Love from Bend, OR

Hey guys. My last post was a bit of a reflection of what can happen when we follow our hearts and go where our intuition leads us. It is not always a good time, and anything can happen. By the time I post things of that nature, I’m usually already in a way better headspace, and it really only took me one night of good sleep to be back in peace.

The moral of the story here isn’t “oh hey, everything’s going to be fine; don’t worry.” Sometimes we like to believe these things, and they are just a sort of cold comfort that discourages further inner looking. Yes, ultimately, everything is going to be fine; it already is. Love has prevailed. Truth is our nature; always has been and always will be. We are all helplessly seated in the lap of God, with nowhere else to go.

However, until we realize this in our own being by way of seeing through the illusion of the ego-identity, things can be very much not be fine. On a real world level, that looks like suffering. We create the same hurtful patterns for ourselves over and over again, all while saying “oh hey, in the end, it’s fine; God loves us.” What a wonderful way for the mind to allow us to keep up our bad habits! No need to do our work or healing if everything’s going to be fine in the end, right? Why ever quit drinking, smoking, or traumatizing one another if everything’s already perfect?

The mind is so cunning, you guys. It can certainly use spiritual truths to stop us from dropping into deeper awareness and seeing through the ego completely. Mine still does that, for sure.

Similarly, sometimes I hear people casually mention that the whole world is illusory. While true, it is of little practical value when absorbed solely on a mental level.

Today I turned 31. I woke up on a couch at a hostel in Bend, Oregon, in the same pair of jorts I have been wearing for about 4 months. At 4PM I’ll be taking a bus out to a town called Mitchell, where there’s a couple—a pastor and his wife—who own a church that has been converted into a hostel. The idea of a hostel with a spiritual component is very appealing to me and something I’m interested in exploring. I will always write, but the idea of providing an affordable refuge for travelers that also offers regular meditation is feeling aligned, practical, and like something I could do… today anyway.

Any of this can change at any time. One day I’m working on a novel, the next day I’m ghostwriting novellas, then I’m hopping in a craigslist rideshare to travel to another state, then I’m writing this blog, then I’m wandering around by the Deschutes River staring at the same tree for 20 minutes. Now I’m being led out to a hostel in a small Oregon town to see what’s there. What happens after this is honestly a mystery.

As far as teaching goes: I’ve mentioned it before, and it does feel like I’m being moved into that role as well. However, I really don’t feel ready, and the main reason is because I’m still in process of watching my own “spiritual” ego. It is so common, and I’ve seen it in just about everyone who is consciously walking the path, including my teachers, and of course including myself.

Something happens after that first “aha” spiritual moment, or after we do a bit of meditation and begin to get a taste of our limitlessness in God: The ego latches onto what it has seen, and feels superior to those who haven’t peeked beyond the curtain, so to speak. I am very, very wary of this place. It feels “chosen.” It can justify any behavior. It judges and then convinces itself it is acceptable to judge “less awake people” because “it knows better.”

This is no good, even though I fully understand it.

And while it is true that someone who is liberated really can do whatever they want without karmic consequences, I still want to live in the world where self-realization results in togetherness, kindness, and a sense of worldwide community—no more hierarchies

I cannot allow myself to slip into this new kind of hypnosis, into an ego that believes it is “further along” or “special” in any kind of way. The whole point is to return to an original, non-special state, prior to anything being conditioned into us. If I teach, it will be because it is handed to me and because it is intuitive. I am not going to pursue the role, or anything else for that matter. A simple unfolding is all I desire, and a simple life. I will strive for ultimate freedom above all else by keeping my life simple and continuing to reject all else but my inner knowing.

On an energetic note: Oregon feels really good. Bend is the first place I’ve woken up where I don’t feel still kind of tired and headachey. I like how close I am to a river, and the community at this hostel is really beautiful. I may come back here to stay longer. I may get to Mitchell and have everything change on me yet again. Anything can change at any minute, and I am accepting of this.

I want whatever is given.

– lish

Location: Bend, OR

 

The Problem is in Our Own Minds

The problem is in our own minds.

Honestly, this point feels too important for me to just write once, so I am going to say it a couple more times here and probably in future posts as well: The problem is in our own minds. The problem is in our own minds. No matter our political stances, our beliefs about “what should be done in the world,” or “which side of a line we’re on,” the problem lies within. The solution does, too.

Of course I am wary of using the word “problem,” lest we turn the mind into an enemy of sorts. I have definitely slipped into the trap of psychologically punishing myself for  being under the egoic mind’s hypnosis. Ironically, this is the ego punishing itself in order to preserve itself, because what we really are cannot be harmed.

Beating ourselves up isn’t the most helpful way to approach things, but we are often operating from a piece of conditioning that convinces us otherwise.

Usually we look outward to understand the state of the world. “Out there” is where we imagine reality is. When we interpret external reality as “bad,” it is usually the work of a mind that believes things “should” be going another way. This alone implies a state of non-acceptance, and most of the time, I avoid using the word “should” for this very reason. “Should” is what we say when we are living in a state of resistance to what is. It is a life-denying space that is usually rooted in avoidance.

If we seek to understand why the world looks the way it does (and I agree—much of it is horrific), we must start looking inside ourselves. We need to do this before rushing to blame, fix, or change the world. At this stage in human evolution, we are still very much an insane species, each with the power to purge some or all of this insanity, thereby uplifting the whole world.

Can we imagine what might happen if enough of us turned around to face the proper direction? If enough of us were determined to rid ourselves of the illness that is the root of human suffering?

Being in a state of deep peace ourselves, we would naturally create a peaceful world.

Another thing to bear in mind is scope, perspective, and our own responsibility to our fellow humans. We live in a world that is fraught with violence and despair. If we believe we are safely removed from these things, all we usually need to do is examine our clothing and/or our devices: They are usually made by children in factory conditions. We usually do not need as much stuff as we have. In this way, we are each responsible for the fact that such conditions exist and that our fellow humans have to survive as automatons in this environment.

Every day there is some other catastrophic event to behold. The most common response? We sit and stare at it. We make ourselves sick thinking about it. We get Very, Very Upset, and then we proceed with our daily lives just as we always have.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and I am not even talking about organizing and changing laws (though of course I would love to see us organizing and changing laws). I am talking about examining our own habits—including and maybe especially thought habits, and how they contribute to the hivemind that ultimately creates these terrible events. Our egoic minds are not separate from one another; they only appear to be.

We can look at our minds and the various ways we put energy into the world. Most of us wield our energy unconsciously, meaning we’re usually putting intense anger and negativity out there with no understanding of how it impacts the rest of the world. The net result is that we are stewing in a Jacuzzi of fear all day and wondering why the world isn’t getting any better.

