Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

On Healing and Awakening

Healing is a huge part of awakening. There’s just no way around it. And while it’s possible to heal without awakening, it is almost unheard of to awaken without undergoing an intensive healing process.

Living in Western culture, none of us make it to adulthood unscathed. It’s not just that many families unconsciously inflict harm upon one another (though this is true for a whole lot of people), it’s that we are programmed to believe certain things about our worth and our identities that are completely illusory. For lack of a better phrase, this programming really fucks us up. For children it can be as simple as not doing well in school (this is a very narrow definition for intelligence, btw) for them to receive negative messages about their “place” in society. We are also programmed to believe things about ourselves and others regarding skin color, “class,” appearance, nationality, religion—everything. As we grow up, rigid definitions about masculinity (i.e. “show no emotion”) and femininity (i.e. be thin and pleasant at all times) are also instilled.

When we “fail” to be the things our society expects of us, a tremendous amount of suffering can ensue. The need for a culture which allows children to grow and be, just as they are, is enormous. In such a case, we’d find that humans—when loved and supported by mindful adults—can become incredible, strong, and resilient individuals capable of far more than whatever our projected hopes are for them. Without millions of layers of delusion and conditioning, people are all wonderful.

When you wake up, you might find yourself not only healing from whatever you personally suffered, but from the entire dream of hurtful stories that have cut all of us up. Pair all that with the new dimensions of consciousness you’re blindly traversing, and we have a recipe for some really intense shit.

It’s important to realize that healing does not necessarily require that you’ve incurred any “serious” trauma (although that’s hideously common). Collectively we will all need to go through some kind of healing process in order to grow into more conscious beings. We can’t get around the fact that we’ve abused and killed this planet and one another for a very, very long time. The only thing left to do is face it. If you’re an empath, facing the enormity of the pain acted out unconsciously can seem like a bottomless pit of despair. There are things you can do to climb out of this, but it’s work. Lest any of you believe the spiritual path is one of bliss and joy, it is not always that way, especially in the beginning.

Because we’re so interconnected, we may also find ourselves heal from each other’s pain as well. For me, it was never just about me and my personal stories: I felt like I was quite literally having the experience of every human being who has ever been persecuted and tortured.

This isn’t true for everyone. Depending on how much inner work you’ve done prior to awakening, it may not be as lengthy or as deep of a process.  Every single person who awakens experiences it differently, and frustratingly, there’s not even a single path to “get there.” But, in general, you’re going to be having an astonishing amount of emotions you might have never knew existed and that you have no explanation for. Your pain (and every other dimension of consciousness within you) has been like a Jack pushed down in it’s box, and for mysterious reasons, the handle has been cranked just right so that it all pops out.

I don’t want to go so far into talking about the ways of healing and/or the amount of time it takes to heal. This is because I’m not on the other side yet, so for me to speak of complete healing without being completely healed would be sort of like the blind leading the blind. This brings me to a very important point: Not all practitioners of any kind (therapists, counselors, doctors, shamans, spiritual teachers) are healed and whole within themselves. In fact, most aren’t. A lot of people become doctors because it’s what their parents wanted for them, or because of the status doctors hold in society. A lot of people become psychotherapists out of a well-meaning yet naive desire to “help people” without ever going deeply into themselves. Their goals of healing aren’t necessarily motivated by an intuitive understanding of the human condition.

This creates a host of problems. If a healer isn’t aware of where they’re at on their journey, they can easily project issues onto you and/or seek to “fix” themselves by “treating” you. When this happens to you, it can be jarring, maddening, and sad. Even though I’ve seen some great people throughout my journey towards wellness, I can say that maybe only one of them has felt capable of deeply understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the way the whole thing went down (he’s a spiritual teacher).

But this was also a gift. Each time I saw a professional and came away feeling misunderstood, or as if only the surface layer had been discussed, the message came in strong and clear: There’s nothing “out there.” The answers, wisdom, and understanding exist perfectly whole and indestructibly within.

It is a great gift when you realize that the answers cannot be found in the external world. It is an even greater gift when you become free of trying to answer everything. Questions and answers all exist on an intellectual level, and the sharpest of intellects can get you no closer to the Truth. Our academic intelligence doesn’t get us there. This is also a very hard truth for the Western ego to incorporate, since we are also taught that endless thinking (the kind that is rewarded in our super narrow educational system) can solve everything. Sadly, “being smart” won’t help you as you awaken, and can actually hurt you if you’re always trying to intellectualize the process.

