Addiction, Inner Work, Mental Health, Personal, Sobriety, The Mind, Transformation

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

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Personal

I Know Nothing

So it’s been awhile.

For whatever reason, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to write in L.A. Los Angeles really is its own unique kind of crazy, one that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I am constantly surprised by how I hang in situations that would’ve really been rough for me a few years ago. Guess what? There is no need to mentally label big cities “pavement shitholes,” which is what I used to do to some degree. I mean, it is obvious that humans tend to do better when there’s a higher degree of things like oxygen, fresh water, life-giving trees, biodiversity, etc. However, when those things aren’t around, I no longer end up dwelling in resistance and disturbing my natural peace.

I will admit though that L.A. is where I lost nearly all tolerance for all the “where are you from/what do you do” kind of stuff. This is because it was basically the same conversation most of the time and I didn’t have the desire to weird it up. Also, I’ve lost all sense of how to respond to these questions, in part because they feel meaningless. The ego is a collection of trivia like this and I’d prefer that we don’t go on playing the ego-game. Also, the past feels largely irrelevant; it’s not real except for in our minds (this is true of everything, but, I digress). Sometimes I dig into it for writing purposes, to explore my array of emotions, but I no longer believe that a shared past is a reliable tool for how well we know one another (in part because we are always changing, and sometimes very rapidly).

Of course, I do not think anyone really likes small talk. I think that because if you end up in a conversation with someone for more than like fifteen minutes, they usually say something along the lines of “I don’t like small talk.” It’s one of those things we all keep doing even though we don’t like it, just like we keep on asking each other “how are you” every time we meet, even though it is unnecessary and usually invites some degree of dishonesty.

Point is: By the time I was ready to leave L.A. it was like “okay yeah it’s really time to go.”

Just like in every other city I went, I spent some amount of time taking really long walks to nearby places, music in ears, sun on face. I really can’t express how necessary this feels to me, music and walking. It is meditative and energizing but not with the same goal-oriented kind of feeling you get when you move with the intention of “getting a work out.”

Clearly I’m all for physical exercise, but I’m not a huge fan of how we tend to treat every single thing in life like a means to an end: “I’m running to live longer, to be healthy, to increase my mile time, to lose weight…” The truth is, you don’t have to have a reason to do anything at all, and the reasonless heart-stuff is The Best. You can run or walk just to do it, because it feels good; you can live your life however you want to just to do it, because it feels good and right. That’s all there is to it, honestly.

Never have I gotten done with a music-walk and felt like “oh, I wish I’d gotten done faster.” It really is just fun; it feels like the way I am supposed to move my body. And there were definitely times when I knew how weird I probably looked—walking down the sidewalk, passing strangers with a huge grin. Somehow I have become a genuinely happy person with no interest in unnecessary negativity (and most of it is unnecessary) and this kind of blows my mind.

Now I’m back in the physical location I call home (the Pacific Northwest), though I cannot stress enough that on the spiritual path, we begin to feel like almost everywhere we are is a place we can call home. Can I find somewhere to sit quietly for a few minutes and meditate? That’s all I need to have home, inside, and even that’s not really a requirement. I’ve lost a lot of the need to “my own space” and a lot of privacy, and I sort of think that these things are mostly egoic (and generally Western) luxuries. I believe this is the result of most of us not knowing how to maintain our energy without distancing ourselves from others physically. Learning how to stay balanced anywhere is highly valuable.

The flipside of that is that in L.A., I really did feel like it was necessary for me to put my headphones in and retreat into “my own world” in order to maintain my energy at times. I don’t know; there are no hard and fast rules. On the path, you learn to be around anyone and yet retain yourself solidly—sometimes that means you have to tune everyone else out for a minute, and hope that your friends are understanding of that.

Part of what makes this physical place home is that my blood family is here. Even though I also believe that on the spiritual path we embrace the entire human family without exception, there is something pretty awesome about having my 2-year-old niece come running to see me and jumping up for a hug. It is warm and good.

