Awakening, Consciousness, Reality, Spirituality

Releasing the Need to be “Understood”

I have begun the slow process of emptying my apartment of its things. My last day of waiting tables will be Dec. 31st, which feels fitting and practical. I’m getting really excited, and I really don’t feel as anxious or harried as I thought I would. As soon as the choice was clear in my mind, I just started dropping a bunch of lingering hangups and fears. Soon I will be in the place I need to be, following my heart in order to deepen my awareness of consciousness, which is really All There Is.

Of course I’m aware that moving to an ashram to potentially pursue monkhood is not a decision everyone will understand, and being “understood” once felt really important to me. I had this deep, unquenchable desire to “connect,” largely because I almost never felt connected to other people. It was a kind of Hell to feel so far away and unable to be “gotten” by others. However, when we are deeply assured of what we know and who we are—when all doubt has been removed about our truths—being understood is no longer a concern. We even see that it’s a significant obstacle to desire intellectual understanding of the path and for others to understand you.

Here’s why: They won’t. This is not true of everyone, and this is not meant to be any kind of condescending “my spirituality’s deep/they don’t get it” statement. Spirituality is actually very simple. Everyone gets it, mentally anyway. But I speak from experience in saying that if you wake up to ultimate Reality, if you change too fast, if you lose your mind, if you try to share with others what really happened when you lost your mind, if you become really open and unafraid and unstable… there are likely to be only a few precious individuals who really see what you’re going through. Very few will allow your process without judgment, and this is not their fault. People will judge (while saying to your face that they’re not judging); they will question and demand explanations and tell you to take more time and think and slow down and say that they are worried. This really does come from a caring place, and remember: You’ve been judgmental, too; it is a mental pattern that takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome.

Your job is to be okay with others’ lack of understanding, to carry the disapproval and concern wisely. (FYI: I did not do this.) Your job is to be decisive about what you need to do—it really is the waffling that creates problems. This waffling is what we call “resistance to the soul:” When we go back and forth about how we’re living now, it creates an unnecessary battle within. Higher consciousness (your heart and soul) is like a surge of water trying to burst through a dam. Your mind, with all its fears and rationalizations, is the dam. The pressure and cognitive dissonance arises only because you are resisting growth, albeit unconsciously. And I know this isn’t fun to hear, but when you feel stuck, the answer is almost always to give up the thing you think you can’t give up and to do the things you think you can’t do. All the while there must be a very sure, unshakable decision: I’m doing what my soul needs to do. Then you should try to not go back on your choices, even though a lot of well-meaning people may suggest that you do.

Being human, you probably will go back on your soul choice a few (or a million) times. I’ve done it more times than I can count. The conditioned mind is stubborn and it is used to being in charge; it does not want to relinquish its “control.” To truly follow your heart is to march through a field of intense fear, all by yourself, perhaps for a very long time. It is not glamorous and almost no one will reward you for it. Most of us do not follow our hearts. We follow others and we follow our conditioned minds, no matter how much trouble they get us into. Fear will try to goad you back into doing something conventional and safe, but your soul will always to try and pull you back into the unknown. Yes, it is scary. We are all afraid of what we don’t know, but the unknown is where our true selves dwell, so we have to take that leap. We cannot allow the threat of discomfort to make our life decisions.

Eventually, if you’re having an awakening, this struggle will subside. If you calmly (and resolutely) do what is needed, it will become clear that whatever happened during the most intense phases of awakening weren’t merely due to a “fluke” or a “hard time.” They were part of a transition—even if a turbulent one—into a new way of being.

Also, if you keep saying “yes” to your soul, the conditioned mind will start to back off as well. Once it gets the message that fear tactics won’t work because you’re going to keep surrendering, it will become quieter and begin to defer to you.

I think I’ve (finally) shed the expectation/desire to be “understood,” but I still want to write about my choice, because in it there are a lot of greater implications:

From the outside, the life of a monk probably looks suppressive or austere or regimented or any other number of words that means “restrictive.” The funniest thing about this is that the spiritual life feels like the exact opposite: You’re just totally free and happy. You laugh easily and nothing is mean-spirited. There’s nothing to worry about because you know you can’t die and that this world is but a divine play created by the mind. You have basic trust in others and in the universe. Also: Living in this freedom is the best thing for the rest of the world, even if you appear to be “doing nothing.” You move freely, think freely, and speak freely and without fear. You aren’t censoring or restricting yourself, but you’re not “out of control” either. I actually avoid spiritual traditions that are restrictive or commanding, and I always have. This is indicative of fear—”God won’t love us unless…”—and lack of trust in our ability to conduct ourselves reasonably. Also, the “goal” of the path is liberation, through and through. Rules can’t get you there, though self-discipline can. These are completely different things.

There is a belief in a lot of people that without a bunch of laws and mental checks and balances, we’d all be behaving savagely. This is an insult to humanity, again going back to how small and limited and weak we imagine ourselves to be. We—like the rest of the animal kingdom—know innately how to live if given an appropriate, natural environment. It is only because we have so far removed ourselves from a nurturing environment that we’re collectively ridden with such extreme problems. When people are raised safely and with unconditional acceptance, they do not tend to become abusive or greedy or miserly or power-hungry. One goal of spiritual revolution is to create a world where everyone treats everyone like loving family. This isn’t a moralistic, fuzzy thing we’re talking about; it is only practical.

So, even though there are “rules” at this ashram—chiefly sobriety, vegetarianism, and celibacy—abiding by these rules doesn’t require the exertion of willpower (for me anyway). I didn’t get the sense that anybody was suffering through their meatless meals or trying super hard not to sleep with one another. It’s just like with sobriety now—it almost never crosses my mind to drink anymore. It’s just the way it is and I am pleased with it. Life at the ashram all felt very natural and in-flow; it felt better than what we call “normal” life, which is very much not-free and often pretty mechanical-feeling. I knew I was there to work and grow spiritually, and everyone just seemed to value a simple, healthy way of life.

There are a lot more reasons for why I’ve chosen to take this step, but for now I think I’ll just say that it’s about freedom, plain and simple, and the awareness that freedom is necessarily an internal state.

– Lish

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Mania, Medication, Mental Health, Reality, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being

Reflections on the Mental Hospital

It’s been two years since I was involuntarily hospitalized, and I finally feel strong enough to say this outright: I am not ill. During that time I was undergoing an ego death, or a complete loss of personal identity. Here’s the thing: Personal identity actually is an illusion, and it’s the greatest illusion of all. Jesus Christ and the Buddha knew this; thousands of others have known it as well.

I was locked up for nine days and diagnosed as bipolar, type 1, with psychotic features. It was a bad time for everyone involved, but I no longer identify with this diagnosis.

That experience—and the time I’ve spent researching and recovering—have formed the basis of my understanding of mental illness. On the other side, I am dedicated to writing about mental health, consciousness, and society in a way that was never presented to me as a psychology student or as a patient.

