The Mind, Spirituality, Conditioning, Culture

Karma, Awareness, & Cultural Change

Apparently some people use words like “karma” to explain why others live in extreme poverty, or why awful things like human trafficking and widespread exploitation exist. I find this both ignorant and without compassion. It is very simple: We are collectively ill because we are individually ill, and vice versa. The illness I am talking about—as written about briefly in this post—can simply be called “conditioning.” We are conditioned to take on a great number of beliefs, none of which are rooted in our original being.

Discovering your original being and abiding in it is what “enlightenment” and sanity are all about. Doing so neutralizes all karma. I believe it’s Mooji who has a beautiful metaphor of pure consciousness being like a zero: Multiply anything by it and it is always zero. Even 10 billion times zero is zero. All the evil in the world, if it touches this thing, can become still, perfect, and empty. Everything is stopped and made new in an instant.

I never planned on writing about “karma,” for the same reason I didn’t really think I’d be using words like “spirituality:” It’s contaminated. It is not well understood. It is used, like many other concepts, to excuse people of their responsibility to their fellow human and/or to gloss over huge systemic concerns: Why do bad things happen to people? It’s their karma. This is a crazy oversimplification, and I really expect us to know better than this. In our culture, even if it we don’t call it “karma,” plenty of people believe that others have impoverished, difficult lives because they “chose” or “deserve” it. 

Yes, we either consciously or unconsciously create the situations in our lives. But we also collectively create this entire world (also either consciously or unconsciously). We can change the likelihood of certain events for ourselves and others by becoming more aware of this tremendous creative power. The things that happen to us—good or bad—are individually and collectively created, because every event depends on every other event. Everything inter-exists and inter-occurs. That means we are all responsible for the fact that poverty, war, starvation, and exploitation are a part of our world.

Breaking out of cycles of abuse, trauma, and dehumanization requires greater consciousness of these realities, plain and simple. This movement towards consciousness can be as grand as a “big-E Enlightenment experience” or as simple as becoming aware that you are breathing once in a while. Every little bit helps.

Greater consciousness alone can ensure a not-horrible way of being for our species. Every external change is a reflection of this internal movement, and the best way to create change is to approach our world from the inside-out: We start with our own minds first. If we do not do this, we run the risk of simply putting a fresh coat of paint on a house that is actually burning to the ground.

I’m going leave the whole “past lives” thing out of it as well, because this idea treats “lives” as if they are separate and different from one another. Everything is life; it is simply perceived through different bodies and minds across space-time. And we are never really individual threads of consciousness; it only appears and feels that way. Also, fixation with the past is one of the most insidious problems our conditioned minds have.

Along these lines, I find past-life regression—along with hypnosis and “channeling”—to be little more than a distraction from what needs to be done here and now. This is not to say that sometimes hypnosis and/or other forms of mind-work aren’t therapeutic—they surely can be. But if it is Truth we are after, we must know when we’ve done enough work in this realm. We must come out of our trances and be here, awake and in reality. And although meditation may look like a trance, it is not. Its goal is to help us become more conscious of this moment and of ourselves rather dipping into an un- or subconscious state.

We can go very, very deep into the conditioned mind without finding the Truth, and in fact are only more likely to get further away from it by these means. I don’t regard activities like “channeling” with any more seriousness than I do watching football or getting stoned. It might be fun to some people, but it’s delusional to imagine we know more about existence and/or the universe by doing these things regularly.

The way I think of karma is very simple, and not rooted in anything but common sense and experience with breaking out of patterns: We are bodies of energy exchanging energy. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we are constantly putting out energy and absorbing it as well. If we are unconscious of all this, we are likely to trap ourselves in certain unpleasant energetic loops when we do or say things rooted in anger, fear, or self-hatred. We will be forced to face what we’ve put out there (not to mention all the not-great energy that’s already out there) until we become more conscious of what’s happening. The way we “break free” from karma is by abiding in the pure awareness underneath all of this energy, which has no inherent “goodness or badness.” Awareness is that great neutralizer, that big zero.