Today, I can see exactly why I was drawn to the field of psychology, and particularly why I wanted to be a substance abuse counselor at first: I had tremendous pain that I hadn’t worked through, and a drinking problem I used to keep it at bay. What better way to deflect and be “okay” than to tirelessly try to help others? Luckily the lights came on before I had a chance to unwittingly harm any clients, and now I wouldn’t dream of considering such a career unless I was confident in my well-being and ability to replenish my energies as needed.

I want to end this post with a link to a series of videos I found extremely helpful. After I got out of the hospital, unwilling to believe my experiences were simply the result of misfiring neurotransmitters, I started looking for alternative explanations for bipolar disorder. These videos (along with dozens of books) gave me a new lens through which to understand my manic episodes, and ultimately, a new lens through which to see all of life:

Important: This isn’t a matter of whether or not mental illness “exists.” Of course it does, even though mental illness is still sorely misunderstood. Though I went through phases of being anti-psychiatry and anti-medication (largely as a reaction from the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized during the most fragile and horrific time of my life), I’ve come to embrace the “keep what works; let go of what doesn’t” mentality. When I was acutely manic and had to try to go to work, I took the medication and accepted the bipolar label. We really do have to let go of our egos when it comes to our health. (This lesson should be embraced by anyone who thinks they’re “too tough” or “fine enough” not to seek treatment for anything.)

Even though you know your experiences are part of something greater than a medical issue, “having a spiritual awakening” still doesn’t buy you a few years off of work to integrate and recalibrate (although I wish it would!). In short: Accept the label when it serves you on the path to wellness; drop it when it doesn’t.

Now, being unmedicated and taking more responsibility for my wellness, I can let go of the label unless I feel the desire to explain to someone (who doesn’t consider themselves “spiritual”) what happened. The point is that, internally, I keep in mind that none of these stories can touch the truth of my being or anyone else’s.

– Lish

Conditioning, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Remaining Conscious in Times of Hate

One of the main challenges on the spiritual path is this: Finding a way to dwell in integrity without contributing to the aggression existing in the world. This requires a more subtle approach to life than announcing our feelings on various issues at every given opportunity. Believe me, I’ve done this. It didn’t work (the world’s still falling apart!), nor did it bring me joy.

I wouldn’t feel like I’m living with integrity if I were to stay silent as displays of hatred rise in Western culture. And yet it feels difficult to write about things like racism and hate without contributing to already-existing aggression and division: Whatever we read, we hope it agrees with us, or at least that it is easy enough to tear apart so that we can maintain our senses of “rightness.” Regardless of what you believe, you likely do this. (Or rather, your ego does this to prevent you from growing out of it.)

So I’ve spent a whole lot of time digesting the display of hatred in Charlottesville and watching the reactions online. I spent about a week deciding if I would even bring up the name of the town at all, mostly because discussing particular “events” has felt pretty unimportant to me since I started this blog.

Here’s why: Due to our average state of consciousness, we tend to all take part in a giant killing machine. My very existence (and yours, and this computer’s) are founded upon more suffering than we can even conceptualize. I’m talking about all of it: Slavery, genocide, misogyny, animal enslavement, and environmental abuse. These things are not separate issues; they are woven together with the same roots of ignorance and insanity. Unless we go full-monk, we can easily die if we try to opt out of this way of life—that is, after all, the only reason most of us take part in it at all.

If we don’t work together to change this trajectory, we will all die. That’s it. Furthermore, looking beyond social issues and into the core of your own being is what truly begins to heal social stratification. The evolution of the soul is the only reason we’ve moved at all closer to “equality,” although many of us don’t yet understand what that word would look like in practice. So that’s why I don’t focus on single “events” very often. Still, that weird, torch-carrying mob sparked enough outrage to inspire me to write a post about the social realm and the inner structures that underlie it. Our inner worlds create the outer world, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind.

I’ve taken some time to write this post because I’m really coming to understand how powerful words can be. We can be so quick to fire off that status update, argue our points, make others wrong, and (perhaps most harmfully, because it occurs within) judge each other. When words are used in this manner—to reinforce our egos and create reactions of anger—we hurt the whole world, no matter how right we are. As someone who once talked a lot more (and not always thoughtfully), this is an important practice to me: Cultivating awareness of the energy behind my words.

Having said allllll that, I finally just decided to do the radical thing of writing what’s true to me, and releasing my fears of being misunderstood. For me, this has been no small task.

Pure consciousness is ultimately a thing that lies beyond notions of “right” and “wrong.”

