Mental Health, The Mind, Conditioning, Addiction, Awakening

Addiction and the Conditioned Mind

Usually when I tell someone new that I’m sober, they ask if I go to meetings. My answer is no, I do not. This opens up a new line of questioning, or I feel compelled to explain myself further. For many people there is an unspoken understanding that getting sober “on your own” isn’t really possible, and that those who think this is an option are doomed to fail. I’m not here to argue that it should be done alone, and agree that it’s probably easier when there are a lot of other people supporting your choice. But it is possible; all it takes is a bit more consciousness.

“I just use a basic awareness approach,” I explain, “I watch my mind lie to me all day long, and simply do not buy into its lies.” That really is it. It’s that simple—and that hard.

In recovery from anything, we learn to watch the habit-ridden mind spin out its familiar patterns. Here’s the key: We just keep watching it and remaining aware of the crazy things it says without being moved to action. We realize that just because a thought or impulse is arising, that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Craving? So what? We’re cravey for a minute, and then we’re not. This is the nature of the common mind: It pulls us in different directions all the time. It is not a safe place.

Using awareness becomes very difficult with severe addictions because, over time, addiction systematically lowers our ability to exercise choice. Still it is true that if we make the commitment to change a habit that no longer serves us, all we must do is strengthen a new way of being: Every time we stay aware of the mind rather than acting out the entrenched impulse to drink or smoke or use (or do anything), we become a bit more free. This is the basic internal process of all recovery from addiction, no matter what the modality is called.

It feels important to note that nowhere in my line of thinking is this idea that “I can’t drink.” Why remove my agency like that? To say this is inherently disempowering; it carries a subtext of “but I would if I could.” Therein lies immediate suffering. It shows that we view giving up alcohol to be a sad consequence of our mistakes, but this really isn’t true. Stripped of its allure, we can clearly see: Drinking alcohol actually isn’t that awesome. Surprisingly enough, ingesting poison isn’t super beneficial for a happy life. This is true especially when we experience certain levels of freshness and clarity that we just can’t feel while drinking regularly. Experiencing consciousness in its fullness makes getting drunk laughable.

Every day—dozens of times a day, even—we know we actually can drink. We can do and say many things that are harmful. We can… but we don’t. We are humans with some amount of will, and this will becomes stronger the more we use it.

We rewrite the mind’s patterns in this way, transforming ourselves little by little. When we are very near to freedom from the mind, it even begins to feel like a fun game. When it comes down to it, we—being pure, unconditioned consciousness—are just playing with our conditioned human minds. We are entertaining the mind through many lifetimes, and its every move is a requirement for our eventual liberation. We come to see that in the end, the mind was really an opponent we created for ourselves.

And why did we do this? Just for fun, just to do it. It is beautiful and hilarious when we win the game, and necessarily a surprise. It’s kind of like hide and seek, except that instead of opening the closet to find freedom hiding there, freedom appears magically before us when we least expect it.

#

I’ve read a lot of popular blogs and stories on addiction, and I see what makes them popular: The drama. We love this juicy notion of “battling addiction,” “me vs. alcoholism,” “how my demons almost won,” etc. We feed on a Hollywoodesque creation of good vs. evil in the storyline of the whole world, unconsciously sustaining a war of cosmic forces that ultimately doesn’t even exist!

We actually energize the mechanisms of evil by giving evil our strongest attention. Similarly, we give addiction power and strength by treating it like an “enemy” we must “defeat.” Psychologically turning oneself (and the world) into a battleground ensures casualties, and we should also watch our propensity to do this. It makes life more difficult than it needs to be, plus we can even become addicted to this kind of drama. The unconscious ego loves drama because it results in an intense story to affix itself to.

But it is not “my addiction” or “my disease” that dresses alcohol up to appear as a fun choice. The simpler fact is that it is really the conditioned mind—the mind I practice observing as often as possible, and the same kind of mind most humans occupy—that does this. This  conditioned mind (and the various ways such minds influence each other in the collective) is the root of all behavioral/mental disorders, as well as many physical diseases. This makes our solution to such problems actually quite easy to see: Get everybody unconditioned!

