The Problem is in Our Own Minds

The problem is in our own minds.

Honestly, this point feels too important for me to just write once, so I am going to say it a couple more times here and probably in future posts as well: The problem is in our own minds. The problem is in our own minds. No matter our political stances, our beliefs about “what should be done in the world,” or “which side of a line we’re on,” the problem lies within. The solution does, too.

Of course I am wary of using the word “problem,” lest we turn the mind into an enemy of sorts. I have definitely slipped into the trap of psychologically punishing myself for  being under the egoic mind’s hypnosis. Ironically, this is the ego punishing itself in order to preserve itself, because what we really are cannot be harmed.

Beating ourselves up isn’t the most helpful way to approach things, but we are often operating from a piece of conditioning that convinces us otherwise.

Usually we look outward to understand the state of the world. “Out there” is where we imagine reality is. When we interpret external reality as “bad,” it is usually the work of a mind that believes things “should” be going another way. This alone implies a state of non-acceptance, and most of the time, I avoid using the word “should” for this very reason. “Should” is what we say when we are living in a state of resistance to what is. It is a life-denying space that is usually rooted in avoidance.

If we seek to understand why the world looks the way it does (and I agree—much of it is horrific), we must start looking inside ourselves. We need to do this before rushing to blame, fix, or change the world. At this stage in human evolution, we are still very much an insane species, each with the power to purge some or all of this insanity, thereby uplifting the whole world.

Can we imagine what might happen if enough of us turned around to face the proper direction? If enough of us were determined to rid ourselves of the illness that is the root of human suffering?

Being in a state of deep peace ourselves, we would naturally create a peaceful world.

Another thing to bear in mind is scope, perspective, and our own responsibility to our fellow humans. We live in a world that is fraught with violence and despair. If we believe we are safely removed from these things, all we usually need to do is examine our clothing and/or our devices: They are usually made by children in factory conditions. We usually do not need as much stuff as we have. In this way, we are each responsible for the fact that such conditions exist and that our fellow humans have to survive as automatons in this environment.

Every day there is some other catastrophic event to behold. The most common response? We sit and stare at it. We make ourselves sick thinking about it. We get Very, Very Upset, and then we proceed with our daily lives just as we always have.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and I am not even talking about organizing and changing laws (though of course I would love to see us organizing and changing laws). I am talking about examining our own habits—including and maybe especially thought habits, and how they contribute to the hivemind that ultimately creates these terrible events. Our egoic minds are not separate from one another; they only appear to be.

We can look at our minds and the various ways we put energy into the world. Most of us wield our energy unconsciously, meaning we’re usually putting intense anger and negativity out there with no understanding of how it impacts the rest of the world. The net result is that we are stewing in a Jacuzzi of fear all day and wondering why the world isn’t getting any better.

We have to cease giving our attention to the worst things in the world. Placing your attention inward is not avoidance. If you think it is, I suggest taking up an intensive meditation practice. Actually, sitting and staring, transfixed by the suffering of others and then going to get a drink or use a drug or turn on a sitcom—which is usually what we do after we hear of something unimaginable occurring—that is avoidance.

Refusing to look at the underlying mechanisms in ourselves that are co-creating this world with all of it’s horrific events because it seems inconvenient or difficult for us—that is avoidance.

So when I choose not to disturb my inner peace by getting worked up by every horrible thing that occurs (these things are unending and always have been), it is not because I’m weak. It is not that I “can’t stand” to see these awful things. On the contrary: It is that I have already seen them all, and the solution has become very clear: Remain focused inward, keep my energies balanced, and try to direct others back to themselves gently. This is tremendously more effective than simply being upset and talking about how bad everything is.

It certainly doesn’t mean everyone will like us, because when we choose to live deeply in peace in a world built upon widespread violence, it can look kind of crazy or boring. But there is nothing special about such a way of life. “Spiritual living” actually becomes only practical when delusions begin to fade.

As a species, we have been exacting an incomprehensible genocide on all living beings for some time now. When the magnitude of this suffering is truly seen and felt within your own being, you become less and less snagged by “new” day-to-day horrors. It really just feels like “yes, yes, yet again, another unnecessarily awful thing that has been caused by human delusion,” and then you get back to work where it matters: Your own mind.

