Conditioning, Consciousness, Existence, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Truth

Keep Looking Inward

I’m sitting upstairs at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. The sun and spring air are coming through an open window and I’ve got an iced Americano at my side. I’ve been listening to enough Beyoncé for her voice to be on frequent repeat in my mind, which is cool with me. All of this is to say that things are still bright and lovely on this strange part of my journey. In a couple hours I’ll take a night train over to L.A., which I can only assume is going to be romantic as all get out.

I could’ve easily gone out to the Grand Canyon, but all I really felt doing was walking around town in the sun and listening to music. It’s all I want most of the time. Often I stop to sit down for no reason but to feel the sun. The need to “do” is dissolving, which my ego-identity occasionally meets with worry: What happens when I don’t feel that ongoing push to do things? How will I survive? What would it be like if I really could just sit quietly in one place forever and be happier than I ever imagined possible?

The answer is I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

I also seem to be losing the need to have “reasons” for any of the things I do. The heart has no reason or aim but to lead you to Truth and yourself (which are the same thing), so I trust it. This makes for strange conversations: “What are you doing here in Flagstaff?” people ask. And rather than go through the whole story about moving to the ashram and all that, I just say I’m traveling. I have no reason for being here or anywhere at all. It just happened, the same way all of life is just happening for no reason whatsoever.

People also ask often “where I’m from,” being that this is a hostel. Honestly, having such conversations already feels old and I don’t enjoy doing it. I get the feeling that it really doesn’t matter, that we are only talking based on what we have been conditioned to talk about. It’s more fun to make it weird and say I’m from Mars or something, or jump straight into jokes because hey we’re all human and where we’re from means nothing about who we are.

I feel like writing something basic (and perhaps a little challenging) about consciousness and the spiritual path. There seems to be an upswell in certain personalities who are getting famous while using the word “consciousness.” They go on and on about archetypes and mythology and their audiences are, for some reason, impressed.

On the level of the rational mind, what they say checks out, and I understand why they’ve gained such a following. But when I tune into their energy it is obvious that they are operating from a bloviating ego-identity, and this is hard for me to watch. They have mighty minds but they are filled with ignorance, which is the state of humanity at large. This is why we really need to take a step back here. We absolutely do not need more bloviating egos; we need heartful presence and the energy of pure awareness.

The trouble seems to be that a lot (see: the vast vast majority) of people mix up the word “consciousness” with the word “mind.” In reality, these are two completely different things. Consciousness is actually an all-encompassing thing; there is a reason why light is the most oft-used metaphor for it. It is both within and apart from the mind, but here’s the kicker: Consciousness created the mind, and the mind is a temporal feature within it. The mind ultimately does not exist, but consciousness will always abide. Remove the mind and consciousness will be there, but until we have practice detangling these things, we find ourselves totally mixed up and making messes.

When we go looking for answers from the level of the mind, we’re starting from an inherently flimsy place. The mind has a beginning and an end, but consciousness does not. We must look at the mind from this place of stability if we are to understand anything about humanity at all.

Another concern is the generally unquestioned assumption of who we are. This is what the path is all about: Who are you, really, underneath all that blah-blah-blahing your mind does day in and day out? Who are you, really, underneath the character you play on a day to day basis? This character is not really who you are, but you have been playing it for so long that you forgot it was an act.

I know that some of you may be reading this and feeling like you “understand” what I mean. And so I implore you to check in and see: Where do you live your life from? Your heart; your self-knowledge as consciousness? If this is so, there should be an abiding peace with you always, and a life that is generally untroubled. There should be an awake stillness to your being and a mind that does not rule your movements or behaviors. There should be no more nagging questions about existence or confusion about what you’re doing here. There should be no need to defend yourself or what you see, nor to make others “get” what you think you’ve “gotten.”

Or, perhaps more likely, do you live from the belief that you are [insert name, job, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.]?

My goal with these questions and statements is not to pass judgment, but to continue to encourage anyone who reads this to just keep. looking. inward. The ego is so so happy to latch onto theories. The ego is so so happy to keep feeding itself with mental concepts of what Truth is, to think that it “knows.” But, since the mind lives on the borrowed light of the heart, it does not know things about itself until the underlying consciousness is expanded responsibly and gradually. It is only from this vantage point that we have any real perspective at all. The best metaphor here is that the moon only shines because the sun throws light upon it. Most of us are stuck believing we’re the moon, and arguing as the moon that we know a lot about the sun. The silly part is that without the sun, the moon is nothing but a cold rock, and we are all the same sun.

We really all desire to be free; to know Truth with no doubt whatsoever. If you feel the need to defend, that’s actually an insecurity; it’s something I see all the time. There is a pull from the heart to become more free and totally light all the time, and this pull (or rather, the ego’s resistance to the pull) is what creates all the difficulties in our lives.

If we are interested in our minds, all we must do is learn to sit back and watch our minds. It is very simple, and yet this sentence alone carries a lot of information that goes assumed: What is the “you” and what is the “mind”? The mind cannot free itself from itself, so, what is the “you” that is going to go about doing this work?

The general false assumption is that you are your mind, but this is actually false. We go around saying this word all day long: “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” and yet very few people have, since the time they (unconsciously) formed their egos in toddlerhood, sat down to examine what exactly this thing is. It is all an assumption. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk my entire life experience on such an assumption.

Obviously there’s a lot more to unpack here, but of course there’s the paradox that there really isn’t anything else to unpack. My recommendation is, as always, to go sit quietly with your mind for awhile and see what you uncover. Resist the urge to defend where you’re at on the path; why what you’re already doing is totally compatible with [insert spiritual teaching here]. I also see that all the the time.

Many people do not have such a practice, and yet they insist on discussing Truth and spirituality anyway. This would be like going to a quantum physics course and arguing with the professor when you haven’t even gone through Physics 101. Start a practice, commit to finding your true self, and things will start becoming clear on their own.

Anyway, next time I write, I’ll probably be in Los Angeles.