It may sound simple, but once we start on the path, we see that there’s actually way more unconsciousness we must bring to light than we ever bargained for. No one can make this journey but us, on our own. And like any journey, it has its perils. Usually the mind convinces us to go back to normal mode, because shit just gets too scary. The mind will pull out all the stops to prevent us from escaping it, and fear is one of its most seductive ploys.

And the fact is that most of us are still so unconscious that we don’t even care to look deeply at what’s going on. We feel the process is unnecessary, having zero understanding of what it could mean for the entire world if we were to each take the journey and not turn around on the path.

Something very strange has happened with the concept of mind in the West: We identify with it almost totally, worship it, and live in it, often to our own detriment… and yet we continually diminish its power. “It’s all in your head,” we say, as if that’s no big deal. Psychosomatic illnesses are often treated as “less real” than those we can find an organic basis for, and we say things like “mind over matter.”

But what if we acknowledge that this mind has also created the matter and the very challenges that lie before us?

This is our true situation, though I don’t want anyone to take my word for it.

#

We are very often under the mistaken belief that “we use our minds.” In the vast majority of people, this is not the case, for as our minds remain conditioned, they are using us. There really is no reason for happiness to be a struggle. There is no reason to feel bored, stuck, or trapped. There is not even any real reason to seek if you can feel utterly full of peace and joy right where you are (until we are even done experiencing joy and peace, but that’s for another post).

If you were, in fact, using your mind, would you use it to be miserable, negative, addicted, confused? Would you use it to be full of peace or full of discomfort and neuroses? Would you choose to experience life as a strange yet interesting adventure, or a series of difficulties to “get through”?

Everything we are discussing here is at the root of the spiritual path. Buddhism, at its heart, is about discovering the natural mind, the buddha-nature which is everything (as well as an infinite, perfect nothingness which also creates every thing), which we may also refer to as pure consciousness or God. Buddha-nature is always here. Consciousness is always here. Christ is always here. Allah is always here. The Holy Spirit is always here. God is always here. We are always here. There are many ways of saying this same thing, and all prophets have seen this same thing. You can fully experience this thing when your mind becomes completely unconditioned.

Our conditioning goes much deeper than we tend to appreciate in our ordinary dialogues. Often, people on the fringes of the political spectrum are under the impression that they have seen through their conditioning. In reality, questioning the status quo barely scratches the surface. It’s very common to question the easier things and stop looking when we start to feel uncomfortable or frustrated. If we continue to suffer from anger and walk around feeling judgmental, prideful, and caught up in the past, we are still very much under the spell of conditioning. We cannot help our fellow beings if this is our situation.

Things we take for “basic facts” must also be taken into consideration. Our “rational conclusions” should be turned and considered anew. That doesn’t mean we reject everything that has been presented to us, just that we have a genuine willingness to take it all into question. Some of the most seemingly “open-minded” people will never do this because it is so threatening to the identity.

However, if we do this honestly and sincerely—and do it until the bitter, sometimes-terrifying end—we will find that something miraculous awaits us.

#

It is not just drinking that my mind tries to lure me in with: All thoughts and feelings which keep my being small are things I watch. For example, in meditation, the mind often says things like “What’s next?” “This is boring.” “I should be writing.” “My heart is beating too fast.” “I don’t need to be doing this.”

All of these are various forms of resistance to being present; they are just ways we cover up simply Being. Please note that there can be no peace within ourselves or in the world until we are at least okay with just being. The glory of consciousness is that we can even become superbly blissful just being. We are contented and joyful and clear-seeing, just sitting still. There is nothing to “entertain” or even “relax” us. We can just be here.

If we see the conditioned mind for what it is—a small game we’re playing within an unlimited consciousness—freedom is soon ours, because we become that unlimited consciousness. That goes for addiction, and for many more psychological afflictions.

– Lish

Standard
Mania, Mental Health, The Mind, Well-being

The Blessing of Mental Illness

We can think of the untranscended mind as a jail cell that we mistake for the entire world. When we see reality (i.e. “wake up”), it results in the equivalent of departing from this cell and into the wide open world. It’s like we march instinctively to the door of the cell—a door we never knew existed before that very moment—and step out into a vast field, experiencing sunlight for the first time. In many cases, we don’t know why we’ve been moved to this action.

