Awakening, Consciousness, Spirituality, The Soul, Truth

Three Spiritual Truths

A few days ago, someone asked me to share three things with them about spirituality. Just three? I thought. Given the opportunity, I’ll go on about this shit forever, which is exactly while I have this blog. It took me a minute to generate an answer, but when I did, I wrote back fervently and had to cut myself off because I knew he was probably getting a lot more than he bargained for. My response turned into this post.

This conversation actually occurred in a Tinder chat window. I’m sharing this piece of information a) for the sake of openness, b) to illustrate that opportunities to share truth can come in unexpected places, and c) to point out that really, no activity is more or less “spiritual” than any other.

I’ve actually made some very nice connections through this medium, even though for a long time it was something I was completely closed to. Being closed has probably protected me at times, but it’s also shut me off from a lot of really awesome people, including those I wouldn’t normally consider “my type.” We all have people in our lives who like to categorize and mock “other kinds” of people. This is, quite frankly, super ignorant. I have yet to meet someone who is incapable of showing me some depth if I ask the right questions. I have let go of thinking I have “a type” and of meeting people any particular way: The divine leaves nothing out and holds no thing or person in higher regard than another. It is only our minds that do this.

Still I admit that Tinder is largely a weird distraction I stumbled into while traveling. Even though it’s resulted in some interesting conversations (and a couple I ducked out of pretty quickly), I’ll probably delete it because really, what do I think I’m even doing? Any sort of partner for me (which I guess I’m not so much avoiding as I am trying to navigate with significantly more awareness than I have in past years [also, I’ve been failing at this again]) is not likely to be someone who is swiping through Tinder.

Then again, I’m on Tinder right now, so I guess you never know. I’m becoming less and less convinced that our outward choices (aside from things like, you know, murder and war and abuse) are very indicative of what’s going on inside. People do things for all kinds of reasons—most of them are surely unconscious—and sometimes people do things for no reason at all. In most cases, it’s been my projection to assume I know why anyone does anything, and that’s a projection I’d like to let go of.

Somehow I’m rambling about Tinder at this point and that feels absurd, so I’m gonna stfu and get on with this list:

1: Consciousness/Truth/Self/God/Soul/Reality/Pure awareness are all synonyms. They are also literally the same in all beings. Everyone’s true identity is this ineffable thing, but we routinely mistake ourselves for the body/mind.

We get so hung up on words and their precise definitions, as if knowing them will get us somewhere. Aside from the fact that there really is nowhere to go, it’s important to remember that when it comes to reading spiritual lessons/listening to spiritual teachers, we stop trying so hard to nail down concepts. Truth isn’t conceptual. It is also important to learn how to listen to energy more so than content, because anyone can say these things without ever having a deep insight. We all know how to read energy to some degree. If you start to pay attention to this skill, it will sharpen on its own.

From our average conditioning (inaccurate perception), the words generally get defined like this:

Consciousness: Human thought and thinking.
Truth: Different for everyone.
God: An external creator of reality. If one is religious, God is tied to a particular prophet.
Soul: Something special and individual that every human has.
Reality: The world we appear to live in and the events that go on in it.
Awareness: Mental knowledge of something.
Who we Are: An individual with unique traits and life situations.

Waking up turns all this on its head. I know I use a whole lot of words, and I appreciate them. But I see quite clearly that with regards to teaching, they can only be used to point the mind back inwards towards Truth. We see that instead of there being multiple definitions that are super important to understand, there really is just this one thing that is beyond definition. We learn to use words differently according to the situation, but loosely, the above words refer to the same Absolute.

This brings me to # 2…

2: Pure consciousness cannot be understood by the mind. I have said this before. I will say it again. Many teachers say this, and yet the vast majority of us continue to approach spirituality by thinking, and then we end up frustrated.

This is why meditation has been the recommended practice for so long: In time, it puts distance between you and your mind, allowing you to truly examine your crazy and then get it out. While changing the way you think can be extremely powerful, Truth cannot be talked to or thought to. What can we do then? The answer is always the same; it is never new: Change habits, start sitting with yourself regularly, read some spiritual books, and see what emerges.

Sometimes I get in discussions with those who are entirely in their minds, like Truth is another idea or a piece of trivia to pick up. It is not that. In order to effectively have these conversations, we have to drop into a different kind of energy and be ready to be wrong about everything we think we know. This is problematic for many people, because most egos don’t like to be wrong. At some point, we can round a corner where being wrong is welcomed and interesting, but early on, when we are still trying to have “debates” about spiritual matters, being wrong is avoided. As soon as we’re identified with what we already think we understand, we will defend it. I still watch this happen inside of myself sometimes, but it seems to be fading.

Intellectual understanding is a function of the mind, and the mind is couched within pure consciousness. Truth can be known but this knowing is different from intellectual understanding. In the same way that I can only weakly describe what it’s like to get music-tingles or fall in love, I can’t explain this thing to anyone on a mental level.