Love to you all,

lish

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

Goodbye For Now

The last few days have been pretty hard for me. I’m being faced with how much I’m going to miss my family and my community when I’m in Texas. Moving to Siddhayatan is by far the most “unknown” leap I’ve made in my life, and it really isn’t easy. As I feel all my attachments being tested, I try to remember that the ego is a master of exaggeration. It will do whatever it can to keep itself safe, even though an unconscious ego is actually one of the least safe places to be. This is in part because it comes with a definite expiration date, but also because the ego keeps us very limited in the things it allows us to do. Often, when we feel ourselves beginning to grow and are in need of making a change, the ego uses the mind to produce discomfort. If we yield to this discomfort and shrink back to the previously written program, the ego learns that this is an efficient tool. It will use this tool again and again, until we end up trapped in known (AKA comfortable) patterns we may not be happy or thriving in at all.

Fear is a very powerful thing, and it is not always bad. I think we ought to give fear a little credit for keeping the species alive so far in the first place. When you’re in a life-threatening situation or an abusive relationship, fear is a great indicator that it’s time to pull back and/or evaluate what’s going on. The problem becomes when fear begins to spring forth in totally benign situations. Every little step off the ego’s entrenched path can freak us out. This could be something as big as being too scared to travel to a foreign country or go for a job you really want, or, for others, simply not being able to take your preferred route home from work. Even the tiniest change can throw us into frustration and discomfort. To me, this illustrates the necessity of continuing to challenge my ego.

All of this is to say that I’m not going to act like I’m only excited and/or totally chill about this. Moving away from the place I was born and raised, from a job which provided me with a lovely community, from close relationships I’ve had for many years—all of this represents a pretty serious threat to my ego. I am aware of that. All this change at one time is bound to make almost anyone uncomfortable, and I am no different. Still, I sort of feel like the discomfort is exactly why I need to do it: I will not be cowed by my mind when I see that this could be a really valuable step for me to take.

The initial phases of my awakening taught me a lot and burned away several of my issues: I no longer use alcohol to numb and I’ve gotten a lot better at being a person even when my emotions are intense. My habits are way better, my mind is significantly more grounded in reality, and I know for sure who I really am. I also learned a great deal about the relationship between bipolar disorder and spirituality, and why things like meditation really do work when we’re ready to start fully healing our own minds, beyond several dozen handouts on mindfulness. I have seen the staggering implications of raising consciousness on this planet, and feel that at least some of my life’s work will be aimed at communicating these implications as best as I can. I also experienced firsthand the illusory nature of the conditioned “I,” and was thrust into something of a 2-year personal study of this experience. Strangely enough, I feel blessed for how insane I have been.

Still, there are some core issues that weren’t burned away in the first fire. Staying here, I am susceptible to falling back into old patterns. Here, I can have everything “just how I like it:” I can meditate in the morning, sit down to write, walk to work, drink half-caf,  read Bradbury in the bath, and turn in at 10 no questions asked. Yes, I have formed healthy routines, but they are no longer challenging. Living with new people in a totally new situation—that represents the kind of challenge I feel I need right now. The fact that it gets to be within the spectrum of spiritual service and growth is really just icing on the cake.

This brings me to an important point about choosing spiritual nourishment. It would also be challenging for me to move into a normal house with several strangers rather than an ashram, but it clearly wouldn’t be as nourishing to me spiritually. I have no doubt that I’d be “okay” in this second situation, but we reach a point in our growth where “okay” is not what we desire. Lateral movements don’t cut it anymore. Instead, we want greater embodiment of the path we’ve set out on, because we see the freedom we are moving towards.


Here are the final things I really want to say before I leave. They are not new insights, but they are also not commonly held beliefs in our society, and that is why I feel pulled to say them:

  1. If you’re struggling with addiction, bipolar disorder, or severe depression, you can fully recover from these conditions. You do not have to identify with any of your mental health diagnoses, and it is actually better not to. I want to note that if you have what is commonly called “a psychotic break” (i.e. spiritual emergency), this statement stands in opposition to what most physicians will say. Usually the emphasis is on acceptance of the illness label and finding the right medication. I certainly understand the intentions of this approach. I also understand why we, on the other end of the episode, are quick to follow suit—losing touch to such an extent is terrifying. However, I believe full healing comes when we are able to let go of these illnesses and their corresponding stories as part of our identities.

    Even though the mental health community has fought to have such conditions treated like other diseases, they still aren’t. My goal isn’t to help get them on par with other diseases, because I don’t see that happening unless we, collectively, are able to recognize that we are not our minds. I have no idea if or when this will happen. Until then, you have to remember: You have a life-threatening yet treatable condition. Take your mental health seriously, whether or not anyone in your life has an understanding of what you’re really doing or going through (and they probably won’t). Watching the mind is an ongoing and arduous process, and there is no escape from it. It is imperative that you surround yourself with people who understand the difficulty of the work you’re doing to become whole within yourself. If no one gets it, it’s better to be alone than spend time with people who are not yet aware enough to see the deep healing you are doing.

    I know that these conditions are extremely tricky. Our minds often try to convince us we are better when we aren’t yet. When we make a little progress, we think we’re done. This is the nature of the egoic mind: It wants us to stop before we see all the way through it. However, until you do, old issues and their behavioral manifestations will lurk in the unconscious. I advocate for steady, patient expansion of consciousness which also leads to total healing.

  2. The healing of the mind is made possible by accessing the higher consciousness that lives within you. This is ultimately what we’re getting at in meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy journaling,, etc: There is an element inside of you that has nothing to do with your genetics or even the life experiences you’ve endured. It is extremely powerful, and you can tap into it. This is the part of you that is pure consciousness. Ultimately, I think true sanity exists once the illusory ego is permanently revealed as an illusion. This seems to be a rare phenomenon, however, and depends not only on our efforts but also on divine grace, which lies outside of our conscious control. Even if the “big E” enlightenment doesn’t happen, practice helps us still the mind, focus on (and achieve) our goals, improve our habits, and be more at peace. Accessing higher consciousness is a win no matter what comes of it.

