"Levels", Mental Health, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego

The “Unplanned” Awakening

An uncontrollable pull towards higher consciousness is the defining feature of a spiritual awakening. (Actually, the defining moment is the “click,” the actual “moment of waking up” that occurs for reasons I can’t explain. There isn’t much more I have to say about the “click,” at least not right now.)

I’d like to address why I have chosen to use the phrase “higher consciousness.” I’m not a huge fan of a hierarchical concept of consciousness because it immediately invites the ego to compare “its level” to that of those around us. We often want to know where we are on the scale, affirming that we are above some, like our parents and/or annoying co-workers maybe, but below others, like saints and realized mystics. Unless we remain vigilant, visualizing a hierarchy of consciousness tends to reinforce the mindset that we are better or worse than others. The conditioning that goes into imagining ourselves as better/worse than others is very deep-seated, and requires diligence to overcome. There is a lot of habit energy bound up in this way of thinking, so it takes a lot of fresh awareness to alter.

And when we get down to it, pure consciousness is not rooted in ideas of “higher” and “lower;” it cannot be “thought to,” and it cannot be defined. It simply is. All attempts to define consciousness fail immediately and always will, because definitions serve to create something static, and consciousness is not static… except it is, in a way, but also always moving. This thing is beyond both chaos and order; beyond movement and stillness. The experience of it does feel supremely still compared to the frequent inner chatter that often reigns in the mind, but it is also ever-flowing, not inert.

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From Basic Teachings of the Buddha, by Glenn Wallis.

And yet it still feels important to say that awakening pulls one towards “higher” consciousness, simply because that is my lived experience of awakening. When I am really here, I feel unquestionably higher than when I am bound up in habits (higher than before, not “superior to others.”). It feels undeniably better to rise each morning without a hangover, sit down, light some incense, and come back to the home in my heart than to repeatedly harm myself. Speaking of higher/lower in this way is not a moral judgment call, but a statement on how differently we can feel and live. It is about the experience of life becoming richer, more free, and more joyful, versus more trapped, more isolated, and more cravey.

There is suffering and not suffering. There is the feeling of being mired in past events, allowing old events/interactions to haunt us, and there is having personal power right now. If you try both of these experiences on, it becomes very clear which is more preferable, AKA “higher.”

Additionally: without the understanding that expanding our consciousness can result in a better direct experience of life, what would our motivation to do it be? This thing will not get us money. It will not get us fame, power, popularity, or any other tangible reward. It will not even “save the world.” In the beginning, we trust our intuition that there’s something greater than these things to attain to (or else we would never let go of our desires for such things), and there is.

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Awakening can happen whether the unconscious ego likes it or not, and whether or not we went looking for it. The unconscious ego may really, really not like it. The difficulties that can arise when the ego is resistant to its illusory nature, of course, may all be part of what you need to grow, but man, they can also be really rough. You can make things easier on yourself by not denying or resisting that you’ve woken up. This can only happen if we are aware that it has happened to us.

This was one of the main reasons why “my” awakening (which I put in quotes because it is not really “mine” to take credit for) was so incredibly fraught with chaos, confusion, and humiliation. At the time of the “click,” I didn’t even know things like ego deaths were possible. Throughout my education, I don’t believe we ever discussed the possibility of psychosis being thought of as a “spiritual emergency.” The message here is loud and clear: Smart, educated people understand that brain chemicals and genetics are “real,” and all that spiritual stuff is “not real,” or, at best, it’s still “less real” than science. (One of the most amazing and frustrating things about waking up is that you find literally the exact opposite to be true, but, I digress.)

I had meditated only a handful of times, and then stopped, because I wasn’t ready. There were times when I felt heavily bombarded with the reality of death as an abstract idea sometime in “the future,” and this bombardment gave me intense hits of anxiety, usually when I was trying to get to sleep. Still, I somehow always managed to sidestep this thought, get out of bed in the morning, and continue on in life as usual (“as usual” was with great suffering and anger, btw.) Part of this, again, occurred because that’s what I chose for myself, albeit unconsciously: This was what I needed to end up in this exact place right now.

But on a worldly level, it’s been difficult because spiritual/existential matters are are pushed very var away from the collective mind. We don’t sincerely talk about these things. We tend to dismiss them as unimportant and/or avoid them completely. These are uncomfortable conversations most of us shy away from, the result of being repeatedly conditioned to believe that engaging with such thoughts is “heavy,” “morbid,” or simply unnecessary. This is because a lot of us do not understand our own existences, and it feels more important that we take care of our material needs (for many, this is a real concern), and/or more pleasurable to remain caught up in whatever-else we talk and think about. I definitely still fall prey to this temptation, just like I do to the temptation of pumpkin cupcakes.