We have to cease giving our attention to the worst things in the world. Placing your attention inward is not avoidance. If you think it is, I suggest taking up an intensive meditation practice. Actually, sitting and staring, transfixed by the suffering of others and then going to get a drink or use a drug or turn on a sitcom—which is usually what we do after we hear of something unimaginable occurring—that is avoidance.

Refusing to look at the underlying mechanisms in ourselves that are co-creating this world with all of it’s horrific events because it seems inconvenient or difficult for us—that is avoidance.

So when I choose not to disturb my inner peace by getting worked up by every horrible thing that occurs (these things are unending and always have been), it is not because I’m weak. It is not that I “can’t stand” to see these awful things. On the contrary: It is that I have already seen them all, and the solution has become very clear: Remain focused inward, keep my energies balanced, and try to direct others back to themselves gently. This is tremendously more effective than simply being upset and talking about how bad everything is.

It certainly doesn’t mean everyone will like us, because when we choose to live deeply in peace in a world built upon widespread violence, it can look kind of crazy or boring. But there is nothing special about such a way of life. “Spiritual living” actually becomes only practical when delusions begin to fade.

As a species, we have been exacting an incomprehensible genocide on all living beings for some time now. When the magnitude of this suffering is truly seen and felt within your own being, you become less and less snagged by “new” day-to-day horrors. It really just feels like “yes, yes, yet again, another unnecessarily awful thing that has been caused by human delusion,” and then you get back to work where it matters: Your own mind.

It is useless to fall to pieces over every tragedy. If you are going to fall to pieces over the world, I suggest falling to pieces over all of it: Every species that our unconsciousness has wiped out, every slave that has been taken, every child who is being harmed right now. Absorb that degree of horror and suffering; see if you can even fathom all that suffering. Fall completely to pieces and allow the divine to build you into something effective at turning this pattern around.

Sometimes these feelings occur so the ego can continue to imagine it is a “certain kind” of person—empathic, sensitive, somebody who “really cares.” This lets it off the hook for doing any of the deeper work and healing that needs to be done. The ego says “look, I’m so caring, I’m crying over everyone, I just can’t take it, I can’t handle it,” effectively stopping the person from looking further.

I have absolutely felt this way before—for most of my life, even. But in the end, my egregious mess of emotions was helpful to absolutely no one, and I had to start examining myself on a whole new level.

A return to our original mind is required in order for long-term peace to prevail among human beings. Otherwise, we are only putting a new coat of paint on a home with a rotting foundation.

– lish

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Facing Fears

It feels appropriate to follow up my last post with something about fear. This blog is now private, but I’ll probably make it un-private some point soon.

All of this is on par with the way I tend to deactivate/reactivate/install/uninstall my social media. I want to be seen and heard when I feel open, light, and truthful—then I want to retreat and become invisible when I acknowledge how much work I’m still doing. Yes, it feels neurotic. As far as the blog goes, I often have a sense of being “unqualified” to write about the spiritual process, the ego, or collective transformation just because I am not perfectly enlightened, whatever I think that means.

This is a pretty crazy illusion/false belief I carry: That “until” I am at some (imagined, delusional) standard of perfect beingness, I have no business writing what I know is true. Some part of me is convinced that I should just drop everything, go sit in a park and be a transient beggar until, until… something. And that word—“until”—reveals the part of my mind that wants kick my fate further and further down the road.

By hiding, I reveal that think I must protect something. I reveal that I am afraid of vulnerability on some level. I seem to have deemed some part of myself and my work as “not good enough yet” or “not ready yet.” From a greater space of awareness, I see that this is my ego talking itself out of speaking the truths it’s been exposed to, because: fear. It’s also an avoidance of responsibility. I could just hop around the country going on dates and meditating on benches, you know? And yet, as fun as this is (for my unconscious ego), that is not what I am ultimately moved to do.

Also: Something happens to me at airports, especially when I’m flying one-way. Without any return plans, it feels unsafe, even though in reality it’s just me sitting at a gate with a piece of paper we call a boarding pass. Like most people, I overreact when I feel threatened. Next thing I know I’m sending text messages to people I haven’t talked to in a while—of course they’re men. That is my go-to method of ensuring a sense of safety: Make sure a man is willing to pay attention to me. 

I am aware this is at least partially rooted in the fact that my father was a volatile and neglectful figure all throughout my life. I am aware that I carry the emotional wounds of his behavior towards me in a program known as my unconscious ego. As I write this, I am living proof that all the mental “understanding” of your pain and its origins won’t erase it. We place so much emphasis on the mind in our culture, and it really is a poor tool when it comes to deep healing.

At this point, I do a lot of sitting and watching of the blockages in my heart (and in my throat a lot lately, which signifies that I do need to speak more truth). I exist with these blockages rather than labeling them “bad.” Sometimes they are there, and I accept them. I also see these “blockages”—which is really just another way of saying unconsciousness or darkness—as communicative. They are teaching me what needs to be done, which is continued heart-healing and more expressing of Truth.

I’ve also made a commitment to myself to avoid dating and all other ill-defined date-type scenarios for three months. The reason I’m doing this is simple: Since I was a teenager, I’ve been pretty screwed up about men. At present, I’m not even able to discern if I want a relationship and if so, why. The only way I am going to get clear on this is to put some distance between myself and all that tangled up nonsense. Then I will know if partnership is even something I’m truly suited for. If it is, I’ll be more likely to be in a deeply open and honest relationship if that is what arrives.

I have never had this. I don’t know very many people who have.

So, even though I don’t prefer to energize my own stories by writing about them ad nauseum (dad stuff, man stuff, nervous breakdown, alcohol alcohol alcohol), it would be a lie to act as if I am not impacted by my ego story anymore.

Again, all of this comes down to fear. I know I’m called to do this work, no matter what. I know I’m called to write about mental health and its relationship to consciousness and the spiritual process. I know I’m called to write about the ego-identity as the root of all external structures we profess to loathe (if you complain about late capitalism but do not at least strive for a meditation practice/other practice of inner work, I really don’t know what to tell you).

And yet I get scared of all the things we get scared of: Being misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and believed to be simplistic or platitudinous. As someone who was once mired in anger over the state of the world, I am aware of how “the spiritual answer” sounds to people who are at the level of intense frustration and outward blame. (This is the level most of us are at—if we even care at all.) I don’t want to be thought of as stupid or be disliked if I refuse to buy the ego-stories around me. I feel tired already at the thought of arguments I may have to face. I am saddened at the thought of “losing” those relationships and situations that are not fully nourishing to me on an energetic level, even though it isn’t really a loss.

Basically, sometimes I’m still a human who gives a shit what people think of me. The need for validation is a very deep egoic need that I haven’t let go of. Sometimes I hear people casually (and somewhat immaturely) say they “don’t care what other people think.” Usually, if ever the approval of our friends/family are pulled, we’re quick to readjust and fall back in line.