  3. Of all our worldly, human problems, the root of them is the egoic mind. Can we even imagine how we might treat one another if we all saw ourselves as one another? How often would we use abusive language? Would we take part in systems that perpetuate our violent culture? It is the ego that builds layers and layers of separation between “you” and not-you; in this way it becomes the highly limiting identity we dream ourselves to sincerely be. However, we are not our identities, and if we were to see this at once, peace would reign without question. The ego is the chief delusion holding all other delusions in place.

  4. Therefore, the greatest work anyone can do in this world is their own inner work. There are a great deal of movements out there aimed at changing the world. I love seeing people engaged in work that challenges the systemic issues that keep us divided. But it bears saying that unless each of us in also engaged in our own inner looking—into our own psychological worlds with their dysfunctions and egoic justifications—we are not helping nearly as much as we could be. The first person we should each be seeking to “fix” is ourselves. If we find that we are suffering from the same problems over and over again, feeling angry and fearful, we should not expect to able to fix the rest of the world’s problems. This is one of those things most of us know—”be the change” and all that—but still, we are rarely as invested in self-investigation as we are in other activities. Most of us tacitly assume we’re already good if we challenge the existing system, but there’s so much more to it than that. Spiritual work is deeply transformational work that alters your very presence in the world; it has the power to make everything we do more effective.

  5. One of the greatest obstacles towards realizing peace is our lack of belief in its possibility. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing the phrases “people just suck,” “people are garbage,” “peace is too idealistic,” etc. These kinds of statements reflect a deep pessimism and lack of self-awareness. Who are these “people” we talk about if not ourselves? When we see an impossible evil lodged in humanity, it is because we see an impossible evil lodged in ourselves. We must investigate that, because if we really look within, we will find that it does not exist. And further, evil is not really evil: It is generations of fear, trauma, and ignorance masquerading as anger and derision. Externally this manifests as control, violence, and forcible segregation. To move forward collectively, the fear must be faced, the trauma healed, and the ignorance dispelled. Many of us are quite violent in our thought and do not even realize it. These are the things I’d like to see us deeply examining before resorting to the “people are just bad” stuff.

There are many other things about the Self and the nature of Reality I would like to expand upon, but this doesn’t feel like the right post for that.

Mostly I want to thank those of you who have followed my journey thus far. I believe the necessity of spirituality is greater now than ever before, and until we consciously reclaim our souls, the state of the world will become uglier and uglier. Suicide will go up; depression will go up; bipolar disorder will go up. General apathy and numbing out—side effects of being half-alive—will also continue to go up. Because this is not what I wish to see for humanity, I am committed to this path. I look forward to clearing my remaining issues, deepening in awareness, and becoming more spiritually mature.

My best wishes and love to all who come across this post,

Lish

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Awakening, Culture, Enlightenment, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Knowing True Freedom

Colloquially, the word “freedom” is used in conjunction with certain physical and political contexts—freedom of movement, speech, assembly, the right to vote, etc. What distinguishes these notions from spiritual freedom is this: Spiritual freedom is not dependent on anything external to one’s own state of consciousness. This is precisely what makes it the only true freedom. Freedom’s opposite is dependence, so if one’s sense of freedom is dependent on having certain external parameters met, we can see that whatever they have gained is not true freedom. It may be greater worldly opportunity or social mobility, and these things are important. However, we tell ourselves a tremendous lie when we tangle these things up with what it means to be free. I have no doubt that there are prisoners who meditate and that they are more free than, say, an American workaholic with a drinking problem.

It is unconsciousness itself that has mislabeled “freedom” in this way: If a large population can be convinced that they are free even as they take up soul-numbing tasks in order to survive and dwell in various addictions, the machine continues on unquestioned. We are most hopelessly enslaved when we wrongly believe we are free.

Though the idea that we are “convinced we are free” may elicit images of some brilliant (yet evil) ruling class, this is false. I do not believe there are any masterminds at the top of this pyramid. Sometimes, as we begin to peel back the layers of deceit and/or one-sided information we were fed as children, we can get lost in conspiracy theories. We come to believe that there is an order of shadowy overlords that have been calling the shots since time immemorial. Finding them out feels like juicy, privileged gossip, but, like other forms of gossip, these things are little more than a distraction. I don’t mean to dismiss that corporate conglomerates and wealthy, violent people hold a staggering amount of power in the world. They do, but there’s that key phrase: In the world. If we were each to find the part of us that is not in the world, would we be bothered so much? Moreover, would we allow such other people to run our lives if we felt empowered, whole, and alive?

The world has become this way because we believe we are small and that everyone has a “dog eat dog” attitude. When we live in such fear, these “shadowy overlords” have a foothold over us. Liberation—moksha, nirvana, enlightenment, awakening, etc.—cannot be taken, cannot be granted, and cannot be compromised by one’s outer circumstances. This is precisely why it is the answer to our ailments, both personal and collective: It happens in a place that is completely incorruptible.

A person who is truly free is the most powerful person in the world. Why is this? Because you cannot manipulate or coerce such an individual to do anything whatsoever. They move in accordance with their own compass, which is always pointed in towards truth. They will live in ways that others deem difficult or unpleasant before they sacrifice their freedom, because they know how valuable (and how rare) this freedom is. They need far less than one who is conditioned to require specific comforts in order to feel okay. Even a threat to the life of one who is free can be met with a smile.

Merely having this piece of information is enough to focus my life 100% on the path. It now feels like something of a “sidestep” to seek that which is not eternally enduring, complete, and freeing. The summit is in sight, and every distraction is a detour. As Ramana Maharshi said: “What is not permanent is not worth striving for.”

Looking around, can we find anything that is permanent? There is nothing that can be discerned with the senses that is not subject to decay and disintegration. This is not some “future disintegration” we are talking about: It’s happening now. All is in flux; we are spinning, changing, dying, and being reborn. Nothing in the play of consciousness—a term used to describe the happenings and appearances of our lives—is going to last forever.