However, in many parts of the world, material needs are not really a concern anymore. Humans are so far beyond needing to worry about their survival needs, and therefore it follows that our energy should be expended to consider other matters. Why do we not turn towards life’s ultimate concerns once shelter, food, and safety are obtained?

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Silence.

The answer lies in that conditioned discomfort with matters of life and death, along with a persistent feeling that there must be “more” we have to get and achieve before we’re ready to pursue things of the existential nature. Our culture is very good at engendering this kind of insecurity and providing us with distractions even if we do feel “secure enough.” It can feel as if we are living in one tremendous practice ground, trying to stave off mindless entertainment and other indulgences left and right.

Many of us do not really feel safe, even if we have plenty of material comforts. We are often on guard about losing our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our money. The truth is that losing these things is certainly possible, and that nothing is guaranteed to us in life. Rather than face this fact and find solid ground within, we usually try to just keep everything on the outside “under control.” On some level, we’re  aware of the futility of these attempts to control life. “We” will not always exist, our jobs may become obsolete, we may get in a terrible accident or contract an irreversible illness, our relationships may become strained and distant, and there really isn’t anything we can do about these things.

And still, because these can be very uncomfortable realities to think about, we avoid them. Or, if we do acknowledge these truths, it’s fleeting and panicky. I’m not suggesting we sit around and ruminate on how we could lose everything anytime, nor that we sit around wishfully imagining how everything could “get better” in life. Both lines of thinking are out of touch with reality, even if the latter temporarily makes us feel better.

We must simply accept the impermanence of everything “out there.” Doing so makes a huge step towards inner stability, which is the only lasting stability we’ll ever find.

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If you (like me) have/had an ego that was/is bound up in being overly-thinky, judgmental, and somewhat damaged, the process of awakening will probably be extremely intense. You’re trying to heal, make intellectual sense of the whole thing (you can’t), and perform daily obligations that suddenly feel ludicrous. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but that is the nature of an unplanned awakening.

And it should be mentioned that all awakenings are “unplanned.” You cannot sit down with a calendar, plan on meditating for two years and then say “and then, on September 21st, 2019, I wake up.” The mind likes these kinds of “plans,” because then it feels like it’s “doing” something. It is much more unsettling (and exciting) to know that you could awaken at any moment, triggered by almost anything. We may not even experience it in this life, and that’s okay too, because we can still ameliorate our suffering by taking up certain practices. Turning awakening into a planned goal is understandable; the potential for it often gets us “on the path” in the first place. And yet, it is never something we can guarantee.

At best, we can prepare for it, so that the resulting changes are handled with skill and deep awareness.

– Lish

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"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

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"Levels", Depression, Mental Health, Spirituality, The Mind

Embracing Your Darkness

It’s been a rough few days, so I admit that there may be a charge of (gasp!) negativity to this post. So before that, I want to put something out there that I hope will be nice to read, or at least not hurtful: All people are worthy of love and acceptance. Every single one. The most revolutionary act we can take is to practice living from this mindset. I feel the sting of disapproval often, even if it’s “all in my head” and/or egocentric. I walk around in fear of judgment. Sometimes it is raw and painful. The deepest wish I have for myself and others is that we learn how to release these fears and move towards genuine compassion for one another.

I know we all come to these things in our own time, but it is still what I wish.

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Yep.

Feel What You Feel, Unapologetically

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the negativity: I’m a human being who has emotions. Sometimes these emotions result in me standing over my bathroom sink, ready to vomit from sorrow. Sometimes I feel like I can run for miles floating on wings of bliss alone. Other days I feel nothing at all, and the arrival of this emptiness is both disorienting and lovely. Honestly, I’ve lived most of my life believing that everyone more or less operates in this way, so it’s been odd to receive medical diagnoses for such experiences. But whatever. That’s how it’s done, and sometimes it can be really helpful.

It’s important to bear in mind that none of our emotions are “right” or “wrong.” They just are. Acknowledging this was huge for me, and so I encourage you to let it sink in: No emotion is “better” or “worse” than any other. Some may be easier to accept because they are pleasant, but in trying to reject the bad ones, we miss out on a whole lot. We close ourselves to what they are trying to teach us. We decide that these parts of us are not worth loving when they are actually the parts that need our love most.