It is useless to fall to pieces over every tragedy. If you are going to fall to pieces over the world, I suggest falling to pieces over all of it: Every species that our unconsciousness has wiped out, every slave that has been taken, every child who is being harmed right now. Absorb that degree of horror and suffering; see if you can even fathom all that suffering. Fall completely to pieces and allow the divine to build you into something effective at turning this pattern around.

Sometimes these feelings occur so the ego can continue to imagine it is a “certain kind” of person—empathic, sensitive, somebody who “really cares.” This lets it off the hook for doing any of the deeper work and healing that needs to be done. The ego says “look, I’m so caring, I’m crying over everyone, I just can’t take it, I can’t handle it,” effectively stopping the person from looking further.

I have absolutely felt this way before—for most of my life, even. But in the end, my egregious mess of emotions was helpful to absolutely no one, and I had to start examining myself on a whole new level.

A return to our original mind is required in order for long-term peace to prevail among human beings. Otherwise, we are only putting a new coat of paint on a home with a rotting foundation.

– lish

Location: Las Vegas, NV

You Can Live Your Life Any Way You Want

The essence of this post is super simple: You can live your life any way you want. I expect that most of my fellow weirdos and path-walkers know this well by now, but there is still a large number of people (particularly young people on the precipice of crippling debt) who haven’t yet had this message communicated to them. I’m writing it in the hopes that it will one day stoke the spirit of someone who isn’t sure what they’re doing in life and is tired of being asked to figure it out by well-meaning loved ones. I am here to say that not-knowing is more than okay, and that you can live your life any way you want.

Unconsciously, we compel one another to follow a pretty standard route when it comes to life. We are encouraged to make plans, to act as if we know what we’re going to want to do for the rest of our lives, and to affix rigid ego-identities to ourselves. Anything outside of this ego-identity is regarded with suspicion. When our lives are uncertain, this uncertainty is treated as a problem. Really, uncertainty is not a problem, and certainty is actually an illusion.

At every turn, the message is to cobble a rather predictable “person” together, to wear several masks to get through life no matter how awful it feels, and to do something that guarantees financial security over all. Many of us have also inherited scarcity complexes, meaning we feel like there is just “never enough” when it comes to money and things. Because of this, we end up chasing this stuff rather than living, hoping this will make us feel safe enough to truly live one day. It doesn’t work like that.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with choosing safety. To the ego-identity most of us operate from, security and group acceptance are Everything. Without these things, we feel we might die. This is why we end up acting so similarly even when doing this totally goes against our own best interests. If you choose a life that looks not-so-assured (particularly if you’re a woman, I think), you’re likely to find precious little support.

But the truth, still, is this: You can live your life any way you want. Really. You can. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do this—besides, they are not going to give it to you. Any time you publicly step out of convention (i.e. quit your job without another one lined up, pursue a lifelong creative dream, live in a car/van by choice, make money in a stigmatized way, challenge your whole culture, step out of a nice but not-quite-aligned relationship, get into cars with strangers,), you are likely to be questioned and/or criticized.

These kinds of questions are usually couched in concern, but very often, this concern is rooted in old fear stories. It is very common for us to be closed off to one another, to be mistrusting and assume the world is going to destroy us. We project our stories onto others, and the result is all kinds of “concern.” Why do we do this to each other? Fear, of course. How to handle harsh judgment and avoid projection is something that will require its own post.

Fear is a piece of information to witness and respect—nothing more, nothing less. Even in a state of expanded awareness, we notice fear sometimes, though far less often than when the ego runs the whole show. We can decide then if the fear is unreasonably coming from prior conditioning (such as the false belief that the whole world is full of cold, shitty people), or if it’s valid and we need to change course (such as someone coming towards you with a knife). This may sound like a calculated process, but when we sharpen our intuitive skills and keep our minds clear, this all happens in a fraction of a second.

Very simply, we don’t let fear determine our lives for us. We surely don’t feed it with the fear-inducing garbage our culture tries to force down our throats (seriously, turn off the news, loves). Instead, we just watch fear. When it is reasonable to do so (and it usually is), we face the fear and do the thing we’re afraid to do anyway.

When you begin to do this and step outside of your own comfort zone, it challenges the comfort zones of others. That is another reason why you may be met with criticism. There can be some degree of jealousy when we see people finally start to embrace the revelation that they are alive. I know I’ve felt that way before.