I cannot emphasize how little I know about my future right now. I have a few leads on things that will help me make money that I would feel super good about, but I haven’t heard back yet, and yeah, that’s kind of uncomfortable. The last couple of months (continuing into this period of time) have been filled with uncertainty and wobbliness, but they actually don’t feel all that uncertain or wobbly because I feel solid in myself. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean I have to freak out about it. This is all great practice for simply sitting in the unknown. When we seek to grow spiritually (or personally or creatively; it’s all the same), we learn not only to sit in the unknown but throw ourselves into it willingly and with full trust.

And here’s something we forget almost every moment of every day: All certainty is illusory. You really do not know if your heart is going to stop, if someone you love is going to die soon, if the floor’s gonna open up and swallow you into nothingness. According to physical laws we might contend that the last one is less likely, but really, truly, I don’t know. I have never known, I’m just finally at a place where I’ve decided I’m not going to pretend like I do. The egoic mind loves the illusion of certainty because it helps it to feel safe, and the ego wants nothing more than to be safe and unchanging, even though the world we live in is anything but safe and unchanging.

On the other side, things like predictability and likelihood just feel ridiculously presumptuous. What are the “odds” of any of this existing in the first place? What even is non-existence, and how do you presume to know what that is like? Is non-existence synonymous with permanent unconsciousness? Is the life experience a blip of consciousness sandwiched somewhere in between two infinite periods of unconsciousness? The glory of being human is that we have the opportunity to think these kinds of things in the first place. Even better, we have the opportunity to not think about these things anymore because the mental chasing actually leads to nowhere. This is why we sit down to pull back from the mind, watch it go cray cray, and at some point emerge in stillness.

Life and the world can (and do) change extremely fast, and we do ourselves no favors by trying to deny this. The next breath is not a guarantee. The sunrise is not even a guarantee. So what is?

When I ask this question I’m trying to get at the undying foundational thread that runs through all things, which is consciousness itself. In its pure, limitless form, it can be found and and fallen into—honestly, this is the first thing we should do as human beings. If you are not undoubtedly solid in your self-knowledge as pure consciousness, totally immortal, there is work to do my friend (and I have mine, too! For all the patterns I’ve broken and divine flow I’ve dropped into, I am not a sage).

If you believe you are solid in your self-knowledge as pure consciousness, it should inform a way of life that is happy and free in practice. I can’t even begin to say how many self-described “spiritual” folks I’ve seen get super angry about relatively small things and blame it on someone else’s ignorance, someone else’s “stuff.” They maybe know all about chakras and meditate regularly but are still happy to pass the buck and blame others for their personal anger, which they also take fully seriously. All of this is rooted in egoic thought and a current inability (or unwillingness) to look at oneself and the way we create energy and situations. The path of turning inward ain’t easy or comfy, but it’s the only game to play.

In any case: Inward/outward, self/other, spiritual/non-spiritual, same/same. All these words are equally just symbols that the mind turns into something meaningful.

– lish

Oh, P.S.: My one year of sobriety anniversary came and went on March 25th. I spent it eating a plate of veggie enchiladas in Echo Park, and then I slept on a friend’s couch. (I am also learning how cool I am with sleeping on couches.) I feel so gangster about being totally sober, you guys. I’ll write more about that someday. I’ve also made the choice to be consciously unpartnered for a time. I like this phrase a lot more than I like the word “single,” but that’s also a whole nother topic.

I generally don’t like to restrict my behaviors harshly, and believe that a free life has no absolute “I’ll never do this” attitude, even though that can be helpful for a time (a long time, even) when it comes to breaking habits. But my travels have brought me a more comprehensive vision for my life (not that I have the details worked out or anything), and it just seems like the wisest thing to do is remain on my own, write, enjoy my friends and family, and accept any and all additional blessings.

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Culture, Personal, The Mind, Transformation

With Love from Santa Fe

Sitting on the railway platform in Albuquerque, I soak up the sun and notice how much it affects the way I feel. I think maybe I was only ever depressed because I didn’t spend hours walking in sunshine back home because the sunshine was blocked by cloud cover like 70% of the time. Maybe if I’d been born in Arizona or Texas or Southern California I wouldn’t have gone insane or ever wanted to destroy myself.