When it comes to energy (which cannot be fooled or faked), actions alone are not the strongest part of the equation. It has more to do with intent and how separate we imagine we are from those we believe we are helping. Do we feel fundamentally different from the one we are helping? Do we fancy ourselves saviors for “those poor less fortunate folks?”

There is a lot of presumption in this line of thinking: First, it assumes that one’s external circumstances are a predictor of their happiness, and this is simply not true. I have seen some very miserable people and some very happy people in my life, and material comforts tend to play a small part in their attitudes. One’s true happiness does not correspond to wealth or societal status. Secondly, we become totally cut off from our kinship when we separate people into categories like “the needy” and “the helpers.” We create more division this way, and it is not an accurate reflection of our shared humanity.

If we donate some amount of money to the poor with the goal of “shoring up karma” or to brag about our good deed, our donation is obviously rooted in the egoic mindset. There is a different feeling we have when we act from the heart: If we help, it is because it just happens on its own. If we give something, there are no expectations that something will ever be returned. The “transactional nature” of life falls away. There is no more “I gave you this so you owe me that.”

From this state, kind deeds happen because they must happen. That is often how I feel about writing this blog, not knowing who (if anyone) will read it, what it will mean to them, or if I will benefit from doing so. Something wakes me up in the middle of the night and moves me to write something, and so I do that. It is not the same as when we give or create in the hope of some tangible reward.

The essence of of pure* doing versus egoic doing is as follows: One presupposes something better will come for the small “I;” the other bears in mind that the small “I” does not exist. One is full of effort to “do a good thing;” the latter just seems to happen. This is why people who commit “acts of heroism” don’t always feel comfortable with the flattery that follows: When they were being brave, they were just moved from an intuitive, deeply human place. They did what they felt anyone would do.

It is doing in this way that is probably “good for your karma,” but by this time we have already seen through the falseness of “your” karma and “mine.” These are all energy exchanges, neither good nor bad and neither “mine” nor “yours.” And why is this? Because, of course, “you” and “me” are just mental constructs. I have to keep coming back to this point, because we are encouraged to forget this truth all the time.

Still, we can be happier mental constructs and we can occupy a more beautiful and open collective dream, and that is what spirituality leads to when it is practiced honestly.

*The word “pure” has this kind of chaste, moralistic connotation. That isn’t how I mean it. The kind of purity I am talking about is a feeling, a certain unobscured clarity of mind. A synonym for a “pure heart” might just be an unconfused heart: There are no snags to its movements or desires, as well as no need to explain itself.

– Lish

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Spirituality, Culture, Consciousness

Judgment & Unconsciousness

The last few days have passed happily, and for this I am grateful. Being in this space—where I listen to music by myself and eat by myself and comment on books to myself—often comes with some expected bleakness. I have chosen this aloneness and I know it is important, so none of this isn’t meant as a complaint. I am also learning to see the beauty even in my lowest moods, because we can never predict exactly how these things are working on us.

When there is wisdom within me, I think of suffering as being similar to the way seeds are beaten by the climate or the way beans have to boil for a long time to be ready. When we are held too-comfortably—never worked upon by despair or rage—we are more likely remain as hard small inert things. Many of us have little incentive to become unless we are worked on intensively, and sometimes that means enduring a great deal of “reasonless” pain. Learning to see this larger picture is very sweet. I say all this while in a level mindset, with a cup of tea and the heat on and a heavy blanket and a smile. In the midst of intense suffering, though, these things are hard (or impossible) to remember. We just want the pain to go away, and I surely empathize with that.

As I prepare to head to the ashram in Texas, my nervousness and excitement have begun to compete with each other. I’m surprised that I’m headed there so soon, but sometimes a seed needs little watering to sprout if other conditions are favorable.