Most of us want to be living bigger lives. (Important: by “bigger,” I do not mean wealth and fame—these are empty ego goals. Living bigger means embodying freedom, experiencing more love, more openness to one another, and more creativity.) When we want to try, we often find ourselves steeped in the first kind of fear—the kind based on egoic conditioning. Before we even do anything new, the mind threatens us: What happens if I “fail”? What happens if I get hurt? What happens if something happens to someone else?

Except in cases of true physical danger, the fear is coming from the challenged ego. Above all, the ego wants to remain safe and unchallenged. If it had its way, all we’d do is sit in a room doing nothing, being warm, eating a lot, and never stretching ourselves. True, we now live in a culture where some of us do that. I expect that we all know this kind of stagnant lifestyle brings about tremendous suffering, even though it seems comfortable.

Beneath the ego, a deeper part of you wants liberation and self-knowledge, and somewhere in the middle, the “bigger life” thing is desired. The problem (if it’s fair to call it that) is that freedom and safety are necessarily at odds with one another. As soon as you start to challenge your ego, it’ll muscle its way in and use all kinds of tactics to keep you stuck. Fear is its favorite one because it is so effective. As soon as you’re on the cusp of something that could truly change your life, your ego convinces you to be afraid.

Facing fear is truly essential here. Start small and stay the course, pushing the ego’s comfort zone little by little.

So, you don’t want to pick a major or go to college at all, get married, have children, have one job for the majority of your life, have a boss, be a boss, drink alcohol, do yoga, be a vegan, etc.? Awesome! Because you can live your life however you want! It really is nobody else’s business how you do this thing! (Yes, we do all affect one another, and we don’t get to opt out of that. I expect that we bear this in mind when we start to live consciously.)

When someone compels you to live one way and/or “have answers,” this person is generally speaking from the conditioning handed down to them. Conditioning is basically socially acceptable ignorance, so feel free to remember that with most “life advice,” it’s basically the blind leading the blind.

Now, learning how to reject conditioning and figuring out what you truly want—as opposed to those things our collectively ill society urges us to think we want—that’s a skill for another post. Mostly, though, I’d say figuring that piece requires a lot of solitude and at least some removal from said ill culture. Otherwise it’s too easy for the crazy to leak in, to be afraid of things that are not real, and to fall back into the unskillful patterns laid out by others. That’s why things like meditation retreats and ashrams can be great, and why it is wise to turn your own home into a sane space to live. I feel I’m getting ahead of myself, but you gotta protect your space if you’d like it to stay clear.

For now, I just want to encourage anyone who stumbles upon this post to go live whatever life you feel most passionately about. Work on yourself and fall in love with life, and everything will really be fine.

– lish

P.S. Oh, and in case this needs to be said: I am not advocating that we shirk all responsibilities or leap into all of our impulsive desires. We can still learn to think ahead without being coerced into a routine life we don’t really want. The path = practical living/common sense.

location: Burlington, WA

 

The Glory of Sobriety

You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.

Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.

However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.

I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.

But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.

The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.

For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.

*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.

I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.

And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.

I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.

Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).

In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.

I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.

From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.

The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.

Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.

Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.

Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.

Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.

It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.

– lish

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

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

With Love from Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– lish

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

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

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

Struggle & Courage

Recently a co-worker said something I found quite beautiful: “You teach me as you struggle.” The statement brought me a sort of begrudging honor. It reminded me why I write, why I’m trying to be open about the ways I have changed and am still changing. If my difficulties and various repeated mistakes on the path can teach anyone anything, I’d rather have them on display than try to keep my problems private.

This privacy, by the way, is largely imagined: All notions of one’s “private inner world” are false. The inner world is real enough, but the belief that it is hidden from others is not. Whatever unconsciousness lurks inside comes through in one way or another, and it is discernible to those who are aware. True intelligence is largely about being able to read situations energetically; it is about gauging the many unseen worlds that surface not only in behavior, but on a much more subtle level. I don’t yet know how to effectively articulate this subtle level, but I do know that having some awareness of it helps keep me safe and draws me to those who are also reuniting with themselves. It is very valuable, and I trust it.