Many people take steps towards the door. They become “spiritual” and challenge a few of their old beliefs, yet ultimately remain in the cell. Sometimes they’re right at the door with their hand on the knob, and they turn around to go hang out in jail for a while longer. The person always has a logical explanation for this action: “It’s not the right time,” “I have more important things to do,” “I’m fine the way I am,” “This doesn’t make any sense,” and “I just can’t accept this,” to name a few. When we get really close, the mind becomes even more preposterous, desperately trying to keep us in its grip. It might even say “Stop! I’m dying!” even though our bodies are perfectly healthy.

The cell of the mind can be very compelling. It has many tricks to keep us trapped within it. Nonetheless, it is the destiny of all beings to exit our cells. We will all discover true freedom and know the Absolute; it is only a matter of when.

#

While beautiful, this departure from the old mode of thinking can be very overwhelming: A lasting shift means you can’t walk back into the cell. You turn around and the door to your cell is locked, or, more accurately, the entire structure has disappeared.

This is why awakening can feel so chaotic, especially for those of us who do not (consciously) seek to awaken. All our lives, at the encouragement of the world, we sincerely take our minds to be who and what we are. We believe the things the mind says about us, no matter how contradictory. We believe the things it says about others, no matter how cruel or simplistic. We cherish the mind and build it into something that seems strong. We stock it with stories and information and world-based knowledge; we use it to reinforce itself and our egos by finding all the “right” things to think. We become entranced by our personal histories, continuing to regale ourselves and others at every opportunity. And yet, for all this effort, identification with the mind and the past is always a misstep.

On the quest for fulfillment and Truth, we often make this misstep over and over and over again.

#

Those of us who experience mental illness can feel like we’ve been born into awful jail cells: They are tight and cold and perhaps the only food we get is stale bread and butter. What I am describing would be the equivalent to a depressive and/or anxious mind; it affords little comfort and is incredibly limiting. (This notion stands apart from one’s intellect, which can still be extremely sharp. A strong intellect isn’t of much use if the mind itself keeps the person in tremendous pain.)

In terms of thought, such a mind can convince us we are worthless, that life is not worth living, and that there is something dramatically wrong with us. It will show us only what is evil and sick in the world; it may even unconsciously invite evil and sickness in order to affirm itself. I remember this mode of life now as a distant memory or an absurd dream.

The most important factor for this jail cell to go unexamined is not that it be an enjoyable place, but that it be stable. Most of us feel perfectly okay with our small cells because they feel consistent enough. We can even observe that many people in this world are not comfortable in their minds at all. We can see on the contorted faces of “important people” that they are miserable, taking everything seriously, constantly having to maintain their egos. They lead ridiculous lives, and the people around them help build their distorted realities. The minds they occupy and identify with are not cozy, but they are reliable, and this reliability is enough to prevent one from seeking true freedom.

Someone who might do well in this world (materially speaking) would be someone with a nice jail cell, a comfortable-enough mind. Here they are given various foods, room to stretch out, and a lot of things to read and look at. They take themselves as “fine”—maybe even “happy.” And as far as their reality goes, this is true. The dream of thought in which they operate is a nice enough dream that waking up is no concern of theirs. Such is their course in life, and you cannot wake up someone who sincerely wants to stay asleep. However, as life on Earth becomes increasingly tense for humans, I expect there will be fewer and fewer of us who have the luxury of remaining unconscious in such a way.

Those who are comfortable and/or stable within their minds have very little motivation to leave. This is the blessing of mental illness: The level of discomfort that the mind can bring is the very factor that compels us to get out of it.  Self-hatred, chronic anxiety, fear, neurosis—these things are like the jail cell shrinking in size, perhaps becoming unlivable. When the mind becomes unlivable for extended periods of time, we might call this severe depression, which our culture explains in various ways. The primary causes of depression are very simple.

Mainstream psychiatry overcomplicates this simplicity and misses the point that human beings don’t really exist in a vacuum separate from the rest of the world. We only act like we do, and this great pretending act is actually one of the main causes of widespread depression. All through life we bullshit ourselves about who we are, usually without the luxury of even knowing we’re doing it.