As soon as we stop mentally labeling our feelings as “good” and “bad,” we make a quantum leap into maturity. We step into a state of mind that respects all of our experiences without shutting down. I personally don’t really know how to feel hurt without closing myself off to others, but if I just bring in a little awareness, it becomes slightly easier.

Further along we come into a space that can, from a compassionate distance, witness our very human responses to our very insane environments on a collective level. This compassionate distance is required to look clearly at our situation. When we’re too close, we lose the holistic perspective. Only when we accept that this is not how humans have evolved to live (rather than simply pathologizing individuals who can’t “hang”) can we get around to fixing this trash heap we call culture.

I seriously don’t even know what to write sometimes because it all comes down to this: Everything is really messed up and we’ve got to build a new culture, one conscious being at a time. I know that it’s already sorta-kinda happening, and it makes me thrilled.

But I also know that large groups of people and movements built around certain “beliefs” can quickly degenerate into equally unconscious hiveminds, albeit in different clothing. Look at what happened to the hippie movement, or even more obvious: Jesus Christ was a total baller about love and acceptance, and yet many of his “followers” still reject their fellow humans on a regular basis.

I write in part to encourage suspicion of the “brand” mentality of the path. I write to acknowledge that this thing is yucky. I write to warn seekers of slipping right into a spiritual ego, thereby continually avoiding the depths of themselves which necessarily include pain—some of us more than others.

But mostly, I write because I need to, because keeping all this stuff inside has hurt me more than I could ever explain. I know it’s hurting a lot of people to keep their stuff in, too. I feel you and I know you.

May You Keep Fighting

The idea that struggle “shouldn’t” exist needs to die, and so I will help it die right now: Without struggle, we have no reason to go anywhere. Being comfy-cozy gives us no incentive to dig through the muck of ourselves and find the truth. This is so true that many of us create our own struggles where there needn’t be any, and we do this just so we have something to learn from. Similarly, this idea that being “positive” is the “best” way to be needs to die as well, and so I will also help it die: Feeling bad and wrong and ashamed are just as vital on the path as the “good” stuff.

I know it sucks (and that that is a total understatement), but these are the emotions that force us up and out of our seed casings. Ideally, we could all flow as freely as the rest of Nature, and perhaps one day we will. In this case, all of our self-created suffering wouldn’t be necessary for us to flower: We could just become and transform and live and let live. I truly and honestly hope humanity gets there. But for now, because we are much more complicated beings than flowers, we often require an intense beating to jar us from the (imagined) safety of the soil.

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YOU.

We must embrace the ugliness, the mistakes, and the horror. Yes, it’s all hideous and awful and too much when you start looking at it. And then when you really get into it, it can get to be way way too much, and sometimes you lose conscious control of what your body and mind are doing if you even had any in the first place. It is not my hope that your path goes that route, but, it’s not up to me.

Also worth noting: Deeply empathic humans are not able to look around the world and feel positive all the time. Yes, there is a way to sit in spaces of pain without being consumed by others’ suffering, and that is a skill we must develop if we wish to help others. But sometimes spiritual rhetoric looks like a whole lot of avoidance to me, and this is the exact opposite of what spirituality is “about.” (It’s really about everything, btw.)

The path brings you to reality: First, the reality of this physical world (suffering, suffering, and… oh, look at that: more suffering), and ultimately face-to-face with a chasm of emptiness that sort of laughs in your face as it moves you in and out of Heaven and Hell and It. This emptiness is the source of all things, including those that aren’t soft-and-fuzzy. On the path, we must remember that we aren’t looking to simply confirm our preconceived (read: limited) ideas about what divine love is like.

My point here is that positivity is awesome, but if you’re faking it, you’re betraying yourself. Your self will not allow this betrayal forever.

It’s Gonna Get Ugly

I did not go looking for this “spirituality” thing. I rejected it full-stop for a long time, and yes, I still dislike the word on account of the “everything’s gonna be fine” attitude it sometimes engenders.

Here’s real talk: Everything’s not gonna be fine.* A lot of people are dying. A lot of them are dying from stuff that is 100% preventable, such as hunger (which, by the way, only exists because of the collective ego and our fears around letting it go). We have altered the face of the Earth to such a degree that the actual climate has been changed. Species are going extinct left and right. In all likelihood, your water might not be ideal to drink.

The “good news” is that the Earth will balance itself out because that is what Nature does. Of course, this is actually bad news for a whole lot of human beings—maybe even you and me. This rebalancing is happening already. Things are gonna get extra bonkers sooner than later for us as a species.