Even those who are “anti-” society in some way have their social circles they seek to appease. Sometimes, these kinds of circles demonize others. If we express the view that the “worst” people in the world are filled with unconsciousness and that there is nothing to be gained from hating them, there can be some push-back. I have found that people can be quick to defend why their hatred, their judgment, and their derision are acceptable, but other kinds aren’t. The blindness is staggering. I have also met a great deal of spiritual people who are still very much stuck at an “us vs. them” level, as I was for a long time.

In short: Living in a way that truly embraces humanity means you don’t really have a clique. The thought of losing a “group” or those people I consider “especially kindred” stokes fear in me.

But, in the end, it is not a service to me or anyone else to stay quiet when there are things I need to express. So I’m here, posting this thing, even amidst my fears and with the awareness that I am still working through issues. I am not free of desire. And even though I have seen enough to understand Truth conceptually, I am not always in peace. I’m still doing this thing. Sometimes it sucks, and at least I’ve released the fantasy that there will be a magical moment when it all “comes together.”

Unlike some of those involved in spirituality, I don’t believe we are “endlessly growing” or “always healing” or anything like that. There comes a time when we drop into divine flow and learn how to keep surrendering our small selves. It is no longer about healing at that point; it is about giving yourself up to the timeless, all-powerful stream of consciousness over and over, and trusting in it fully. Surrender and healing may happen simultaneously or one after the other, because there is no singular path. I seem to drop into flow, and then hit a karmic issue again. Then I heal, understand myself better, and begin to flow more.

Hitting the same karmic issue (have I mentioned yet that I’m kind of fucked up about men?) is annoying, but then again, it just is.

The very essence of spirituality is that it is triggering and bothersome. It is ultimately unhelpful to constantly chase mystical experiences, or to seek comfort in any New Age practice du jour. These types of things make us feel temporarily good and may seem to help us “make sense” when our lives fall apart or when unimaginably awful things happen in this world. However, just like when we use drugs or alcohol or any other form of avoidance, this reassurance always fades. We are left alone to face ourselves, time and time again.

Many times we go seeking solace and peace in our preconceived ideas about spirituality. Usually, we have very little appreciation for what lasting peace requires of us. What it requires is intensive inner digging, and a commitment to keep digging even when you feel totally exhausted of healing, self-analysis, and inner looking. It requires that you take all external authority with a grain of salt, and turn away from those who do not line up with the truth of your heart—including turning away from close friends, family members, and spiritual teachers. It may require you to live a strange and distant life for a while. It requires that when you see something in yourself you don’t like, you don’t recoil or deny its existence, but see it honestly. It requires that when it is time, you’re willing to disidentify from victim stories and statements about how other people/the world “make” you feel.

What we are after is complete responsibility for our state of being. With the exception of the severely ill or those who are fighting for survival (probably not you), we can learn to work with our minds. We can get our emotions in order and become vessels for peace rather than people who continually create enemies with our illusions. We can stop overreacting to the pain that exists in the world and learn to see it from a place of true, solid compassion.

We are all capable of these things with inner work and commitment to the Truth. What I have in this life is that commitment. I am still working to renew my commitment to myself and to this world every day, even when I feel fearful of walking further through my own fire and sharing the things I just did with you.

– lish

 

location: Austin, TX

A Quick Note

I’m at SeaTac airport, on my way to Austin, Texas. I am seeing very clearly what I need to do right now, which is the following:

  1. Deactivate my social media, and
  2. Make this blog private in about a week and not think about it anymore.

I am not completely free. I continue to slip into the dream that I am my ego-identity and from this hypnosis I reenact old patterns. I am a vastly better and healthier person than in years past, but I am not free. The ultimate aim of the spiritual path is liberation from the belief in false personhood/ego-identity, and that is not where I’m at.

It is not wise for me to write about freedom until this is no longer the case.

That’s all I am going to say for now ❤

In love and Truth,

lish

location: Seattle, WA

The Glory of Sobriety

You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.

Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.

However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.

I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.

But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.

The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.

For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.

*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.

I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.

And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.

I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.

Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).

In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.

I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.

From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.

The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.

Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.

Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.

Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.

Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.

It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.

– lish

Goodbye For Now

The last few days have been pretty hard for me. I’m being faced with how much I’m going to miss my family and my community when I’m in Texas. Moving to Siddhayatan is by far the most “unknown” leap I’ve made in my life, and it really isn’t easy. As I feel all my attachments being tested, I try to remember that the ego is a master of exaggeration. It will do whatever it can to keep itself safe, even though an unconscious ego is actually one of the least safe places to be. This is in part because it comes with a definite expiration date, but also because the ego keeps us very limited in the things it allows us to do. Often, when we feel ourselves beginning to grow and are in need of making a change, the ego uses the mind to produce discomfort. If we yield to this discomfort and shrink back to the previously written program, the ego learns that this is an efficient tool. It will use this tool again and again, until we end up trapped in known (AKA comfortable) patterns we may not be happy or thriving in at all.

Fear is a very powerful thing, and it is not always bad. I think we ought to give fear a little credit for keeping the species alive so far in the first place. When you’re in a life-threatening situation or an abusive relationship, fear is a great indicator that it’s time to pull back and/or evaluate what’s going on. The problem becomes when fear begins to spring forth in totally benign situations. Every little step off the ego’s entrenched path can freak us out. This could be something as big as being too scared to travel to a foreign country or go for a job you really want, or, for others, simply not being able to take your preferred route home from work. Even the tiniest change can throw us into frustration and discomfort. To me, this illustrates the necessity of continuing to challenge my ego.

All of this is to say that I’m not going to act like I’m only excited and/or totally chill about this. Moving away from the place I was born and raised, from a job which provided me with a lovely community, from close relationships I’ve had for many years—all of this represents a pretty serious threat to my ego. I am aware of that. All this change at one time is bound to make almost anyone uncomfortable, and I am no different. Still, I sort of feel like the discomfort is exactly why I need to do it: I will not be cowed by my mind when I see that this could be a really valuable step for me to take.

The initial phases of my awakening taught me a lot and burned away several of my issues: I no longer use alcohol to numb and I’ve gotten a lot better at being a person even when my emotions are intense. My habits are way better, my mind is significantly more grounded in reality, and I know for sure who I really am. I also learned a great deal about the relationship between bipolar disorder and spirituality, and why things like meditation really do work when we’re ready to start fully healing our own minds, beyond several dozen handouts on mindfulness. I have seen the staggering implications of raising consciousness on this planet, and feel that at least some of my life’s work will be aimed at communicating these implications as best as I can. I also experienced firsthand the illusory nature of the conditioned “I,” and was thrust into something of a 2-year personal study of this experience. Strangely enough, I feel blessed for how insane I have been.