I end up in a lot of conversations where I can feel, energetically, that we are approaching the discussion from the level of mental understanding. The person I am talking to is looking for evidence, reasoning, and other intellectual functions. These conversations don’t go very far anymore, because I truly have no interest or emotional charge caught up in arguments. This change was pretty hard for my ego to digest at first because my top two favorite things used to be getting drunk and entertaining philosophical discussions.

But, Truth is not a piece of trivia, a set of beliefs, or any other kind of dogma. It simply is.

3: The ultimate truth of existence can be known. Sometimes I run into this maxim when I end up in talks about spirituality: “We can never really know these things for sure.” It feels like I am expected to agree with it, but I don’t.

Actually, we can know. If I had any doubts about Reality, I would have never changed my life. If I went through hell and back only to be wading through the waters of doubt about who I am, what would be the point? The goal is to firmly know, and this is possible. Having the ability to realize the Absolute is the greatest privilege of being human, even though it can come with the experience of egregious suffering as well.

Lots of times people insist that it is impossible to be sure, generally because they are still looking for answers in their minds. Usually they have not started any spiritual practice and are engaged in consciousness-lowering behaviors, and yet they still say it cannot be known. This is always kind of weird to me. It’s like saying we can’t know for sure what color the sky is, but they’ve never even looked up.

In this case, “looking up” would be to give up habits that lower consciousness and commit to a life rooted in pursuit of self-knowledge. This only happened for me after I was graced with a strange and totally unexpected awakening. It can happen in an instant, truly.

Many of us are not consciously seeking Truth, and that is also fine. Know that it is always in your power to walk the path, but it’s serious work, even with the huge energetic boost of an awakening. At first it is deeply uncomfortable to see how wrong and ignorant you are about life and your identity. Now I find it to be generally fun, and have a little laugh at my mind when I notice it’s got me caught up in all the same bullshit as always (Oh hi Tinder/preoccupations with dudez).

In any case, we all arrive here in due time. It’s all happening just as it should, and it’s always an individual’s choice if they’d like to put in more effort. I highly recommend it, but also have no desire to convince anyone of anything.

lish ❤

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Awakening, Transformation, Truth, Uncategorized

Happiness and the Heart

I keep trying to write the best “oh hey I’m back in the world” post, but I’ve accepted that it isn’t gonna happen. The truth is that I have very little to say. I am happy and free; I am so happy that I didn’t even know happiness could exist in this way. The coffee shop I’m sitting at is playing “Shadowplay” by Joy Division, I am caffeinated, I am fed, and in my backpack I have Don Quixote and Leaves of Grass to read. I admittedly feel like a bit of a cliche as a spiritual wanderer; I’m also totally okay with this. My phone is charged up and yesterday I downloaded a playlist of rap from the early 2000s. I cannot imagine what else I could need at this moment.

I feel somewhat wary that if I say too much about the joy that surges through me on a daily basis, it’ll come across as braggy or disingenuous. There is even sometimes a sense of embarrassment for how freaking happy I am. And yet, at the same time, we’re living in this world where there is such a dearth of true joy that I  feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops: I’m healthy, free, happy, stable, and grounded, and this is possible for everyone on Earth. I am calm and often feel naturally meditative… all this, even though I’m not clear at all on what my next move in life will be. I have no job, no car, no permanent living space, no plan, and yet it feels completely fine to be falling in this way. There is a sense of having nothing yet having everything. There is no fear and I feel safe and taken care of. I am confident in what I’m rooted in: It is a safe space within that has no end, but no longer feels so big that I’m afraid of it.

It is very beautiful indeed, and that is a tremendous understatement.

This is not to say every moment is bliss. Two days ago I hardly felt real. I sat in the Texas State cemetery and cried a little for no particular reason, wondering when I’d finally be the “fully whole and integrated” person I expected to be by then. There was a wash of nothingness in my being, and even though I wrote quite a bit, the words felt hollow and empty. My energy was low, but from where I sit now I see that the low energy wasn’t even a problem. The problem was that I started the day from the wrong mind which said I “should” be busy “accomplishing” things (write a short story, write a blog post, read 30 pages, go for a run).

Quite simply, that’s crazy. I know this is what we do in our culture—make goals and attack them—but achieving worldly goals really isn’t what I’m going for here. I’m going for inner freedom, full stop. How free can we be if we’re beholden to the mind that forces us to go-go-go, even when what we really need to do is sit in a cemetery and cry for no reason? Being in tune with our energy and allowing it to move us (rather than forcing an action due to our conditioning) is the only way to live. Furthermore, when I allow in this way, I actually get things done while dwelling in a space of deep peace and aliveness. When we are not living in a state of surrender to the way things are, including our ever-changing energies, we make ourselves miserable.

This platitude, this thing we hear over and over again with regards to spirituality—surrender—makes more and more sense the further you go: Stop trying to be somebody; stop clinging to the memories and beliefs about what your life should look like. Applying “shoulds” to life negates our ability to accept what is and reveals an attitude of thanklessness. We deny our very lives by insisting that they “should be” going any other way than they are, and grasping onto the ego identity when the soul is ready to wake up only brings suffering. The answer is to just keep letting go of all the things you think you know; jettison as many thoughts and beliefs as you can while maintaining stability. Just trust and breathe: If your life is not in immediate danger, you can access profound peace. The more I do this, the better and better I feel.