The spiritual path is not the thing to do if you’re trying to escape these realities and feel good all the time. It is about seeing this world for what it is, falling down and through the abyss of your constructed self, and somehow, some way, building a new one on purpose. You go deeply into suffering to see what it’s made of instead of frantically treading above it by drinking and working and entertaining ourselves and socializing and/or even going on a bunch of spiritual retreats (or writing blog posts!).

It’s about seeing the root of these big bad things (climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, trafficking, abuse abuse abuse), and understanding that the most beneficial thing we can do is to stop directing anger outward and get to work on ourselves first.

It’s about coming to grips with this: Every terrible scenario “out there” originated in the human mind. Our minds communicate with one another in very subtle, seemingly invisible ways, and collectively we inhabit one average level of consciousness. Understanding this, the first order of business becomes to transform our personal levels into those that are grounded in love and clarity, thereby lifting up that average level. These principles are timeless.

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Again: yep.

 

This is what I work towards even when I stumble and backslide and fail, like, every day. This work goes on and on. Even once enlightened, we are going to be interacting with other humans, and our way of doing so will continually inform our awareness of how to be in this human form. This knowledge is always deepening: There is a space inside of you which goes on infinitely, and “getting there” is really just to freefall for eternity which is always right now.

*Okay, okay: In the end, everything will be “fine” if by fine you mean that this Universe will be swallowed up by some other Universe long after our planet has been burnt to a crisp. Sure. In that way, it’ll all be “fine.” But that is a totally unhelpful mindset for our shared physical plane. Yes, later on, there is a shiny heart of nihilism to the whole thing, but it’s not a very compassionate Earthly position to take.

Keeping the Faith

After this semi-tirade of a post, I want to note that I still have tremendous aspirations for everyone and myself: We can learn to find a balance between the difficult outer world and the limitless inner world. We can let go of the mind-made past and learn to see each other with new eyes. We can get to a place where joy is our default setting; where we can return to a place of peace, wholeness, and wisdom whenever we choose. We can accept when we are angry or hurt without shutting down and becoming so defensive and afraid.

These things are possible; it just matters how sincerely willing we are to make them happen.

– Lish

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"Levels", Relationships, The Ego

Transformation & Relationships

Head’s up: I don’t always have time to make pictures. I like to do it, and sometimes I find illustrations helpful for my own conceptualization. But writing’s my real thing. Waitressing’s my money thing. Time is limited, and being in nature on sunny days will always win out over drawing weird stuff on my Chromebook. Words only today.

Also, the word “relationship” is too often used in reference to “romantic partnership.” That’s not how I’m using it. Every one of us is in relationship with everything in the universe, whether directly or indirectly, and that’s how it’s meant in this post.

When we fight the evolutionary process, the effect is like damming a powerful river. While this can force a desired result, it creates all kinds of problems in the total system. And now we’re back in metaphorland: By clinging to false identifications and limitations, we put dams in the rivers of our selves. Soon, we end up miserable, stalling joy and feeling totally paralyzed.

Of course this is unconscious: The dams, we think, keep us  safe and “productive.” What might happen if we allowed ourselves to move more freely? Such freedom might not guarantee our (maybe miserable) security. And on a global scale, we resist the emergence of consciousness because it doesn’t always fit into our parameters of what the world “should” be like, what we “should” be like.

If a dam comes down, nature rights itself with no anger. No one can predict exactly what will happen to the river, but we do know that life will be restored where it was once deprived. In time it will take its own shape, effortlessly moving with the rest of the planet. It will be beautiful no matter what.

But alas, we’re not rivers. We have these tricky little minds and egos. We get torn. We want the function of the dam and the complete power of the river: Full consciousness and an ego that keeps us superior to others. We know innately that these two things are at odds, and we know innately that the river is going to win out. This is the kind of pressure that’s building, in individuals (as evidenced by growing rates of illness, mental and otherwise) and collectively (as evidenced by—well, check the news.).

It all feels really scary, and that’s why we need each other.

Since making The Upward Mind public, I’ve connected with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. I find this incredible and life-affirming and all the other good feelings. In a time where socializing is often kept rather surface-level, it can be hard to remember that there are a whole lot of people yearning for human-ness.

Of course we all need deep connection, and of course not all connection needs to be deep.  But there are always those who are grasping for depth more urgently than others: They’ve begun to navigate their own complexity, ready or not. Going inward, facing crises, hitting the “wait, this is my life?” moment—such intensity is only made bearable by seeing that other humans have stood on the precipice and survived. (I promise you, many people have!)