Still, there are some core issues that weren’t burned away in the first fire. Staying here, I am susceptible to falling back into old patterns. Here, I can have everything “just how I like it:” I can meditate in the morning, sit down to write, walk to work, drink half-caf,  read Bradbury in the bath, and turn in at 10 no questions asked. Yes, I have formed healthy routines, but they are no longer challenging. Living with new people in a totally new situation—that represents the kind of challenge I feel I need right now. The fact that it gets to be within the spectrum of spiritual service and growth is really just icing on the cake.

This brings me to an important point about choosing spiritual nourishment. It would also be challenging for me to move into a normal house with several strangers rather than an ashram, but it clearly wouldn’t be as nourishing to me spiritually. I have no doubt that I’d be “okay” in this second situation, but we reach a point in our growth where “okay” is not what we desire. Lateral movements don’t cut it anymore. Instead, we want greater embodiment of the path we’ve set out on, because we see the freedom we are moving towards.


Here are the final things I really want to say before I leave. They are not new insights, but they are also not commonly held beliefs in our society, and that is why I feel pulled to say them:

  1. If you’re struggling with addiction, bipolar disorder, or severe depression, you can fully recover from these conditions. You do not have to identify with any of your mental health diagnoses, and it is actually better not to. I want to note that if you have what is commonly called “a psychotic break” (i.e. spiritual emergency), this statement stands in opposition to what most physicians will say. Usually the emphasis is on acceptance of the illness label and finding the right medication. I certainly understand the intentions of this approach. I also understand why we, on the other end of the episode, are quick to follow suit—losing touch to such an extent is terrifying. However, I believe full healing comes when we are able to let go of these illnesses and their corresponding stories as part of our identities.

    Even though the mental health community has fought to have such conditions treated like other diseases, they still aren’t. My goal isn’t to help get them on par with other diseases, because I don’t see that happening unless we, collectively, are able to recognize that we are not our minds. I have no idea if or when this will happen. Until then, you have to remember: You have a life-threatening yet treatable condition. Take your mental health seriously, whether or not anyone in your life has an understanding of what you’re really doing or going through (and they probably won’t). Watching the mind is an ongoing and arduous process, and there is no escape from it. It is imperative that you surround yourself with people who understand the difficulty of the work you’re doing to become whole within yourself. If no one gets it, it’s better to be alone than spend time with people who are not yet aware enough to see the deep healing you are doing.

    I know that these conditions are extremely tricky. Our minds often try to convince us we are better when we aren’t yet. When we make a little progress, we think we’re done. This is the nature of the egoic mind: It wants us to stop before we see all the way through it. However, until you do, old issues and their behavioral manifestations will lurk in the unconscious. I advocate for steady, patient expansion of consciousness which also leads to total healing.

  2. The healing of the mind is made possible by accessing the higher consciousness that lives within you. This is ultimately what we’re getting at in meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy journaling,, etc: There is an element inside of you that has nothing to do with your genetics or even the life experiences you’ve endured. It is extremely powerful, and you can tap into it. This is the part of you that is pure consciousness. Ultimately, I think true sanity exists once the illusory ego is permanently revealed as an illusion. This seems to be a rare phenomenon, however, and depends not only on our efforts but also on divine grace, which lies outside of our conscious control. Even if the “big E” enlightenment doesn’t happen, practice helps us still the mind, focus on (and achieve) our goals, improve our habits, and be more at peace. Accessing higher consciousness is a win no matter what comes of it.

  3. Of all our worldly, human problems, the root of them is the egoic mind. Can we even imagine how we might treat one another if we all saw ourselves as one another? How often would we use abusive language? Would we take part in systems that perpetuate our violent culture? It is the ego that builds layers and layers of separation between “you” and not-you; in this way it becomes the highly limiting identity we dream ourselves to sincerely be. However, we are not our identities, and if we were to see this at once, peace would reign without question. The ego is the chief delusion holding all other delusions in place.

  4. Therefore, the greatest work anyone can do in this world is their own inner work. There are a great deal of movements out there aimed at changing the world. I love seeing people engaged in work that challenges the systemic issues that keep us divided. But it bears saying that unless each of us in also engaged in our own inner looking—into our own psychological worlds with their dysfunctions and egoic justifications—we are not helping nearly as much as we could be. The first person we should each be seeking to “fix” is ourselves. If we find that we are suffering from the same problems over and over again, feeling angry and fearful, we should not expect to able to fix the rest of the world’s problems. This is one of those things most of us know—”be the change” and all that—but still, we are rarely as invested in self-investigation as we are in other activities. Most of us tacitly assume we’re already good if we challenge the existing system, but there’s so much more to it than that. Spiritual work is deeply transformational work that alters your very presence in the world; it has the power to make everything we do more effective.

  5. One of the greatest obstacles towards realizing peace is our lack of belief in its possibility. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing the phrases “people just suck,” “people are garbage,” “peace is too idealistic,” etc. These kinds of statements reflect a deep pessimism and lack of self-awareness. Who are these “people” we talk about if not ourselves? When we see an impossible evil lodged in humanity, it is because we see an impossible evil lodged in ourselves. We must investigate that, because if we really look within, we will find that it does not exist. And further, evil is not really evil: It is generations of fear, trauma, and ignorance masquerading as anger and derision. Externally this manifests as control, violence, and forcible segregation. To move forward collectively, the fear must be faced, the trauma healed, and the ignorance dispelled. Many of us are quite violent in our thought and do not even realize it. These are the things I’d like to see us deeply examining before resorting to the “people are just bad” stuff.

There are many other things about the Self and the nature of Reality I would like to expand upon, but this doesn’t feel like the right post for that.

Mostly I want to thank those of you who have followed my journey thus far. I believe the necessity of spirituality is greater now than ever before, and until we consciously reclaim our souls, the state of the world will become uglier and uglier. Suicide will go up; depression will go up; bipolar disorder will go up. General apathy and numbing out—side effects of being half-alive—will also continue to go up. Because this is not what I wish to see for humanity, I am committed to this path. I look forward to clearing my remaining issues, deepening in awareness, and becoming more spiritually mature.

My best wishes and love to all who come across this post,

Lish

Moving On

In 3 days I’ll be moving down the ashram. My apartment is mostly empty and my last day of waiting tables was Thursday. Even though I’ve been oscillating between fear and joy over this decision, the choice to devote myself fully to the spiritual path has never felt clearer. It seems worth noting that I am not doing this out of a desire to feel moral or noble or virtuous, or because I expect life to be easier at the ashram. It’s just that no step except this one makes sense to me based on where I’m at on my path. A life not rooted in spirituality feels not only ridiculous, but impossible. I feel excited to be living in a community where things like sobriety are well understood to be The Standard for healthy living, a place where we are not treating the path like a hobby. I like that I’ll be able to fall into silence if it feels right; I like that I won’t be expected to act like something I’m not. Deep authenticity is one of the fruits of the spiritual path, and it is sorely lacking in most of our interactions.