Of course it’s more than UV light, but it’s true that we become much more in tune with our bodies and what works for them once we wake up. For instance: I don’t eat meat or use drugs because I feel way better as a sober vegetarian than I ever did when I drank and smoked and ate meat. When I was younger, the whole no-meat thing was about ethics, and if I indulge in righteous indignation I can still get all riled up about that industry as well as the way booze is marketed (it’s cray cray).

I could work myself into a lather over any number of things I see being carried out in this world, but I’ve decided against it at this point. Why would I voluntarily disturb my inner peace? Anger is a form of suffering and I’ll never forget that. I don’t want anger; I don’t want hatred; I don’t want judgment. These things do not serve me or anyone else, even though the mind fights to hold onto them with many rationalizations. It really can be a shock when we start to pay attention to how hellbent we are on remaining mired in this kind of suffering. The mind says many things to convince us it’s necessary to dwell in certain awful emotions.

Yes, yes, yes. The culture is insane. The culture—our culture—is backwards and needs changing. We go about this by refusing to follow our cultural programming, thereby living revolutionary lives on a cumulative level. We are agents of collective transformation by transforming ourselves.

I know all of this, and yet my reasons for living the way I do are actually completely self-interested: I feel freaking awesome when I don’t weigh down my consciousness with unhealthy habits, and life has become significantly more beautiful since I surrendered to my heart. On the path, we actually sacrifice nothing even though it may look like we’ve “given up” certain worldly pleasures. Even better, when we dwell in peace and true happiness, others naturally benefit. Living freely begins to free others on its own, no matter what you’re doing externally.

That last paragraph reminds me of something I heard Sadhguru say once: “Everything is selfish; it just depends on how big your sense of self is.” So, if you’re mind/body identified and think of this current form as your whole self, you’re more likely to engage in actions that are what we traditionally think of as “selfish.” There is little motivation for someone to develop empathy if they can’t sense his or her self in other human beings.

Once your idea of self is expanded a bit, your choices and energy will begin to uplift all those you identify with (family, community, nation, etc.) If your sense of self includes all human beings, you’re probably not going to be down with violence, genocide, or hierarchical classism, because that hurts us (you) deeply. Expand it so far that it includes non-human life, and you’ll probably try to give up a lot of Earth-ravaging behaviors as is feasible, including the consumption of our animal friends. Again: This is because you truly and sincerely feel and see yourself in other living beings. It is not merely theoretical or rooted in mind-based judgment; you know you are a part of a much larger fabric than the contents of this current form. You are personally affected because your person includes everything. This is also the point where things like depression and anxiety become rampant: We feel all the suffering, but likely don’t have the strength of mind to hold it skillfully in our awareness.

Expand the sense of self so far that it snaps and disappears? This is when you merge with God and get to know/be the capital-S Self. Here, all bets are off, but you’ll still probably stick with healthier choices because they keep your energy so high and nice and clear. I won’t get into this too much in this post, but I am highly skeptical of any “enlightened being” who uses drugs and alcohol (in excess especially). It’s whack and I don’t trust it.

I arrive in Santa Fe and take a free bus to the hostel (so many things on this journey have been free and/or discounted; it’s beautiful). The guy who checks me in tells me that Whole Foods donates the food they can’t sell anymore to the hostel, and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with apples and peanut butter toast and chips and pumpkin pie, oddly enough. All I can think is “divine abundance,” and I’m laughing inside because that kind of talk used to annoy the shit out of me. And yet, here I am living in the light of God, being taken care of so well I could cry.

Within an hour I’ve made a friend who tells me about the motorcycle accident he got into 7 years ago. The brush with death threw him out of his old life and to Hawaii, where he took nothing but a hammock, essentially built a new family, and now appears well-established in his self-awareness. Around the hostel I hear him comment under his breath, “it’s all divine,” and I feel so happy. Because yes, it is all divine, and not just because we’re in this sweet little hostel grubbing on free organic mangoes.

We are both people who have experienced the terror of mortality and broken through this falsehood to some degree, changed our lives, and embraced the process of letting go. The vast majority of spiritually aware people I know are not doe-eyed and ignorant, even if some of the rhetoric may come across that way. They know hard shit and have decided not to let it rule them anymore. They have tapped into the nature of Reality on a level the mind instinctively backs away from, and worked to become nearer to this nature.