When we realize the limits and errors of moralistic judgment, we fall into a different mindset than apathy: Apathy doesn’t get me sitting here, pouring over my words, trying to be careful not to contribute to the anger on the internet. Apathy doesn’t get me journaling every day about my shame, which I know I must heal from in order to give positive energy to the world. Apathy doesn’t get me to quit drinking or to examine all of my interactions, cultivating feelings of openness and acceptance whenever I look someone in the eye. I do these things. I do them because it is abundantly clear that these behaviors, over the course of a lifetime, create more change than all the indignant opinions ever could.

I don’t bring this up in order to sound superior, because I really don’t feel that way. First of all, healing kinda sucks. You get dragged down into your own personal trauma, time and time again, trying to relax into and embrace it even when every part of you is burning up. There is no sense of triumph here. Secondly, at this point on the path, I mostly just feel conflicted because I’m still growing into my spirit. All day my mind constructs reasons why people far and wide are wrong for the things they do and say, and all day the more evolved part of me watches, gently bringing me back to reality.

I write (and live my life) with the hope of contributing to a workable, healthy way of life for all beings on this planet. Simplifying the world into “good” and “evil” and then creating a battlefield out of these extremes isn’t workable. The attitude, while understandable, is not based in reality, and I won’t contribute to it. When we try to force one another to “take sides,” we participate in the creation of war.

Honestly, part of me wants to say: Sure, yeah, take down all the statues. All they are is replicas of deeply delusional individuals who created an entire myth about “freedom” while eradicating already-existing cultures and enslaving another one. The founders of the United States were seriously deluded about their place in the universe, as were the rulers they fled, as are most of us today.

And on another level, I notice this: If our minds don’t constantly assign labels to these objects (an “acceptable” statue vs. an “offensive” one), they actually are all equivalent. Take them down or leave them up; either way, it is our responsibility to pay attention to what our minds are doing when our eyes fall upon the things we’ve been conditioned to see as “symbols.” Nothing has meaning unless we let it. That’s true power, and it exists whether or not other people do/display the things we find acceptable. We can carry this power with us anywhere we go. I get to practice this every day in my small town, which sometimes feels loaded with triggers.

And as I’ve said before, I also want to note that none of us are even really “Americans.” I can’t say how many things I’ve read of people asserting exactly what it is that “true Americans” do. This misses the entire point: Just as racial hierarchy is harmful, hierarchical thinking based on nationality is harmful, too. In fact, labels of all kinds hurt us for the simple fact that they keep us separate. When we do this, we contribute as much to the separation of humanity as anything else.

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.” – J. Krishnamurti

We are only as separate as our minds make us. Therefore, if we wish to increase unity in this world, we will turn to to our own minds and investigate what exactly is going on in there.

The mind moves laterally about itself, generally used as a tool of ego inflation, reaffirming our already held beliefs. Self-investigation is not about finding the right beliefs to cling to; it is about dismantling all structures in the mind and seeing what’s left. Contrary to what you might imagine, you do not become mindless or spineless once you find this place, and you certainly do not dwell in hate.

As opposed to moving laterally, growth has a direction: Up or down. At some point, growth requires the humbling of the ego that knows everything about how other people “should” be. In time, we learn that becoming righteously indignant takes us lower. Making space for ourselves, being warm and open, and not reacting automatically takes us up.

This is why we sit in meditation. This is why we tend to ourselves before trying to save the world. Any other way spells disaster, sometimes short-term and sometimes long-term.

To some, a commitment to nonviolence (or daring to say that all beliefs are false and limiting) might be built on the fact that I’ve been so privileged by whiteness that I don’t understand the need for harder, more polarized resistance. I do not deny privilege. Unlike a person of color, I haven’t gone through a life filled with microaggressions, police scrutiny/outright violence or murder, and the general mistrust of my very existence. It would be ignorant of me to compare my life experience in a social context to that. But there’s much more to life than the social context, even though many of us act like (and probably feel like) that’s All There Is.

Here’s the best thing about suffering and the Truth: They are both non-discriminatory. Oppression in the world is clearly a thing that works hierarchically. For a long time, white males have collectively kept themselves at the top of this hierarchy by forcibly keeping everyone else down. (I don’t mean to instill guilt/shame in white males by stating this, as shame and guilt are always counter-productive.) Systemic oppression, genocide, and social privilege are, of course, based on factors like race and gender. I doubt that anyone reading my blog would need to be reminded of this.

Suffering, however, does not discriminate. And the Truth, which resides in everything and everyone, is experienced universally. Prophets from various time periods and social classes have all come back with the same basic messages: All is one, love each other, hatred never ceases by hatred, etc. etc. This is not mushy hippie shit we’re talking about, but fundamental laws of the universe: Hate + Hate = Hate. Violence + Violence = Violence. As much as our egos try, we can’t argue our way out of this math, which is really just about the way energy gets transferred from person to person on an invisible level.