The evolutionary journey is as such: We are like popcorn kernels encased in cement. The cement represents tremendous ignorance—the things that cause us to create unnecessary harm to other beings and consider certain people to be superior and/or inferior to others. As we evolve, the cement cracks and breaks, and over the course of many lifetimes we become less ignorant. The cement wears thin. Then the time comes when we see that we’re a popcorn kernel; perhaps we’re even exposed to one who has popped. We become aware that our ultimate destiny is to break completely open and stay that way. We are to be light and airy and profoundly different than the kernel and/or the cement.

When you finally realize and accept that you’re a popcorn kernel, you will want to be in a microwave. I believe the ashram—or any other place of focused spirituality—is meant to be that microwave. The energy is as such that “popping” is more likely, whereas in “normal life,” we are more concerned with polishing up ourselves as kernels and rolling around to one place or another. (In reality, there is no difference between a spiritual place and a non-spiritual place, but I digress.)

So, if you will, this move is about me going willingly to that microwave. I do not hope to come back the same, but not because I think there is something “wrong” with me right now. Actually, for the first time in my life, I do not feel defective all the time (though I still do on occasion.). But the conditions of my life here are such that I may remain a kernel for a very long time, never reaching the right intensity of heat to see the process all the way through. Until I do, there will be dissatisfaction and cycles of misery. I will be my own prey over and over again. I will be profoundly more at risk for depression and/or addictive behaviors unless I follow through. By making this move, I seek to fulfill my destiny, which is the destiny of all beings, and that destiny is to know and be God.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and I am reeling in my expectations as much as possible. It’s entirely plausible that nothing life-altering will occur. Either way, I will learn something, for when you are hell-bent on learning, every single step is a lesson.

I have been thinking a lot about how my last post might go, particularly the points I want to put out into the world before I take off. I have no idea when I’ll post again, and some part of me wonders if I will at all. This iteration of me loves writing, and as of right now, it feels completely aligned. But part of this thing is releasing all attachments, including the ones the mind currently labels “good and aligned.” Having the courage to let go of it all is how we discover what is always there, underneath and beyond, timelessly, naturally.

I no longer buy the argument from my ego that I am “supposed to write.” Really, I am “supposed to be” whatever I’m moved to be by the greater consciousness that has been moving me this whole time. I am “supposed to be” what I am. Maybe that will result in writing; maybe it won’t. I feel it is important to relinquish all attachments and expectations of “being like” anything or anyone, or clinging to previous identities that once suited me. When we try to hang on in spite of the way the soul magnetizes us towards things we fear and need, we become trapped.

I have no doubt that this has happened to many creators: At some point, the obligation to create can overshadow the purity of its origin. Suddenly the thing that was once done out of pure soul desire becomes as rote as anything else. No longer do we write, paint, or make music because we love it, but because others expect it of us and the title of “creator” has been built into our ego-identities. There have been phases for me where creativity comes effortlessly and gladly. But when I am just “trying to finish something,” it comes out wrong and I am not delighted by the process of ushering it into the world. To me, this is worse than doing nothing at all.

So I want to say I will write if and when I can, but that it is possible I won’t, and that has to be okay with me. Anything the ego imagines itself to be is just that—an imagination, and not the true Self. We can have delusional imaginations about “who we are” no matter how noble the profession. Some work may benefit the world more and sow the seeds for a beautiful future, but neither identity is more real. This is because Reality does not actually run along a gradient; it is known or it is not. One who knows the Self and does nothing but sit in meditation surely benefits the world, perhaps even more than those who put great effort into making change. This kind of benefit is imperceptible to most people, but it is real nonetheless.

Besides, the fact is that there is no new wisdom. The fountain of eternal knowledge is always the same; the words only flow out through seemingly different minds and mouths. It is no surprise that spiritual masters say the same kinds of inscrutable things over and over again, in part because of this principle, and in part because they know repetition is one strategy to overwrite an existing mental pattern.

Anyone with new answers, a new religion, a silver bullet, or a quick route to self-realization is not being honest (though they may be unaware of their dishonesty). Seeing this, I really don’t know what else to say in this or any post. Is there anything more powerful or wise to say than “Sit with your self until you find the true self”? This has been said over and over again, by so many sages, in so many parables and poems. It doesn’t get any simpler: Sit still with yourself. Find out who you are. All other information is extraneous. When this is known, all knowledge is revealed and suffering begins to burn away. It seems difficult until it doesn’t.

Sometimes writing feels cheap in comparison to sitting in silence, and it is said that some of the best teachers teach by silence alone. Similarly, the Buddha said that it is best to speak only when it improves upon silence, and yet is very rare that the things we say—gossip, grievances, complaints, formalities—meet this standard. And I have to ask, with no solid answer, do my words improve upon the beauty of a blank page? I am not so sure. I do this thing because it happens, but I do wonder: If I were to break through every last illusion, would it also begin to feel somewhat arduous or small?

All of this is to say that I don’t know what will happen, and this is always true. This post has written itself, which means I am okay with it. When our actions become absent of the “doer,” I believe we are on the right track. If things write themselves, they will go into the world. If it feels like pulling teeth, I will resume with mindful non-action, which is actually one of the most useful skills to have. It’s not the same as being lazy, and it’s not the same as checking out or getting stoned. It is just learning how to sit and be. Until we are capable and happy simply being, peace cannot flourish internally or anywhere else.

– lish

Anger & Ego Triggers

Today I want to talk about ego triggers and the wily, pernicious nature of the ego. The ego is a psychological entity that controls the vast majority of human beings, myself included. Spiritually speaking, the ego is the unique yet illusory identity we buy into as being our true selves. Living within the illusion of a false identity brings most—if not all—of the suffering we endure throughout our lives.

It’s like you’ve been playing Super Mario Brothers for so long that you literally believe you are Mario. Really, you’re a fully developed human playing a game. No matter how many times Mario gets wiped out by a turtle shell or falls off the edge of the Earth, the real you is going to be fine. “Enlightenment” is the sudden and abiding realization that you’re not actually Mario. The metaphor I described is experienced through your own consciousness, not merely understood conceptually. You step outside of all the limitations you were operating under during the many years you held such a delusive belief. It’s freeing and funny and if you want to keep playing you can, but you’re under no obligation, because jeez, it’s just a video game.

As you can imagine, it would create a lot of problems if you kept falsely believing you were Mario. You would be full of neurotic fear, only able to respond in pre-programmed ways, and constantly trying to stave off the inevitable “end of the game.” Now look around you and notice that almost everyone in the world believes they’re the characters they’re playing, too. This is the level of madness we are dealing with. The sincere belief in the ego as being ultimately real is the chief delusion in our species’ many layers of delusion.

Spiritual freedom comes down to becoming free of this illusion, free from the false you.