The main points could (and will) be expanded on and turned into posts all on their own, but can be summed up as follows:

  1. All mental illnesses are the result of conflicts between the unconscious ego (who we think we are) and a greater emerging consciousness (what we really are). This is also true of our “average” neuroses, including the collective mindset that propels us to knowingly destroy ourselves and our planet.
  2. The solution for this is to raise consciousness. This is work that cannot be brought about by all the diet fads, medications, social justice movements, or religious practices in the world. Raising consciousness is done by way of individuals fearlessly questioning their assumed identities and refusing to settle for the answers of the conditioned mind. I do not mean to imply this will be an easy or immediate solution, but that it is the only way.

I’m not the first person to say these kinds of things.

One of my all-time favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness was written over 40 years ago. It asserts much of what I’ve said, and still it hasn’t seemed to make much of a dent in the machine of psychopharmaceuticals or the “chemical imbalance” theory. In every regard, humanity’s mental health (particularly those humans in the West) has continued to decline.

Why don’t ideas like this gain traction? If understanding consciousness and the unconscious ego holds “all the answers” regarding mental illness, why do almost no mainstream psychiatrists pay attention to these things? The answer is simple: Because they have not experienced the shattering of the personal ego or the reality of pure consciousness themselves. Transcending the ego—even temporarily, and not under the influence of drugs might I add—is still a pretty rare occurrence.

For one to see that higher consciousness literally solves every problem, they have to know it for themselves. The average psychiatrist doesn’t know much of higher consciousness, nor are they interested. This is true for most of us. However, I pick on this field simply because these are people who have decided to make a career out of tending to the mental health crises of others. They ought to have a clearer understanding of what they’re dealing with.

A psychiatrist—whose livelihood and identity are at least partially wrapped up in seeing people through a limited, illness-oriented lens—cannot psychologically afford to seriously consider these matters in a new light. This is because the very nature of such ideas threatens who they think they are (their egos). The unconscious ego fights very hard to maintain that it is real. Therefore, such professionals will not likely take up a dedicated meditation practice or thoroughly investigate their own minds. They will not likely consider the seemingly “far out” works of other doctors who have had spiritual experiences. And until they find out for themselves, these theories will get dismissed as superstition, even as our rates of mental illness continue to climb.

They do take notice when mindfulness and meditation are proven to act as beneficial treatment modalities. Of course, this is only because the science points to it, and not because they have direct experience with its usefulness. That attitude—“I believe in things only when research shows evidence”—is detrimental and weird and (presumably) Western.

The “show me the data” mindset turns us away from our inner wisdom. It makes us feel like we need someone else to prove what’s right in front of our faces. If we just took a moment to tune into ourselves, we would know everything about how backwards our current way of life is. We would see the toll it is taking on us spiritually, mentally, and physically. Even better, we would know exactly what to do about it.

This is even truer when it comes to things like psychology and sociology. Every time I read a headline about how “research shows” something negative about guilt, isolation, or the effects of social media, all I can think is, “No shit. Why did some researcher spend his/her energy ‘proving’ something that anyone can verify just by being human?” We do not need to have our basic emotions and healthiest ways for living confirmed for us by experts.

Now I’ve gotten a bit off track, as is common. The main points of this section are as follows:

  1. Psychiatry is largely blind to the truth of mental illness because so few professionals have transcended their egos.
  2. Studying the external world has some amazing benefits, but it cannot lead us to the truth. It can also distract us from the things we know innately just by being humans in this world.

If this post has an air of judgment and/or resentment, I own that. I do not pretend to be 100% free of ego. Hospitalization still has a charge for me, in part due to the shame I harbor about that period of my life (I’m working on it.). Also, being hospitalized was straight-up traumatizing. When I listen to my body, there’s still a churning in my stomach and a tightening of my jaw around this subject.

I definitely needed help—that’s why I took myself to the hospital. I will, however, always dispute that I was a grave danger to myself or others, and I will always resent that such a judgment got to be made by a bald jerk DMHP who talked to me for all of an hour. And while I’m sure I met his criteria, his criteria is what I’m here to question.

This brings me to another very important point: Locking someone up who is experiencing an ego death actually worsens their prognosis. After an episode like this, some people retreat entirely from spirituality out of fear. The whole thing scares the hell out of them because they don’t want to lose their minds again. Others latch onto their diagnoses and spend their lives chasing a modicum of “stability” because that’s what they’ve been told to expect, when really there can be so much more beauty and peace in life. Still others spend time in a long limbo of confusion only to dismiss the experience as a “breakdown” rather than a catalyst for growth.

We desperately need more conscious people in the psychiatric field. (Really, we just need more conscious people in the world.) What exactly do I mean by “conscious”? Those who have seen through their false selves and directly experienced who they really are—consciousness.

I don’t know how to make this happen. Consciousness can’t be forced on anyone, but I do know this is the only way our collective illness will be healed.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

How Awakening Feels

There are lots of posts out there about this topic: “10 Signs of a Spiritual Awakening,” “The Top Symptoms of Awakening,” etc.

I decided to title this post “How Awakening Feels” because making a list of the things that you might be seeing externally is contrary to the fact that waking up necessarily happens within. It’s not about what things you’re drawn to, what coincidences you’re noticing, or even what changes you’re making in your life. Plenty of people move towards healthier ways of life and experience synchronicity without dismantling their egos. These can be wonderful things, and they may signify that something about your consciousness/way of perceiving the world is shifting. Still, that’s not quite what we’re getting at here.

Waking up may not translate to any great outside change immediately, though it likely will at some point unless you were hyper-aware beforehand. Due to our culture of unconsciousness, most of us are not.

Sanity & Who You Really Are

I don’t care for the word “symptom” when it comes to waking up. It implies illness, when that’s the exact opposite of what’s happening here. Rather than “coming down” with some kind of disorder or disease, you’re actually becoming sane in a way that not everyone gets to experience this time around.

Our collective madness is deep enough that we do not often recognize the validity of this process. That’s why sometimes people experiencing intense ego collapses and/or awakenings can get all kinds of diagnostic labels thrown at them, usually of the psychiatric variety. These diagnoses can act as a hindrance to further growth, but that’s a whole different topic for a whole different post.

To be clear, when I say “waking up,” I mean knowing in an instant who really you are, and knowing Reality because it’s just right here. In Reality, who you are is not different than who anyone else is. This statement is an affront to the unconscious ego, which spends almost all its time defending what is special and different about who it thinks it is. This is common even (and sometimes more so) in spiritual circles.

As we awaken, we find that individuality and separateness—two things our culture deeply cherishes—are nothing but great illusions. However, this is not a negative revelation that says “you live once and then you die, becoming forever unconscious.” Instead, this a positive revelation that lets you know “you’ll live forever as one with everything and everyone else.”