I started this post to address the way I write about things like alcohol and unconsciousness and culture. It might sound as if I am judging all these things as “bad,” but that’s not the case. I take no moralistic stance on the use of alcohol or drugs. I take no moralistic stance on this culture. We’re all just here, choosing and receiving whatever experiences we need to evolve in soul. For me, that has been to apparently black out a lot and have difficult relationships, experience a rough awakening, become somewhat distant, and not really know what to do with myself. I accept that, though some days it is harder than others.

I am doing what I can to mend past behaviors where possible, mostly by working on my own stuff and really ensuring my mistakes do not get repeated. I have a lot of experience with repeating mistakes. Still, I know all of these things—alcohol addiction, culture, thoughtless behavior, catastrophic breakdowns—are just expressions of consciousness. It is the conditioned mind that does all kinds of things with these expressions, including judgment and unskillful reaction.

In striving to become fully free of the conditioned mind, it feels prudent to say this: The Self does not judge or take morality to be anything more than a mind-made construct. This usually doesn’t mean we behave immorally, but that there is a mad yet perfect logic to God that we cannot access from our monkey minds. Also, there is a fine line between one we might call insane and one who is just totally submerged in the Absolute: There have been arguments over whether certain yogis are lunatics or if they’re realized, and “God-intoxicated” is a phrase I once read to describe Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza is credited with disseminating the idea of “pantheism,” the concept of an infinite, all-embracing God as opposed to a singular, patriarchal God. He is an awesome example of someone who followed and spoke the truth despite the way his society felt about it. I have loved the phrase ever since, and often feel that “God-intoxicated” is what I might like to become, no matter what that looks like externally.

And even if I do speak of human unconsciousness as “a root concern,” I know that unconsciousness, too, is really just another expression of consciousness. It is consciousness hiding from itself, temporarily of course, because the Truth does not stay hidden forever to anyone or anything. Whether tomorrow or at the end of our lives or right now, it will be seen.

I once heard from a wise artist that “we live in a universe of consequences.” His words have stuck with me, because they are so firmly rooted in the truth. “Consequences” is one of those words that is often used threateningly, or with the subtext that punishment is on the way. Of course, like all words, it is actually neutral. All it means is that things follow each other. Events create other events. Choices, be they well-considered or not, make new realities in every passing instant. This is an important thing to recognize, because in this statement we see that we ourselves are responsible for our world.

However, truly understanding the gravity of this sentiment, sometimes we can become paralyzed by how we are (or might be) impacting everyone and everything else. In every instant, there is a new world unfolding into forever. We wonder, who will I pass on the street if I leave in three minutes from now instead of five? What people will I meet if I go into this establishment instead of another? Getting lost in possibility and unforeseeable consequences is a thing more than one friend has reported to me, yet strangely it isn’t something I have felt frozen by.

For as long as I can remember there has been an anchor in my heart, a knowing that everything will turn out however it turns out, and that it will be fine. (Not that I mean to feign stability, here: This anchor has seemed to disappear many times, as has my heart.) And when I say “fine,” I do not presuppose a fairytale ending. Sometimes a human life is little more than a series of painful events, and trying to force a silver-lining attitude about this is just false.

I think all I mean is that whatever happens will happen and it will be handled one way or another. This is a very simple, unemotional truth; c’est la vie. Troubling ourselves over it only creates further disturbance; it lessens our ability to be present and make wise decisions now. The best we can do is have the courage to listen to our hearts and try to be of sound mind. When we act from this place, we’re unlikely to go wrong, no matter what invisible set of dominoes we kick over. Beyond that, we just have to let go.

There are laws in this universe—both physical and energetic—that we simply cannot get out of. When we try, there is enormous friction, and we create a lot more pain than we need to. For example, there are physical laws about how much clean water is required to sustain a human population. When we live out of balance with these natural laws, some amount of humans will likely die of thirst or poisoning.