Usually, just as I’m feeling like “I’m actually kinda somewhat free,” something happens to prove me wrong. At this point, they’re trivial things since I’m no longer actively blowing up my life, but I still feel a sense of smallness and anger when they occur. Feeling small and angry is one of the most common ways we suffer in our culture, and for good reason: We were born into a giant machine of unconsciousness. Throughout our education we were systematically deceived and forced to be complicit in an order of subjugation we had no part in creating. When we become more conscious, the sheer enormity of all this can create a sense of powerlessness, and this is infuriating. What do we even do when the problem is this huge?

Back to the Mario metaphor: If we’re delusional enough to believe we are Mario, we’re definitely delusional enough to believe Mario’s world is real. Therefore, if Mario’s world (our physical world) is a disaster, we will feel acute anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear can be useful—if such emotions push us into growing up and tending to the world. Most of the time, though, we just feel paralyzed because we have to keep playing the game; thus we fall deeper into anxiety as everything falls apart. This is why truly seeing Reality is the long-term solution to suffering, as denoted by Buddhism and other Eastern religions. From this position we can use our characters to improve the state of affairs, but we also keep a peaceful perspective because we know it’s just a video game. We are most effective in this mode, when anger isn’t draining our energy all the time.

Prior to awakening from our egos but after noticing the rampant insanity of the species, we often want to do something good. It’s hard to know what really helps. Sometimes we get caught up in arguing with other people in the misguided belief that pulling someone around to our viewpoint will help. And yet, this so rarely happens: When people engage in arguments, particularly on incendiary issues, both parties usually just dig their heels into their existing positions. The result? Two delusive egos made more rigid, and zero shared humanity.

Before I began to really investigate my mind, anger was my predominant emotion. Until I was forced to, I didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) face that this anger was related to many more things than the issue at hand… like, really really old things that had nothing to do with the present situation. I would take on any heated discussion, and became disproportionately incensed about a lot of things. This is partly because there was a mess of deeply negative energy that had been pent up in me for years, and it sought to release itself in any way possible.

This is the main concern with carrying around old, unprocessed pain: It leads us to project a lot of bullshit onto every unrelated person and situation. We can easily sabotage relationships of all kinds in this way.

When I say “deeply negative energy,” I’m talking about something very real.

Another one of the helpful books I’ve read in my healing process Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The basic premise of this book is as follows: The traumatic events humans endure do not naturally release themselves the way they do in the rest of the animal kingdom. For instance, a gazelle’s life is threatened regularly on the savanna. Yet after every close call with a cheetah, they manage to return to baseline gazelle functioning without becoming hypervigilant and fearful at all times.

In human beings, the culprit of post-traumatic stress is the highly developed frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that gives us the capacity to reason and think abstractly; we owe our current domination of the world to this structure. Relating to trauma on a personal level, the frontal lobe overrides an instinctual process which discharges traumatic energy in other animals. Until we acknowledge and consciously let go of this energy in the physical body, it remains trapped, subtly pulling the strings in our interactions.

And about this word “trauma:” It’s so heavy, and many people believe it only refers to acts of war or long-term abuse. While these definitely fall under the category, trauma can also be the result of something like surgery, an accident, or emotional neglect. The body certainly perceives surgery as traumatic, and we know by now (or at least I hope we do) that separating body from mind is impossible. I also believe we’re pretty much all subconsciously dealing with trauma because the foundation of our culture is trauma, and our energy is not actually separate.

If you’re coping with latent trauma, I highly recommend the book.

An ego trigger is anything that makes you aware of the fact that you are still clinging to a special, false identity. In this case, I’m mostly talking about anger, which is always felt due to a perceived threat. Truly, the only thing that can be threatened is the ego. Who you really are is invulnerable and immortal. You know these triggers as soon as you feel the need to defend something you did/said, the desire to make someone else wrong, or if you lash out even when nominally challenged. Even enlightened beings have egos—they are just totally conscious of their egos, and these egos are not as fixed as Mario.

On the path, rather than desire the world not to trigger our egos, we understand that having our egos triggered is an opportunity for practice. It lets us know that our delusional self still lurks in the mind, probably driving most of what we do in life. Ego triggers are like a blaring sign that say Keep doing your work. From here we can look at what triggered us and what false self-beliefs are wrapped up in it.

The solution, as always, is to be aware. I can reliably notice that my ego has been triggered when I become physically hot, flushed, and on edge. I start making up all kinds of reasons why it was wrong for someone to do or say whatever they said/did. It’s a dark kind of self-boost that I know makes me less pleasant to be around. I become preoccupied with the (ridiculously small) incident and agonize over it. I believe it is a literal form of temporary insanity to be caught up in this way of thinking and feeling. It creates a blindness to what is really in front of me. Luckily, the more I watch it, the less power it has to get me to continue a fruitless argument or run my mouth.

If someone’s unconsciousness creates an intensely charged trigger within you, it is because you have unconsciousness to dispel within your own being. It’s not “their fault” for “making you” feel mad. In order to be free, we have to look at ourselves instead of placing the blame elsewhere. For as much as we try, we can never change others. The spiritual path is one of great individual responsibility: You hold no one else accountable for your behaviors and feelings, but also learn not to self-blame. It’s a delicate balance, but very rewarding when you finally start to get your house in order.

It is a mistake to try and make the world psychologically comfortable for us. It simply cannot be done. Even if we succeed in doing this once in a while, we miss an opportunity to face our most difficult emotions and tend to them accordingly, thereby becoming more emotionally resilient. Though I would love to live in a vastly more compassionate world, we cannot control what hurtful words people may say. Trying to forcibly control people’s speech results in a sense of suppression and greater anger. I do not want to live in the culture where people use the “right words” yet feel coerced and pissed off inside. To some degree, I already am living in that culture, and it doesn’t seem to be fostering much more peace or dampening our collective anger at all… in fact, it seems to be doing the opposite.

Also, when you’re extremely sensitive (and I am), the entire world becomes an emotional trigger. For me, seeing a 2-year-old stare at an iPad during his lunch can trigger deep anger and sadness. Seeing construction for retail space on the lot I thought would make a nice community garden also triggers anger and sadness. Reading the same tired political arguments on Facebook triggers… you guessed it, anger and sadness.

My ego-identity is furious at seeing humanity in this state, and furious at how rarely people seem to regard their own minds as being just as problematic as anything else. What this highlights is that I still have some delusions to burn down. Fortunately, I do try to be wary of placing the problem elsewhere: These are my emotions to own and navigate; they are part of this life experience and no one else’s responsibility to deal with. They can be a blessing if I use them to fuel my growth and creative endeavors, or a curse if I stew in them, believing they are the fault of someone else.

One thing is for sure: If we wait for the whole world to transform before we can be at peace, we will be imprisoned forever.