As always, it is not enough to believe these things. Plenty of people “know” we are all one, and/or believe we live in a hologram, and/or think that “nothing really exists.” First of all, this is an oversimplification. Secondly, most people who say such things still very much live in their ego stories. This isn’t meant to be a judgment so much as a testament to the weakness of mental positions alone. The mind can gather so much information, and yet the person can be totally unconscious of why they do the things they do. (Even worse, they are usually clever enough to think they know why they do the things they do.) We can easily make a seemingly deep statement like “everything is impermanent” while carrying on with our jealousies and grudges. Truth must be made real in your whole being, outside of the mind. This is how we become liberated and step into great power.

Who you are is not separate from God, which can (in part) be described as a limitless field of pure, perfect consciousness. This consciousness is in all things; it is that which you can experience and that which you can’t. It is nothing and everything, the Alpha and the Omega, etc.

Beneath various attachments, fears, doubts, and about a gazillion layers of conditioning, that’s what you really are: Perfect, timeless, ever-conscious, ever-alive. It is more beautiful than the word beautiful can denote; it is more still than the mind can fathom.

It is my deepest wish for every human being to know this space within themselves, and let it guide them towards a life of wellness, joy, and authenticity.

No Two Snowflakes…

Awakening goes differently for everyone.

Mine, for instance, has been rather chaotic. I didn’t know anything about spirituality beforehand, as my preconceptions led me to take a “no thanks” attitude towards it. Furthermore, I believed my thinky mind could find all the answers I’d ever need, and my ego was built around a hurt little soul who really didn’t want anyone to see or help her. When the ego starts to fall apart and this hurt is exposed to us for the first time, the vulnerability can be excruciating.

In spite of the fact that there are probably as many different “stories of awakening” as there are buddhas, we ultimately all see (and become) the same thing. This isn’t along the lines of “well you have your truth and I have mine.” While diplomatic, that statement is way off the mark. This may work for arguments and mental positions, but we’re working on a different level here. Capital-T Truth is the same for everyone who sees and becomes it, and no prophet or religion can have a monopoly on it.

This thing is that vast field of pure consciousness, and man, it’s really powerful. I cannot stress this enough. No matter how much energy or kundalini or LSD or whatever you’ve experienced, it does not compare to the raw, clean power of pure consciousness. It feels like everything you do is completely effortless. You’re not moving your body, your body’s just being moved. Even right now, as I compose this blog post, it feels that way: “I,” lish, am not writing it—it actually feels preposterous to take personal credit for anything I’ve written. It is simply being done; this body and mind are secondary.

This thing is powerful enough to heal you and move you into a new way of being. It’s also powerful enough to heal us collectively and move us into a sane way of living on this planet—if that’s what we choose. Of course, first we’d have to decide that we really want it, that we’re finally ready for the Truth.

And yet, the ego resists. Like any other entity, it doesn’t want to die. We’d have to be really sick and tired of this strange carousel to decide it’s time to jump off—especially because we don’t know what’ll happen to us if we do.

It takes a lot of courage, and no one but you gets to decide when that time is.

Common Feelings in Awakening

Of course, “feeling” isn’t quite the right word. Feelings exist on a mind/body level. Awakening occurs on a soul/consciousness level, a part of you that can easily go ignored all your life if you don’t feel moved to pay attention to it. So, feelings are expressions of this thing, and consciousness moves through them. But when it comes down to it, it’s just really simple and really clear. It’s not an emotion; it’s not even a “sensation” or an “experience,” even though those are words I sometimes use for it. The moment I will describe is of clarity and purity and simplicity and goodness.

And, to get technical, this blissful moment is not necessarily the same as the final “extinguishing” of craving and the personal “me.” It’s more like a strong hit to the ego which triggers an arising of new growth within. Trying to deny and suppress this growth process will suck. A lot. Genuine awakenings pull you along whether you like it or not.

I see this first spiritual experience as the little kiss from God promising me ahead of time that I’d be okay and that it would all be worth it, even though everything was about to get super difficult. Without it I might’ve folded shortly after the mental hospital, succumbed to my diagnosis, and never felt empowered enough to speak the Truth.

Instead, I had this incredible thing to hold onto until I was ready to let it go.

Super important: These feelings were, in time, obscured by the return of more familiar (awful) feelings. It was almost like they came back with a vengeance. During the journey towards integration of the awakening, it was like my mind wanted to punish my ego for thinking it could vanish so suddenly, and it definitely did this.

Before I go too far on that tangent, let’s talk about the feelings that immediately came after this first spiritual wake-up call:

Aha!: It’s instantaneous, like you just suddenly know, even if you’re not clear on what it is that you know. I think I described it to some friends as an “epiphany.” In a Zen book, I read of the comparison that it can be like “running into an old friend,” and I like that. It’s like running into a dear old friend you haven’t even thought about in years, but oh my god, you love them so much and here they are giving you a hug!

Extreme relief: I once felt like I had so. many. problems. Addiction, abandonment fears, obsessions, insecurity, self-hatred, worldly failure, lack of purpose, isolation, disconnection, chronic shame… it was a shitshow in there, you guys. In that moment, these things simply flew away like birds from a wire. An enormous weight dissolved from my heart, and it was so relieving to know I didn’t have to feel that way anymore.

Humor/hilariousness: And what, exactly, had I been so concerned with anyway? It seemed super funny to me that I ever imagined I’d been so trapped. It was just like “duh; you’re loved.” I even called to mind some of the things that used to have me all stuck in shame—the torches I carried for ex-boyfriends being most significant. I laughed at the person who thought any of that had ever been a big deal. Because it wasn’t. Like, at all.

Joy: There was a flooding of joy that resulted in some happy, hysterical crying. “Oh my god, everything is fine,” I thought. I had the sense that I always would be fine. I have mostly hung onto this knowing ever since this moment, though it has been forgotten on occasion.

Deep peace and stillness: You know how it feels to have an obnoxiously overactive mind? I expect you do, because we’re encouraged to develop this kind of mind in Western culture. Now imagine that the volume on your  loud mind has been cranked down by about 80%. This was the most disorienting part for me. My mind had been a huge part of my identity (like it is for most of us), and so to “lose” my precious thought content was an even deeper jab to my already-bleeding-out ego.

These feelings occurred in the span of a few hours. It was great and really strange.

After a few days, I was in full-blown “wtf is happening to me?” mode. The meaninglessness sunk in and my mind was pretty disgruntled at being tossed from the throne. Confusion invaded my being like an alien presence I hadn’t asked for. This is when things got weird, and worse, and eventually culminated in a glorious catastrophe I could sum up as “Winter 2015/2016.”

More on that at some point in the future.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Mind

Understanding Reality

Just so we’re clear, reality cannot be understood by reading a blog post, or even by reading every book that’s been written on the subject.

While I’ve gained a deeper understanding about this stuff through books, the concepts are peanuts compared to the lived experience of seeing. It’s like knowing the textbook definition of love versus actually falling in love. It’s like studying all the facts about the moon landing versus standing on the moon. Reality, as we’re considering it now, is something we must directly see.