And yet, surrender is not the kind of thing we can be taught “how” to do in the same way we are taught to do other things. It is very subtle, and consists of bringing yourself back into this moment over and over and over. It requires a gentle vigilance with the undisciplined mind, which can often take us away and convince us to be very worried and stressed and sad. We must be gentle because if we try to “force” the mind, it will always rebel; we must be vigilant because we’re working on many lifetimes of conditioning here. When we slack, the egoic mind easily gains a foothold.

Still, no matter how we overcomplicate it, life is really very simple if you seek to know Truth: Drop into your heart. Take care of your body and purify yourself in this way (I’m generally talking total sobriety and veggies, guys; sorry not sorry). Sit with yourself in silence. Be grateful and stop blaming others for your state of being. One day, an unending fountain of peace will appear, and whatever happens after that is fine.

This peace is necessarily found outside of the mind and inside of the heart. A lot of people get caught up in arguments and discussions about Truth, but once it is found, these things become less and less interesting. Truth is not something to be right or wrong about; it is not something to defend. The mind cannot make sense of this peace, and this peace cannot be thought to. All the books and theories on consciousness are not important, and I say that as someone who was once totally identified with “writing about consciousness.” Reading and writing are nothing in comparison to simply dwelling in the presence of God, which is also You in your purest form.

The main difference between egoic happiness and true happiness is that the former can be taken away.

It arises alongside things like possessions, titles, money, fame, status, and other kinds of external validation. This temporary happiness is the result of the ego’s constant need to be inflated. Egoic happiness is fleeting and ephemeral, which (and I feel I must always make this part clear) doesn’t mean it is bad. It just means that it’s unstable: Wherever an ego identity derives its validation—be it from our relationships, our jobs, our skills, or our Tinder matches—these things will one day disappear.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy when a new lover comes into our lives or we get the perfect job, but that if there is not an underlying foundation of immovable peace in God, they are worthless. It’s important to keep everything in perspective: Life situations are subject to falling apart (or ending entirely) at any moment, and the only true safety is in the timeless perfection of the Self.

Deep gratitude naturally unfolds in this way: Not only am I free and alive in God, but I’m drinking an Americano and eating a banana with peanut butter? Holy shit! How glorious! All of life’s external configurations really are just icing on the cake of the Self. Somewhat paradoxically, we often have to give up all that icing in order to realize the cake. Even so, if we don’t renounce the icing voluntarily, it will be taken from us either way. This is the beauty of the fiction that is death: The lesson is built into the entire experience.

We are all bound for realization, true happiness, and peace that passes all understanding; the only question is how long it takes. It also requires the very unpredictable element of divine grace, an unimaginably powerful force I cannot explain, and so I won’t try. As human beings, we have the opportunity to put effort into our spiritual paths, and that’s the only way to up your odds of self-realization. With effort, we’re more likely to experience deep realizations, but they can happen either way, so it’s best to be prepared.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track, so I’m going to end this post. I hope to write again soon, but, as always, I don’t know—not because I’ve lost my love of writing (if anything, I love it more), but, again, because I honestly feel like I have nothing to say. There’s about 10 gazillion spiritual books that will say this stuff better than I will, though I’m sure I’ll improve. I’m personally reading through Talks with Ramana Maharshi and feeling like shutting the hell up. Perhaps I am just in a particularly still internal phase right now, but I can’t be sure. In the end there is nothing but immortality; there is nothing but this now here; there is nothing but perfect, awake emptiness.

The only plan I have in life is to go forth and carry this peace with me wherever I go, and if it feels right, I’ll update this thing.

Thinking of everyone lovingly,

– lish

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Awakening, Culture, Enlightenment, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Knowing True Freedom

Colloquially, the word “freedom” is used in conjunction with certain physical and political contexts—freedom of movement, speech, assembly, the right to vote, etc. What distinguishes these notions from spiritual freedom is this: Spiritual freedom is not dependent on anything external to one’s own state of consciousness. This is precisely what makes it the only true freedom. Freedom’s opposite is dependence, so if one’s sense of freedom is dependent on having certain external parameters met, we can see that whatever they have gained is not true freedom. It may be greater worldly opportunity or social mobility, and these things are important. However, we tell ourselves a tremendous lie when we tangle these things up with what it means to be free. I have no doubt that there are prisoners who meditate and that they are more free than, say, an American workaholic with a drinking problem.

It is unconsciousness itself that has mislabeled “freedom” in this way: If a large population can be convinced that they are free even as they take up soul-numbing tasks in order to survive and dwell in various addictions, the machine continues on unquestioned. We are most hopelessly enslaved when we wrongly believe we are free.