Again, this is something most of us intellectually “know.” And yet, with attachments, fears, and desires for safety, our minds try so hard to make this not true. Grasping for safety, we think, if only everything could just stay the same. Yes, we “know” change is a constant, that nothing lasts, and that everything is subject to decay. But when it comes time to accept the end of a job or a romantic relationship, how often do we do so with grace, or even joy at the potential of the new?

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to bargain with the inarguable fact of change. The final change—death—will show us our errors in this regard, but it is not wise to wait until then to see them.

The spiritual path gets to the root of everything. Once we have exhausted ourselves trying to control this outside variable, and this one, and that one, we recognize that there is still a restlessness. It goes right to the middle of us, and it is unrelenting. We are constantly hungry for something ultimately satisfying. What is the thing that soothes this ache? How do we cease the frantic search to be sated?

On a large scale, this is what we have been doing to the planet for thousands of years. The collective ego sees the Earth as a thing to use rather than an organism to responsibly live within. We use one resource after another, taking temporary gratification over long-term well-being. The process of colonization and societal “growth” is indeed an addiction on a wide scale. Soon there will be nothing left to take, but we will still be trying to feed the ego, which, in something of a temper tantrum, will keep demanding the physically impossible: Unchecked biological domination. But nature will not have this; she has made her preference well-known in diversity, and we are inexorably chained to her rules. When we deny this, there is collapse. This has been shown in civilizations over and over again. Where will we turn when this all comes crashing to the ground? What kind of delusion are we living in if we believe this crash can be staved off forever?

There is also a reason why spiritual teachers don’t often bring up politics or systemic issues such as capitalism or the patriarchy.  It is not because they are apathetic, “above it,” or find these issues trivial. On the contrary, one who is on the path acknowledges the depth of suffering created by such hierarchies. We accept that the breadth of this suffering is unimaginable. We choose, however, to focus more intently on the root of these problems, knowing that pulling the root is the only way to effectively deal with any problem. The root is the egoic mind. This limiting, overly-personal mind lives within each of us, and in order for lasting change to occur, it is the thing that must be brought into awareness. The sprouts and weeds of real-world issues are more visible, but hacking at them while the root remains intact is not the best use of energy.

I used to feel like there were two entities within me, fighting. I desperately wanted “the good one” to win, even though it really felt like the evil one would consume me entirely. When we start to develop ourselves more, we do not treat the egoic mind like an enemy—the very idea that we can be “an enemy to ourselves” implies a belief in a caustic kind of separation. It alone is symptomatic of the egoic mind. What we do, quite simply, is notice it. We see that our minds are stocked full with unconscious conditioning, and commit, day after day, to doing what is necessary to dispel this unconsciousness.

Spiritual activists may stand for broader ideals, such as nonviolence and peace overall. To those who are very focused on specific aforementioned issues, this may feel ineffectual and weak. On the contrary: One who dwells in freedom and stands for peace is incredibly strong. They live the peace they espouse in as many ways as they reasonably can, and know that “peace” does not imply a dreamy utopia. (Inner peace can actually be experienced as a jarring stillness that stands in stark contrast to the thought-stream. It is not always welcome at first.) Mostly, they are courageous enough to stand in the middle of a world that is waging war on itself due to madness, and say, “I choose differently.” The will is exercised. The heart expands. The soul rejoices in being acknowledged, and the world wakes up a little more.

– lish

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Culture, Inner Work, The Ego, The Mind

Anger & Ego Triggers

Today I want to talk about ego triggers and the wily, pernicious nature of the ego. The ego is a psychological entity that controls the vast majority of human beings, myself included. Spiritually speaking, the ego is the unique yet illusory identity we buy into as being our true selves. Living within the illusion of a false identity brings most—if not all—of the suffering we endure throughout our lives.

It’s like you’ve been playing Super Mario Brothers for so long that you literally believe you are Mario. Really, you’re a fully developed human playing a game. No matter how many times Mario gets wiped out by a turtle shell or falls off the edge of the Earth, the real you is going to be fine. “Enlightenment” is the sudden and abiding realization that you’re not actually Mario. The metaphor I described is experienced through your own consciousness, not merely understood conceptually. You step outside of all the limitations you were operating under during the many years you held such a delusive belief. It’s freeing and funny and if you want to keep playing you can, but you’re under no obligation, because jeez, it’s just a video game.

As you can imagine, it would create a lot of problems if you kept falsely believing you were Mario. You would be full of neurotic fear, only able to respond in pre-programmed ways, and constantly trying to stave off the inevitable “end of the game.” Now look around you and notice that almost everyone in the world believes they’re the characters they’re playing, too. This is the level of madness we are dealing with. The sincere belief in the ego as being ultimately real is the chief delusion in our species’ many layers of delusion.

Spiritual freedom comes down to becoming free of this illusion, free from the false you.

Usually, just as I’m feeling like “I’m actually kinda somewhat free,” something happens to prove me wrong. At this point, they’re trivial things since I’m no longer actively blowing up my life, but I still feel a sense of smallness and anger when they occur. Feeling small and angry is one of the most common ways we suffer in our culture, and for good reason: We were born into a giant machine of unconsciousness. Throughout our education we were systematically deceived and forced to be complicit in an order of subjugation we had no part in creating. When we become more conscious, the sheer enormity of all this can create a sense of powerlessness, and this is infuriating. What do we even do when the problem is this huge?

Back to the Mario metaphor: If we’re delusional enough to believe we are Mario, we’re definitely delusional enough to believe Mario’s world is real. Therefore, if Mario’s world (our physical world) is a disaster, we will feel acute anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear can be useful—if such emotions push us into growing up and tending to the world. Most of the time, though, we just feel paralyzed because we have to keep playing the game; thus we fall deeper into anxiety as everything falls apart. This is why truly seeing Reality is the long-term solution to suffering, as denoted by Buddhism and other Eastern religions. From this position we can use our characters to improve the state of affairs, but we also keep a peaceful perspective because we know it’s just a video game. We are most effective in this mode, when anger isn’t draining our energy all the time.

