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

The “Unplanned” Awakening

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

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

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

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From Basic Teachings of the Buddha, by Glenn Wallis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Addiction, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

Why I Won’t Call Myself “an Alcoholic”

For as loaded as this topic is, it feels pretty simple: I don’t drink because drinking seriously harmed my life. If I hadn’t made the choice to stop, alcohol would have easily destroyed my chances for joy and well-being, if not outright killed me. And yet, I don’t use the word “alcoholic” or “addict” to describe myself, and I never will.

Here’s why:

1: The word is seriously stigmatized. Even as the recovery community has sought to be recognized as people with illnesses, addiction just isn’t viewed the same as other diseases. If you’re an “addict,” you aren’t just suffering from the disease of extreme attachment to a substance to the point of self-destruction, you’re also generally deemed a selfish and defective individual. This isn’t my personal assessment, by the way, but a general sentiment I’ve read in various forums and books. Addiction is largely seen as an illness of the soul that encompasses the entirety of one’s being, not simply an illness they “have.”

If you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or cancer, people aren’t likely to think that means you’re a Shitty Person. And yet, this is what we do with addicts/alcoholics. Being labeled in such a way adds yet another layer of shame to the addicted person, who no doubt has become addicted precisely because they feel defective and shameful. Nobody starts numbing out unless they have something they need to numb (again, for some of us, this may “just” be the pain of growing up in a culture that constantly communicates to us that we’re worthless unless…).

While using, addicts can appear selfish because they are deeply isolated and in pain. They know what they’re doing sucks, they don’t want to face the people they love because they feel so self-loathing, and they’re so busy unconsciously trying to tend to their wounds that they cannot psychologically afford to reach out. For an addict, the entire orientation to the world is rooted in shame and pain, so reinforcing the idea that we are, simply by virtue of “being addicts,” defective and egotistical is probably the most harmful idea we can instill in someone seeking to recover.

I don’t accept the label because it comes with a lot of baggage I have no desire to wrestle with anymore. I won’t take on more shame. I won’t take on more pain. These are the exact things that drove me to medicate with alcohol in the first place, so, no thanks.

2: Internally I strive to hold to no label, even (maybe especially) that of “a spiritual person.” As soon as we cling to our identities, we unconsciously act in ways that uphold those identities, therefore becoming limited and less “ourselves.” Rigid identities keep us all, well, rigid. The more identifications we’re attached to (including ideologies, which the mind loves to get fundamentalist about), the more we will defend them, keeping ourselves closed off from others.

On some level, we tend to believe that others can’t understand us unless they share similar identities. This is just false false false. The soul in all of us is so much deeper than the labels we cling to for safety. The more I get caught up in thinking that I can best connect with “sober women writers with an interest in consciousness and collective healing,” the more I remove myself from the very basic connection I have to all human beings. For most of my life, I felt like “healthy,” “well-adjusted” people could never “get me.” This belief limited me and them, and I never want to fall into the trap of thinking “I have nothing in common” with anyone ever again. We are all humans, and therefore we must have a ton in common.

So I try not to think of myself as a writer, or spiritual, or even a woman if I can help it (though the world does a pretty good job of reminding me that I am one every day.) So, even though it feels important for me to acknowledge my body’s inborn tendencies to become attached (i.e. addicted) to All Things Pleasurable, I remember that I am a changeable being not enslaved by these tendencies. Claiming that one simply “is” an addict/alcoholic is a static label, when in reality we are all very fluid, flexible, and capable of becoming new.

Part of that newness is actually losing the desire for things like drugs and alcohol. Rejecting this label does not mean we are in “denial,” or that we are doomed to use again.

3: Our culture’s relationship to alcohol is what’s wrong, not me. This one’s a little paradoxical, because as we grow, we come to see how deeply responsible we (as individuals) are for shaping the surrounding culture. “Culture”—i.e. The Machine™—is not something “out there” to rage against. (As much as I love that band, they were missing this crucial piece.) You are it. You are creating it with every interaction and choice that you make. Every system is made up of parts, and if those parts transform themselves, the system follows.

However, in the beginning, it is extremely empowering to recognize that “your drinking problem” stems from something much bigger than you being diseased and made of faulty wiring. Not that I really give a shit about the economy, but alcohol dependence costs the economy something like $220 billion, not to mention tens of thousands of lives. Most people do not drink the “recommended” amount of alcohol, and to be real, no amount of alcohol is healthy. It’s poison. It lowers consciousness. It feels “fun” because it helps us get out of our minds. If we were capable of transcending our minds at any moment, alcohol would feel like child’s play. (I’m not trying to be a party pooper, but, that’s all true stuff.)