Though the idea that we are “convinced we are free” may elicit images of some brilliant (yet evil) ruling class, this is false. I do not believe there are any masterminds at the top of this pyramid. Sometimes, as we begin to peel back the layers of deceit and/or one-sided information we were fed as children, we can get lost in conspiracy theories. We come to believe that there is an order of shadowy overlords that have been calling the shots since time immemorial. Finding them out feels like juicy, privileged gossip, but, like other forms of gossip, these things are little more than a distraction. I don’t mean to dismiss that corporate conglomerates and wealthy, violent people hold a staggering amount of power in the world. They do, but there’s that key phrase: In the world. If we were each to find the part of us that is not in the world, would we be bothered so much? Moreover, would we allow such other people to run our lives if we felt empowered, whole, and alive?

The world has become this way because we believe we are small and that everyone has a “dog eat dog” attitude. When we live in such fear, these “shadowy overlords” have a foothold over us. Liberation—moksha, nirvana, enlightenment, awakening, etc.—cannot be taken, cannot be granted, and cannot be compromised by one’s outer circumstances. This is precisely why it is the answer to our ailments, both personal and collective: It happens in a place that is completely incorruptible.

A person who is truly free is the most powerful person in the world. Why is this? Because you cannot manipulate or coerce such an individual to do anything whatsoever. They move in accordance with their own compass, which is always pointed in towards truth. They will live in ways that others deem difficult or unpleasant before they sacrifice their freedom, because they know how valuable (and how rare) this freedom is. They need far less than one who is conditioned to require specific comforts in order to feel okay. Even a threat to the life of one who is free can be met with a smile.

Merely having this piece of information is enough to focus my life 100% on the path. It now feels like something of a “sidestep” to seek that which is not eternally enduring, complete, and freeing. The summit is in sight, and every distraction is a detour. As Ramana Maharshi said: “What is not permanent is not worth striving for.”

Looking around, can we find anything that is permanent? There is nothing that can be discerned with the senses that is not subject to decay and disintegration. This is not some “future disintegration” we are talking about: It’s happening now. All is in flux; we are spinning, changing, dying, and being reborn. Nothing in the play of consciousness—a term used to describe the happenings and appearances of our lives—is going to last forever.

Again, this is something most of us intellectually “know.” And yet, with attachments, fears, and desires for safety, our minds try so hard to make this not true. Grasping for safety, we think, if only everything could just stay the same. Yes, we “know” change is a constant, that nothing lasts, and that everything is subject to decay. But when it comes time to accept the end of a job or a romantic relationship, how often do we do so with grace, or even joy at the potential of the new?

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to bargain with the inarguable fact of change. The final change—death—will show us our errors in this regard, but it is not wise to wait until then to see them.

The spiritual path gets to the root of everything. Once we have exhausted ourselves trying to control this outside variable, and this one, and that one, we recognize that there is still a restlessness. It goes right to the middle of us, and it is unrelenting. We are constantly hungry for something ultimately satisfying. What is the thing that soothes this ache? How do we cease the frantic search to be sated?

On a large scale, this is what we have been doing to the planet for thousands of years. The collective ego sees the Earth as a thing to use rather than an organism to responsibly live within. We use one resource after another, taking temporary gratification over long-term well-being. The process of colonization and societal “growth” is indeed an addiction on a wide scale. Soon there will be nothing left to take, but we will still be trying to feed the ego, which, in something of a temper tantrum, will keep demanding the physically impossible: Unchecked biological domination. But nature will not have this; she has made her preference well-known in diversity, and we are inexorably chained to her rules. When we deny this, there is collapse. This has been shown in civilizations over and over again. Where will we turn when this all comes crashing to the ground? What kind of delusion are we living in if we believe this crash can be staved off forever?

There is also a reason why spiritual teachers don’t often bring up politics or systemic issues such as capitalism or the patriarchy.  It is not because they are apathetic, “above it,” or find these issues trivial. On the contrary, one who is on the path acknowledges the depth of suffering created by such hierarchies. We accept that the breadth of this suffering is unimaginable. We choose, however, to focus more intently on the root of these problems, knowing that pulling the root is the only way to effectively deal with any problem. The root is the egoic mind. This limiting, overly-personal mind lives within each of us, and in order for lasting change to occur, it is the thing that must be brought into awareness. The sprouts and weeds of real-world issues are more visible, but hacking at them while the root remains intact is not the best use of energy.

I used to feel like there were two entities within me, fighting. I desperately wanted “the good one” to win, even though it really felt like the evil one would consume me entirely. When we start to develop ourselves more, we do not treat the egoic mind like an enemy—the very idea that we can be “an enemy to ourselves” implies a belief in a caustic kind of separation. It alone is symptomatic of the egoic mind. What we do, quite simply, is notice it. We see that our minds are stocked full with unconscious conditioning, and commit, day after day, to doing what is necessary to dispel this unconsciousness.