Prior to awakening from our egos but after noticing the rampant insanity of the species, we often want to do something good. It’s hard to know what really helps. Sometimes we get caught up in arguing with other people in the misguided belief that pulling someone around to our viewpoint will help. And yet, this so rarely happens: When people engage in arguments, particularly on incendiary issues, both parties usually just dig their heels into their existing positions. The result? Two delusive egos made more rigid, and zero shared humanity.

Before I began to really investigate my mind, anger was my predominant emotion. Until I was forced to, I didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) face that this anger was related to many more things than the issue at hand… like, really really old things that had nothing to do with the present situation. I would take on any heated discussion, and became disproportionately incensed about a lot of things. This is partly because there was a mess of deeply negative energy that had been pent up in me for years, and it sought to release itself in any way possible.

This is the main concern with carrying around old, unprocessed pain: It leads us to project a lot of bullshit onto every unrelated person and situation. We can easily sabotage relationships of all kinds in this way.

When I say “deeply negative energy,” I’m talking about something very real.

Another one of the helpful books I’ve read in my healing process Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The basic premise of this book is as follows: The traumatic events humans endure do not naturally release themselves the way they do in the rest of the animal kingdom. For instance, a gazelle’s life is threatened regularly on the savanna. Yet after every close call with a cheetah, they manage to return to baseline gazelle functioning without becoming hypervigilant and fearful at all times.

In human beings, the culprit of post-traumatic stress is the highly developed frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that gives us the capacity to reason and think abstractly; we owe our current domination of the world to this structure. Relating to trauma on a personal level, the frontal lobe overrides an instinctual process which discharges traumatic energy in other animals. Until we acknowledge and consciously let go of this energy in the physical body, it remains trapped, subtly pulling the strings in our interactions.

And about this word “trauma:” It’s so heavy, and many people believe it only refers to acts of war or long-term abuse. While these definitely fall under the category, trauma can also be the result of something like surgery, an accident, or emotional neglect. The body certainly perceives surgery as traumatic, and we know by now (or at least I hope we do) that separating body from mind is impossible. I also believe we’re pretty much all subconsciously dealing with trauma because the foundation of our culture is trauma, and our energy is not actually separate.

If you’re coping with latent trauma, I highly recommend the book.

An ego trigger is anything that makes you aware of the fact that you are still clinging to a special, false identity. In this case, I’m mostly talking about anger, which is always felt due to a perceived threat. Truly, the only thing that can be threatened is the ego. Who you really are is invulnerable and immortal. You know these triggers as soon as you feel the need to defend something you did/said, the desire to make someone else wrong, or if you lash out even when nominally challenged. Even enlightened beings have egos—they are just totally conscious of their egos, and these egos are not as fixed as Mario.

On the path, rather than desire the world not to trigger our egos, we understand that having our egos triggered is an opportunity for practice. It lets us know that our delusional self still lurks in the mind, probably driving most of what we do in life. Ego triggers are like a blaring sign that say Keep doing your work. From here we can look at what triggered us and what false self-beliefs are wrapped up in it.

The solution, as always, is to be aware. I can reliably notice that my ego has been triggered when I become physically hot, flushed, and on edge. I start making up all kinds of reasons why it was wrong for someone to do or say whatever they said/did. It’s a dark kind of self-boost that I know makes me less pleasant to be around. I become preoccupied with the (ridiculously small) incident and agonize over it. I believe it is a literal form of temporary insanity to be caught up in this way of thinking and feeling. It creates a blindness to what is really in front of me. Luckily, the more I watch it, the less power it has to get me to continue a fruitless argument or run my mouth.

If someone’s unconsciousness creates an intensely charged trigger within you, it is because you have unconsciousness to dispel within your own being. It’s not “their fault” for “making you” feel mad. In order to be free, we have to look at ourselves instead of placing the blame elsewhere. For as much as we try, we can never change others. The spiritual path is one of great individual responsibility: You hold no one else accountable for your behaviors and feelings, but also learn not to self-blame. It’s a delicate balance, but very rewarding when you finally start to get your house in order.

It is a mistake to try and make the world psychologically comfortable for us. It simply cannot be done. Even if we succeed in doing this once in a while, we miss an opportunity to face our most difficult emotions and tend to them accordingly, thereby becoming more emotionally resilient. Though I would love to live in a vastly more compassionate world, we cannot control what hurtful words people may say. Trying to forcibly control people’s speech results in a sense of suppression and greater anger. I do not want to live in the culture where people use the “right words” yet feel coerced and pissed off inside. To some degree, I already am living in that culture, and it doesn’t seem to be fostering much more peace or dampening our collective anger at all… in fact, it seems to be doing the opposite.

Also, when you’re extremely sensitive (and I am), the entire world becomes an emotional trigger. For me, seeing a 2-year-old stare at an iPad during his lunch can trigger deep anger and sadness. Seeing construction for retail space on the lot I thought would make a nice community garden also triggers anger and sadness. Reading the same tired political arguments on Facebook triggers… you guessed it, anger and sadness.

My ego-identity is furious at seeing humanity in this state, and furious at how rarely people seem to regard their own minds as being just as problematic as anything else. What this highlights is that I still have some delusions to burn down. Fortunately, I do try to be wary of placing the problem elsewhere: These are my emotions to own and navigate; they are part of this life experience and no one else’s responsibility to deal with. They can be a blessing if I use them to fuel my growth and creative endeavors, or a curse if I stew in them, believing they are the fault of someone else.

One thing is for sure: If we wait for the whole world to transform before we can be at peace, we will be imprisoned forever.

– lish

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Awakening, Consciousness, Culture, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, Truth

Truth Takes No Sides

Writing about truth can feel repetitive. We chase our tails in a great circle trying to tidy truth into a package, yet find ourselves met with an impossible task: The closing of one circle immediately generates another circle within and/or outside, and this occurs until words like “inside” and “outside” lose all meaning. Here we must again bow our heads to the Unspeakable. We can revel in it, allow it to pulse through and brighten our cells, but we cannot replicate it without at first compromising it. Every definitive statement on God births a new God to explain; any smart 8-year-old knows this when they ask who God’s mother is. The logical mind finds its edges very quickly in this way.