So, too, are there energetic laws, such as what tends to happen when we act angrily towards someone. They are either likely to reflect that anger right back to us, or internalize it as self-hatred. Either way, this energy gets recycled in some form that results in more suffering—unless anger is thrown at someone who is aware of what’s going on. When we are very aware, there is nowhere for such energy to resound. We become like Teflon for energies that might’ve triggered us tremendously in prior years. It is a very neat thing to witness yourself growing in this way.

It is simple unconsciousness that creates these imbalances, this sense of disharmony, this lack of awareness about energy. When we know by experience that consciousness dispels unconsciousness, we live differently. We begin to pay attention and follow these “universal stoplights,” not out of fear of punishment or even a “sense of morality,” but because it is so rational. Paddling against the current is exhausting and it gets us nowhere.

I will say that if given the preference, I think I’d rather live in a joyful and sane and healthy culture. The consequences of our current hivemind and way of being cannot lead to that. In this universe of consequences, 2 + 2 will never equal anything but 4, and that is what I try to remember, without believing anything in this world is “wrong” or “shouldn’t exist.” It is all simply part of the play.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Culture, Transformation

Addiction, Society, & Transformation

Getting sober is a long-term transformative process that cannot be boiled down to the sole act of not using. For instance: In the last year I drank, I felt more “sober” than I did as a precious young “totally normal” binge-drinking 23-year-old. Even though I got drunk regularly in 2016, I was becoming aware of the effects alcohol was having on my consciousness and how that translated to the rest of my life.

Before, it was more like “okay this seems like it’s becoming a problem,” but simply eliminating alcohol never felt appealing. What would ever be the point of cutting out this great numbing agent if we’re otherwise going to be living the same life? If we want to stop numbing, we must also begin to rid ourselves of the aspects of our lives that feel numb-worthy. There is much more to this thing than giving up our drugs. And unless we begin to develop long-term vision for our lives—who we are and what we’re about—addiction has the very fertile ground of ambivalence to sprout in.

The most compelling factor for maintaining my sobriety is that I know it is foundational to everything else I will create in this life. If I did not believe this, I would drink, and I would not care, and I suspect this lack of long-term life vision is one of the many factors that keeps addiction steadfast within us. 

Not that it is anyone’s fault. I do not believe in fault or blame, and find that these are only hurtful concepts. They ignore the truth, which is that there are many millions of unconscious factors hatching in every single moment of our lives. I will say though that the hivemind greatly discourages us from developing deep vision for our lives. We are rewarded only for a very restricted type of intelligence in school, and these limitations create wastelands within our minds and souls. No one can say how much potential has been lost due to the way our children are currently brought up.

People do not usually stay sober for those they love. This has never been the case, and addicts should not be faulted for this. One’s journey towards wellness (or not) is not about their families and cannot be about their families. It is about their individual thread of consciousness and what its evolutionary aim is this time around—indeed that is all life is ever really about. We can never know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the people who present themselves to us, though if we look closely, we may have some idea. Beneath outward appearances, there is a galaxy of things sorting themselves out, working and gestating and becoming. Sometimes people have to destroy themselves for a very long time, maybe even until they die, and this destruction is really never about you.

When threatened, the addict very often chooses drugs over his/her family, because the drug at least provides them with comfort unconditionally. Some amount of this battle lies in the fact many of us have never truly felt loved unconditionally, even if it was professed. We live in a culture of transactional acceptance, and this often bleeds into our family lives.

The reliability of the drug to provide us with temporary comfort is therefore revolutionary; it makes us, in a way, fall deeply in love with our chosen substances/activities. We know nothing and no one else like it: It never rejects us, is always there, not afraid of us, and accepting forever and ever. That’s the thing: Our loved ones (and we ourselves) are generally sometimes understanding. Alcohol and drugs always are.

Along these lines, society is quick to withdraw love when we do not follow its rules, as if doing so will get us to shape up. This isn’t how it works. It would be a much healthier world if our policies and treatment of addicts reflected this truth. Furthermore, “love” that is doled out and/or taken away is not actually love; it is merely conditioned approval. We know this and are wise enough not to desire this knockoff. Or maybe we do do desire it, but usually find that it never does the trick for very long.