I refuse to give myself a label we collectively pity when all around me I see people suffering and self-medicating in a variety of ways. And that is the “normal” way to live, by the way: To continually distract ourselves from our inner worlds by way of chasing success, going on vacations, taking on projects, binge-watching, and otherwise “being busy.” If we were to drop these things and sit with ourselves, we would certainly feel a shift (I do not mean to imply this shift would feel good at first). We would have to face the insanity being acted out by our untrained minds and realize there’s a torrent of bullshit we need to work through in there. This kind of shift is exactly what we need.

It seems that a lot of people are experiencing such a shift now, which is pretty exciting. But, as evidenced by the state of the world, we can see that we’re still in the beginning phases of this step for our species. There is still time for us to fuck it up, or to get real with ourselves. We always have this choice.

4: Whether or not one is an “alcoholic” or a “normie”* means very little in terms of their overall wellness. When I was drinking heavily, I still exercised, ate relatively well (okay except when I was super hungover; then I became a bottomless pit of Mac n Cheese and ice cream), and by many social parameters, I seemed okay. Spoiler alert: I was totally not okay. I was emotionally fragile and hurt and confused and insecure. Oh, and I was angry at almost everything. I had no idea wtf life was all about or if it even mattered. I almost never felt connected to others. I was not well, but still, drinking was symptomatic of my underlying dis-ease, not the actual Problem. This overall dis-ease is a defining feature of Western culture. People cover up this dis-ease in a variety of ways (see above); becoming addicted to alcohol is just one of the easiest (and most humiliating) outlets for us since it’s legal and socially acceptable.

In this world, “normies” can easily get by being totally underdeveloped, spiritually and emotionally, and can even do pretty well for themselves (Exhibit A: The current presidential administration). “Alcoholics” can do this, too. A person by either label can also find themselves mired in depression, anxiety, and isolation. Out of two people, one of who is a “normie” and the other an “alcoholic,” we have no idea who is doing the inner work. It’s just not enough information to know what’s going on inside of someone, and given the state of humanity, it really doesn’t mean much.

Someone can be actively drinking while still working out their issues. (For at least a year, I drank even as I journaled, came to understand spirituality, and engaged in self-inquiry.) Someone can be sober and Way Fucked Up.

*I’d like to point out that this dichotomy—either you’re normal or you’re an alcoholic—is super crazy and Not Real.

5: There is no evidence that going by this name will help me stay sober. The jury is still out on how effective AA is, but here’s my evidence that it isn’t: My dad’s dead from addiction, and he went to meetings. Maybe that sounds irrational, but but I’m totally okay with being irrational on this issue. I often wonder ifhad addiction been understood and treated compassionately, outside of the “diseased individual” narrativehe might still be alive.

AA’s Big Book puts it’s success rate is at 50 percent. Even more worrisome is that through this lens, it’s the addict who is considered a “failure” if the program doesn’t work. Do we all see how insane this is? There is no other disease we do this with. If someone’s chronic illness flares up, we acknowledge that they may need a different treatment for it; we don’t blame the ill individual for their “failure.”

For something that affects us as hugely as addiction does, the most common treatment modality (AA, NA, CA, SLAA, etc.), should work more than half the time. So that’s a turn off, plus, that whole step where I’m supposed to go even further into how much of a defective character I am for relying on alcohol to ease my pain/social functioning has made it entirely unappealing. I assume that most addicts constantly think about how much of a defective character they are every day; this is why they continue to use! I’ve hated myself long enough, thankyouverymuch.

In spite of everything I just wrote, I’m really not here to tear down AA. My attitude, for myself and for the whole world, is to simply do what works. If AA works for you or someone you know, that’s great. But I’ve read some of the AA rhetoric, and it just isn’t for me, especially since there’s no conclusive body of evidence saying “this is your best bet.” The sad fact of AA is that it’s kind of our only bet, since insurance usually doesn’t pay for other forms of addiction treatment (for reasons of whatthefuckwhy?). Through such a view, my only hope for recovery is to admit to being an alcoholic, work the steps, and maybe recover, my odds being one in two(!). (This is the bipolar thing all over again, btw.)