Spiritual activists may stand for broader ideals, such as nonviolence and peace overall. To those who are very focused on specific aforementioned issues, this may feel ineffectual and weak. On the contrary: One who dwells in freedom and stands for peace is incredibly strong. They live the peace they espouse in as many ways as they reasonably can, and know that “peace” does not imply a dreamy utopia. (Inner peace can actually be experienced as a jarring stillness that stands in stark contrast to the thought-stream. It is not always welcome at first.) Mostly, they are courageous enough to stand in the middle of a world that is waging war on itself due to madness, and say, “I choose differently.” The will is exercised. The heart expands. The soul rejoices in being acknowledged, and the world wakes up a little more.

– lish

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Awakening, Consciousness, Culture, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, Truth

Truth Takes No Sides

Writing about truth can feel repetitive. We chase our tails in a great circle trying to tidy truth into a package, yet find ourselves met with an impossible task: The closing of one circle immediately generates another circle within and/or outside, and this occurs until words like “inside” and “outside” lose all meaning. Here we must again bow our heads to the Unspeakable. We can revel in it, allow it to pulse through and brighten our cells, but we cannot replicate it without at first compromising it. Every definitive statement on God births a new God to explain; any smart 8-year-old knows this when they ask who God’s mother is. The logical mind finds its edges very quickly in this way.

Truly we neither contract or expand, though we may use such words for practical reasons. We are always going as much as inward as we are going outward; a Mandelbrot set illustrates this principle in a beautiful way. Mathematical models fail where computers hit their limitations, but nature knows not these limits, or any limits whatsoever. We are living in (and as) an endless fractal and bear witness to divine math every day. The structures of our blood vessels mirror naked tree branches which mirror systems of rivers. The trees have eyes; the eyes are held in place with spidery veins and sinews. In winter we see that our breath makes fog and fog is when clouds kiss the Earth. All that is natural has the mark of repetition, but no two things are exactly alike: In external expression, God is never the same twice.

It is clear that the physicist or mathematician loves God as much as any nun. They only happen to find their satisfaction with the Universe in numbers rather than in heart, song, or tradition. Neither is “better” or “closer” to what is true, and I find that numbers can be as elegant as music or art. Still, there is no way to judge by title who is most soulful: A preacher who finds himself becoming rote in his sermons is less in God than a passionate gas station attendant. An artist who creates for social praise is less in God than a child playing alone in her bedroom. The soul has no interest in the realm of labels and rankings; it strikes us equally no matter what others are watching, and bestows wealth in spades to those who appear poor and unknown.

This is not a hard rule either: One can be destitute in all ways (spirit and finance), rich in all ways, or rich in one yet poor in the other. There are more permutations for consciousness than we are able to dream up. We can say confidently, however, that a gold soul trumps all, and chasing money beyond one’s needs is both a symptom and cause of spiritual poverty. When we seek to “use” spiritual laws to enrich who we dream ourselves up to be, we are headed for disaster. It seems there is a growing trend to believe we can be made happy by using visualization and meditation to become materially well-off. Much of this discussion is couched in spiritual jargon, but its root is still the unconscious ego, which seeks to maintain that it is real at all costs. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t ultimately real, and until this fact is made experientially permanent, we live as hungry ghosts.

If it is the assumed identity we are appeasing and not the soul, our prize will forever be dissatisfaction.

Is the human body one organism, or is it an aggregate of trillions of cells working in unison? Is this body-mind its own cell within the greater organism of the human species, or does it stand alone and apart? Common sense points us to answer “both,” and as usual, this simple response is correct. Living life fully comes down to this common sense, of sharpening the mundane yet irreplaceable capacity to hold two different—even seemingly opposite—views within one encompassing awareness. We see all “sides” and we see, too, uncompromising Reality, which has no sides and takes no sides and laughs at the very idea of “sides.” One who dwells in truth knows this well and can be full of contradictions.

And when we catch ourselves mired in questions of “or” when it comes to God, we know we are overthinking: Is God within, or is God outside of us? Is God in Heaven, or is God on Earth? Is God accessible here, or at a temple? Again, we know the answer is “both,” but it is not often that we live from this answer. In awakening, we see that the answer is always both and are magnetized to a way of being that integrates us into a life of said “bothness:” Can I be both serious and playful? Can I be both intense and soft? Can I be both lazy and prolific? Can I see the sickness in the world and belong to it with love? The answer to all of these is yes; you can be all these things and more at once. One who is dynamic represents the fluid ideal of humankind. The only “both” we cannot have is ego—the sincere belief in the individual “me” with its petty wants—and enlightenment.

When I first started listening to spiritual teachers and reading spiritual books, I got confused because I was still trying to use logic: If this thing isn’t a sensation, a concept, or a feeling, and I am not a writer, a woman, or a person… what the hell is it and who the hell am I? That really is the question. It’s like you immaturely fall back to Philosophy 101: Who am I? What is the point of all this? Is there a meaning? What is it? Why? Most adults have learned to find sufficient mental answers and continue on as normal. But when the ego begins to die, none of these answers work; herein lies the crux of an existential crisis. You find that even in a previous “exploratory” phase of life, you did not uncover any real answers. Truth is the seed of philosophy but it is not a philosophy, and seeing it requires a complete renunciation of all former philosophies.

