Conditioning, Culture, Spirituality, The Mind

Karma, Awareness, & Cultural Change

Apparently some people use words like “karma” to explain why others live in extreme poverty, or why awful things like human trafficking and widespread exploitation exist. I find this both ignorant and without compassion. It is very simple: We are collectively ill because we are individually ill, and vice versa. The illness I am talking about—as written about briefly in this post—can simply be called “conditioning.” We are conditioned to take on a great number of beliefs, none of which are rooted in our original being.

Discovering your original being and abiding in it is what “enlightenment” and sanity are all about. Doing so neutralizes all karma. I believe it’s Mooji who has a beautiful metaphor of pure consciousness being like a zero: Multiply anything by it and it is always zero. Even 10 billion times zero is zero. All the evil in the world, if it touches this thing, can become still, perfect, and empty. Everything is stopped and made new in an instant.

I never planned on writing about “karma,” for the same reason I didn’t really think I’d be using words like “spirituality:” It’s contaminated. It is not well understood. It is used, like many other concepts, to excuse people of their responsibility to their fellow human and/or to gloss over huge systemic concerns: Why do bad things happen to people? It’s their karma. This is a crazy oversimplification, and I really expect us to know better than this. In our culture, even if it we don’t call it “karma,” plenty of people believe that others have impoverished, difficult lives because they “chose” or “deserve” it. 

Yes, we either consciously or unconsciously create the situations in our lives. But we also collectively create this entire world (also either consciously or unconsciously). We can change the likelihood of certain events for ourselves and others by becoming more aware of this tremendous creative power. The things that happen to us—good or bad—are individually and collectively created, because every event depends on every other event. Everything inter-exists and inter-occurs. That means we are all responsible for the fact that poverty, war, starvation, and exploitation are a part of our world.

Breaking out of cycles of abuse, trauma, and dehumanization requires greater consciousness of these realities, plain and simple. This movement towards consciousness can be as grand as a “big-E Enlightenment experience” or as simple as becoming aware that you are breathing once in a while. Every little bit helps.

Greater consciousness alone can ensure a not-horrible way of being for our species. Every external change is a reflection of this internal movement, and the best way to create change is to approach our world from the inside-out: We start with our own minds first. If we do not do this, we run the risk of simply putting a fresh coat of paint on a house that is actually burning to the ground.

I’m going leave the whole “past lives” thing out of it as well, because this idea treats “lives” as if they are separate and different from one another. Everything is life; it is simply perceived through different bodies and minds across space-time. And we are never really individual threads of consciousness; it only appears and feels that way. Also, fixation with the past is one of the most insidious problems our conditioned minds have.

Along these lines, I find past-life regression—along with hypnosis and “channeling”—to be little more than a distraction from what needs to be done here and now. This is not to say that sometimes hypnosis and/or other forms of mind-work aren’t therapeutic—they surely can be. But if it is Truth we are after, we must know when we’ve done enough work in this realm. We must come out of our trances and be here, awake and in reality. And although meditation may look like a trance, it is not. Its goal is to help us become more conscious of this moment and of ourselves rather dipping into an un- or subconscious state.

We can go very, very deep into the conditioned mind without finding the Truth, and in fact are only more likely to get further away from it by these means. I don’t regard activities like “channeling” with any more seriousness than I do watching football or getting stoned. It might be fun to some people, but it’s delusional to imagine we know more about existence and/or the universe by doing these things regularly.

The way I think of karma is very simple, and not rooted in anything but common sense and experience with breaking out of patterns: We are bodies of energy exchanging energy. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we are constantly putting out energy and absorbing it as well. If we are unconscious of all this, we are likely to trap ourselves in certain unpleasant energetic loops when we do or say things rooted in anger, fear, or self-hatred. We will be forced to face what we’ve put out there (not to mention all the not-great energy that’s already out there) until we become more conscious of what’s happening. The way we “break free” from karma is by abiding in the pure awareness underneath all of this energy, which has no inherent “goodness or badness.” Awareness is that great neutralizer, that big zero.

When it comes to energy (which cannot be fooled or faked), actions alone are not the strongest part of the equation. It has more to do with intent and how separate we imagine we are from those we believe we are helping. Do we feel fundamentally different from the one we are helping? Do we fancy ourselves saviors for “those poor less fortunate folks?”