Or I could just not take on the “alcoholic” label, grow in my own way, and really, actually recover because I know what’s best for me. I’m going with option two, and so far, I’m feeling better than ever.

6: If I ever choose to have a beer, I’m not going to fall into the “now I’m a relapsing failure” mindset. The glory of being sober for me now is this: I really don’t want to drink. It’s not a craving I’m constantly beating back, I’m not white-knuckling it through karaoke nights and parties, and it generally isn’t even something I think about very much anymore. I feel awesome about it.

Even though I’m happily sober, my identity isn’t wrapped up in being “a recovering alcoholic.” It’s more like “hey, drinking didn’t serve me in any way, so I finally decided to cut it out.” But when you have no particular identity or tribe caught up in your sobriety (which I don’t, except a small gang of social media peeps), I can see how one might just up and decide to have a beer one day. (The tribe element of AA is one that I really understand the appeal of.)

At this point, I feel like I’m only slightly more likely to drink a beer than I am to take a shot of gasoline. But for the sake of this reason, let’s suppose I do. Let’s suppose I step outside of the serious, sober mindset I live in now (a mindset I’m hoping to gradually expand out of into one that is less serious, btw), and for whatever reason, have an IPA. What now?

The narrative of alcoholism says I will be under the table and blacked out shortly after this first drink, and that I have to start back at day zero. The word “relapse” is assigned to my choice, which is a pretty loaded word. I’d have to tirelessly review what went wrong, and usually, I’d beat myself up for it. I cannot imagine a more harmful way to treat someone who has started using again.

If you’re conditioned to immediately feel like a diseased failure because you have a slip, you’re much more likely to spiral out of control. I won’t let my mind do that to me. Everything I do that isn’t in full alignment ought to be accepted for what it is (a blip on the radar of my overall growth), and moved forward from. New moment, new me, every single day. Having a slip wouldn’t undercut all the work I’ve done to explore and dispel my reasons for self-abuse, and it definitely wouldn’t mean I’m back to where I was before. Underneath the outward decision to have a drink, I’d still know so much more about myself than when I was drinking all the time. I definitely would want to look into whatever sneaky things my mind was doing that provoked the choice, but dwelling on it and/or feeling like shit for it would guarantee only more pain, and probably more drinking.

If we wish to heal—truly heal, not just accumulate x number of days sober—we must wake up to the reality that the word “alcoholic” (and everything we’re conditioned to think it means) actually serves us very little.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

On Healing and Awakening

Healing is a huge part of awakening. There’s just no way around it. And while it’s possible to heal without awakening, it is almost unheard of to awaken without undergoing an intensive healing process.

Living in Western culture, none of us make it to adulthood unscathed. It’s not just that many families unconsciously inflict harm upon one another (though this is true for a whole lot of people), it’s that we are programmed to believe certain things about our worth and our identities that are completely illusory. For lack of a better phrase, this programming really fucks us up. For children it can be as simple as not doing well in school (this is a very narrow definition for intelligence, btw) for them to receive negative messages about their “place” in society. We are also programmed to believe things about ourselves and others regarding skin color, “class,” appearance, nationality, religion—everything. As we grow up, rigid definitions about masculinity (i.e. “show no emotion”) and femininity (i.e. be thin and pleasant at all times) are also instilled.

When we “fail” to be the things our society expects of us, a tremendous amount of suffering can ensue. The need for a culture which allows children to grow and be, just as they are, is enormous. In such a case, we’d find that humans—when loved and supported by mindful adults—can become incredible, strong, and resilient individuals capable of far more than whatever our projected hopes are for them. Without millions of layers of delusion and conditioning, people are all wonderful.

When you wake up, you might find yourself not only healing from whatever you personally suffered, but from the entire dream of hurtful stories that have cut all of us up. Pair all that with the new dimensions of consciousness you’re blindly traversing, and we have a recipe for some really intense shit.

It’s important to realize that healing does not necessarily require that you’ve incurred any “serious” trauma (although that’s hideously common). Collectively we will all need to go through some kind of healing process in order to grow into more conscious beings. We can’t get around the fact that we’ve abused and killed this planet and one another for a very, very long time. The only thing left to do is face it. If you’re an empath, facing the enormity of the pain acted out unconsciously can seem like a bottomless pit of despair. There are things you can do to climb out of this, but it’s work. Lest any of you believe the spiritual path is one of bliss and joy, it is not always that way, especially in the beginning.