What I am talking about here is a transformational, existential kind of pain. To me, death is the root of all fear: Knowledge of mortality without understanding existence necessarily makes one a little crazy. It’s like having a housefly buzzing around as you’re trying to meditate. Sure, you can do it—or can you?

In blundering ways, I desperately sought people to help me through (not that I mean to imply that I’m, like, “done” or anything). I never fully found what it was I imagined I needed in another person*, but I did find it in books. And I found it in a million Google searches: “Alternative explanations for bipolar disorder,” “Existential crisis how long to resolve,” and my favorite: “What is happening?!”

My hope is that maybe one day, someone who is losing it will come across these words and take a tiny bit of comfort: Everything you are experiencing, from the most crushing despair to the highest of expansive messiah complexes, is simply part of the evolutionary process. I know that’s not immediately relieving, but it is the most valid excuse for madness ever: We were bat-shit crazy, now we’re healing, and healing has good days and bad. It moves in waves.

You may be told there is something wrong with you; there is not. You may be told to get it together; don’t even try. You may want to escape it and numb out with drugs and alcohol and television and food; it won’t work.

Also, perhaps magically, I think that anyone reading this is doing so because they’re meant to. The world is changing. The collective dams are coming down. Some amount of us  have become exhausted with fighting ourselves and the rest of nature; we want to be rivers, even if our power feels overwhelming. Sure, the dam’s generating a whole lot of jobs and electricity, but the cost is our health and happiness (not to mention screwing up the whole “natural system” thing), in which case: What is the point of jobs and electricity?**

All such awareness occurs on the rational level. In the far vaster internal/emotional realm, it feels way heavier.

*Of course I found (and continue to find) solace and healing in others, but my intellectual understanding of this stuff was only made possible by people I will probably never meet in person.

**Jobs and electricity are not necessarily at odds with a beautiful world, contrary to what certain fringe movements may say.

When we bare our truths, we draw people to us who are aligned with (or drawn to) our levels. That’s why I think if you’re reading this, you’re supposed to be. I don’t know what “my” “level” is and I don’t particularly care. I still haven’t figured out a better way to write about this than with the “levels” concept, perhaps because our language is inseparable from its egocentric cultural history. I dislike it because the ego’s competitive nature often just uses the whole “spirituality” thing as another way to elevate itself. How very wily! (On that note: I, too, am already sick of the word “consciousness.”)

In any case, I do know that as we grow, we move towards things and people that facilitate the process. We become literally like water following the path of least resistance to the ocean—except we don’t know yet that we are the ocean. So, we go out looking for conduits to “it:” Is it here? Is it there? Is it in this lover? Is it in that group? Is it in this job? Of course it is never in any of those things. We hit dead ends, over and over and over.

Whether consciously or not, we “use” each other and our circumstances to grow. Every relationship, every work environment, every addiction—it is all for the purpose* of evolution, even if the “how” is not apparent to our logical minds. The universe doesn’t care how we think life “should” go.

We also “hover” around the levels of those who are seeking in the same way we are. If we’re seeking wholeness in drink, our friends are also heavy drinkers. If we’re seeking it in “that one perfect love,” our activities are built around this chase. If we’re seeking it by “solving all of our personal problems,” we’re always in therapy and obsessed with self-improvement.

I constantly feel the need to say that no behavior or substance is, in and of itself, indicative of being “lost.” I have sought myself in all of the above, and you know what? Some of it was super fun at least, and sometimes it was growthful. No one but the individual can determine why they do the things they do. All I know is that many of my old behaviors existed for numbing and ego inflation.  Therefore, I can only imagine this is true with a whole lot of other people.

So our immediate relationships reflect where we’re at on the path. Near the “end,” you may not align with anyone at all. You’re busy in your chrysalis, where no caterpillar or butterfly can help. At best, you may peek out and see that others have made it. Then you take a look at your hideous insides and you cannot fathom how you’ll get where they are. But really, you will— unless of course you choose to stop yourself. You can always try to go back caterpillar life, but it requires focused, concentrated unconsciousness to do this.

If we’re not aware of what’s happening, it can feel very lonely. Even if we are, it may still feel lonely, but at least it’s understood. You can say with confidence: “I’m alone because I’m undergoing radical transformation.” This is much more empowering than believing that you just have no friends and no one likes you and you’re a defective individual.

