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!
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.
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.