Sometimes we see suicide as a way out of this unlivable jail cell. Here, we see just how hopelessly entangled we are with our minds: We believe that only way to escape the mind is to escape life itself. It doesn’t need to be this way. You can be free of a choking mind without ending your physical life—so free, in fact, that you will regard your depression as strange in retrospect. You do not have to live in your mind. You do not have to allow your thoughts to dictate your entire existence.

What you are is so much more vast and perfect than your jail cell. Discovering this vast perfection is only a matter of distancing yourself from those thoughts that pull you in, inviting you to live in them. It is in this way that we find who and what we really are. In this discovery, our prior suffering is small and faraway. It cannot touch the Truth.

We must learn to reject the mind’s tricks over and over and over again, to simply stay right here.

#

The mind I took myself to be—the mind that was called “bipolar”—was like a shifting jail cell. There were times when this cell was filled with many beautiful things. It was enormous. It had a cozy bed and art on the walls and all the books I ever wanted. It had music and jewels and Indian food and gelato. Then, immediately and without warning, this cell would transform into a stark, tiny dungeon with nothing in it but the dirty floor. The height of my cell’s ever-changing nature occurred during a major manic episode and in the year that followed it.

What was once called “an illness” has revealed itself to be a great teacher. The whole time, as a deeper consciousness was germinating within my being, I experienced this mind as a terrible burden. It felt dense and heavy, like I just couldn’t go on within it (and I didn’t.).

Today, I couldn’t be more grateful for the levels of instability my mind has reached. What these experiences have taught me is that the personal mind simply cannot be a stable place, even for those who externally seem very stable. Its desires change from day to day, hour to hour. It will claim it wants one thing and then compel us to do the complete opposite. It can convince us to harm our bodies and environments in various ways. It will cling to events that occurred many many years ago. Being powered by the mind, these events will hold our beings hostage, destroying our opportunity for joy. The mind is certainly capable of clinging to stable depression rather than accepting the challenge for freedom, which would require that it lose its power. It will judge. It will make Heaven and Hell for us, perhaps in the same day.

Its instability is ultimately revealed in death: The personal mind will end when the physical body is no longer sustained. Only in our discovery of the timeless Self (that which is outside of the personal self) do we know life in its fullness. The jail cell of a conditioned mind represents both impermanence and smallness, both of which create suffering. 

Getting out of the cell and coming to know your true mind—this is where everything is.

– Lish

Standard
Awakening, Reality, The Ego, The Mind

Five (more) Barriers to Enlightenment

Here’s follow-up post regarding the way we many of us think about enlightenment, and how this line of thinking also keeps us trapped. Here are some more common beliefs:

1. Enlightenment is “good,” “blissful,” “more evolved,” etc. Yes, liberation results in a profoundly positive mode of life as compared to being ruled by conditioned impulses and moods. If this were not true, there would be little motivation to seek.

But the point is that any conceptual understanding of enlightenment is mistaken. We can talk around Truth, but we cannot explain it, and whenever we’re busy thinking about “how it is,” we’re pushing it away. The mind is happy to do this, for it allows it to remain comfortably in charge.

Many people describe a bliss state that follows their awakening moment, but such feelings are not everlasting. All emotions are transient; this is a rule that does not change after we awaken. So if you’re hoping that awakening will get you into some state of perma-bliss, you’re in for a surprise.

Depending on what you’ve read/heard/seen about enlightenment, the click itself may actually may result in extreme confusion and nihilism. After all, your entire reality has flip-flopped, and you feel like you can’t go back. Maybe you didn’t even go looking to awaken. Suddenly, all the rugs that held you together are pulled out from under you. There’s nothing to stand on, nowhere to get to for comfort, no illusion of safety to be found anywhere in the world.

What does the ego like to do with this? Go on and on about how awakening is badass and gritty and hard (to the ego, it is certainly all of these things!). Then, at some point, because we feel we understand so much without trying (indeed because this thing cannot be tried for), we go on and say that the whole spiritual journey results in being “more evolved.” (In reality, there actually is no difference between one who is “enlightened” and one who isn’t.)

Being a human and having an ego, I have certainly fallen into the trap of believing this. A threatened ego will grab ahold of anything—even its own dissolution—to try and build itself up. But whenever we tell ourselves such stories, that’s really all we’re doing: Telling ourselves stories. None is more or less story than another, and neither is more or less “right” than another. There are words that point to the Truth, but ultimately everything that exists on the level of the thinking mind is equal. We only mistake some content for being “better” because it appeals to our egos, our sense of being “more” of something (evolved, right, compassionate, wise, intelligent, etc.) than others.