Being around others during this time can get a little awkward, because it’ll feel like there’s nothing to talk about except how seriously insane you feel: “How are you?” they will say, and you will be thinking “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS HOW ARE YOU.” And since all forms of inauthenticity are going out the window, maybe you’ll say exactly that. Before you know it, you’ve got a reputation for being weird or off-putting or crazy. (To be fair, you could very well be all of those things for a time, and that’s fine.)

At this point, you tend to start staying home. A lot.

*I use the word “purpose” loosely, because evolution defies conventional human notions of good/bad, as well as linear progress.

This notion of “alignment” simplifies why certain people fade in and out of our lives. What you need in in order to grow might be different from what everyone else in your life needs. There is nothing “right” or “wrong” about being unaligned with someone else; it just happens. It only becomes a problem when we remain attached to those we’re no longer aligned with. This occurs because (surprise!) we’re not secure in our own wholeness. This insatiable insecurity is the Great Modern Disease, and I won’t pretend that I’m beyond it.

In this case, we prolong relationships that need to be changed (or let go of), often trying to force the other one to be where we’re at, to “see things our way.” This makes for very unhappy friendships and partnerships. The anxiety we feel over letting go of a “15-year-friendship” or a “30-year-marriage” is nothing but simple attachment to an idea of a person (or a life) rather than sober acceptance of the way it feels in the now. Such stagnation is obvious when you see it, even if it is “the norm.”

Yes, we can continue to love all those we have ever loved, but when actual relationships become forced, it is a disservice to all parties.

Through this blog I’m learning that when we bare ourselves—dark parts and all—there are almost always positive results because we all have our dark parts. Wading through them can be truly horrifying and isolating. But when we come to discover firsthand how similar we are, the common complaint of “struggling to connect” disappears: There have been people waiting for us all along; all we ever had to do was be really real.

I certainly don’t mean to imply this is an easy task.  For most of us, there are about 10,000 demolition days that occur before the authentic human springs forth.

– Lish

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"Levels", Reality

Consciousness Levels, Part 1

At the “height” of consciousness, you see that there are actually no heights.

There are no lows, either.  There are no extremes; no rights or wrongs.  Everything that once existed on a spectrum falls away and there is nothing but It.  Here we have the essence of nondualism, the word which describes the absence of dichotomies.  Here we see that there are not “opposites,” merely complementary differences that have come out of the One thing.  Things are not real or illusory; good or bad.  Life defies such qualities.  It simply is.

Because many of us have not reached this point, it can be helpful to visualize consciousness on a spectrum, or as a series of levels.  I’m not super fond of the idea of “levels” because it tends to bring out the egoic aspect that wants to fancy itself “higher” on the scale and notice when those around us are “lower.”  When a tool for understanding reality brings about judgments of superiority and inferiority, we have to wonder how useful it is.  However, I’ve simply found no better way to start out than by saying that up to a point, we can see that there are levels.

David Hawkins*, a doctor and consciousness researcher, developed a scale to help us conceptualize these levels.

Even if you’re brand new to these ideas, I’ve found this to be an intuitive chart to read.  You might even be able to find where your orientation to life is on the scale and therefore determine where Hawkins might place you:

hawkins

First off, until you learn to guard your consciousness, your level is changing all the time based on what’s happening in your life, and based on those around you.  There seems to be a misconception that once someone reaches the level of Reason, they don’t fall back down to Guilt.  All of you brilliant people with depression know that’s not how it works.  Even after the moment of enlightenment/awakening, we are capable of slipping back down, especially if we have not fully healed past wounds.  This is because we are tremendously affected by the levels of those around us, which is to say that consciousness is highly contagious.

Remember: All spectra represent mere slivers of reality, but for now, I don’t have any other way to write about it.  Every day I understand more fully why the most spiritual people either shut up completely or tell stories with multiple meanings so that the listeners may one day be confused into the Truth.

Here’s the most important thing to understand about the levels: Without the drive and/or luxury to grow, individual people cannot help where they’re at on the scale.  That is the nature of higher consciousness: It really is outside of our control.  A person who dwells in hatred is stuck.  A person who has shame is stuck.  Being stuck is not their fault.  They are stuck because ultimately, there is too much fear within them and their surroundings to move upward.  One can spontaneously become unstuck and ascend to previously unknown emotions like bliss, peace, and love in no time at all.  By universal grace, and/or conscious action, this occurs.

When we see that it isn’t people’s “fault” that they are closed, thoughtless, and hateful, compassion and forgiveness arise naturally.  “Trying” to forgive is to misunderstand the essence of forgiveness.

After this, we get to play in all the juicy transformative stuff that can really only occur through love.

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