It really is amazing that we manage to walk around feeling like we’re aware of reality when we’ve probably never taken the time to deeply examine ourselves and/or the world. When cornered, we may come up with many sophisticated reasons for avoiding such examination. Underneath these reasons there is a basic fear of discovering that everything we think we know is false, or an “unreadiness” for waking up. We are all at different places on this path, even those who call themselves atheists. If we don’t feel ready for this realization we’ll cleverly avoid it by any means necessary.

But until we follow through with self-examination, everything in life goes assumed, down to the most essential thing: Who we are. When “who we are” goes tacitly assumed but never realized, we’re in deep trouble. Walking around in mistaken identities creates all of our problems in life. When almost everyone walks around assuming they’re something they’re not, it amounts to a world filled with the wide-scale insanity we’re exposed to every day.

With uncompromising self-inquiry, we can see what we really are, and with this seeing comes a whole new reality. This experience can be mind-blowing, and that’s no joke: As your conditioned mind gets blown to bits by the power of pure consciousness, you might temporarily experience a different reality (or a series of different realities) than those around you. Sometimes people will call you psychotic, forcibly keep you in a hospital, and/or tell you that you have a chronic mental illness. It’s up to you to decide if this is true. (Some very forward-thinking psychiatrists have also referred to these episodes as “spiritual emergencies,” a term worth looking into if you’ve ever been called psychotic and don’t know what to make of the experience.)

Having said all that, I’ve drawn a diagram to conceptualize what’s going on here:

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  1. Self, pure consciousness, Being, Reality, God… there are dozens of different words for this same thing. This is a supreme state of consciousness to which you ultimately belong. It’s always been here, never isn’t here, and never won’t be here. It is boundless and never changes. This is the thing that you are underneath all of your mental content and conditioning. How do I know this is true? Because I have seen my Self fully, and I am it still. My evidence is my experience. I was never willing to take someone’s word on it, because the whole idea of “God” didn’t make sense to my mind (and it still doesn’t.). You can also experience this at any moment, because you also are it. Just as we can shift our attention away from a TV show and notice the warmth of our bodies, we can shift our attention away from the external world and notice the deep stillness and awareness of our true selves.

    This is the difference between theology actually knowing consciousness: One relies on thought, history, “facts,” dialogues, teachings, and various interpretations that can get really screwed up over time. The other—the thing I am talking about—is as simple as looking up to verify that the sky is blue. You don’t have to read books or debate anyone about it. You don’t have to study or follow a series of steps or abide by someone else’s rules. You can just look up: Yep, still blue. Still here.

    A belief in God on its own isn’t of much use. 85% of the population believing in God does not prevent us from continuing to kill, destroy, and consume. Unless we go live in a monastery, we are all complicit in this great life-denying system, even if we abhor it, and even if our participation feels indirect. 

    And yet, psychologically divorcing oneself from all notions of spirituality doesn’t make a person any better. This is because belief or disbelief in these matters has nothing to do with how sanely we actually behave. The true identity of every human must be experienced if we are to put an end the illness that pushes us to act in such ways.

    This is to say that finding your way back to who you really are is the greatest work you can do in this world.

  2. You come from this vast, ever-present state and take on the form of a human. It is in this way that you experience dualism*: The world is basically full of things that are you and things that are not-you. This is the world of relationships and objects, all of which can only be defined because you exist separately from every other thing.

    As a human, you quickly learn to identify with the body. Our culture encourages this by assigning enormous meaning to biological sex (this doesn’t always correspond to male and female energies which have become known as the crude gender roles). It’s also made worse when we apply great meaning, particularly about self-worth, to our bodily appearances. Our culture also encourages this, because it turns out there’s a lot of money to be made off of our insecurities.

    Young children are often still immersed in the knowledge of their true Being. This is why they tend to be much happier than adults. They don’t know yet that looking a certain way or having some amount of money supposedly “means something about them.” They know better than to get caught up in such details, so their joy is just present and accessible. This isn’t something we can say about most adults in our society, and it’s because we’ve been conditioned so heavily to believe we are these small, little things.
  3. You develop a more complex (conditioned) mind: You get enculturated and turned into a Christian/Muslim/atheist/anarchist/American what-have-you. You use your given strengths, turn them into a career, and identify with the label of “entrepreneur” or “craftsman.” You believe that these labels are very important, because you seriously think these things make up who you are… except you’re not these things. You’re actually pure consciousness, remember?
    This mistaken identity can be thought of as the

    unconscious ego, and it’s the one most humans have been operating as for quite some time. As long as you’re in human form, you will have an ego. If you realize yourself and live from your true identity, you will have a conscious ego. For example: I know I’m not really a writer. I am aware of the fact that the form that sits here writing is not what I truly am. This ego may be a writer for now, but my true self is just the Self. 

    And again, it isn’t enough to just accept this stuff mentally. Each of us has to look inward and find out if it’s true for ourselves. 

  4. Through this body and mind, with a modicum of consciousness, you have a human life. Throughout this thing you will know pleasure and pain, fear and hope, ecstasy and agony, and everything in between. It can be a pretty fun ride… for a while. But as long as you sincerely believe you are the ego more often and with more conviction than knowing you are pure consciousness, suffering is inevitable.

    This is because the ego (body-mind) has a definite shelf-life, as does every single thing around you. If we do not live with the constant awareness that the play we live in is inherently unstable, changes can feel unwelcome and frightening. Furthermore, the normal mode of life and thought can just get stagnant. Pure consciousness, on the other hand, is timeless and yet it always feels brand new.

The advantage of being human is that we can, while in our bodies, learn to consciously erase the caricatures we typically regard as “ourselves.” This allows us to shift back to that inimitable, original state of the Self while retaining our knowledge and working memory (if we like).

Doing this is the aim of all genuine spiritual seeking.

*Like the word “ego,” “dualism” also gets a bad rap when it comes to the spiritual lexicon. But dualism is not bad, just like the conditioned mind and the ego are not “bad”—they’re just parts of a play on the omnipresent stage of pure consciousness. When the play is seen through, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, it’s even better because you know you don’t have to take the whole thing so seriously anymore.

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Pure consciousness is the page upon which all of life is drawn. It is the only true reality, and yet it infuses all that we experience. Sometimes I hear people discuss things like “alternate realities,” and for a time I was fascinated by such imaginations as well. But this doesn’t actually make sense: By definition, there can only be one reality. If there are “multiple realities,” which is actually real? For something to be real and true, it must be real and true all the time.

This brings me to a difficult to understand yet important point: Relative reality vs. Absolute reality. Absolute reality is the state I have already discussed—pure consciousness. I would like us all to see it, be it, and watch life unfold miraculously. Relative reality is the play you’re experiencing now, within the Absolute. Relative reality is the realm where your dog, your lover, your job, and your philosophies play out. Absolute reality is the stage that is both apart from and within these things.

Yes it’s paradoxical, but this is only problematic to the mind which believes everything should be tidy, digestible, and supportive of the false identity.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, life doesn’t actually work like this.