This whole “more evolved” thing is becoming a very popular idea, but we must remember: The state we dwell in when we are awake is one that it is timeless and changeless. It is the source of evolution itself we learn to move with. The source does not evolve; it simply is. Therefore we do not merely become “more evolved” versions of the people we once were. In fact, we eventually must drop the idea of ourselves as “a person” at all, because this sense of being “a particular person” in and of itself sets the stage for suffering.

The ego thrives on fancying itself as better than others, and it is even happier to wrap this inflation up in a new “oh this is spiritual therefore it is humble” packaging. But how can we be humble if we believe we are “more evolved”?

We must be mindful of sneaky, ego-appealing words if we yearn for Truth and freedom. Calling ourselves spiritual does not make us “more evolved.” It only makes our minds as grasping and falsely identified as anyone else’s, though perhaps in the know about chakra alignment.

However, there are individual paths that are growth-oriented (changing harmful habits, treating ourselves better, dwelling in presence, etc.) and there are paths that ensure stagnation. An individual can evolve and notice these positive changes, but what we’re ultimately getting at is moving beyond this construct of “me.” Enlightenment is not about our little selfhoods. Self-improvement may be a side effect of this work, but it is not the goal. For no matter how much improvement is done to the ego, the ego remains small and limited. This ensures ongoing confusion and pain. So, while “you” can certainly evolve, this “you” must ultimately be seen for the illusory construct that it is.

2. You are not enlightened. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves: Deep down, we all know if we are free or if the mind has us in its grip.

But really, “enlightenment” is just your most basic state of existence. To be and experience life 
without constant thought is your natural way of being. In this state, the mind is a tool no different from the fingertips I’m using to type up this blog post. When we need it, it is there and used without difficulty. When we don’t, we don’t pay much attention to it. Just as we do not allow our idle fingertips to pinch our own skin or other people’s, we do not allow our minds to abuse us and/or others through constant judgment. And we certainly don’t get caught up defining ourselves as our fingertips, no matter how useful they are.

What I am describing is not the average mode of operating. Even when our thoughts are killing us, we usually do not question them. The mind can be so seductive, and if we pay attention, we notice the way it is constantly luring us. All thoughts are like a passing mist we become fascinated with and attach ourselves to. Ever more troubling, some of the most seductive thoughts we have are those we think can make us free of this never-ending, unwelcome seduction!

This is all a trick, and the mind must be seen for the trickster it is. I witness my mind taking over innumerable times a day, and even then my mind sometimes manages to fool me into false beliefs. There is a phase, perhaps a long one, that we go through where the mind tries to jump in and tell us how we’re doing everything wrong with our lives, or “wasting our time” with this inquiry, thereby discouraging us from freeing ourselves.

The mess we’re in is as follows: We inherit many stories from our families, nations, and cultures. When we unconsciously build these stories into ego-identities, they become very uncomfortable to question or let go of, because losing one’s identity feels like death. We glom onto the popular belief that endless thinking is necessary, or even worse, that it is “the only way to be.” We fall into the trap of believing that thinking can solve all problems, even though it very often does the opposite. For a very long time, humans have collectively sought to solve each new problem the mind creates with a new mind-created solution. Do we see the insanity in this? We are trying to use the thing that made the mess to also clean it up.

This other thing—”presence,” “being,” “spiritual liberation,” “moksha,” “nirvana,” “enlightenment,” etc.—is with you at all times, ready to be rediscovered. It never left. It is just being covered with thoughts we stitch into grandiose stories about who we are and what we “must do.” These stories breed fear and keep us largely unconscious of what exactly is going on here.

Enlightenment is here with you, and you are already it. We only need to uncover it instead of constantly piling delusion on top. This uncovering it is not something you have to work endlessly at. You do not need to jump through anyone else’s spiritual hoops, meditating for years and years, to become what you already are. Just see what’s in front of you (not what you think about what’s in front of you) and take it from there.

3. Someone or something can “enlighten you.” Freedom is not something that can be granted to us by another individual. This very premise—that others can “make us” free, or “make us” anything—is the very essence of enslavement. It means that on a psychological and spiritual level we are beholden to others, that we allow the external world to dictate our feelings.