Because we’re so interconnected, we may also find ourselves heal from each other’s pain as well. For me, it was never just about me and my personal stories: I felt like I was quite literally having the experience of every human being who has ever been persecuted and tortured.

This isn’t true for everyone. Depending on how much inner work you’ve done prior to awakening, it may not be as lengthy or as deep of a process.  Every single person who awakens experiences it differently, and frustratingly, there’s not even a single path to “get there.” But, in general, you’re going to be having an astonishing amount of emotions you might have never knew existed and that you have no explanation for. Your pain (and every other dimension of consciousness within you) has been like a Jack pushed down in it’s box, and for mysterious reasons, the handle has been cranked just right so that it all pops out.

I don’t want to go so far into talking about the ways of healing and/or the amount of time it takes to heal. This is because I’m not on the other side yet, so for me to speak of complete healing without being completely healed would be sort of like the blind leading the blind. This brings me to a very important point: Not all practitioners of any kind (therapists, counselors, doctors, shamans, spiritual teachers) are healed and whole within themselves. In fact, most aren’t. A lot of people become doctors because it’s what their parents wanted for them, or because of the status doctors hold in society. A lot of people become psychotherapists out of a well-meaning yet naive desire to “help people” without ever going deeply into themselves. Their goals of healing aren’t necessarily motivated by an intuitive understanding of the human condition.

This creates a host of problems. If a healer isn’t aware of where they’re at on their journey, they can easily project issues onto you and/or seek to “fix” themselves by “treating” you. When this happens to you, it can be jarring, maddening, and sad. Even though I’ve seen some great people throughout my journey towards wellness, I can say that maybe only one of them has felt capable of deeply understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the way the whole thing went down (he’s a spiritual teacher).

But this was also a gift. Each time I saw a professional and came away feeling misunderstood, or as if only the surface layer had been discussed, the message came in strong and clear: There’s nothing “out there.” The answers, wisdom, and understanding exist perfectly whole and indestructibly within.

It is a great gift when you realize that the answers cannot be found in the external world. It is an even greater gift when you become free of trying to answer everything. Questions and answers all exist on an intellectual level, and the sharpest of intellects can get you no closer to the Truth. Our academic intelligence doesn’t get us there. This is also a very hard truth for the Western ego to incorporate, since we are also taught that endless thinking (the kind that is rewarded in our super narrow educational system) can solve everything. Sadly, “being smart” won’t help you as you awaken, and can actually hurt you if you’re always trying to intellectualize the process.

Today, I can see exactly why I was drawn to the field of psychology, and particularly why I wanted to be a substance abuse counselor at first: I had tremendous pain that I hadn’t worked through, and a drinking problem I used to keep it at bay. What better way to deflect and be “okay” than to tirelessly try to help others? Luckily the lights came on before I had a chance to unwittingly harm any clients, and now I wouldn’t dream of considering such a career unless I was confident in my well-being and ability to replenish my energies as needed.

I want to end this post with a link to a series of videos I found extremely helpful. After I got out of the hospital, unwilling to believe my experiences were simply the result of misfiring neurotransmitters, I started looking for alternative explanations for bipolar disorder. These videos (along with dozens of books) gave me a new lens through which to understand my manic episodes, and ultimately, a new lens through which to see all of life:

Important: This isn’t a matter of whether or not mental illness “exists.” Of course it does, even though mental illness is still sorely misunderstood. Though I went through phases of being anti-psychiatry and anti-medication (largely as a reaction from the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized during the most fragile and horrific time of my life), I’ve come to embrace the “keep what works; let go of what doesn’t” mentality. When I was acutely manic and had to try to go to work, I took the medication and accepted the bipolar label. We really do have to let go of our egos when it comes to our health. (This lesson should be embraced by anyone who thinks they’re “too tough” or “fine enough” not to seek treatment for anything.)

Even though you know your experiences are part of something greater than a medical issue, “having a spiritual awakening” still doesn’t buy you a few years off of work to integrate and recalibrate (although I wish it would!). In short: Accept the label when it serves you on the path to wellness; drop it when it doesn’t.