This new friend offered to show me around Taos, an spiritual/artistic community about an hour and a half away. There’s a (surprise!) free bus that goes up there during the week; in the town there’s something called The Snow Mansion, an ashram, and some hot springs. I don’t know what universe I am living in, but I am filled with gratitude.

In the morning at the hostel, I catch a ride to the Unitarian church service with another guest. I dash out of the hostel in semi-manic fashion, throwing random clothes on and chugging my cup of coffee so as to not keep her waiting. She’s a woman who has been traveling on the road in a van since October; her kids have moved out and graduated, she sold her house, and she’s free. I like her innately, though I’ll also say that the more I grow, I realize I pretty much like everyone innately. I also love everyone at the soul level.

Just like yesterday, my energy feels sharp: I’m going to do everything be everywhere save everyone yes yes yes yes. Fortunately, at the service we do a meditative qigong exercise that helps me calm down. Message received: Even if I’m flying, I have to eat more food; I have to be still. This is all aligning better than I ever could have planned, but I will not get overconfident. Humility all the way: I’m nothing, and all those whacky folks who believe in breatharians are on a whole different level (though I actually don’t dismiss any possibility).

After the service I return to the hostel to do my daily task—we all choose one in the morning as part of the agreement to staying here. I choose the “angel chore” card and end up saran-wrapping up about 50 pastries and putting them in the communal fridge. Another guest kindly drives me to Meow Wolf, an incredibly badass interactive art space (think Salvador Dali in neon 3D + Donnie Darko). I spend four hours geeking out and spending way too much time looking at everything through my phone; I don’t care, I’m sharing all of this; technology is miraculous.

On the walk to the hostel, snow starts to lightly fall but I don’t feel cold. By the time I get back, Whole Foods has made their Sunday donation and I’m looking at fridge full of dates and candied walnuts and various cheeses and salsa. I’m eating bean dip and kale salad with quinoa and goat cheese; my heart is going to burst I swear. I feel there is very little to say. I just want to sit here and shine.

The sun comes through the window and hits the orange slices I’m eating. A guest notices and mentions how nice it looks, and the only thing I can do is nod and smile. He says “you’re in bliss,” and I say “I am.”

– lish

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Personal, Spirituality, The Soul, Truth

Less Mind, More Heart

In Austin, I responded to a craigslist ad seeking vegetarian housemates who were interested in self-awareness. The price was good, the location looked awesome, and I loved the idea of forming a small community of individuals who’d live together consciously. The man who owned the house was incredibly kind and offered to pick me up and show me the space. But when I stepped out of my friend’s apartment to go check it out, I got a very clear and obvious “no, don’t,” from inside. The signal was strong: Getting a place, no matter how beautiful, meant dropping several hundred dollars. It probably meant locking down a job. It meant “building a life,” to some extent.

I don’t really know how to explain my need to not do this, but that’s how I feel. Never has it felt so right to have nothing and be nothing. The soul compels me to stay open, to not move into a routine of predictability and consistency—not yet anyway. I respond to the soul and do not question it, because I’ve learned that obeying the soul is the only way to freedom and deep peace. The mind, of course, does not like this. It watches my bank account get a little lower and says “you need to get a job now,” “you need to know for sure where you’re sleeping tomorrow,” and all kinds of other totally practical concerns. My heart-based response is “I hear you, mind, but you take a backseat to my heart now.”

Even so, I do not advocate a head-in-the-clouds kind of attitude towards spirituality wherein we assume that “God will just take care of us.” Sometimes everything can feel so magical on the path that you’ve got stars in your eyes and it seems as if nothing can go wrong. On the level of Ultimate Reality, this is true. Everything is perfect. Nothing can go wrong. I hear these kinds of sentiments often, and yet when something actually happens in the world (death, loss of money, theft), very few people retain their equanimity. I’m not sure I would either, and I’m not trying to make the claim that any reaction is “wrong” or “unspiritual.” If anything, though, this fact does highlight the rarity and beauty of one who is grounded in the Self at all times. No outer situation troubles their peace. All events, including emotions and thoughts, are accepted immediately and then released. They do not allow others to determine their state of being. For them, the illusion of control in this world has fallen entirely, and surrender is the permanent state.