Truly we neither contract or expand, though we may use such words for practical reasons. We are always going as much as inward as we are going outward; a Mandelbrot set illustrates this principle in a beautiful way. Mathematical models fail where computers hit their limitations, but nature knows not these limits, or any limits whatsoever. We are living in (and as) an endless fractal and bear witness to divine math every day. The structures of our blood vessels mirror naked tree branches which mirror systems of rivers. The trees have eyes; the eyes are held in place with spidery veins and sinews. In winter we see that our breath makes fog and fog is when clouds kiss the Earth. All that is natural has the mark of repetition, but no two things are exactly alike: In external expression, God is never the same twice.

It is clear that the physicist or mathematician loves God as much as any nun. They only happen to find their satisfaction with the Universe in numbers rather than in heart, song, or tradition. Neither is “better” or “closer” to what is true, and I find that numbers can be as elegant as music or art. Still, there is no way to judge by title who is most soulful: A preacher who finds himself becoming rote in his sermons is less in God than a passionate gas station attendant. An artist who creates for social praise is less in God than a child playing alone in her bedroom. The soul has no interest in the realm of labels and rankings; it strikes us equally no matter what others are watching, and bestows wealth in spades to those who appear poor and unknown.

This is not a hard rule either: One can be destitute in all ways (spirit and finance), rich in all ways, or rich in one yet poor in the other. There are more permutations for consciousness than we are able to dream up. We can say confidently, however, that a gold soul trumps all, and chasing money beyond one’s needs is both a symptom and cause of spiritual poverty. When we seek to “use” spiritual laws to enrich who we dream ourselves up to be, we are headed for disaster. It seems there is a growing trend to believe we can be made happy by using visualization and meditation to become materially well-off. Much of this discussion is couched in spiritual jargon, but its root is still the unconscious ego, which seeks to maintain that it is real at all costs. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t ultimately real, and until this fact is made experientially permanent, we live as hungry ghosts.

If it is the assumed identity we are appeasing and not the soul, our prize will forever be dissatisfaction.

Is the human body one organism, or is it an aggregate of trillions of cells working in unison? Is this body-mind its own cell within the greater organism of the human species, or does it stand alone and apart? Common sense points us to answer “both,” and as usual, this simple response is correct. Living life fully comes down to this common sense, of sharpening the mundane yet irreplaceable capacity to hold two different—even seemingly opposite—views within one encompassing awareness. We see all “sides” and we see, too, uncompromising Reality, which has no sides and takes no sides and laughs at the very idea of “sides.” One who dwells in truth knows this well and can be full of contradictions.

And when we catch ourselves mired in questions of “or” when it comes to God, we know we are overthinking: Is God within, or is God outside of us? Is God in Heaven, or is God on Earth? Is God accessible here, or at a temple? Again, we know the answer is “both,” but it is not often that we live from this answer. In awakening, we see that the answer is always both and are magnetized to a way of being that integrates us into a life of said “bothness:” Can I be both serious and playful? Can I be both intense and soft? Can I be both lazy and prolific? Can I see the sickness in the world and belong to it with love? The answer to all of these is yes; you can be all these things and more at once. One who is dynamic represents the fluid ideal of humankind. The only “both” we cannot have is ego—the sincere belief in the individual “me” with its petty wants—and enlightenment.

When I first started listening to spiritual teachers and reading spiritual books, I got confused because I was still trying to use logic: If this thing isn’t a sensation, a concept, or a feeling, and I am not a writer, a woman, or a person… what the hell is it and who the hell am I? That really is the question. It’s like you immaturely fall back to Philosophy 101: Who am I? What is the point of all this? Is there a meaning? What is it? Why? Most adults have learned to find sufficient mental answers and continue on as normal. But when the ego begins to die, none of these answers work; herein lies the crux of an existential crisis. You find that even in a previous “exploratory” phase of life, you did not uncover any real answers. Truth is the seed of philosophy but it is not a philosophy, and seeing it requires a complete renunciation of all former philosophies.

So, who are you? The intellectual answer is easy, but that’s not what it’s about. If knowing the “right” intellectual answer solved it, we would already be living in a Heaven on Earth.

Those who listen to spiritual teachers often look for the “category” in which to put them so that they can affirm their existing mode of thought: Does the guru agree with my politics? Is the wise person of the same views as I am? But those who know truth will not line up with your cherished opinions. They will often refuse to bolster the beliefs you align yourself with because beliefs are illusory things the ego affixes itself to in order to feel more real.

They do not take seriously the ways we cut ourselves off from one another: You may call yourself a Republican or a Democrat or an anarchist or a capitalist or any other “kind of person.” But one who is true sees you primarily as human and knows the vast potential locked inside of you, beneath all -isms and -ists. To them you are a God-in-process; they are constantly on the lookout for your innermost light, which shines through even the deepest ignorance. If we aspire to be more conscious people, we must accept that our responsibility is to do exactly this. When we engage with those who seem ignorant, egotistical, or even harmful, we are at our most powerful when we attend only to their glimmers of light. It is not my assertion that this is easy—it humbles and challenges our own egos, which is also why it is a great practice. Truth cannot be argued to and consciousness can never be forced. At best, it can be drawn out when we see it emerging. Our goal in interactions is to find these kernels of true self, which is always pure and perfect, and focus on them. If this feels impossible, it is best to leave.

Even if one’s light is buried under too many layers of delusion to make an immediate change, this strategy still works. Bringing awareness into daily life is like adding a few drops of clean water to a polluted lake: Little by little, even if it is not noticeable, this clean water dilutes the pollution until the water is purified. We seek to be pure awareness in the poisoned collective mind, knowing that this is the best we can do to affect change in the world. There is an unbelievable amount of poison out there. This makes it that much more urgent to stabilize in purity and take it wherever you go, whenever it is possible.