– Lish

 

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Awakening, Reality, The Ego, The Mind

Five (more) Barriers to Enlightenment

Here’s follow-up post regarding the way we many of us think about enlightenment, and how this line of thinking also keeps us trapped. Here are some more common beliefs:

1. Enlightenment is “good,” “blissful,” “more evolved,” etc. Yes, liberation results in a profoundly positive mode of life as compared to being ruled by conditioned impulses and moods. If this were not true, there would be little motivation to seek.

But the point is that any conceptual understanding of enlightenment is mistaken. We can talk around Truth, but we cannot explain it, and whenever we’re busy thinking about “how it is,” we’re pushing it away. The mind is happy to do this, for it allows it to remain comfortably in charge.

Many people describe a bliss state that follows their awakening moment, but such feelings are not everlasting. All emotions are transient; this is a rule that does not change after we awaken. So if you’re hoping that awakening will get you into some state of perma-bliss, you’re in for a surprise.

Depending on what you’ve read/heard/seen about enlightenment, the click itself may actually may result in extreme confusion and nihilism. After all, your entire reality has flip-flopped, and you feel like you can’t go back. Maybe you didn’t even go looking to awaken. Suddenly, all the rugs that held you together are pulled out from under you. There’s nothing to stand on, nowhere to get to for comfort, no illusion of safety to be found anywhere in the world.

What does the ego like to do with this? Go on and on about how awakening is badass and gritty and hard (to the ego, it is certainly all of these things!). Then, at some point, because we feel we understand so much without trying (indeed because this thing cannot be tried for), we go on and say that the whole spiritual journey results in being “more evolved.” (In reality, there actually is no difference between one who is “enlightened” and one who isn’t.)

Being a human and having an ego, I have certainly fallen into the trap of believing this. A threatened ego will grab ahold of anything—even its own dissolution—to try and build itself up. But whenever we tell ourselves such stories, that’s really all we’re doing: Telling ourselves stories. None is more or less story than another, and neither is more or less “right” than another. There are words that point to the Truth, but ultimately everything that exists on the level of the thinking mind is equal. We only mistake some content for being “better” because it appeals to our egos, our sense of being “more” of something (evolved, right, compassionate, wise, intelligent, etc.) than others.

This whole “more evolved” thing is becoming a very popular idea, but we must remember: The state we dwell in when we are awake is one that it is timeless and changeless. It is the source of evolution itself we learn to move with. The source does not evolve; it simply is. Therefore we do not merely become “more evolved” versions of the people we once were. In fact, we eventually must drop the idea of ourselves as “a person” at all, because this sense of being “a particular person” in and of itself sets the stage for suffering.

The ego thrives on fancying itself as better than others, and it is even happier to wrap this inflation up in a new “oh this is spiritual therefore it is humble” packaging. But how can we be humble if we believe we are “more evolved”?

We must be mindful of sneaky, ego-appealing words if we yearn for Truth and freedom. Calling ourselves spiritual does not make us “more evolved.” It only makes our minds as grasping and falsely identified as anyone else’s, though perhaps in the know about chakra alignment.

However, there are individual paths that are growth-oriented (changing harmful habits, treating ourselves better, dwelling in presence, etc.) and there are paths that ensure stagnation. An individual can evolve and notice these positive changes, but what we’re ultimately getting at is moving beyond this construct of “me.” Enlightenment is not about our little selfhoods. Self-improvement may be a side effect of this work, but it is not the goal. For no matter how much improvement is done to the ego, the ego remains small and limited. This ensures ongoing confusion and pain. So, while “you” can certainly evolve, this “you” must ultimately be seen for the illusory construct that it is.

2. You are not enlightened. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves: Deep down, we all know if we are free or if the mind has us in its grip.

But really, “enlightenment” is just your most basic state of existence. To be and experience life 
without constant thought is your natural way of being. In this state, the mind is a tool no different from the fingertips I’m using to type up this blog post. When we need it, it is there and used without difficulty. When we don’t, we don’t pay much attention to it. Just as we do not allow our idle fingertips to pinch our own skin or other people’s, we do not allow our minds to abuse us and/or others through constant judgment. And we certainly don’t get caught up defining ourselves as our fingertips, no matter how useful they are.

What I am describing is not the average mode of operating. Even when our thoughts are killing us, we usually do not question them. The mind can be so seductive, and if we pay attention, we notice the way it is constantly luring us. All thoughts are like a passing mist we become fascinated with and attach ourselves to. Ever more troubling, some of the most seductive thoughts we have are those we think can make us free of this never-ending, unwelcome seduction!

This is all a trick, and the mind must be seen for the trickster it is. I witness my mind taking over innumerable times a day, and even then my mind sometimes manages to fool me into false beliefs. There is a phase, perhaps a long one, that we go through where the mind tries to jump in and tell us how we’re doing everything wrong with our lives, or “wasting our time” with this inquiry, thereby discouraging us from freeing ourselves.

The mess we’re in is as follows: We inherit many stories from our families, nations, and cultures. When we unconsciously build these stories into ego-identities, they become very uncomfortable to question or let go of, because losing one’s identity feels like death. We glom onto the popular belief that endless thinking is necessary, or even worse, that it is “the only way to be.” We fall into the trap of believing that thinking can solve all problems, even though it very often does the opposite. For a very long time, humans have collectively sought to solve each new problem the mind creates with a new mind-created solution. Do we see the insanity in this? We are trying to use the thing that made the mess to also clean it up.

This other thing—”presence,” “being,” “spiritual liberation,” “moksha,” “nirvana,” “enlightenment,” etc.—is with you at all times, ready to be rediscovered. It never left. It is just being covered with thoughts we stitch into grandiose stories about who we are and what we “must do.” These stories breed fear and keep us largely unconscious of what exactly is going on here.

Enlightenment is here with you, and you are already it. We only need to uncover it instead of constantly piling delusion on top. This uncovering it is not something you have to work endlessly at. You do not need to jump through anyone else’s spiritual hoops, meditating for years and years, to become what you already are. Just see what’s in front of you (not what you think about what’s in front of you) and take it from there.

3. Someone or something can “enlighten you.” Freedom is not something that can be granted to us by another individual. This very premise—that others can “make us” free, or “make us” anything—is the very essence of enslavement. It means that on a psychological and spiritual level we are beholden to others, that we allow the external world to dictate our feelings.

Freedom is not about being able to do what you want at any given moment. If this were your situation, you would still be in bondage to your own desires. Liberation is an internal experience that is always with you. If it could be given or taken by someone or something outside yourself, it would not be ultimate freedom. This thing can never be given, never be taken, and never goes away.

4. That people who are enlightened don’t experience anger, sorrow, fear, or [insert “bad” emotion here.] Often we imagine some kind of cross between a psychopath—utterly detached from their emotions and those of others—and a loving prophet. Here you designate a lofty, unreachable category of human for yourself, not to mention a type of person you may not even enjoy being. See what you’re doing? Creating yet another elaborate story about what “enlightened people” are like, and even more painfully, comparing yourself to them.