There is a lot of presumption in this line of thinking: First, it assumes that one’s external circumstances are a predictor of their happiness, and this is simply not true. I have seen some very miserable people and some very happy people in my life, and material comforts tend to play a small part in their attitudes. One’s true happiness does not correspond to wealth or societal status. Secondly, we become totally cut off from our kinship when we separate people into categories like “the needy” and “the helpers.” We create more division this way, and it is not an accurate reflection of our shared humanity.

If we donate some amount of money to the poor with the goal of “shoring up karma” or to brag about our good deed, our donation is obviously rooted in the egoic mindset. There is a different feeling we have when we act from the heart: If we help, it is because it just happens on its own. If we give something, there are no expectations that something will ever be returned. The “transactional nature” of life falls away. There is no more “I gave you this so you owe me that.”

From this state, kind deeds happen because they must happen. That is often how I feel about writing this blog, not knowing who (if anyone) will read it, what it will mean to them, or if I will benefit from doing so. Something wakes me up in the middle of the night and moves me to write something, and so I do that. It is not the same as when we give or create in the hope of some tangible reward.

The essence of of pure* doing versus egoic doing is as follows: One presupposes something better will come for the small “I;” the other bears in mind that the small “I” does not exist. One is full of effort to “do a good thing;” the latter just seems to happen. This is why people who commit “acts of heroism” don’t always feel comfortable with the flattery that follows: When they were being brave, they were just moved from an intuitive, deeply human place. They did what they felt anyone would do.

It is doing in this way that is probably “good for your karma,” but by this time we have already seen through the falseness of “your” karma and “mine.” These are all energy exchanges, neither good nor bad and neither “mine” nor “yours.” And why is this? Because, of course, “you” and “me” are just mental constructs. I have to keep coming back to this point, because we are encouraged to forget this truth all the time.

Still, we can be happier mental constructs and we can occupy a more beautiful and open collective dream, and that is what spirituality leads to when it is practiced honestly.

*The word “pure” has this kind of chaste, moralistic connotation. That isn’t how I mean it. The kind of purity I am talking about is a feeling, a certain unobscured clarity of mind. A synonym for a “pure heart” might just be an unconfused heart: There are no snags to its movements or desires, as well as no need to explain itself.

– 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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Addiction, Inner Work, Mental Health, Sobriety, The Mind

Getting Sober Without AA

Full disclosure: As of this writing, I’m “only” 8 months sober. I put that in quotes because—if you’re like I was—8 months might sound like an unfathomably long period of time without alcohol. When you’re regularly drinking, going 3 days feels like a stretch. So, to many sober veterans, 8 months ain’t nothin, and maybe they’d think I should shut my mouth because I’m so new to this thing. But to a drinker who is trying to quit drinking, 8 months feels like forever away. (Also, I know I’m not going to drink again.)

In 2015, when I first googled “Getting sober without AA,” this article by Mishka Shubaly popped up. It’s a great article, the heart of which is this: No one gets to define sobriety for you but you, and there’s no “one right way” to get there. If you give up booze but take mushrooms one weekend, you can still hold yourself in high regard, knowing you aren’t about to fall off the rails. Also: People have really whacked out ideas about what addiction is. I loved the article. I wrote to Mishka about my struggles with alcohol, he wrote back, then I got sober… and two months later I was in the mental hospital experiencing a full-on ego death. (I did not write to Mishka about that.)

Even though I thought (and still think) Mishka is a stunning human/writer/recovery story, the answer to my googled question never really appeared. I knew there had to be people who gave up drinking without Alcoholics Anonymous. Where were they? What did they do? How’d they subvert the demon of alcohol addiction without the meetings?

Basically, I’m writing the post I wish had existed for me when I’d gone looking for it a little over 2 years ago.

Also: The first thing that came to my mind when I asked myself How *have* I managed to stay sober for 8 months? was this: I have no clue.

It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned, but that’s kinda how I feel about life in general. Then I got to thinking and realized that there have been all these things I’ve done; they’ve just so fully become parts of my regular life that they hardly feel worth mentioning anymore.