Now, being unmedicated and taking more responsibility for my wellness, I can let go of the label unless I feel the desire to explain to someone (who doesn’t consider themselves “spiritual”) what happened. The point is that, internally, I keep in mind that none of these stories can touch the truth of my being or anyone else’s.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Remaining Conscious in Times of Hate

One of the main challenges on the spiritual path is this: Finding a way to dwell in integrity without contributing to the aggression existing in the world. This requires a more subtle approach to life than announcing our feelings on various issues at every given opportunity. Believe me, I’ve done this. It didn’t work (the world’s still falling apart!), nor did it bring me joy.

I wouldn’t feel like I’m living with integrity if I were to stay silent as displays of hatred rise in Western culture. And yet it feels difficult to write about things like racism and hate without contributing to already-existing aggression and division: Whatever we read, we hope it agrees with us, or at least that it is easy enough to tear apart so that we can maintain our senses of “rightness.” Regardless of what you believe, you likely do this. (Or rather, your ego does this to prevent you from growing out of it.)

So I’ve spent a whole lot of time digesting the display of hatred in Charlottesville and watching the reactions online. I spent about a week deciding if I would even bring up the name of the town at all, mostly because discussing particular “events” has felt pretty unimportant to me since I started this blog.

Here’s why: Due to our average state of consciousness, we tend to all take part in a giant killing machine. My very existence (and yours, and this computer’s) are founded upon more suffering than we can even conceptualize. I’m talking about all of it: Slavery, genocide, misogyny, animal enslavement, and environmental abuse. These things are not separate issues; they are woven together with the same roots of ignorance and insanity. Unless we go full-monk, we can easily die if we try to opt out of this way of life—that is, after all, the only reason most of us take part in it at all.

If we don’t work together to change this trajectory, we will all die. That’s it. Furthermore, looking beyond social issues and into the core of your own being is what truly begins to heal social stratification. The evolution of the soul is the only reason we’ve moved at all closer to “equality,” although many of us don’t yet understand what that word would look like in practice. So that’s why I don’t focus on single “events” very often. Still, that weird, torch-carrying mob sparked enough outrage to inspire me to write a post about the social realm and the inner structures that underlie it. Our inner worlds create the outer world, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind.

I’ve taken some time to write this post because I’m really coming to understand how powerful words can be. We can be so quick to fire off that status update, argue our points, make others wrong, and (perhaps most harmfully, because it occurs within) judge each other. When words are used in this manner—to reinforce our egos and create reactions of anger—we hurt the whole world, no matter how right we are. As someone who once talked a lot more (and not always thoughtfully), this is an important practice to me: Cultivating awareness of the energy behind my words.

Having said allllll that, I finally just decided to do the radical thing of writing what’s true to me, and releasing my fears of being misunderstood. For me, this has been no small task.

Pure consciousness is ultimately a thing that lies beyond notions of “right” and “wrong.”

When we realize the limits and errors of moralistic judgment, we fall into a different mindset than apathy: Apathy doesn’t get me sitting here, pouring over my words, trying to be careful not to contribute to the anger on the internet. Apathy doesn’t get me journaling every day about my shame, which I know I must heal from in order to give positive energy to the world. Apathy doesn’t get me to quit drinking or to examine all of my interactions, cultivating feelings of openness and acceptance whenever I look someone in the eye. I do these things. I do them because it is abundantly clear that these behaviors, over the course of a lifetime, create more change than all the indignant opinions ever could.

I don’t bring this up in order to sound superior, because I really don’t feel that way. First of all, healing kinda sucks. You get dragged down into your own personal trauma, time and time again, trying to relax into and embrace it even when every part of you is burning up. There is no sense of triumph here. Secondly, at this point on the path, I mostly just feel conflicted because I’m still growing into my spirit. All day my mind constructs reasons why people far and wide are wrong for the things they do and say, and all day the more evolved part of me watches, gently bringing me back to reality.

I write (and live my life) with the hope of contributing to a workable, healthy way of life for all beings on this planet. Simplifying the world into “good” and “evil” and then creating a battlefield out of these extremes isn’t workable. The attitude, while understandable, is not based in reality, and I won’t contribute to it. When we try to force one another to “take sides,” we participate in the creation of war.

Honestly, part of me wants to say: Sure, yeah, take down all the statues. All they are is replicas of deeply delusional individuals who created an entire myth about “freedom” while eradicating already-existing cultures and enslaving another one. The founders of the United States were seriously deluded about their place in the universe, as were the rulers they fled, as are most of us today.