Humans are humans, and yet again, we place “enlightened” ones in a separate, higher category from “ordinary” humans. Paradoxically this is true, as the lived experience of being awake results in freedom rather than bondage, and we know which of these is the true form of existence.

However, we do not become emotionless. Anger rises, we are aware of this anger, but we do not become this anger. Thoughts arise, we are aware of these thoughts, but we do not buy into our thoughts. Heartbreak, loneliness, and despair may come upon us, but we learn to notice their fleeting nature. We then resume with awareness. Emotions simply lose the power to suck us in and convince us we really are them. The various stories these feelings compel us to roll around in fall away easily.

Delusion is like this: Every little thought has the power suck you in, get you to fixate on it, and become increasingly small. (Whether the thought pleases or displeases you, it is still going to be very small.) Enlightenment is like this: You know what and who you are at every moment, and the thoughts and emotions roll off of the presiding, pure awareness that you are.

The other concern with this line of thinking is that, in striving to be awake, we inevitably begin to feel bad about our very human feelings. The logic goes like this: We know we want to be enlightened, and apparently enlightened beings don’t get mad. So, when we do get mad (and we will), not only do we suffer from the pain of anger itself, we suffer because we think we are “unenlightened” for feeling this anger.

Comparing yourself to a “perfect enlightened being” is really just a wonderful way to tumble into neurosis. Perfection is a human construct, and even Christ Jesus and the Buddha did things their followers can explain away because they are blinded by this notion of their “perfection.” There was that time Jesus cursed a fig tree for no apparent reason, and that time he got all pissed and violent with those money-traders in the temple (understandably so). The Buddha—before he was “the Buddha”—abandoned his family to pursue enlightenment.

We should be clear on this: These were people who realized the Truth, and their radical acceptance of all beings is what sets them apart from those who dwell in delusion. However, they were not “perfect” if we judge them by any kind of normal human moral standard. Perfection and God are both beyond morality, because morality is a nothing but a mass of ideas. This is to say that yes, of course realized beings are “perfect,” but in reality, everything is already perfect, including you. This may offend our common way of seeing the world, where problems seem to be everywhere. But when we see reality we know this is true, and that it is only the mind that says otherwise.

5. Life’s problems will cease to exist once we’re enlightened. Let us examine what makes something a “problem.”

At any given moment, it’s actually our choice to see something as a problem or not. Do not misunderstand what I’m saying here: There are many situations in life that require action. If we regarded our whole planet as a piece of ourselves (this is our actual situation, by the way) everything would be effortlessly attended to or left to be. But, with pure awareness, you don’t have to label so many things “problems.” We don’t have to believe it’s a problem that we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have to believe it’s a problem if we’re single. We don’t even have to believe it’s a problem if we’re starving to death. (Again, it feels important that these words not be mistaken: It is unnecessary for anyone on this planet to starve to death, and poverty and hunger in the modern world are created by collective delusion we each have the power to see through.)

But do you see? Every situation is absent of quality until the mind assigns it one. So it isn’t that all of the “problems” go away, but that it gradually (or suddenly) becomes up to us to decide what’s actually problematic, rather than immediately assuming that everything mildly (or even tremendously) troubling is a problem.

Because everything can feel weird post-awakening, you’re likely to face more problems before you face less of them. If you don’t know you’ve awakened, you may try to create new suffering for yourself because suffering is just so much more familiar. You might act in ways you don’t understand. You may need to change a lot of things about your life, and explaining your need to change these things might be impossible. (You are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone, by the way. It is enough to say “I just have to do this.”)

And your loved ones may surprise you with now non-loving they can be when you cease to behave according to their desires and expectations. Those around you may get upset if you realize that your job, marriage, friendships—or even your entire way of living—are way more dishonest and/or unhealthy than you were able to see before. Not everyone will support or accept these changes. It triggers something in us to see people change their lives, and this trigger does not always feel so good. In response to the stirring of discomfort, they may lash out at you, or, more commonly, quietly judge you.

In time this will settle. But certainly (and especially not at first) you will not become free of “problems.” You will gain the power to decide what’s a problem and what isn’t. Nothing about the external world changes, but your orientation to it does.

 

There are many more false beliefs about enlightenment, and I may write about them in the future. For now, we just need to remember that enlightenment is never a state we “reach” or even “attain.” There’s nothing to do or strive for. Just be.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality

Five Barriers to Enlightenment

This post was originally titled “10 Barriers to Enlightenment,” but it ended up too long. The other five will come at a later date, most likely next week.

Each of the following mental positions are easy to slip into. But the truth is that nothing stops us from experiencing our basic, “enlightened” state aside from our own fastidiously held beliefs and thoughts. This brings us right to belief #1…

  1. There are barriers to enlightenment. Go ahead and stop reading this post. Just give up the idea that anything stands between you and liberation, because it is only that: An idea. Ideas and thoughts, no matter how persuasive, are not ultimately real. They seem very real when we sincerely believe in them. They can take hold of us and drive us into mad behaviors that manifest in the physical world, but that does not make them real.

    The only stumbling blocks to enlightenment exist within the mind and nowhere else. This is why we train in continuously watching our thoughts, ideally before these thoughts turn into words and behaviors that will exacerbate the cycle of suffering.
    In reality, there are no barriers to enlightenment. The only barriers are the ones we imagine and continue to energize with thought. 

    2. “Enlightenment” is a special thing only for certain special people. This word—“enlightenment”—is so loaded that I almost don’t want to use it. And yet, if we avoid using it, it becomes this “word that cannot be uttered,” thereby becoming just as elusive and mysterious anyway. But that’s just the thing: Fetishizing enlightenment is part of the problem. When we do this, we treat it just like any other thing we might desire: A spouse, a piece of cake, a beer, a cigarette, a job, a college degree. Because “being enlightened” is not a special power or a thing to possess, but simply your true state of being, it cannot be wanted. Desire can exist only for things you don’t yet have. Enlightenment is not like this. You have it, your friends have it, your parents have it, and no one ever didn’t have it. (Using the word “have” is actually incorrect, because it makes Truth into a thing to possess, and it is not that.) Turning it into something very big and special reserved only for “certain” people is yet another delusion.It also creates a false hierarchy—”those who are enlightened”—and us mere mortals. This is not to diminish the value of our teachers, but we must recognize that holding others in extreme reverence can blind us from realizing our own selves. The responses we feel towards others reflect and draw out elements that exist within ourselves. Therefore, the good energy we experience in the presence of teachers is a drawing out of the light that’s already there. They are not “giving” us anything other than their true being, which is your true being, which is everyone’s true being.

    3. It takes “thousands and thousands of lifetimes” to become enlightened. I once had a therapist tell me this. (I did not see her many times after she made this claim.) This is a common belief that quickly disintegrates when we really look at it, just as many spiritual beliefs do.