It also bears noting that if we get too confident in the magic of living spiritually, often something humbling occurs just so we’re reminded of how not special we are. We ought to never think of ourselves as more important or worthy of care than any other person in the world. The divine plays no favorites and takes no sides. It is true that consciousness and trust in the universe can carry us very far and lead to beautiful experiences, but remember: On the path, the ultimate goal is the dissolution of the ego-identity. And in Reality, no experience gets you closer to this goal than any other. Experiences and life situations happen on the level of the mind, but on the soul-level, none of these things feel particularly different. The status of the soul remains unchanging and yet always new, even as the outward configurations change rapidly and unpredictably. Soul is boundlessly complete and shining; mind fluctuates and chases the things that mimic the light of the soul.

Even as much as I’m in love with this nomadic way of living for now, I know that travel isn’t necessary for self-awareness. I have ended up in this conversation with many people who are convinced that travel is a prerequisite for developing a universal perspective. This is simply untrue. One whose sole possession is a cardboard box in a small village who traverses their consciousness easily understands more about the human condition than someone who has traveled the world collecting experiences. Once you know the root and the source of your own being, there is nothing that “exploring other cultures” can really teach you. Everything we need to know about ourselves and the state of humanity is right inside of us and requires no physical relocation.

As my heart said “don’t settle in Austin,” it simultaneously said, “go to New Mexico.”

It’s kind of jarring how abrupt and obvious my intuition can be. One minute I was thinking “Oh, I’m going to check out this nice house near Barton Springs,” and in the next it was like “Nope; I’m done here.” My intuition has, on its own, become more developed the longer I stay sober, meditate, and otherwise listen to it. I know well the risks of denying my intuition. Suppressing the heart’s movements and wanton passions is a recipe for misery every time. The heart wants what it wants and points directly to those things and people you need to become self-aware. Listen to it. Your mind will protest, but maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll just lose your mind someday.

In order to responsibly follow the heart, some maturity is needed. For example: If I went wayfaring like this five years ago, I would’ve been drunk all the time and could’ve easily ended up in some less-than-ideal situations. Fortunately, I’m older and grounded now, and was in the awesome situation of having musician friends in town to play South by Southwest. I ended up watching music with them all day long, and the next day they graciously let me get come along with them to Albuquerque. Unceremoniously I grabbed my things (two bags and two boxes) and got into the car. We hung out at a house show for a while, the guys drove through Texas until 4 in the morning, and then we crashed at a Days Inn. I dropped off the boxes at a local post office in order to jettison more stuff. Now it’s just me and two stuffed bags. Driving around with the band was really amazing and hilarious; I basically laughed for 24 hours straight and felt great even while totally sleep-deprived.

Today I sit at a coffee shop in Albuquerque, waiting for the train to Santa Fe to arrive.

When I went to the ashram I did not know I’d go to Austin or how; when I got to Austin I did not know I’d go to Albuquerque or how. I have the delightful sensation of leap-frogging through the unknown and being pleasantly surprised at every turn.

One day I feel I may need to write a series of posts about developing intuition and staying grounded, but for now I’ll just say that heartfulness is the most needed quality in this world. We need more people grounded in heart, people who are willing to let their presence and energy do the talking for them. An untrained mind will always try to convince you otherwise. It thinks people need to be “told” about what is right, what needs to be done, how to be spiritual, and on and on. It’s obvious that this is ultimately ineffective and a tactic of the “spiritual” ego-identity. One who silently radiates Truth teaches more powerfully than the most verbose intellectual does.

The harsh news is that unless we’re capable of sitting in one place with ourselves and knowing peace, we can’t spread peace throughout the world. Miraculously, once we’re straightened out, we find that the rest of the world starts to follow suit, and all of life becomes infinitely more beautiful. Even a world that is as unconscious as ours can be viewed through calm, divine eyes; these eyes do not judge or hold anything against the world for not being what the mind might call “perfect.” These are the eyes that know perfection is already here. They are the eyes of the heart.

– lish

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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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