And on another level, I notice this: If our minds don’t constantly assign labels to these objects (an “acceptable” statue vs. an “offensive” one), they actually are all equivalent. Take them down or leave them up; either way, it is our responsibility to pay attention to what our minds are doing when our eyes fall upon the things we’ve been conditioned to see as “symbols.” Nothing has meaning unless we let it. That’s true power, and it exists whether or not other people do/display the things we find acceptable. We can carry this power with us anywhere we go. I get to practice this every day in my small town, which sometimes feels loaded with triggers.

And as I’ve said before, I also want to note that none of us are even really “Americans.” I can’t say how many things I’ve read of people asserting exactly what it is that “true Americans” do. This misses the entire point: Just as racial hierarchy is harmful, hierarchical thinking based on nationality is harmful, too. In fact, labels of all kinds hurt us for the simple fact that they keep us separate. When we do this, we contribute as much to the separation of humanity as anything else.

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.” – J. Krishnamurti

We are only as separate as our minds make us. Therefore, if we wish to increase unity in this world, we will turn to to our own minds and investigate what exactly is going on in there.

The mind moves laterally about itself, generally used as a tool of ego inflation, reaffirming our already held beliefs. Self-investigation is not about finding the right beliefs to cling to; it is about dismantling all structures in the mind and seeing what’s left. Contrary to what you might imagine, you do not become mindless or spineless once you find this place, and you certainly do not dwell in hate.

As opposed to moving laterally, growth has a direction: Up or down. At some point, growth requires the humbling of the ego that knows everything about how other people “should” be. In time, we learn that becoming righteously indignant takes us lower. Making space for ourselves, being warm and open, and not reacting automatically takes us up.

This is why we sit in meditation. This is why we tend to ourselves before trying to save the world. Any other way spells disaster, sometimes short-term and sometimes long-term.

To some, a commitment to nonviolence (or daring to say that all beliefs are false and limiting) might be built on the fact that I’ve been so privileged by whiteness that I don’t understand the need for harder, more polarized resistance. I do not deny privilege. Unlike a person of color, I haven’t gone through a life filled with microaggressions, police scrutiny/outright violence or murder, and the general mistrust of my very existence. It would be ignorant of me to compare my life experience in a social context to that. But there’s much more to life than the social context, even though many of us act like (and probably feel like) that’s All There Is.

Here’s the best thing about suffering and the Truth: They are both non-discriminatory. Oppression in the world is clearly a thing that works hierarchically. For a long time, white males have collectively kept themselves at the top of this hierarchy by forcibly keeping everyone else down. (I don’t mean to instill guilt/shame in white males by stating this, as shame and guilt are always counter-productive.) Systemic oppression, genocide, and social privilege are, of course, based on factors like race and gender. I doubt that anyone reading my blog would need to be reminded of this.

Suffering, however, does not discriminate. And the Truth, which resides in everything and everyone, is experienced universally. Prophets from various time periods and social classes have all come back with the same basic messages: All is one, love each other, hatred never ceases by hatred, etc. etc. This is not mushy hippie shit we’re talking about, but fundamental laws of the universe: Hate + Hate = Hate. Violence + Violence = Violence. As much as our egos try, we can’t argue our way out of this math, which is really just about the way energy gets transferred from person to person on an invisible level.

I really didn’t understand this until after I lost my mind. There was a time when I felt ready to see a violent revolution, and now I see how much of that projection was fueled by the battle I was creating within myself. It doesn’t have to be that way, and if you believe that, you are contributing to an unnecessarily violent end.

Because they are universally experienced, Truth and suffering are the things we must explore if we consider ourselves to be compassionate human beings. In this space, life no longer becomes about “our people” and “other people.” Then, seeing how important we are to the way the world looks, we do the exhaustive work of excavating ourselves from the limiting, multi-tiered hell of the conditioned mind.

Yes, this feels like a much longer, much less pleasant, and much more intensive process than punching the right guy, but it is the only way. If enough people had had the understanding and courage to do this kind of work years ago, we would already be living in a far more peaceful society.

It’s looking dangerously possible that we may inflate our egos as all life is extinguished on Earth. We may succumb to fear as huge, necessary changes are made over the next century, trying to “go back” to some imagined time of greatness that never really existed. Or we may succumb to anger, trying to go forward to a goal that is poorly-formed, taking only one chunk of life into consideration. Doing either of these things will have us spinning in circles right into extinction.