Freedom is not about being able to do what you want at any given moment. If this were your situation, you would still be in bondage to your own desires. Liberation is an internal experience that is always with you. If it could be given or taken by someone or something outside yourself, it would not be ultimate freedom. This thing can never be given, never be taken, and never goes away.

4. That people who are enlightened don’t experience anger, sorrow, fear, or [insert “bad” emotion here.] Often we imagine some kind of cross between a psychopath—utterly detached from their emotions and those of others—and a loving prophet. Here you designate a lofty, unreachable category of human for yourself, not to mention a type of person you may not even enjoy being. See what you’re doing? Creating yet another elaborate story about what “enlightened people” are like, and even more painfully, comparing yourself to them.

Humans are humans, and yet again, we place “enlightened” ones in a separate, higher category from “ordinary” humans. Paradoxically this is true, as the lived experience of being awake results in freedom rather than bondage, and we know which of these is the true form of existence.

However, we do not become emotionless. Anger rises, we are aware of this anger, but we do not become this anger. Thoughts arise, we are aware of these thoughts, but we do not buy into our thoughts. Heartbreak, loneliness, and despair may come upon us, but we learn to notice their fleeting nature. We then resume with awareness. Emotions simply lose the power to suck us in and convince us we really are them. The various stories these feelings compel us to roll around in fall away easily.

Delusion is like this: Every little thought has the power suck you in, get you to fixate on it, and become increasingly small. (Whether the thought pleases or displeases you, it is still going to be very small.) Enlightenment is like this: You know what and who you are at every moment, and the thoughts and emotions roll off of the presiding, pure awareness that you are.

The other concern with this line of thinking is that, in striving to be awake, we inevitably begin to feel bad about our very human feelings. The logic goes like this: We know we want to be enlightened, and apparently enlightened beings don’t get mad. So, when we do get mad (and we will), not only do we suffer from the pain of anger itself, we suffer because we think we are “unenlightened” for feeling this anger.

Comparing yourself to a “perfect enlightened being” is really just a wonderful way to tumble into neurosis. Perfection is a human construct, and even Christ Jesus and the Buddha did things their followers can explain away because they are blinded by this notion of their “perfection.” There was that time Jesus cursed a fig tree for no apparent reason, and that time he got all pissed and violent with those money-traders in the temple (understandably so). The Buddha—before he was “the Buddha”—abandoned his family to pursue enlightenment.

We should be clear on this: These were people who realized the Truth, and their radical acceptance of all beings is what sets them apart from those who dwell in delusion. However, they were not “perfect” if we judge them by any kind of normal human moral standard. Perfection and God are both beyond morality, because morality is a nothing but a mass of ideas. This is to say that yes, of course realized beings are “perfect,” but in reality, everything is already perfect, including you. This may offend our common way of seeing the world, where problems seem to be everywhere. But when we see reality we know this is true, and that it is only the mind that says otherwise.

5. Life’s problems will cease to exist once we’re enlightened. Let us examine what makes something a “problem.”

At any given moment, it’s actually our choice to see something as a problem or not. Do not misunderstand what I’m saying here: There are many situations in life that require action. If we regarded our whole planet as a piece of ourselves (this is our actual situation, by the way) everything would be effortlessly attended to or left to be. But, with pure awareness, you don’t have to label so many things “problems.” We don’t have to believe it’s a problem that we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have to believe it’s a problem if we’re single. We don’t even have to believe it’s a problem if we’re starving to death. (Again, it feels important that these words not be mistaken: It is unnecessary for anyone on this planet to starve to death, and poverty and hunger in the modern world are created by collective delusion we each have the power to see through.)

But do you see? Every situation is absent of quality until the mind assigns it one. So it isn’t that all of the “problems” go away, but that it gradually (or suddenly) becomes up to us to decide what’s actually problematic, rather than immediately assuming that everything mildly (or even tremendously) troubling is a problem.

Because everything can feel weird post-awakening, you’re likely to face more problems before you face less of them. If you don’t know you’ve awakened, you may try to create new suffering for yourself because suffering is just so much more familiar. You might act in ways you don’t understand. You may need to change a lot of things about your life, and explaining your need to change these things might be impossible. (You are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone, by the way. It is enough to say “I just have to do this.”)

