Inner Work, Personal, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Transformation

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

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Inner Work, Personal, Spirituality

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

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Inner Work, Mental Health, Personal

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

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