Truth lies beyond all of this, and I stand for the Truth, because I know it is the only place where everlasting peace resides.

In summary, here’s we must “do” about the state of the world: Our work. We must look into our pain and ego-stories. I know it’s intense and you don’t want to do it. Most of us carry so much pain that we’d rather lash out at the world (including our own bodies, our lovers, co-workers, friends, etc.) before we really sit down to face it. But until we deal with our own wounds and see through all delusion, we will, in all likelihood, create more harm in the world. The endless journey inward is really all there is.

Oh, and duh: Organize peacefully.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

The Deeper Why

There are several key differences between yoga psychology and psychiatry. Understanding these differences was The Thing that helped to integrate my experiences, from psychosis/extreme mania all the way to garden-variety depression. This knowledge is what allowed me to reject the idea that I was permanently ill, that I would most likely be on and off of medication for the rest of my life, and that bipolar was a thing “I’d always be”an immutable descriptor, and not a good one at that. It has led to healing in a way I couldn’t have previously imagined. It has led to true growth and, although I’m not without all attachments and darkness, a far more stable emotional baseline.

Regardless of how revolutionary these concepts are, they remain misunderstood in our discussions of mental health. We have vague intentions of “reaching out to those with depression,” and of “eliminating stigma.” These statements are of little value without a comprehensive view of the deeper why of mental illness, an ever-worsening phenomenon, predominantly in the most materially comfortable of cultures. The deeper why goes beyond neurotransmitters and genetic predispositions. It considers all of human and universal evolution.

Existence Occurs From Inside-Out

Let’s go back to that first part for a second: In countries where the majority of people have comfortable lives (big houses, good cars, non-life-threatening jobs, regular access to nutritious foods), depression, anxiety, and suicide are rampant. Some are quick to point out that it is our lack of connection to one another that creates these feelings, but this doesn’t quite get to the root of it either. What is the deeper why of this isolation? Why do we suck at making connections, even when we know everyone around us is dealing with the same bullshit we are?

There are plenty of us with dozens of friends and family members we see daily—maybe even share a bed with—yet still, we’re mostly just alone together. If we don’t feel comfortable sharing our honest emotions with the people in our lives (I sure don’t, because apparently my emotions are Not Normal and that feels even worse to know), then we are each living in secrecy, behind various masks. It is only in solitude that we feel at all okay, for at least then our inner isolation matches our environment.

(This is a where a picture of a family staring at their phones while out at dinner would go. I don’t blame technology, but the phones do make it painfully clear how totally resigned we are to each existing in our own small digital worlds.)

At the very least, this should teach us that our external circumstances don’t matter a whole lot with regards to what’s happening inside of us. This is an enormous false belief within our culture, and yet it is still lived out and passed on: You can arrange your outside life in such a way that your inner world will become happy.

This is never true. It must always go the other way around. Barring extreme situations, your circumstances are not the reasons for your unhappiness; the situations and people that “make” you unhappy are more of a reflection of the unhappiness within. To me this is obvious, as I sometimes fluctuate in emotion from day to day. Small things make me want to go into a fit of rage on bad days, and on good days (or even later that day!  I can still be capricious AF!), seemingly big things can’t even touch me. It is with this knowledge that I proceed, knowing that it is my state of consciousness which determines everything about how I feel.

Inner changes always come first, then they are reflected on the outside.

Choosing to Choose

This is not meant to be a trite “just choose to be happy” post. Choosing happiness in a culture that has programmed you to be miserable is, as it stands, a lifelong journey. Also, choosing happiness is only made possible when one’s survival needs are met; this ensures that they can actually focus their energy on inner work. Summoning all of our strength to go act like we’re okay (at jobs we don’t always feel impassioned about, and I’m putting that in the nicest way possible) when we are totally not okay prolongs the healing process. Being disingenuous is exhausting. It makes us hide. It prevents us from accessing the higher parts of ourselves, a requirement for true stability and joy as well as the continued survival of our species.

This is why every human being should be guaranteed healthy food, a safe bed, and healthcare—unconditionally. No questions asked and no judgments. This is not a radical notion to me, but it is to a lot of people: Because people are all fucked up about money (as a result of being conditioned to feel that things are scarce and that they should be afraid), not everyone is on board with universal basic income, even though it would benefit, um, everyone.