– lish

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Narratives, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Expectations & Fears

So here’s a thing that’s happening: In less than a week, I will fly from Seattle to Dallas. I will rent a car and drive to an ashram that is located in a (very) small town. I will enjoy a spiritual retreat—my first ever, actually—and speak with the guru about the possibility of becoming a monk (nun?) and living long-term at this ashram as part of their community.

This was an intuitive, gut decision I made over the course of a few days, though the idea of becoming a full-time spiritual aspirant has been with me for many months. I should probably be clear that I do not care for the notion of spending a lifetime “seeking,” and how that is not what I am seeking (hehe) to do here.

There are several reasons why this feels like the right move to me, but I’m trying to keep my expectations to a minimum. Expectations are cruel tricks of the mind. They immediately create an obstacle whereby acceptance of what is becomes impossible. When we find ourselves disappointed, we can always trace this disappointment back to an expectation that things were going to be different, better, easier, more fun, etc. The grim faces we see everyday can be traced back to expectations: I was supposed to have made something of myself; I was supposed to be married by now; I never thought life would go this way…

Nobody’s life goes the way they think it’s going to go—and that only applies to people who have plans in the first place. More often we just semi-consciously fall into some bearable rhythm charted out for us by society at large, and assume it’ll lead to satisfaction. Strangely, we are surprised to find that this non-strategy often leads to malaise of all kinds. We wake up mid-life and feel we are missing something: Life is in its autumn, and we do not feel ready for it.

It is important to remember that the cultural messages we receive lead us astray time and again, and that the confusion this creates ought to be used as a pointer into the heart. It is only the inner compass that is reliable, and this is only true once we have had some practice following it.

The hivemind never overtly says “you’re going to get the shit beat out of you by life before you even have an inkling of what fulfillment is like.” Instead it says, “you really can escape pain by achieving and acquiring and doing!” Then we get busy without much investigation of the premise. Before we know it, we’re in a trap. This is all very mechanically done, handed down from one generation to the next. We unconsciously teach one another this lie by continuing to buy into it all the time.

I do not mean that life must be endless hardship, but hardship is necessarily a part of this thing, and trying to avoid hardship—or expecting that it should not be there—only worsens our predicament as humans.

So I’m keeping an eye on my projections and expectations about this whole Texas-ashram-guru adventure. I am also keeping an eye on my fears, which are just as life-denying as expectations, though usually more insidious because we tend to keep fears buried deep.

We are all pretty open about our hopes and expectations, but usually stay very quiet around fear. This illustrates the (imagined) power of fear: It silences and suppresses and squishes us into contracted people incapable of authenticity. We don’t like to look at these things, so we just don’t. Instead, we tend to move through life simply avoiding those things that have the potential to strike a fear chord, and this is to our deep detriment. I am happy to see that “challenging fear stories” is now a common thing within personal growth circles. Less fear can only be a positive thing overall, especially because there isn’t anything to be afraid of in reality.

I will tell you my fears, because I think that bringing fear to the surface helps to show how ridiculous and small it is: I’m afraid I will be found deeply defective by the residents of this ashram, that I will be told my ego is so whacked-out and absurd and unconscious that it’s not even worth trying. I think my greatest fear has to do with being too defective even for God: That I will stand before the Ultimate and present my latent darkness (which is inexorably a part of me) and the Ultimate will reject me because of these itchy tendencies, cravings, and judgments. I know this is not even really a Thing because God is that darkness, too. All of my fears are a bunch of nonsense the mind uses because it works on my ego.

I am afraid of coming home with no idea about what to do. I am afraid of stagnating creatively, relationally, and spiritually. I am afraid of not finishing what I started. I am afraid of not living my potential full-time. Then I think, hey, maybe I’m onto something here because fear is one of the mind’s favorite weapons for keeping us in its grips. And I also think, worst case scenario: I get to take four days off of work and go deeply into myself in a place specifically designed to help me go deeply into myself. And I think, get a grip, Lish, you’ve been through it all already, and somehow you are still not only living but generally quite content.

Fear, like everything else, is just something to watch from a place of awareness. What I am describing in the above paragraph is still an illustration of egoic defenses. I am trying to soothe the ego with stories the mind finds more comforting. Ideally we can learn to just see how fear is a big lie our egos use to keep us believing we are these little powerless unhappy and uncreative things. 

The trick with awareness is not to “spin” a fear story into new, different, happier-sounding story. When we do this, we are just covering sad delusion with happy delusion, and the whole point is to be free of all delusion. Perhaps this is why I’ve always had more than a little bit of disdain for “affirmations.” Give me a little credit, Louise Hay: I know when I’m lying to myself.

I’m not trying to put stories on top of stories or to cover negative with positive or even replace fear with love, even though these themes are super popular and even though I’ve probably written and/or will write something to the contrary in the future. The Truth is not a story; it is just the Truth. Truth is not love, or light, or positivity, or anything else. These metaphors may help us on certain parts of our journey, but ultimately, Truth just is what it is.

Having said that, I can keep this all very neutral and to-the-point: I’m headed to an ashram in Texas soon, and I have no idea what is going to happen there.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Uncategorized

How the Ego-Identity Perpetuates Addiction

After my last post, I felt compelled to write more re: the ego, the mind, and addiction. It is my steadfast belief that transcending the unconscious ego (also know as the “assumed identity”) holds the key for solving every mental health issue that plagues humanity, and truly every issue that plagues humanity. That includes addiction.

I’m going to make my standard disclaimer that “understanding” the ego and consciousness occurs on different level than the conceptual mind. You might wonder, “how else can something be understood if not with the mind?” And the answer is that there is another part of you, an infinite dimension within that has always and will always be there. It is your ultimate destiny to experience this limitless nature eternally. This “limitless true nature” is not something fuzzy or conceptual. It is not an idea or a belief. It is as real and enduring as the blue sky or your beating heart—more real, even.