I really didn’t understand this until after I lost my mind. There was a time when I felt ready to see a violent revolution, and now I see how much of that projection was fueled by the battle I was creating within myself. It doesn’t have to be that way, and if you believe that, you are contributing to an unnecessarily violent end.

Because they are universally experienced, Truth and suffering are the things we must explore if we consider ourselves to be compassionate human beings. In this space, life no longer becomes about “our people” and “other people.” Then, seeing how important we are to the way the world looks, we do the exhaustive work of excavating ourselves from the limiting, multi-tiered hell of the conditioned mind.

Yes, this feels like a much longer, much less pleasant, and much more intensive process than punching the right guy, but it is the only way. If enough people had had the understanding and courage to do this kind of work years ago, we would already be living in a far more peaceful society.

It’s looking dangerously possible that we may inflate our egos as all life is extinguished on Earth. We may succumb to fear as huge, necessary changes are made over the next century, trying to “go back” to some imagined time of greatness that never really existed. Or we may succumb to anger, trying to go forward to a goal that is poorly-formed, taking only one chunk of life into consideration. Doing either of these things will have us spinning in circles right into extinction.

Truth lies beyond all of this, and I stand for the Truth, because I know it is the only place where everlasting peace resides.

In summary, here’s we must “do” about the state of the world: Our work. We must look into our pain and ego-stories. I know it’s intense and you don’t want to do it. Most of us carry so much pain that we’d rather lash out at the world (including our own bodies, our lovers, co-workers, friends, etc.) before we really sit down to face it. But until we deal with our own wounds and see through all delusion, we will, in all likelihood, create more harm in the world. The endless journey inward is really all there is.

Oh, and duh: Organize peacefully.

– Lish

"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

Depression, Meditation, Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being, Yoga

When It Gets Bad

Note: As of this posting, I’m doing swell, which is just a testament to how quickly a mood can change. Still, I’m going to post it in its entirety because when I wrote it, I really needed to.

Guess what? The last few days have been, by and large, not great.

I work my ass off to not feel like total garbage: Daily meditation, a pretty rad diet, a lot of running, sobriety, journaling, baths… and of course I’ve done my rounds in therapy and with medication. In spite of these efforts, the thought that has dominated my mind lately has been along the lines of “I’m going to blow my brains out.” (Please know that I wouldn’t be putting this on my blog if it was really a concern.)

I keep wanting to drink (I haven’t) and sometimes I get devastatingly lonely. I know I have created my current circumstances—and we all have, whether we like it or not—but of course I don’t know why. I recently texted a loved one that my “5-year plan” involves getting back into binge drinking and shooting myself in the head off of a cliff. I was kidding, but there really are times when I feel, sincerely, that I am Not Okay, like at all, and I don’t think there is anything that will help. At night I ask the universe to just make me normal and good, but I never wake up normal and good. I wake up the same me who falls short in every regard, who doesn’t love correctly, who isn’t open enough, patient enough, consistent enough, un-thinky enough, kind enough, calm enough, or safe enough. I do not always act like who I am, and I haven’t yet figured out how to fix that permanently.

Why am I posting this even though I try to be all about light and the possibility of well-being? First, it’s real. We are supposed to share our experiences with one another, and I know that the feelings I have are shared by millions of others. The second we fall into the trap of believing our isolation, depression, grief, and self-loathing are any different than those felt by the rest of humanity, we become doubly lost.

Positivity and spirituality are sometimes treated as synonyms, and that’s just not genuine. The path embraces all feelings and states of mind, and it is generally understood that (for a while anyway) waking up hurts. And, even when it’s really horrible, I know that all of my feelings and thoughts are teaching me something. For whatever reason, I haven’t gotten the lesson. If I’d gotten it, this shit would cease. Maybe the lesson is simply in impermanence itself: Never, ever expect to feel All Good, because you will never, ever be static.

Mainly I’m posting this because hiding brings its own kind of pain. When we do this, we deny our true selves to the people who want to love us. It feels worse to hide, even though it definitely feels super uncool to write about my feelings, too. I also know I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, and at some point—maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, probably right after I hit “Publish”—I’ll regret posting it. Soon, I’ll file this time period away into that which I psychologically label “my tantrums.”

The point is: I’m better than I’ve ever been, and still, I am This.

In spite of the intensity of these emotions, I remain unwilling to consider myself ill. I will not accept the bipolar story and I will not label myself “disordered.” This narrative doesn’t serve me, and if anything it damns me to believing I am fixed being. Part of that fixed narrative comes with the notion that I’ll never be fully healed, and I don’t buy that. The only reason I’m even here and in an overall healthier place than I’ve ever been in is because I’ve refused to buy it.