– lish

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering, 2

One of my most popular posts is “The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering.” I felt like expanding on it in the hope of shedding more light on suffering, since emotional pain generates more questions than any other human experience.

Many well-known creators and thinkers over the course of human history were not without their demons. We look to these people and wonder what it is about emotional tumult that pushes them into acts of creative expression. We also want there to be a glimmer of something not-awful in all that torments us. The good news is that this is true: There is a relationship between these things, and if you are suffering often for “no apparent reason,” I believe it means you’re in the thick of becoming who you are.

In the first post I liken the spiritual growth process to the Theory of Positive Disintegration. In this metaphor, your ego is a seed casing and suffering is the pressure which pushes you to ultimately flower. Positive Disintegration is a theory of development I really love, in part because it views the human organism as growth-oriented by default. This has become glaringly obvious to me: By our very nature we are all pulled to evolve, to become, and to outgrow our childish and destructive behaviors. Yogic theory agrees: This view posits that the thing pulling on us is higher consciousness itself. Consciousness is always trying to pull you up and towards it, out of your neuroses and into your Self. In short, you are all but “doomed” to evolve and grow, whether or not you think you even want to yet.

Here’s the rub: To access these “higher” spaces means we must let go of that which we imagine to be safe and familiar. It’s when we try to remain seeds (or roots, or saplings) out of fear that hurts us. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to discuss that it is resistance to growth that creates the most suffering, not growth itself.

Having said all that, I don’t believe suffering is a prerequisite for creation. We are all creators, whether or not we are aware of it, and whether or not anything tangible is made with our bodies and/or minds. The romanticization of pain (and addiction and mental illness) is an unfortunate byproduct of our culture. We recognize the significance of art and that the act of creation is a wonderful thing to do as a human. So, when our great thinkers and creators are addicts and “crazy people,” we start to glamorize these parts of their minds. (FYI: Addiction and madness are super not-glamorous.)

The reason this is unfortunate is because our best work actually comes when we are calm, well-cared for, and “out of the way” of the creative process. Additionally, work can be done with joy done even when it deals in heavy matters. For instance: I’m here writing about things like the apocalypse, addiction, and mental illness and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

I believe artists often wrestle with demons because many millions of humans are not yet as keenly aware of their inner evolution. They have not yet been pulled into the storm of what Dabrowski would call “Stage 2.” If, by some incredible miracle, everyone were to wake up to Reality at once, the “demons” we see in the gifted would dissolve immediately. The average amount of awareness, being quite low, acts to hold those back who are trying to grow at an accelerated rate. If they were in a more nourishing environment—one that saw the value in their evolution rather than feeling threatened by it (or worse, trying to find a way to “monetize” said evolution)—suffering in this way would be reduced.

It’s almost like creators and philosophers across generations have always been trying to climb out of a mud pit made of tyranny, cruelty, and other hierarchies (even if they themselves have fallen to cruelty and egotism). We all know this is virtuous on some level. It is also difficult and painful for them to challenge the mold around them—and when I say this, I mean in unfashionable ways. In society there is often a “cause du jour,” and many of us feel righteous when we jump on the bandwagon to challenge these things. But in this sense, I am more speaking of philosophers such as Kierkegaard (or Truth-bringers such as Christ) who were denigrated and yet continued to follow their hearts and consciences. These kinds of people are significantly more rare, and for this, can receive a great deal of ostracization. This kind of life can render one isolated and “in their own world,” which, of course, hurts. It does not need to be this way.

Here are some additional bulletpoints on growth and suffering:

  1. As a human, you are pulled towards growth. Growth means leaving your seed casing, your present ego. When we intellectualize it, question it, doubt it, or suppress it, we are fighting a process that cannot really be fought. 
  2. We create suffering by refusing to accept the changes that accompany inner growth. I can’t tell you what changes will need to be made once you start really expanding. It may be certain relationships, your job, your location, your habits, or any number of less-dramatic tweaks. On the other hand, you may not feel moved to change much externally at all. No one can say what will need to be done if/when you wake up or grow spiritually—only your own inner compass can point you to these changes. Also, your intuition probably already has an idea. My advice is to follow that intuition, even though your mind will resist it. To see this process through, your conditioned mind has to get out of the driver’s seat of life. It is not your friend. 
  3. The more often we refuse to accept who we are and what we need to do, the more suffering we cause ourselves. Refusal to do what you are pulled to do (in favor of the mind’s “but wait” nonsense) is resistance, through and through. For instance: Alcohol was a big thing for me. My ego did not want to give it up. In service to my ego, my mind did a great number of tricks in order to keep me drinking for years longer than I should have. Guess what? The amount of suffering I created for myself due to my unwillingness to drop this habit is incalculable: So many humiliating texts were sent, and so much morning shame was endured. In Ireland, after not being able to eat normally for three days due to a whisky hangover, I pleaded with my liver to not give up on me. It sucked. Now I fully recognize that it was part of my path to play around with this drug for as long as I did. Letting go of alcohol happened in its own time. Still, along the way, it hurt, over and over and over again, and always in the same way. It really comes down to this: How many times do you need to humbled by suffering before you’re actually ready to change? The answer is different for everyone. 
  4. Growth won’t stop just because the “little you” feels over it. Do we understand what I mean by the “little you”? I mean the one who believes it “should” be in control, who falls into despair when life does not go “their way,” and assumes they can muscle life into some kind of acquiescence to better suit their desires. The “little you” is made of childish delusion; it does not want to accept disagreeable realities or concede that it really isn’t in charge. More times than I can count, I have asked myself this question: “When will this whole thing just end?” And that created a lot of suffering, because here’s real talk: It won’t end. This is another good thing to just accept. Yes, in regards to spiritual awakening, it will level out. This turmoil does not last forever. If you persist and persist and persist, the mind will take its rightful place within your expanded consciousness and quit creating awful feelings for you all the time. I promise you this will happen if you just keep going, even when you think you can’t. But growth itself is unending. The intense awakening is more like the drastic moves out of the seed casing and above the ground. In this sense—to liken you to a tree—once you are a sapling, the emotional storm settles. Even so, you’re still going to be growing upwards for a very long time.