So, who are you? The intellectual answer is easy, but that’s not what it’s about. If knowing the “right” intellectual answer solved it, we would already be living in a Heaven on Earth.

Those who listen to spiritual teachers often look for the “category” in which to put them so that they can affirm their existing mode of thought: Does the guru agree with my politics? Is the wise person of the same views as I am? But those who know truth will not line up with your cherished opinions. They will often refuse to bolster the beliefs you align yourself with because beliefs are illusory things the ego affixes itself to in order to feel more real.

They do not take seriously the ways we cut ourselves off from one another: You may call yourself a Republican or a Democrat or an anarchist or a capitalist or any other “kind of person.” But one who is true sees you primarily as human and knows the vast potential locked inside of you, beneath all -isms and -ists. To them you are a God-in-process; they are constantly on the lookout for your innermost light, which shines through even the deepest ignorance. If we aspire to be more conscious people, we must accept that our responsibility is to do exactly this. When we engage with those who seem ignorant, egotistical, or even harmful, we are at our most powerful when we attend only to their glimmers of light. It is not my assertion that this is easy—it humbles and challenges our own egos, which is also why it is a great practice. Truth cannot be argued to and consciousness can never be forced. At best, it can be drawn out when we see it emerging. Our goal in interactions is to find these kernels of true self, which is always pure and perfect, and focus on them. If this feels impossible, it is best to leave.

Even if one’s light is buried under too many layers of delusion to make an immediate change, this strategy still works. Bringing awareness into daily life is like adding a few drops of clean water to a polluted lake: Little by little, even if it is not noticeable, this clean water dilutes the pollution until the water is purified. We seek to be pure awareness in the poisoned collective mind, knowing that this is the best we can do to affect change in the world. There is an unbelievable amount of poison out there. This makes it that much more urgent to stabilize in purity and take it wherever you go, whenever it is possible.

– lish

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Awakening, Conditioning, Enlightenment, Mental Health, Spirituality

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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Awakening, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Spirituality, Transformation, Truth

Notes on the Truth

The most confounding concern for any spiritual seeker is this: “How?” How do we “become enlightened?” How do we realize the Truth? How to we realize the Self? How do we stumble upon that which we really are? How do we become that which is infinite, changeless, and formless in our own consciousnesses, not simply in theory? Usually, for some amount of time, the mind is obsessed with the how, and chases after the moment of awakening like one might chase after anything else.

But if there is anything we can say about Truth, it is that it is paradoxical and does not follow any fixed laws. I will not lie and say there is a predictable way to attain it (nor am I fully comfortable with using words like “attain” for it). At best I can offer some tools that have helped to integrate my awakening, but it would be dishonest to say I was looking for what “I” re-discovered in myself, or that there is any particular method by which it occurred. It came out of nowhere in the midst of a life that felt rather saturated in problems. My entire being was blindsided by it, and this created a big mess. This is why I advocate for gradual, sane awakenings.

There is no logical consistency to it, truly no “path,” and no guarantees about it. Realizing Truth stands in stark contrast to every other “goal” as we are taught to approach it. We are conditioned to believe that anything worth having must be ardently striven for. To experience the Self outside of this conditioning, you even have to let go of the idea that Truth can be “gotten” in such a way.

I have no answer to the “how,” except to say that there is no surefire “how.” I believe anyone who says they do have a definite “how” is either lying or mistaken.

One of my favorite quotes is that “enlightenment always happens by accident, but practice makes us accident-prone.” If you are out of practice, it can still happen; it’s just going to be a lot more intense (and not necessarily in a good way) when you wake up. I invite you to read this piece by Osho on “accidental enlightenment” if you’re interested.

One metaphor I particularly like is that enlightenment is similar to being struck by lightning, and following a conscious spiritual path turns you into a lighting rod. If you take up practices, keep yourself sober and healthy, read books by reliable sources, and follow your heart in life, your being is probably at a place where it is drawing nearer to enlightenment (or vice versa.). You make yourself more likely to “get hit” in this way. Even better, if this lightning strikes, it will be channeled through you in a much better way than if you do nothing to cultivate your consciousness ahead of time.

It is also prudent to view self-realization with just as much respect as we do literal lightning: It can bring with it a sense of pure power. In someone who is spiritually immature (as I was, and am still growing out of), this energy is really not wielded well at all. To continue following this metaphor, we have to imagine someone very strong who has the presence of mind to calmly withstand being struck by lightning. I don’t know if this is possible, but let’s pretend: You could end up running around like a maniac, caught on fire by your realization (without practice), or standing in awe of the totality of this power, allowing it to surge through your being and inform you of what, if anything, to do next (with practice).

When we wake up, it also becomes clear that the Truth has been with us the whole time; it has only been temporarily covered over with various attachments, illusions, and other mental clutter. It is like remembering you have a fortune when you believed you were bankrupt or waking up in the arms of your lover during a dream in which they have died: There’s a wash of relief for sure, and also a great deal of joy upon seeing your own mistake in believing things were not always this way. In the face of Reality, your former ignorance is revealed as a kind of joke.