Of course I don’t deny the existence of mental disorders, but rather consider all life experiences as variations in consciousness. This way of thinking makes the difference between the chance at deep healing and perpetual, cyclical illness. One promotes a false “normal/abnormal, neurotypical/neurodiverse” dichotomy; the other promotes a much more realistic spectrum. Training oneself in higher consciousness (by way of self-care, meditation, journaling, etc.) can lead to the cessation of suffering, or at the very least, the dampening of it.

Because really, that’s what it’s all about: Suffering. Whether you call it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder, the main concern of the human experience is suffering. The harsher felt aspects of life that are pervasive and repetitive—the ones that get called “disorders” in our culture—persist because we are, on the whole, in a very low place. Greed rules the day. “Every man for himself” is the prevailing ethos. “Us and them” is a mentality that very few people ever escape. When our overall level as a people reaches something higher, we will see mental illness fall away. I’ve said this before and I’m going to keep saying it.

I doubt that this will happen in my lifetime, since our system still seems hell-bent on letting individuals know that they’re the ones with “problems.” In our haste to diagnose—to codify, to limit, to “explain”—we tend to just not bring up the ugly truth of the situation, which is that the world is burning to the ground and our paradigm is truly fucked up. Sick societies create sick individuals, and vice versa. Healthy people depend on a healthy planet, and our planet is really not healthy.

When healing occurs, it does so on an individual and collective level at the same time: We heal ourselves and—brick by brick, mind by mind—build healthier societies that make wellness a possibility for future generations. Until we do this work, we can only expect to see rising rates of suicide, depression, addiction, and everything else we claim to be against. I for one am getting a bit tired of the short-lived outpour of concern that follows celebrity suicides. I am also tired of the idea that a person simply not killing themselves is a great victory: If all we’re doing is constantly pulling each other back from the brink, we’re still failing miserably.

Not a single professional I’ve worked with has really broached the fact that I suffer because A. Suffering is inherent in human existence (and so I have no reason to expect not to suffer), and B. Our culture basically breeds people to suffer for the machine. It was always about “my condition,” “my problems,” “my depression,” “my story of why I hurt.” We all have stories about why we hurt, and to some extent, these stories need to be explored. Some stories are more harrowing than others, but even the most well-off, well-loved people suffer.

Finally, meditation and yoga are being regarded as helpful treatment modalities for mental illnesses. I want to address that here: The science behind psychiatric medication is based on the theory that your brain makes the wrong chemicals and these other chemicals will kinda fix it. The science behind yoga is based on the theory that you are a universal being and ultimately, you are pure consciousness. Get in touch with the part of you that is pure consciousness—through systematic postures and meditation—and suffering begins to transform. This is true for all forms of suffering, be they given medical labels or are simply the “normal” malaise of routine adult life.

These theories/sciences are not mutually exclusive. I will always advocate doing all the things to help yourself. However, through my (largely unintentional and also explosive) exploration of inner space, I’ve found that the latter theory is a whole lot more complete.

There is tremendous power in stepping into the realization that it’s not you. You are not an addict or a depressed person or anything else because something is wrong with you. Instead, we have tendencies to harm ourselves because…

  • Our overall culture is unconscious of the way it thinks and acts.
  • We do not understand and/or accept the depths of the ways we all affect one another. Even people who fancy themselves hella woke tend to carry some amount of hatred and derision in their hearts. This doesn’t work, and it still hurts everyone.
  • We literally carry legacies of pain in bodily memory.
  • Fear is the default mode of living.
  • We have forgotten the truth of what we are.

It’s not that you’re a defective model, and you do have the power to rise above all of these things.

When it comes to mental health and overall wellness, that’s what it’s all about: The cessation of suffering through the exploration of higher consciousness. Not endless treatment, not an illness-oriented model, and certainly not a narrative that you will always be one thing or another.

Let’s end this on a high note, shall we?

Before I sat down to write this post, I went for a run. Even when I’m in the depths of it, meditating and running tend to lift my spirits. Near the end, I found this rosebush in someone’s yard, and it was too beautiful not to take pictures:

Being a good millennial, I put these on the Instagram where a friend commented, “Peace roses.” Again, being a good millennial, I Googled it. Lo and behold, this is what’s called the Peace Rose. And although I regard the entirety of my life experience as equally meaningful and meaningless, I’ll gladly take signs like this in times of need.

If you’re reading this, the message is meant for you as well.

– Lish