And your loved ones may surprise you with now non-loving they can be when you cease to behave according to their desires and expectations. Those around you may get upset if you realize that your job, marriage, friendships—or even your entire way of living—are way more dishonest and/or unhealthy than you were able to see before. Not everyone will support or accept these changes. It triggers something in us to see people change their lives, and this trigger does not always feel so good. In response to the stirring of discomfort, they may lash out at you, or, more commonly, quietly judge you.

In time this will settle. But certainly (and especially not at first) you will not become free of “problems.” You will gain the power to decide what’s a problem and what isn’t. Nothing about the external world changes, but your orientation to it does.

 

There are many more false beliefs about enlightenment, and I may write about them in the future. For now, we just need to remember that enlightenment is never a state we “reach” or even “attain.” There’s nothing to do or strive for. Just be.

– Lish

Standard
Awakening, Reality, Spirituality

Five Barriers to Enlightenment

This post was originally titled “10 Barriers to Enlightenment,” but it ended up too long. The other five will come at a later date, most likely next week.

Each of the following mental positions are easy to slip into. But the truth is that nothing stops us from experiencing our basic, “enlightened” state aside from our own fastidiously held beliefs and thoughts. This brings us right to belief #1…

  1. There are barriers to enlightenment. Go ahead and stop reading this post. Just give up the idea that anything stands between you and liberation, because it is only that: An idea. Ideas and thoughts, no matter how persuasive, are not ultimately real. They seem very real when we sincerely believe in them. They can take hold of us and drive us into mad behaviors that manifest in the physical world, but that does not make them real.

    The only stumbling blocks to enlightenment exist within the mind and nowhere else. This is why we train in continuously watching our thoughts, ideally before these thoughts turn into words and behaviors that will exacerbate the cycle of suffering.
    In reality, there are no barriers to enlightenment. The only barriers are the ones we imagine and continue to energize with thought. 

    2. “Enlightenment” is a special thing only for certain special people. This word—“enlightenment”—is so loaded that I almost don’t want to use it. And yet, if we avoid using it, it becomes this “word that cannot be uttered,” thereby becoming just as elusive and mysterious anyway. But that’s just the thing: Fetishizing enlightenment is part of the problem. When we do this, we treat it just like any other thing we might desire: A spouse, a piece of cake, a beer, a cigarette, a job, a college degree. Because “being enlightened” is not a special power or a thing to possess, but simply your true state of being, it cannot be wanted. Desire can exist only for things you don’t yet have. Enlightenment is not like this. You have it, your friends have it, your parents have it, and no one ever didn’t have it. (Using the word “have” is actually incorrect, because it makes Truth into a thing to possess, and it is not that.) Turning it into something very big and special reserved only for “certain” people is yet another delusion.It also creates a false hierarchy—”those who are enlightened”—and us mere mortals. This is not to diminish the value of our teachers, but we must recognize that holding others in extreme reverence can blind us from realizing our own selves. The responses we feel towards others reflect and draw out elements that exist within ourselves. Therefore, the good energy we experience in the presence of teachers is a drawing out of the light that’s already there. They are not “giving” us anything other than their true being, which is your true being, which is everyone’s true being.

    3. It takes “thousands and thousands of lifetimes” to become enlightened. I once had a therapist tell me this. (I did not see her many times after she made this claim.) This is a common belief that quickly disintegrates when we really look at it, just as many spiritual beliefs do.

    First, how do you know you haven’t already lived thousands and thousands of lifetimes? If we’re accepting this level of mystery about the whole thing, why can’t this be “your” 10,001st lifetime and that this is the one you’re going to wake up in? Furthermore, why can’t that moment occur right now?

    Secondly, to my knowledge, the Buddha himself never said anything of the sort. (Any Buddhist scholars, feel free to correct me.) Awakening—becoming free of suffering—is the explicit “goal” of the noble eight-fold path, even though when we approach enlightenment like a “thing to get,” we will always miss it (see above.) Nowhere did the Buddha say that it took special credentials or many lifetimes to awaken. Also, the way we often think about this whole “multiple lifetime” thing is off the mark, but I won’t get into that here.