  5. Ultimately, sadness and pain are transient thoughts. I know this won’t land well for anyone with severe depression, but hear me out: Consciousness (you) always exists in boundless, infinite form; sorrow and despair just float through at times. Like everything else within pure consciousness, they come and go. Pure consciousness is the only unchanging thing. It is actually the attention we lavish upon sadness and pain that energizes them. Pay more attention to the negativity in someone, and they will become more negative. This is true for what you attend to in yourself as well. I don’t mean to imply that “changing where your attention goes” is a quick and easy task, or that recovery from a pattern of depression is going to happen overnight—but it can be done, and it is worth it. Nothing that I advocate for happens overnight. Recovery from anything, including deep depression, is rather the result of much effort and tenacity and belief in the possibility of recovery. There is a mental resilience that must be in place. If we are lacking this mindset, it is helpful even to start there.
  6. We cannot make logical sense out of life and/or anguish, even though we really want to. I know this is also a very unsatisfying thing to read, but it is true. Sometimes pain can be treated like a clue: Alcohol made me miserable, so I quit drinking. My job is becoming difficult for me, so I’m taking up a new endeavor. Other times pain completely defies rational explanation. There is no predictable, proportionate “amount” of pain that yields some other amount of growth. Similar to point #3, it really has to do with how long you need to be “worked on,” and that’s different for every individual. This thing isn’t an exact recipe yet it is also assured: Put enough pressure and heat on carbon, and it becomes a diamond. When we have a bit of space in our hearts, we can look back on suffering and see that it was actually a rather strange state to be in. And at the risk of sounding harsh, we can see that it is actually a bit arrogant—again, the work of the “little you”—to assume you should be the decider for when suffering is over. We are far more powerful than we imagine, but we are not the ultimate deciders for how we grow and what we need. The best we can do is make those necessary changes, keep up our practices, and have grit. Expecting a constant answer for the “why” of suffering is itself indicative of the need to grow. The truth is simply that we do suffer… until we don’t anymore. What happens in between is mysterious, and when we cultivate wisdom, we can even see the beauty in it. Furthermore, surrendering to the fact that all of this isn’t really “your call” can actually help a lot.

– Lish

Lessons Everywhere

I wake up. I remember I am moving to an ashram/retreat center in Texas, and that this is exactly what I need to do right now. I reflect on some of the events that have led to this moment and this decision. I think of the things I have destroyed and the things I have created, of choices that have unfolded into both beauty and horror. On some choices I am still overwhelmed with remorse and shame; on others I laugh and think yes, that was exactly the right thing to do. Most are just a big question mark, like who am I to decide how this whole thing is supposed to go.

Throughout this whole process, I do know I could’ve created less suffering if I’d better understood what was happening to me. It is for this reason that I write. It is for this reason I do not give up on myself, why I stay sober, and why I encourage others to expand themselves by dropping one habit and belief at a time.

On some days, my moods have covered the whole spectrum within a few hours. I no longer believe that rapidly-changing moods are indicative of illness, at least not in the medical sense. Still, this instability absolutely makes life difficult: When you feel differently about something—everything—every few days, it is exhausting and absurd. You just spin your wheels, overthink, and feel like shit about it. With growth, I am happy to say that the worst is getting further away and quieter. With each breath my mind loses the power to drag me into Hell. This is the power of becoming self-aware.

Right now, my day-to-day life feels like little more than treading water. I’m somewhere in between the next thing and yet I feel I’ve (finally) survived the hardest parts of the Big Terrifying Awakening. And I know it would be a mistake to chop this experience up into “phases” and/or a progressive timeline, because life doesn’t work like that. It actually works in no particular way. As soon as we think we’ve got it all figured out, life is sure to dole out a surprise to knock us down a few pegs.

Although I feel a bit like I’m here “just waiting,” I know there are always lessons to be learned. To the true student, every situation and person is a teacher. Life ceases to be split into that which is Buddha and non-Buddha. Therefore I am trying to soak up whatever remaining lessons are in this space where my time is definitely not spent wisely (case in point: Two nights ago I watched 2 hours of Parks & Rec, ate a burrito, and went to sleep at 8PM ). My energy feels pretty depleted overall, and I know it is because my body is not where my soul is moved to be. For practical reasons, I am putting energy into tasks that my soul is resistant to, and this is the arrangement of our entire society. When we do this—fight ourselves—we should expect to feel tired and disenchanted. It makes no sense to believe we can be vibrant if we engage in stagnation.

One thing I keep relearning is how much pain I can create for myself by trying to be both attached and non-attached to people, routines, and things. It’s like standing on an iceberg that is cracked down the middle, my feet slowly drifting apart while freezing water sloshes below. I’m practically doing the splits, hesitating to make a decision about which way to go. If I keep living like this I will be uncomfortable forever.

So often we play this game where we try to bargain with the soul: We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to keep our little selves and their comfortable arrangements while also surrendering to the vastness of life and going where this stream moves us. We cannot have both. If we want it All, we can’t have our precious “personhood.” I say this not only for any readers but also for myself, because it is one of the hardest pills to swallow. It usually has to be hammered in several million times in the forms of confusion, anxiety, and cognitive dissonance before we finally accept it: We cannot have both.

This is not a statement about how spiritual growth requires “sacrifice” because “sacrifice” implies loss. There is no real loss here, except of those things you will one day be glad to be rid of: Ego, false identifications, attachments, and neuroses. Rather, it is about soberly accepting that a bird must jump from the safety of the nest in order to fulfill its destiny, that discomfort and insecurity are an irremovable part of this thing.

We don’t get one without the other, and yet we always try to argue with this. In our immaturity, we want safety and growth, vibrancy and security. We want risks with guarantees. Basically, we want the evolutionary experience to be something other than what it necessarily is.

Occasionally I still think I’d like to be a wife and/or mother, and yet to pursue such a course would negate whatever lies for me when I take a step in an unknown direction. I suppose there is still time to choose such a life if it felt right, but there’s also this undeniable pull to teach, to write, to be, and just not get caught up in arranging my circumstances intentionally. It really feels like it is no longer up to “me” to decide what occurs or what I become. Yes this has always been true, but only recently have I begun to actually give up the illusion of control.

My heart could stop beating any moment, and I’m pretty sure the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a huge earthquake. Any number of illnesses could be incubating inside of my body, and no matter what, death is assured for me and everyone I love. These aren’t meant to be depressing statements: They are just true, and when we get totally clear on this fact, life changes. Suddenly, freedom is not a thing to put off. Love and joy are not things to put off. The excuses we use to get out of becoming ourselves don’t work anymore because death is just right there, daring us to blink. We can often accept our “lack of control” in theory, but to actually surrender to what this means brings about an entirely different way of being.

I also often come back to the way intellectual understanding is small, and how consciousness does not get “understood” in this way. I want to bring it back to teaching: Many people accept the teachings of Christ in theory; they go to church and they are kind, but very few practicing Christians recognize that a true implementation of Christ’s word would ensure a complete breakdown of society as we know it… in the end it would be for the better, but it would a breakdown nonetheless. Hierarchies of all kinds would fall, even those supposedly built around Christ.

This is precisely why so many of His teachings have been edited and shunned and “disallowed” over many centuries: If we commoners were to fully realize our perfection, drop our neediness, and accept that we are alive, how might we spend our lives? Would we work for undeserving masters (and by this I don’t mean specific people, but an overall system which drives us into insanity and ruins our planet)? Would we dull ourselves and live the same unfulfilling way day after day?

I don’t think we would. Not for a moment longer.

– Lish