I believe this is where the idea of “spiritual superpowers” comes from. People miss the point when they become overly interested in things such as yogic levitation or mind-reading, for these things are not the Ultimate. Along the path you will deepen your intuition, you will be able to tell if someone is lying to you and/or if their intentions are good, and you will more clearly see the inner worlds of those around you (most importantly, you will become intimately familiar with your own). You may have strong visuals in meditation, and for unknown reasons people may ask you questions they’ve never asked before. All of this means you are tapping into a level of mind that has, until now, been hidden.

Getting stuck in this phase is easy to do: It is filled with magic and synchronicity, and usually this is the point where we become sensitive enough (yet still egotistical) to decide that “people in general” are garbage. It can even create more of an obstacle to freedom from the ego because it doesn’t hurt as bad as the “facing old trauma and pain” part does. The mind is so powerful, it may even reveal its higher abilities as part of an overall strategy to keep you entranced by it. The mind is always seeking to prove its use to us in its current iteration, and does not want to accept its place as secondary to the soul. This egoic mind represents a kind of “adolescence” in our overall evolution: It is rebellious and unwilling to concede that its creator—your soul—is the only one wise enough to call the shots.

In freedom, it isn’t that we “lose our minds” or “become mindless.” It’s that we rely on the mind less and don’t allow it to unconsciously create who we are. You can keep certain higher faculties of the mind while dwelling in freedom, but you won’t hang your hat on these abilities so to speak, nor use them for egotistical reasons. You may develop a powerful inner skillset for navigating life, but these skills won’t be “yours” to feel special about or to wield irresponsibly.

Back to struggle: The path is rife with struggle, so much that I am almost tempted to say that the path is struggle. It is unequivocally true that that this is the most free, most joyful, and most stable I’ve been in my entire life. However, it has been incredibly hard-won, and even so, I still suffer.

We cannot separate struggle in relationships, career, mental/emotional health, etc. from spiritual struggles. The entire life experience, fraught with struggle, is a teacher. We simply begin using the word “spiritual” when we accept that there is much more to reality than can be perceived with the five senses and the thinking mind. Separation and division of this sort is the work of a fractured mind which exists in service to an assumed identity. The soul sees that all is all; everything merely has relationship to everything else. Suffering is suffering is suffering: This has always been the case.

Today we give suffering and its behavioral manifestations diagnostic labels, believing that doing so can teach us something new about suffering. But the truths of suffering have been known for thousands of years, well before the field of psychology or our understanding of brain chemistry, which, to my knowledge, is still rather crude. For me, it was only ever more confusing and limiting to receive medical diagnoses due to suffering: We are all on unique, individual paths that need to be honored if we wish to heal. In spite of this, truth and self-awareness are the unfailing and timeless medicines for all. There is one major caveat: The medicine works unpredictably and sometimes seems to make things worse. It isn’t like you start meditating one day and gradually return to perfect peace in a step-wise fashion.

As a people, we suffer because we are living so far out of touch with reality, but we desperately want to feel real. On a very deep level we do not want to live the ways we are coerced to live, and I believe that stands even for those who “play the game” well. We do not want to fake our happiness or go through the same routines forever because “that’s what people do.” We don’t want to destroy the planet, because we know we owe our very existence to it. We are compelled by the larger machine (the hivemind and hive-ego) to live in ways that are abhorrent to us, and as we near the dusk of our reign on this planet, we feel more dismal and fearful about everything. Culture as it stands violates the soul’s one and only aspiration, which is to be free. It seeks to express itself freely, to contemplate itself, to dwell in itself, and to shine through our forms as if they were the thinnest of veils.

There is no new variety of suffering we’ve encountered in the past century that we have not been enduring since the dawn of the egoic mind. It is wise to avoid falling into the sneaky trap of believing that our pain is precious and incomprehensible. Your existential dread is everyone else’s existential dread, and feeling otherwise is just one of the ways the mind twists the knife: Perhaps you come into contact with the truth that you actually are alone in your experience of life. Everyone you have ever known has become apparent through your being and your mind; there is, in fact, no way to know life except for through your own lone self. By nature, we are solitary.

Rather than sit with this and perhaps discover the beauty of our inherent solitude or see what lies waiting when we rest in stillness, the conditioned mind jumps in to say “alone = bad.” The result is suffering. Aloneness becomes crippling loneliness in this way.