    There is just no grounding for this idea in any text, and more importantly, you will not find it in your direct experience. Logically it makes no sense. It requires a lot of delusion in order to accept it in the first place. Do you truly remember living any other lives? Are you sure these are not mere imaginations? Doesn’t the “multiple lifetimes” concept require as much blind belief as anything else, and furthermore, what is the “you” that is supposedly continuing through several lives?

    It is important to proceed as if this, right now, is our only lifetime, and that this is the one enlightenment exists in.

    4. The “I” is an enduring, separate entity. This pernicious belief is the one we cling to at all costs. It is the most difficult one to let go of, and the construct the mind tends to serve at all costs: “me, “mine,” “I.”As soon as the “I” is threatened—in our society, this is usually when someone argues or disagrees with our opinions—we spring into action as if we were dying. This is a serious affliction that must be dealt with and watched carefully. We act as though our beliefs are limbs that are being hacked up. We feel on an emotional level as though we’ve been injured if we are made wrong. It is only this sense of ego that can be injured in this way, and it is only the ego that goes seeking such intellectual battles.This is enslavement at its finest. The “I” is so entrenched that we cannot engage in discussions without feeling our hearts race and anger start to rise. We cannot talk about our “beliefs” without becoming frustrated. This small notion of “I” keeps us trapped and limited in ways we are not even aware of until we see through it.

    To be sure, this what “enlightenment” is ultimately about: Becoming free of ego, free of the limited “I.” We very understandably fear the loss of this “I,” and yet it is the thing that must be relinquished in order to walk through the door to freedom. Try to locate where this “separate self” is. Try to find where you are not connected and/or a part of everything else. Try to discern how much of you would need to be “replaced” with something else (say with synthetic body parts or a damaged mind) before “you” were not “you” anymore. The more we play with this idea, the more obvious it becomes that it is nothing more than an idea.

    That’s all the “I” has ever been. Realizing this wholly results in that great “extinguishing.” This can be very relieving, though it is usually preceded by much fear.

    5. There’s a specific, “right” path that can get you to enlightenment. First: There is nothing to get to. It’s right here. Take off the thick lenses of thought and belief and here it is, just where it’s always been. (I freely admit that I, too, wear thick lenses of thought, and that I am not always skilled in dis-identifying from these thoughts, especially when they’re paired with strong emotions.)

    The Buddha’s path is a kind of “fake it til you make it” program. It is enlightenment which results in our notions of “morality” rather than the other way around. When we understand that we are in no way separate, it is only obvious to strive to be good to each other and the entirety of the Whole we belong to and are. When we see what’s true, no one has to enforce or overthink this.However, encouraging people to “be good” (via the noble eight-fold path) in order to attain enlightenment achieves two things: It encourages people to stop behaving insanely in the external world, even if they are still insane on the inside. This is positive. It also cultivates the consciousness of the seeker to handle it better when enlightenment does arrive. Things tend to go smoother if you’re already living in accordance with compassion, kindness, and love.

    Example: A man who poaches endangered animals for sport, regularly uses drugs and alcohol, and is married to his third trophy wife would likely experience a rude awakening. (It’s possible that he would have a clean break into liberation and change his ways easily. However, due to the level of delusion such habits are built upon, and the way these habits are built into his ego identity, there would likely be some amount of resistance.) Much about his way of life would fall apart before his eyes. This thing would likely wreck him, even though it would be exactly what he needs. (I suspect that the level of intensity certain people would face if they were to wake up is precisely what keeps them from doing so. I am sure many powerful people in this world fight hard to remain unconscious, though of course, they are also unconscious of this…) On the other hand, a person who already prioritizes detaching from the mind and living with kindness—and who knows that awakening is possible—will have likely a much smoother time.

    Ultimately there is no “path” to enlightenment, just like there’s no “path” to being made of flesh and blood. This is just how it is, whether you’re aware of it or not. Avoiding or denying enlightenment—which is what we habitually do—is unnatural, and yet we keep doing it. We keep insisting we want it, and yet keep on denying that it is True right now.

    The path is just right here. We just keep coming back to right where we are. We keep watching our thoughts as they cover our light. At some point, without trying, we stumble upon ultimate Truth.

    – Lish

 

 

Standard