Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– Lish

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