    First, how do you know you haven’t already lived thousands and thousands of lifetimes? If we’re accepting this level of mystery about the whole thing, why can’t this be “your” 10,001st lifetime and that this is the one you’re going to wake up in? Furthermore, why can’t that moment occur right now?

    Secondly, to my knowledge, the Buddha himself never said anything of the sort. (Any Buddhist scholars, feel free to correct me.) Awakening—becoming free of suffering—is the explicit “goal” of the noble eight-fold path, even though when we approach enlightenment like a “thing to get,” we will always miss it (see above.) Nowhere did the Buddha say that it took special credentials or many lifetimes to awaken. Also, the way we often think about this whole “multiple lifetime” thing is off the mark, but I won’t get into that here.

    There is just no grounding for this idea in any text, and more importantly, you will not find it in your direct experience. Logically it makes no sense. It requires a lot of delusion in order to accept it in the first place. Do you truly remember living any other lives? Are you sure these are not mere imaginations? Doesn’t the “multiple lifetimes” concept require as much blind belief as anything else, and furthermore, what is the “you” that is supposedly continuing through several lives?

    It is important to proceed as if this, right now, is our only lifetime, and that this is the one enlightenment exists in.

    4. The “I” is an enduring, separate entity. This pernicious belief is the one we cling to at all costs. It is the most difficult one to let go of, and the construct the mind tends to serve at all costs: “me, “mine,” “I.”As soon as the “I” is threatened—in our society, this is usually when someone argues or disagrees with our opinions—we spring into action as if we were dying. This is a serious affliction that must be dealt with and watched carefully. We act as though our beliefs are limbs that are being hacked up. We feel on an emotional level as though we’ve been injured if we are made wrong. It is only this sense of ego that can be injured in this way, and it is only the ego that goes seeking such intellectual battles.This is enslavement at its finest. The “I” is so entrenched that we cannot engage in discussions without feeling our hearts race and anger start to rise. We cannot talk about our “beliefs” without becoming frustrated. This small notion of “I” keeps us trapped and limited in ways we are not even aware of until we see through it.

    To be sure, this what “enlightenment” is ultimately about: Becoming free of ego, free of the limited “I.” We very understandably fear the loss of this “I,” and yet it is the thing that must be relinquished in order to walk through the door to freedom. Try to locate where this “separate self” is. Try to find where you are not connected and/or a part of everything else. Try to discern how much of you would need to be “replaced” with something else (say with synthetic body parts or a damaged mind) before “you” were not “you” anymore. The more we play with this idea, the more obvious it becomes that it is nothing more than an idea.

    That’s all the “I” has ever been. Realizing this wholly results in that great “extinguishing.” This can be very relieving, though it is usually preceded by much fear.

    5. There’s a specific, “right” path that can get you to enlightenment. First: There is nothing to get to. It’s right here. Take off the thick lenses of thought and belief and here it is, just where it’s always been. (I freely admit that I, too, wear thick lenses of thought, and that I am not always skilled in dis-identifying from these thoughts, especially when they’re paired with strong emotions.)

    The Buddha’s path is a kind of “fake it til you make it” program. It is enlightenment which results in our notions of “morality” rather than the other way around. When we understand that we are in no way separate, it is only obvious to strive to be good to each other and the entirety of the Whole we belong to and are. When we see what’s true, no one has to enforce or overthink this.However, encouraging people to “be good” (via the noble eight-fold path) in order to attain enlightenment achieves two things: It encourages people to stop behaving insanely in the external world, even if they are still insane on the inside. This is positive. It also cultivates the consciousness of the seeker to handle it better when enlightenment does arrive. Things tend to go smoother if you’re already living in accordance with compassion, kindness, and love.

    Example: A man who poaches endangered animals for sport, regularly uses drugs and alcohol, and is married to his third trophy wife would likely experience a rude awakening. (It’s possible that he would have a clean break into liberation and change his ways easily. However, due to the level of delusion such habits are built upon, and the way these habits are built into his ego identity, there would likely be some amount of resistance.) Much about his way of life would fall apart before his eyes. This thing would likely wreck him, even though it would be exactly what he needs. (I suspect that the level of intensity certain people would face if they were to wake up is precisely what keeps them from doing so. I am sure many powerful people in this world fight hard to remain unconscious, though of course, they are also unconscious of this…) On the other hand, a person who already prioritizes detaching from the mind and living with kindness—and who knows that awakening is possible—will have likely a much smoother time.

    Ultimately there is no “path” to enlightenment, just like there’s no “path” to being made of flesh and blood. This is just how it is, whether you’re aware of it or not. Avoiding or denying enlightenment—which is what we habitually do—is unnatural, and yet we keep doing it. We keep insisting we want it, and yet keep on denying that it is True right now.

    The path is just right here. We just keep coming back to right where we are. We keep watching our thoughts as they cover our light. At some point, without trying, we stumble upon ultimate Truth.

    – Lish

 

 

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Reality, The Ego, The Mind

Enlightenment, Equality, & Egolessness

The fact is that insanity is everywhere. Our very society is held together by this common insanity, and if we were to collectively become sane, this way of doing things would come undone.

We usually think of “falling apart” or “collapsing” as a negative thing. But what about in the case of a fire burning away a dead forest in order to give rise to new, healthier growth? What about a human suffering a breakdown to emerge as a healer or simply as an awake version of his/her prior self? (Also, there is no rise to glory post-enlightenment, though the ego loves this idea.) What about demolishing a diseased, cockroach-infested hotel to install a beautiful park that everyone could enjoy? Such would be the result of all humans waking up to reality, from stepping outside of our constant, delusive streams of thought.

I am not talking about the commonly-thought of cyclical nature of the world. This would imply that we should allow our system to fall and then rebuild a “new,” “better” one. This would only be more delusion. Yes, it would go a long way for us to implement policies such as universal basic income, healthcare for all, paid maternity leave, immigration wherever forever, upheaval of the social order, etc. But even these things will not make us free and sane. They can improve our external situations, but they cannot free us.

The only way we will survive is if we do not construct yet another “system” when this one collapses. Until we are completely awake on our own, the hivemind comes to rule the individual mind. In this way, humans come to serve the machine rather than the other way around, and then, in addition to being enslaved to our minds, we are enslaved to this machine. We depend on it for our very survival even though it’s killing us. All that, and we can’t stop thinking! This is double-enslavement, inner and outer, and each form depends on the other.

The good news is that we can can escape both simultaneously. How do we do this? We realize the Truth; we see what’s right in front of us and always has been; we become actual humans. This realization should not result in an immature rant about other humans as “sheep,” because if we catch ourselves criticizing the way “others” live and think, we are just as delusional as those we find so stupid. On the way to the Truth, we often do this. “Others” are eternally irritating and impossible (see “Hell is other people,” by Jean-Paul Sartre).

But in reality, no thought is less delusional than any other, and no thought is closer to the Truth than any other. Reality is only ever seen completely or laid over with the filmy screen of the thinky mind.