I don’t talk a lot about “how society should be restructured,” because restructuring alone does not help raise consciousness. Trying to make a “goal” out of evolution is human arrogance at its finest. This explains why communism alone doesn’t lead to liberation or the heights of human potential: Without transformation of the inner self, external restructuring doesn’t accomplish much. Spiritual revolution is the only way now, and unlike other revolutions, this one is quiet, unassuming, and has actually been building since forever. Pay attention and you will see it, even if unconscious spiritual egos are still common.

However, I will say this: Universal basic income is literally the least we could do in order to ensure a better quality of life for all future generations. It just is.

Any argument against universal basic income is rooted in ignorance. There is plenty to go around. Every day, we throw food away even though we’ve got hungry people in our towns. The dairy industry dumps millions of gallons of milk into the ocean every year. There are spacious, fancy-ass apartment complexes and housing developments just sitting around vacant while hurt and scared individuals try to find bridges to sleep under. This is complete insanity. Guaranteed basic security for every human would immediately raise the total level of world consciousness and pave the way for a truly beautiful way of life for all.

Until then, it seems, we’re going to have to strive doubly hard to transform. We have to walk our paths of Truth while living in the shadow of the apocalypse and making money just to eat and sleep soundly. These are strange and dangerous times.

Still, I promise promise promise, this is the only work that is truly worth it.

Love,

Lish

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Meditation, Podcast, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Yoga

Happy Solstice!

Dear Readers,

I wanted to post something quick today in celebration of the solstice and to recognize International Yoga Day. Happy summer for now; happy divine union forever.

Full disclosure: I don’t do the yogic postures, and I don’t really know why. Okay scratch that—I meditate, which is a part of yoga, but that’s it. At this point I’m more interested in yogic philosophy and its overlap/departure from the mainstream points of view in the West.

On that note, here’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I recommend that everyone give it a once-over, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder:

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Gifted to me by someone I once considered “my unwitting guru.”

I’m also working on a bigger post about how this book has helped to integrate my awakening as well as view my “illness” (bipolar disorder, type 1) in a new light. Seriously, it’s awesome.

First up: My friend Jill and I recorded a podcast yesterday. We’ve decided to call it The Free Fall. 

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I also scored this (enormous) whiteboard from a friend. I’ve been receiving a lot of help and love lately, and when I start to think about the magnificence of these things, my heart can get overwhelmed. Thank you to all! ❤

Essentially, that’s what we’re doing whenever we make the choice to live in alignment with our souls. It takes courage to follow our intuition and do what we know we’re supposed to do (as guided from a deeper place, not external/societal parameters) even when it doesn’t make logical sense. We’re free falling from moment to moment, being okay with the fact that we’re here and breathing in the present moment. It’s the wide-open unknown we’re traversing, after all. We’re following the breadcrumbs and trusting; always trusting and being grateful for what we’ve been given, big or small.

The mind prefers neat, seemingly clear paths: Get the degree, get the job, get the house, get the marriage, get the stuff, and then you arrive at security. This is the story the mind makes up in order to serve the ego’s need for safety. Of course, life tends to throw things in the way, and many people find that once they’ve finally arrived in this configuration there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety.

There are many reasons for this, but it generally comes down to the fact that the truest parts of ourselves have been largely (if not totally) ignored in the ego’s grand plans. And, just like the rest of you, the soul wishes to be known, loved, and expressed. It’ll keep bugging you until all the parts are finally aligned. As always, I say: I’m not there yet! I’m always in process over here.

The first episode of The Free Fall will be up in the next week or so. It’s really just a thing Jill and I felt pulled to do, and after we got done recording it, we both felt so much lighter and freer. I feel very honored to share that space with her and with you.

And now, a few pictures I drew the other night when I felt like conceptualizing consciousness vs. the ego. I mentioned this in the podcast, I’ve mentioned it in other posts, and I will probably keep saying it until it feels understood: The ego isn’t a bad thing. The poor ego gets such a bad rap, and this is unnecessary.

I assume this categorization stems from our strong desire to have life be black-and-white, because this way of looking at the world is just easier for the mind to digest than the highly complex truth (so complex it becomes simple, really). Also, facing this complexity necessarily turns us to self-inquiry, and most of us have a lot of stuff in ourselves we’d rather not look into.

The ego is not bad; it’s just illusory. When we don’t know it’s illusory, we often make a mess out of life, trying to use this limited idea of what we are to get whatever it is we think we want:

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& one last thing…

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Love,

Lish

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