It is entirely possible to get high off of our mental states whether or not there are drugs involved. We get a little high off of fantasies, projections, and delusions alone. We escape reality in our daydreams and imagined lives, rarely taking the risk to bring them to fruition. If we do, the result is almost always less than what the mind has blown it up into. The thing about the mind is that it exaggerates and distorts, making the mind itself seem more appealing than Ultimate Reality, which is an entirely different thing than the “reality” our conditioned minds allow us to see. This is one of its tactics for keeping us in its grips: Living in it feels nicer than seeing the truth.

Similarly, inasmuch as we become addicted to substances themselves, we become addicted to the entire thought process behind using. There is an inner battle we become fixated on: Will I or won’t I? And the energy we expend on these internal discussions is enormous. During these times, we often also relish our seedy secrecy. Our shadows are delicious even though we feel terrible about them, and there becomes a horrendous thrill about self-destruction.

This is romanticized in popular culture, in part because we like seeing people do the things we know better than to do (but kinda want to do.). And there is some truth behind the romanticism of addiction: Until we break free, there is no greater feeling than the mounting tension of desire for that which we are addicted—followed, of course, by the breaking of the tension and the surge of some very yummy brain chemicals. The drama is delectable. The ego adores it.

The part of us which cannot stand living in this machine (the biggest and truest part) often resorts to addiction, and that is why addiction is so much more than an “issue” for “some people.” We know that we are out of touch, and are all at least a little distraught by our current status as a species. In this culture, we are all addicts trying not to feel the pain of being very far from home. We struggle to sit with ourselves and often avoid silence and solitude at all costs. There must always be “background noise.”

When I say “home,” I mean our true home in consciousness, but also an actual physical place which would be much nearer to the rest of creation: In the trees, breathing fresh air, drinking clean water, and freely enjoying the abundance that the Earth churns out generously and joyously. Somewhere in history we thought we could do better, or perhaps we allowed our fears of death to so totally corrupt us that we tried to manipulate this already-perfect system. We have failed miserably.

In this equation, the only question is whether our addictions are “acceptable” or not, and what is “acceptable” is defined by whether or not it keeps the machine running. This entire civilization functions as an addictive process, after all: Destroy, grow, consume; then it’s onto the next. We must only stay in the “normal” parameters of addiction (“binge-watching” comes to mind), and no one bothers us. When we go too far—usually beyond our capacity to contribute to said machine—we get the “addict” label. When we don’t go far enough, we become hermits and weirdos and Luddites.

This is all to say that addiction is an intensely divided space to exist in. Clearly, addiction thrives in those who do not feel whole, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even feel whole all the time. (That’s precisely how I know this is true.) This lack of wholeness weaves its way through generations; it is as if we are born with a sense of craving. Culture exacerbates this not-wholeness—or more likely created it in the first place—and provides us with endless Things to feign wholeness with: drugs, food, shopping, porn, gadgets, dating apps, “being busy.” Our friends, equally confused, often encourage our addictions.

This is all unconscious and so I assign no blame to anyone. Nevertheless, it is what we do. We live in a shared sense of not-enoughness and rarely question this sense of scarcity which is, when examined thoroughly, Totally False.

There is no way to be engaged in an addiction while not being lost about who you are and what you’re doing here. They go hand in hand, and that’s why recovery is so much more about the latter than the plain relinquishing of drugs. If you want to be sober and free, there is no greater tool than to begin developing a vision for who it is you want to be. I assume it will be a large vision, and that is beautiful, whether or not it feels actionable or realistic.

Total transformation is what getting sober is all about. I encourage you to get high off your own imagination and delusions to start, because at least these are happy seeds and they don’t put holes in your brain: What is the most incredible thing you could imagine for your life? Does this vision include periodically lowering your consciousness and poisoning your body?

– Lish

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