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The way is simple, but not necessarily easy: We must learn to interrupt our patterns of thought and do this over and over until we’re timelessly awake. I am definitely not always 100% awake, and the choices I make (not to mention the way I feel) during my less-than-fully-conscious moments tend to be regrettable at best and clinically insane at worst. Multiply that by 7 billion and we have an idea of why the world looks the way it does.

We are unconscious, even as our minds insist “we are awake.” Wakefulness is not about having the thought “I am awake.” It is not about being aware of worldly problems, forming complex opinions about said problems, and defending these opinions to death. It is about being in a space outside of thought, lucid and alert in this moment now. (Sidebar: It’s amazing how often you can read cliche phrases like this in spiritual literature and still not see what is meant. When you do, you realize that there actually is no better way to put it.) It is knowing thought is there and utilizing it as necessary, but not taking it seriously, not letting it suck you in.

Without seeing the insanity we allow to control us, we are destined to keep repainting our jail cells and calling it “progress.”

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We should not make the mistake of thinking we can eradicate certain parts of our current social mode while holding onto those parts we find personally agreeable. The whole thing leans in on itself like a teepee. If one pole is removed, the others fall, too.

For instance: We cannot realize equality of the sexes if any other part of the social hierarchy is still in place. By this I mean that femininity and masculinity, as principles, would be regarded as equally important to the world. The nurturance, softness, and beauty generally associated with femininity would have to be seen as exactly as vital and respectable as the assertiveness, hardness, and “provider” features of masculinity. (Of course, masculinity and femininity do not always correspond to biological sex, and we all have some amount of both.)

As it stands, our system sees feminine attributes as “fluff.” For women to succeed, they often have to forsake femininity altogether. This is a tragedy borne only out of a deep-seated egoic desire for men to be “more powerful” than women. This desire is a form of madness, and this is known on a deep level. Seeing and fearing that they truly are not more powerful—based on the simple fact that women and men depend on each other to exist—the longstanding, systematic subjugation of women began.

Warmth and nurturance are things all humans need. Without them, we die in infancy, and yet we treat such qualities as secondary to being financially savvy or competitive. Can we even imagine how different this world would look if we valued femininity in such a way? Nothing of this way of life could be preserved if these things were held in actual, equal importance.

We will have to bravely accept the complete dissolution of our society if we desire equality. Dissolution does not have to mean chaos and destruction, only a clear movement towards harmony and a respect for the Whole. Civilization as we know it has rebuffed these things in order to exist at all.

We can make the necessary changes as easy or as difficult on ourselves as we want. The harder we cling to thought and illusion, the more difficult it will be.

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A favorite Zen quote: “Equality without differentiation is bad equality; differentiation without equality is bad differentiation.”

Right now we sort of have differentiation, but without equality. (Our differentiation is also sub-par because we tend to lump whole groups of people together even though each human is a unique entity.) We see each other’s differences, and then go on to place each other into categories, usually based on their usefulness to our own egos.

We often see ourselves and one another as means to an end: How can this person get me money? How can my partner make me feel loved and special? How can my relationships and conversations inflate my ego? (This kind of thought would actually take a lot of awareness.) How can that guru get me enlightenment? In short, the sad mode we operate in is this: “How can I use everything and everyone to get to something better?”

This kind of thinking is very common and problematic. It’s important that we notice when we’re doing it. It presupposes “more important” people who can get us to “better” things. Any notion of “better/worse,” “higher/lower” is hierarchical and hierarchies are the obvious enemy of true equality. Even thinking, “how can enlightenment get us to equality?” is a reflection of the delusive way of thinking. It sees some concept of “enlightenment” (which is anything but a concept) as a stepping stone to something else, when there is nowhere else but here.

The very notion of “equality” is not based on “equal opportunity.” This is a nice-sounding phrase that does nothing because it’s all wrapped up in capitalism. It assumes we want to take part in these competitive, soulless systems. (I, for one, do not.) It assumes we believe that the right arrangement (job, benefits, vacations, and stuff) can bring us happiness, and that we are all excited and willing to spend our lives chasing such an arrangement. This notion of “equal opportunity” implies that we’ve already bought into way more delusions than I could even begin to list.

Equality is actually based on recognizing the literal sameness that lies within you and every other being. Underneath everything, this there is this sameness. There is an animating force, a living, dynamic thing that imbues everyone and everything. Everything else that is not this thing—Reality, Truth, pure consciousness, what-have-you—is a fleeting illusion.

And illusion doesn’t mean bad… unless we make it that way. Many humans, rooted in complete egoic unconsciousness, have made (and continue to make) this thing into something that can be very bad.

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We must keep close in mind that true equality requires egolessness. “Me” and “you” must disappear conceptually so that we can see what it is that’s actually equal underneath these constructs. You look in front of you and see that it’s all still there (your body an another’s), but all you’re doing is seeing these things. You are not placing labels on everyone and everything; you’re only seeing.

In time, we learn to look right in front of us and see that our separation isn’t really there. And there may be times along the path that you feel like you actually do not exist, or that “you” are being destroyed. I’m not going to bullshit you: It’s scary! Death is an experience we instinctively avoid. You can get severely insane trying to preserve this sense of self. This insanity, on a low, background level, is the one we almost all suffer from. It can become acute, however, and this is usually where “psychotic episodes” occur.

And yet, after such an experience, we can come away with something very valuable: The lived understanding that at our very cores, underneath physical appearance, thought, and story, we are not separate or different. At the deepest level, we do not even retain individual souls (the “special individual soul” idea is another thing that the ego delights in). This is what equality means. From this mindset, giving to another is giving to you; liberating yourself is to liberate all of humanity. They are us, we are them, and this is literal. We are all inhaling each other’s exhalations, and separation is neat mental trick we learn to stop taking so seriously.

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The constructs of “me” and “you” fall apart if you start to analyze them psychologically: What exactly makes “you,” you? Your personality, your history, your beliefs? What if you have a brain injury and your personality changes? What if you were to cease believing in your personal history, or if you could no longer remember it? And don’t beliefs change when we’re open-minded people?

If we follow this line of thinking down, we will say there’s just an “essence” about us and others, some type of energetic signature we can detect that is unique to every individual. Fair enough. I very much enjoy my friends and family members’ unique energies, but we should not fool ourselves into believing even these essences are unchanging, eternal, and separate. One day we’ll all die, and where will those “essences” be? What happens when there are no humans left to hold in memory the energetic qualities of those they loved? This is similar to the “individual soul” idea, which, while ego-pleasing, is actually groundless in the end.

The physical body (ultimately held together by who-knows-what) is the only thing holding this “you” in place. And yet, on an atomic level, if we were to hold hands, we would not be able to tell where my hand ended and yours began. (Any sciencey people, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) If “me” and “you” have no grounding psychologically and no grounding on the furthest physical level, where exactly do “we” exist?

The answer is nowhere at all.

– Lish

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