Our heroes appear to us only after they have failed and stumbled a dozen times. Everyone we admire has walked through the same fire of doubt, fear, and ridicule. Those who have recovered from an addiction of any sort have also walked through the fire of shame, insanity, shame, self-loathing… did I mention shame? When it comes to intense inner pain, the only way out is through. We can spend whole lives denying this, because going through often seems impossible. This is when we begin to steep ourselves in avoidance. It is like being born into a large room full of demons: If they stay far away, we feel all right. Many people seem capable of keeping their demons at bay by engaging in certain culture-prescribed behaviors: Drinking, smoking weed, binge-watching, compulsively dating, chasing new experiences through travel or drugs, “being busy,” etc. As I’m sure some of you are realizing, this kind of  avoidance can only last for so long.

There are those of us whose demons advance quickly and unpredictably; in time, they back us into a corner. No matter what we do to try and ignore them, they keep getting bigger and meaner. Much to our horror, trying to avoid them actually makes them stronger. There is nowhere to go, but we must gain control over our rooms again because cowering in the corner is no way to live. This is how the cultivation of courage arises: Not out of a desire to be valiant or even a sense of honor, but because it just becomes life or death. You are either going to let your demons keep you in the corner, or start negotiating with them. You will likely find that your demons can be your best friends if you listen to what it is they need, which is pretty much always love and kindness. Externally, the love and kindness will take on many different behavioral forms.

It takes courage to transform yourself and seriously challenge the state of humanity, and this courage is summoned when the realization hits that there is no other choice. We would not say it’s courageous for someone to bandage their own bleeding finger, and in fact would question why if they didn’t do so. This is precisely how the whole world looks to one who is self-aware: The world is our bleeding finger, and it seems preposterous not to start bandaging it. In this way we see that there is actually nothing virtuous in self-work; it is only logical.

It also becomes strange how many people seem okay with just walking around as they bleed all over the place. Of course, this is because they have not noticed the blood or the pain, or if they have, they expect that “someone else” will take care of it. The harsh truth is this: They won’t because they can’t. No one is going to jump in and save us from the way we have been living on this planet. The government won’t, religion won’t, industry won’t, and scientists won’t. Even traveling to outer space and finding another Earth would not save us. If we can’t learn to be at peace here, in our native land, we certainly won’t learn it by exporting the egoic illness to another planet.

In any case, is that how we wish to see humanity unfold? As a leech-like species traversing the galaxy, destroying all life while we remain semi-robotic and unhappy?

Our potential is so much greater, it is entirely within, and we are the ones who have to access it.

– Lish

Soul Over Mind

If your soul feels split, it is not the soul you are dealing with. The soul exists in one form only, and it is utterly indivisible, cut off from no thing and no one. It is never confused.

Similarly there is only one direction the soul is ever seeking to move, and that is into a fuller, clearer version of itself. Once you begin taking steps in true alignment with the soul, you are embarking on a voyage that begets only more fullness, more clarity, and more certainty. Over time all doubt dissolves. There is no end to this inward travel when it is undertaken sincerely.

It is like this: Perhaps in a moment of courage you decide to part from the familiar world and set out onto the ocean of yourself. You float out on a raft, but it is not an adequate vessel. The raft deflates; your clothing shreds; you shiver and gulp back saltwater and then the ocean of yourself hurls you off the edge of the Earth. In this space, you are adrift within incomprehensible dimensions, perhaps trying to broadcast what you’re witnessing to those still on shore. They will not be able to decipher your words, and they may call you crazy. Perhaps a few will understand what you mean, but you’re not likely to see them again. Two people who wish to teach their common language to the world won’t waste much time speaking to each other.

You know from the stories that there must be something good in the end, and I assure you that there is. It is the Truth, and it is so good that I feel foolish even trying to use words for it. Maybe, if you’re new to the path, you want to know if there is a way to sidestep the near-drowning and the insanity to get to this thing that is beyond good. My unsettling answer is I don’t know. The path will have more challenges than you can currently fathom, that much is sure, but each person requires a unique treatment before they see what is Real.

For me, catastrophe was necessary. I cannot say what will be necessary for you.

