without “trying:” The mind races to fill the newfound space and inevitably reaches its limits. The ego uses the mind to reinforce itself because it is under great threat, and therein lie your delusions of grandeur. From this view, one of the symptoms of a manic episode is easily explained: “Feelings of expansion.” When manic, you feel expansive because are literally expansive. Our culture does not regard this expansion as real or evolutionary, but it is both of those things.  Also, you haven’t been taught how to keep your behavior in check while you merge with the whole freaking Universe.

After I learned about the evolution of consciousness and did a small amount of practice, I was able to handle my second manic episode far, far better than my first. My depressive tantrums are more like short-lived storms rather than months of drizzle (also with storms), and my background feeling is stillness.  I’m sure some of that is due to luck or genes or whatever.  But most of all, I know it was even more important that I had an internal unwillingness to view my experiences through the lens of a permanent “disorder.”

Once you have semi-digested that the real you is much more than your mind (or your body for that matter), practice is essential.  The thing I’m going to suggest next is getting so much attention nowadays it makes me feel giddy: Meditate.  I feel like I’m always reading something new about how meditation helps with almost everything, particularly with regards to mood/thought/daily functioning.

I also know that it just isn’t something we do until we’re ready. None of my posts are meant to imply that anyone “should” do anything, or that they’ll have the same results as I have.  When it comes to mental health, individualized, intuitive approaches are sorely needed. However, mental structures function the same in everyone, and there are things that are beneficial to all bodies.

The most important thing to remember here is that there is no wrong way to meditate. Yes, there are Zen techniques and guided visualizations and breathwork and chants. To keep everything simple and not-too-woo-woo: Get comfortable, softly straighten your spine, and be somewhere quiet. Start very small; we’re talking 5-7 minutes.  It’s going to feel like forever and you will be whining in your head and all that means is that you’re diverging from familiar, shitty ways of thinking.  (I’m pretty sure if you Google “How to Meditate,” you’ll get about ten zillion results. It can be overwhelming, and that’s why I try to keep it simple.)

Meditative states also occur in a variety of daily activities. Basically, anything that helps you become calm, focused, and unaware of time can be considered a form of practice. For me, writing these posts is meditative, drawing clusters of spirals is meditative, and watching trees move in the wind is meditative. Though there is much to be gained by going deep into it in the “traditional” way, my point is that meditation can mean a lot of things.

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Meditation in Sharpie.

If you’ve never experienced a sober, elongated period of mental silence, this can be disorienting or enjoyable. It really depends on how big of a role your mind plays in your personal identity. Today, I deeply enjoy it, but at first, it was The Worst:  After my unplanned awakening, my thoughts immediately became much “further away.” Because I treasured my very-thinky mind and equated it with my whole self, this felt like a major problem to my ego.

At the time, it felt as if nothing had “meaning.”  What was really happening is that I had stopped constantly labeling everything and seeing the world through a million layers of preconception and judgment. Life became far less noisy, and it was uncomfortable because it was so, so new.

From a consistently expanded level of consciousness, we can learn to choose whether or not to think at all.  Existence without a constant thought stream is literally peaceful beyond words.  Those who are advanced in this regard can dwell in a space of stillness and silence whenever they choose.  (FYI: I’m totally not there.)

Detaching from the mind renders us no less able to think, but gives us the power to decide which thoughts we energize. I am still 100% capable of calling to mind that I want to kill myself and that I’m worthless—yes I can do all that useless self-talk.  Usually I choose not to think such things anymore, but just now, I did, and oddly it was kind of funny since I wasn’t taking it seriously. I got to look at my mind doing all its weird stuff and smile at it. Over time, we learn how see thoughts and reject them if they suck.

For me, there is still a threshold of emotion that, once met, all my spiritual shit goes out the window.  Usually this happens when I am tired or improperly nourished or a particular emotional chord is struck, totally unintentionally by others.  This is why prioritizing yourself and your health is of the utmost importance.  Smooth growth is dependent on balance, and I know that because I grew a whole lot while I was still highly imbalanced.  It did not go smoothly.

Anyway, this an incredible skill to learn: What is it that you want to think about, or do you even want to think? Do you want to think of politics and fear all day, or do you want to think of love and friends and light? I am of the persuasion that if most people could feel the profound peace of seeing the world without all their mental noise, they’d want to take a long break and dwell in all the beauty their minds have been covering up.

And if you don’t want to call any of this spiritual, don’t.  Because it isn’t and it is because words are always surface-level and if we get hung up on them, we will never stop fighting.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; it matters that it works.

As of this moment, I am grateful to my egregiously “fallible” mind. It has made Heaven and Hell for me within a breath, and I am just beginning to understand its power. This is not meant to be a boastful statement about me personally: Everyone’s minds are incredibly powerful. The human mind is an amazing tool; one that we have hardly even begun to put to use. This is because without consciousness, the mind falls into chaos and is used to achieve lower goals.

Getting it (somewhat) in order it has taught me the following lessons which I would not have known otherwise:

  • There actually is no stable external reality, and trying to force one causes much suffering.
  • Our five senses are also not reliable: That’s why we shut our eyes and stop moving to find out what is real,
  • There is much more to us than our minds,
    And, with some practice,
  • If your mind starts to “go,” you can learn to simply watch it go.
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