I have made metaphors like this before, and I will continue to do so: Trying to be enlightened is like “trying” to have a heartbeat. It is always there, and always has been. Still, you can bring more awareness to your heartbeat; then maybe one day it just pops into your conscious mind: The steady, life-affirming rhythm you never could have existed without becomes eternal in your awareness.

When you the see the Truth that lives inside of you, all mysteries and maladies of the human condition become clear and even simple to resolve: “All” we have to do is realize the Truth. A good skeptic will not believe this, nor should they. And even though the words may seem too trite and childish to carry weight—“just realize the Truth”—what I am actually speaking of is completely revolutionary, healing, and hilarious when it is realized. It is not what you think it is.

So what is the Truth? I am not going to define it, in part because it cannot be defined. Truth never changes and yet it never repeats; how could any honest person define such a thing? Every person really does have to look for themselves. Anyone who has encountered the Truth will know they cannot adequately “explain” it to you, nor will they ask you to accept anything they say unquestioningly. This is another issue I take with religious institutions: These organizations often insist that followers “must” accept certain things in order to be known and loved by God. The main problem with all this “you must accept x prophet as The Best Savior” stuff is that it is patently False. God requires nothing of you or anyone else. God is unconditional acceptance, nonjudgmental observance, and pure awareness of All That Is. This space is also within you, and it can be realized. To say otherwise is to trivialize and make a mockery of God: Imagining this God has jealousies, preferences, and plays favorites? What we are thinking of here is an ill-mannered yet popular teenager, not the Almighty.

Secondly, getting people to stop seeking by handing them the “correct” beliefs robs them of their opportunity to truly discover it. To me, this is the most tragic part: Clinging to and/or identifying with fixed mental positions means you have wrapped your purity up in a costume. Truth reveals itself once we give up our identifications, so when we try to goad someone into picking up an identification (as a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.), we effectively halt their spiritual growth. Anytime we “add” layers to ourselves—of belief or philosophy—we evade abiding in that pure state. Of course, those who dole out the “things that must be accepted” are not aware that they’re actually preventing the true spread of God in this world.

No one who has had this realization will claim they can give it to you. Instead they will ask you to look inside yourself, find your own answers, and never give up. They may suggest that you don’t make “enlightenment” a goal per se—indeed it is not “your” goal to achieve—but keep the thirst for realization close at heart.

In my quite limited wisdom, I would suggest not overthinking it, but seeking clarification from qualified teachers and books. There are many qualified teachers, but finding one requires some amount of spiritual discernment, since anyone can learn to simply say words about “existence” and “Truth.” Behind all this talk, there may be an ego seeking admiration and praise, or even just an ego that now assumes the role of a “spiritual teacher,” as if that means something fixed, with some superior sense of moral righteousness. With your own practice—meditation, reading spiritual books, breath work, journaling, yoga, or anything that truly stills your mind—you will begin to build up this kind of spiritual discernment. Dharma talks and satsangs will resonate in ways they did not before. You will develop “an ear” for those who are telling the Truth, and an equally astute sense for disingenuousness.

It is extremely helpful to find at least one spiritual friend you trust and clarify your knowledge together though conversation. I believe that two intelligent people looking inward can spark plenty of insight, even if neither has been “struck by lightning.” Asking is beautiful because it means we don’t know everything. It is always a humble act to ask questions. We must always accept that we really don’t know, and avoid falling into the trap of thinking we know much of anything at all. At some point accumulated knowledge even starts to feel like baggage—it just takes up space and it doesn’t get you closer to your Self.

Then, in one instant, the Truth arrives subtly and yet blindingly obvious. It is just the Truth.

– Lish

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Awakening, Consciousness, Reality, Spirituality

Releasing the Need to be “Understood”

I have begun the slow process of emptying my apartment of its things. My last day of waiting tables will be Dec. 31st, which feels fitting and practical. I’m getting really excited, and I really don’t feel as anxious or harried as I thought I would. As soon as the choice was clear in my mind, I just started dropping a bunch of lingering hangups and fears. Soon I will be in the place I need to be, following my heart in order to deepen my awareness of consciousness, which is really All There Is.

Of course I’m aware that moving to an ashram to potentially pursue monkhood is not a decision everyone will understand, and being “understood” once felt really important to me. I had this deep, unquenchable desire to “connect,” largely because I almost never felt connected to other people. It was a kind of Hell to feel so far away and unable to be “gotten” by others. However, when we are deeply assured of what we know and who we are—when all doubt has been removed about our truths—being understood is no longer a concern. We even see that it’s a significant obstacle to desire intellectual understanding of the path and for others to understand you.