The soul does not pine for particular people or things, but for itself, forever and ever. In its infinite knowing, it does always gravitate towards those people and situations which deepen its awareness of itself in some way. The lovers you can’t explain, the habits you can’t drop, the patterns you keep repeating… there is an unconscious game being played here. The soul always knows what it is doing and exactly how the game will end, even if you don’t.

Couched within all of your unconsciousness, there is a narrow passageway of supreme consciousness, the heights of which will put your mind to shame. This is where the soul dwells; this is what the soul is. It calls the shots whether you like it or not, and its only concern is guiding you towards It. It has no regard for how you think life should go, what you think is right, or what your plans were. All of these things are meaningless without a commitment to what is true. The fully conscious soul is what moves you, through layers and layers of pain and paradox, just waiting for the moment when you will discover it. And you will discover it. There is no grand scheme other than this divine hide-and-seek.

If you’re not sure what you want out of life—or if getting what you want brings stress and emotional pain—it is because you’re letting your mind run the show instead of your soul. This is the default way to “live,” by the way, even when one considers themself to be spiritual. “Live” in is quotations because I have learned that when we behave according to the whims and apparitions of the conditioned mind, it is not living. It is madness.

Sometimes in spirituality it may seem as if we’re speaking negatively of “the mind” or of “thinking.” After all the point of meditation is to still and settle the constant swarm of thoughts. Such thoughts cloud us up without our say so. In no time we’re drowning, and this drowning looks like neurotic attachment, chronic depression, self- and other-abuse, extreme confusion, emotional paralysis, boredom, numbness, and anything else internally unpleasant. Outside of the being, we see the related behaviors that, when taken together, create the mess we see around us.

This is why it is necessary for the soul to consciously preside over the mind. At present, we live in backwards fashion: For the vast majority, the semi-conscious mind is allowed to preside over the soul. This has been going on for a long time. We keep looking for answers in this state of half-consciousness, but this is like trying to build a home with a shovel. As long as this mind is the most common mind, complete extinction is assured. Space exploration is pointless and immature if there are still children starving to death on our planet.

We do not mean to discourage critical thought or asking, not at all. On the contrary: These are the best functions of the mind. Meditation is about the simple recognition of the fact that the mind, when not viewed from a safe distance, creates great suffering within us and in others. As always, the quality of one’s life depends heavily on what they identify with, what they see themselves as. Abiding as Truth—as formless, clear, dynamic emptiness—the mind is a boon. Here is where we say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. Here the mind is a pocketknife and you the deft outdoorsman.

When we make the mistake of believing we are the mind, we step immediately into hostile territory. That is because the mind is not solid. This generator of thoughts is itself a thought. In essence, what we are doing is mistaking ourselves for a passing mist. No wonder we tend to live so vacantly: We have not yet accepted that we are real and alive, because the thing we think we are is not ultimately real.

The practice of meditation exists to create a gap between your soul and your mind. After all, the mind is meant to be a tool. It should exist in service to the real You, not the phantom-you. Learning to look at your mind from a distance is like the difference between sitting in a traffic jam and being in an airplane, looking down on said traffic jam. The former brings with it frustration and stress. The latter is fine, perhaps even a bit cute.

As I said in my last post, honest questions—those that are asked not with the goal of validation or “for the sake of argument”—are a sign of humility. When we are curious and thirsty for Truth, we admit we are still in process. This is beautiful, for there is no greater obstacle to realizing the Truth than believing you already have it.

In any case, “having” can never be a word that describes one’s relationship to Truth. You can have a religious belief, but you cannot have Truth. Possession is something that occurs in this physical world, within our psyches, and yet it is illusory. Everything you falsely believe is yours will dissolve at once in death. If you find this depressing, it is only because you do not yet know yourself. The moment of death, whether met with ecstasy or extreme fear, is when we discover what is truly “ours.”

And because possession is illusory, it has no place in the spiritual life. Many sages and buddhas are quite happy to have Nothing at all. Relinquishing possessions and worldly items is not done for the sake of nobility—indeed they understand that there is truly nothing they are giving up. They are happiest with very little, for their bodies alone are made of unending verses. They are like fruit trees that are always in season: No matter how much they get rid of, more comes back. What they “have,” you cannot take, even if you were to kill them. In the soul, riches flow with such abundance that material items actually become burdensome. This is the glory that awaits us all. In fact, it is already here.

– Lish