If you’re lost and don’t know what to do with your life—a common ailment in our society, particularly for young people—take heart. There is really only one thing to do: Find that limitless dimension and dwell in it. Put this at the top of your “to do” list, and let life take care of itself.

The Disease that is Conditioning

Addiction is not a disease on its own, but a particularly noticeable symptom of a greater disease. Words like “disease” and “illness” mean very different things to me than how they seem to be used colloquially. All conditioned minds are, in their own ways, diseased, and probably 99% of minds in the world are conditioned. Conditioning is the single, overarching illness of mankind. Its symptoms are myriad: fixation, neuroses, depression, anxiety, fear stories, preoccupation, worry, rumination, confusion, delusion, projections, chronic unprovoked anger, all the way up to psychosis and extreme attachment.

This is what addiction is at its most basic: An extreme attachment to a person, activity, or substance. We can study biochemistry, genetic predispositions, and environmental factors, but when it comes down to it, addiction is nothing more than a strong psychological attachment rooted in the false identity.  Attachments can be broken—we have all done this with ex-lovers, toys we outgrew, and friends we’ve lost touch with. Overcoming the addiction largely depends on how much damage has been done to the body while engaging in the habit and how severely one’s identity is wrapped up in said person, activity, or substance.

This second part brings me back to the ego-identity: For one to transcend their ego, the ego must fully accept its nature, which is not ultimately real. This “great revealing” is often referred to as an ego death or a psychic death or any other number of depressing phrases, usually ending in the word “death.”

Although I have experienced this annihilation and can attest that it does feel that way, I find these phrasings to be unnecessarily frightening. There can be no death for something that never existed in the first place, and the “imagined you” never really did. “You”—as a particular person—have always been a thought or a dream; it’s just that you take the dream Very Seriously up until the moment you wake up. This is why the waking up is glorious and beautiful and hilarious… until it isn’t anymore, because the ego almost always resists its death (which is not actually a death.).

Why Your Ego Uses Your Mind Against You

Just as any animal fights with everything it’s got to avoid dying, such is true with the unconscious ego. So, when our attachments (addictions) become a large part of who we think we are, the ego fights to keep them. This is because you threaten it when you take away the things it imagines it is: A gambler, a drinker, a smoker, a pothead, the partner of someone who isn’t nourishing to you, an over-shopper, a bulimic, an anorexic, a depressive, etc. It doesn’t want you to give these things up, because losing part of the identity is still felt as a loss, even if the “losing” is of something that’s hurting your body and mind.

The ego’s response is to resist. This is the crux and hook of addiction, and why addiction seems so hard to overcome. We identify with the activities we do regularly, so when we stop doing these activities, our identities feel that they are dying. The ego responds by weaponizing the mind, which will sporadically come to throw some seemingly unbearable cravings at you, usually when you’re right at the cusp of leveling up into a more free state. This will go on for some time, and I will write more about how conscious awareness is the only long-term solution for this. In this way we see that eliminating the false identity altogether holds the key to a full recovery, not only from addiction but from everything else we find so troubling about our lives.

I do not know how many treatment modalities specifically address the ego-identity (and/or fully acknowledge that this construct is always illusory), or the way giving up addictions threatens it. I’m sure there are some, and there are probably books that include this kind of language, and that is all very wonderful.

My wish is to see these things well-enough incorporated into mainstream discussions on addiction that people don’t have to suffer through dozens of ineffective treatment programs and do all their own research to find this stuff out. I want to also say that this isn’t even spiritual “woo” stuff we’re talking about: We’re talking about who you think you are, whether that image is rooted in reality, and how your mind maintains this supposed identity for better or worse.

What it Means to be Recovered

Just as I believe almost everyone has the illness of conditioning, I find that very few people are “recovered” and “sane.” To me, this means we have completely overcome the psychological illness that is conditioning, and that we abide in our true selves at all times. It sounds impossible, but this is partially because we treat ultimate liberation like an impossible myth. It is not that.

It is very sad to me that so many people seem to believe “you’re always in recovery,”  or “never really free from addiction.” My genuine advice here is to constantly remind yourself that can be fully liberated from your demons. Whenever a therapist/doctor/friend says something along the lines of “well you’ll always be recovering,” internally tune that shit out and listen to your inner self, which is always seeking to abide in everlasting freedom. You will not seek all your life, nor will you be recovering all your life. It may be a long, dedicated process, but to call it “endless” strikes me as a lowly way to view humanity and we are not meant to be lowly creatures, even if we often act like it (out of ignorance.).

I generally reserve words like “sane” and “well” strictly for the unconditioned mind, i.e., the one that does not falsely imagine itself to be a particular person in this particular world. (I do not claim to have this mind, though I have glimpsed its reality.). This mind is very, very different from the one we normally operate in:

It is still, clear, unattached, unconcerned with time outside of practical matters, free of suffering, and utterly impersonal. In this mind there is no psychological “drag” which brings the past into the present. It is alert but not anxious. It does not identify with anything in the world. Its sense of self is universal, meaning that it sees that it is literally the same as everything and everyone else. This mind—the mind of Christ, the mind of the Buddha—wants nothing for itself. All notions of the “small me” vanish, and we become pure consciousness in human form. This is a person who enters the stream of the universal energy rather than fighting it, like we so often do no matter how this harms us. This mind leads to harmony and peace within the individual, and often moves them through the world encouraging others to that end. This is what your mind has the potential to become, if you just take your chance to look.

And these are the key differences between “recovery” as it is understood through the common lens and the kind of recovery I am talking about: One desires a functional member for society; the other desires total human potential and nothing less. One does not presuppose a true end to all suffering; the other does. One does not help the individual fully understand his/her existence but rather helps them “maintain” in a very base way; the other understands that until we know our true nature unshakably, we are impoverished. One puts limits on how beautiful, expansive, and equanimous life can feel; the other discourages all limitations because it knows all limits are false.

It may sound like a high bar I have in mind when I write about recovery and/or human potential, but to suggest anything less would be deceitful. We should not settle for anything less than what we truly are.

– Lish

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