Here’s why: They won’t. This is not true of everyone, and this is not meant to be any kind of condescending “my spirituality’s deep/they don’t get it” statement. Spirituality is actually very simple. Everyone gets it on some level. But I speak from experience in saying that if you wake up to ultimate Reality, if you change too fast, if you lose your mind, if you try to share with others what really happened when you lost your mind, if you become really open and unafraid and unstable… there are likely to be only a few precious individuals who really see what you’re going through. Very few will allow your process without judgment, and this is not their fault. People will judge (while saying to your face that they’re not judging); they will question and demand explanations and tell you to take more time and think and slow down and say that they are worried. This really does come from a caring place, and remember: You’ve been judgmental, too; it is a mental pattern that takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome.

Your job is to be okay with others’ lack of understanding, to carry the disapproval and concern wisely. (FYI: I did not do this.) Your job is to be decisive about what you need to do—it really is the waffling that creates problems. This waffling is what we call “resistance to the soul:” When we go back and forth about how we’re living now, it creates an unnecessary battle within. Higher consciousness (your heart and soul) is like a surge of water trying to burst through a dam. Your mind, with all its fears and rationalizations, is the dam. The pressure and cognitive dissonance arises only because you are resisting growth, albeit unconsciously. And I know this isn’t fun to hear, but when you feel stuck, the answer is almost always to give up the thing you think you can’t give up and to do the things you think you can’t do. All the while there must be a very sure, unshakable decision: I’m doing what my soul needs to do. Then you should try to not go back on your choices, even though a lot of well-meaning people may suggest that you do.

Being human, you probably will go back on your soul choice a few (or a million) times. I’ve done it more times than I can count. The conditioned mind is stubborn and it is used to being in charge; it does not want to relinquish its “control.” To truly follow your heart is to march through a field of intense fear, all by yourself, perhaps for a very long time. It is not glamorous and almost no one will reward you for it. Most of us do not follow our hearts. We follow others and we follow our conditioned minds, no matter how much trouble they get us into. Fear will try to goad you back into doing something conventional and safe, but your soul will always to try and pull you back into the unknown. Yes, it is scary. We are all afraid of what we don’t know, but the unknown is where our true selves dwell, so we have to take that leap. We cannot allow the threat of discomfort to make our life decisions.

Eventually, if you’re having an awakening, this struggle will subside. If you calmly (and resolutely) do what is needed, it will become clear that whatever happened during the most intense phases of awakening weren’t merely due to a “fluke” or a “hard time.” They were part of a transition—even if a turbulent one—into a new way of being.

Also, if you keep saying “yes” to your soul, the conditioned mind will start to back off as well. Once it gets the message that fear tactics won’t work because you’re going to keep surrendering, it will become quieter and begin to defer to you.

I think I’ve (finally) shed the expectation/desire to be “understood,” but I still want to write about my choice, because in it there are a lot of greater implications:

From the outside, the life of a monk probably looks suppressive or austere or regimented or any other number of words that means “restrictive.” The funniest thing about this is that the spiritual life feels like the exact opposite: You’re just totally free and happy. You laugh easily and nothing is mean-spirited. There’s nothing to worry about because you know you can’t die and that this world is but a divine play created by the mind. You have basic trust in others and in the universe. Also: Living in this freedom is the best thing for the rest of the world, even if you appear to be “doing nothing.” You move freely, think freely, and speak freely and without fear. You aren’t censoring or restricting yourself, but you’re not “out of control” either. I actually avoid spiritual traditions that are restrictive or commanding, and I always have. This is indicative of fear—”God won’t love us unless…”—and lack of trust in our ability to conduct ourselves reasonably. Also, the “goal” of the path is liberation, through and through. Rules can’t get you there, though self-discipline can. These are completely different things.

There is a belief in a lot of people that without a bunch of laws and mental checks and balances, we’d all be behaving savagely. This is an insult to humanity, again going back to how small and limited and weak we imagine ourselves to be. We—like the rest of the animal kingdom—know innately how to live if given an appropriate, natural environment. It is only because we have so far removed ourselves from a nurturing environment that we’re collectively ridden with such extreme problems. When people are raised safely and with unconditional acceptance, they do not tend to become abusive or greedy or miserly or power-hungry. One goal of spiritual revolution is to create a world where everyone treats everyone like loving family. This isn’t a moralistic, fuzzy thing we’re talking about; it is only practical.

So, even though there are “rules” at this ashram—chiefly sobriety, vegetarianism, and celibacy—abiding by these rules doesn’t require the exertion of willpower (for me anyway). I didn’t get the sense that anybody was suffering through their meatless meals or trying super hard not to sleep with one another. It’s just like with sobriety now—it almost never crosses my mind to drink anymore. It’s just the way it is and I am pleased with it. Life at the ashram all felt very natural and in-flow; it felt better than what we call “normal” life, which is very much not-free and often pretty mechanical-feeling. I knew I was there to work and grow spiritually, and everyone just seemed to value a simple, healthy way of life.

There are a lot more reasons for why I’ve chosen to take this step, but for now I think I’ll just say that it’s about freedom, plain and simple, and the awareness that freedom is necessarily an internal state.

– Lish

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