  1. Start paying attention to how drinking really makes you feel. With rare exceptions, you are not going to quit drinking the first time you try to quit drinking. Or the second. Or the 20th. And that’s fine! You’re still cultivating awareness about this thing (I think AA calls it “gathering information”), and part of that means you’re still going to drink. However, you know now that you don’t want to do it forever. You can use these times of drinking to consciously notice a) How the body tends to physically reject things like hard alcohol, b) How much harder it is for you to hold your train of thought and maintain an intelligent conversation when you’ve had a few, c) How dull and sleepy your mind feels after even one, d) How your head/stomach/soul feel after a big night out. Bringing awareness to the total lack of awesomeness here did a lot for me. Most beautifully, alcohol genuinely ceased to be enjoyable.

  2. Start paying attention to the ten million stories you (consciously or unconsciously) tell yourself about alcohol. Things like, “it’s fun,” “I need it to socialize,” “I just like it,” and/or “it’s relaxing.” Underneath every single one of these justifications there’s an accordion of self-investigation just waiting to unravel, i.e., Why does the mind interpret becoming less conscious as “fun”? There’s a whole lot of stuff to look into just by questioning the basic premises of your “whys” for drinking.

  3. Journal about all of this. Go to an art supply store and get yourself a rad journal you’re going to want to write in. Pick something that feels new and hopeful, and just get to writing. I’m willing to say it doesn’t even matter what you write, except that you do it. Writing relieves pressure from the mind and allows you to see your own “logic” on paper. It’s you talking to yourself about yourself in the privacy of You. There are highly therapeutic opportunities here, provided you’re able to be honest with yourself.

  4. Check out Hip Sobriety. I’ve never taken one of Holly’s courses, but I follow her on Instagram and I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything on her blog. Holly’s is an amazing story about a woman who once appeared to “have it all,” except that she was semi-secretly crumbling beneath the weight of several addictions. I have more than a suspicion that a lot of us (see: many millions) fall into this category: We’re normal, busy, hardworking people… who kinda just have to poison ourselves into unconsciousness to make it through the stress/confusion/Groundhog’s Day vibe of our daily lives. (Does this ring a “that’s really messed up” bell to you? It does to me.) Holly’s all about getting sober because being sober equals freedom, and about challenging the stigma of addiction so that we can actually be given the chance to survive this totally preventable and totally curable disease. Even though I’ve never met her, I love her, and her work has been incredibly inspiring to me. Along these lines, it doesn’t hurt to just stock up on addiction memoirs, binge on addiction blog posts, etc. This just helps to remind you you are not the only one working on this thing! Not even close.

  5. Do anything else. You heard me: Anything. Else. Okay, maybe not harder drugs, but I mean all those other little things you avoid out of guilt. Things like eating a whole box of macaroni and cheese and a pint of ice cream for dinner? Go ahead and do that. I am not encouraging you to transfer addictions, but to let yourself off the hook completely for every other thing you chastise yourself for. For instance, I ate a lot of cake. I bought an unnecessary amount of tea. I smoked cigarettes. I got Indian takeout (appetizer/entree/naan) and ate all of it in the span of several episodes of Arrested Development. Give yourself a fuckload of credit for dropping the sinister drug out of your life, and take it one step at a time. Giving up too much at once is a recipe for disaster, so just try to be gentle with yourself.


There are a lot more, and when they feel timely, I will of course post them here.

It feels important to say that navigating life sober is still nowhere near easy or comfortable for me. I’m pretty sure I only ever liked large groups of people because in our society, they usually come standard with alcohol. No, I don’t know what to do with my hands except be awkward, and there is no magic pill to snap you into being totally at peace in your sober skin after years of ingesting a dependency-causing neurotoxin. I’m sorry, but discomfort is the name of the game for a while. Luckily, discomfort doesn’t kill—addiction does.

Oh, and guess how much time I spend alone? Almost all of it when I’m not at work. I know this is best for me, being that I’m still in the “spiritual cocoon,” but it does get pretty lonesome. I have always appreciated solitude, but sometimes I step over the line into that bad word, “isolation.” Still, I’d rather risk isolation than try to force conversations I don’t know how to have naturally anymore in situations I don’t feel like myself in anymore.

My point here is this: Don’t be surprised if something bigger starts to shift in you when you give up huge, identity-bolstering habits. “Being a drinker” is probably something you’ve built into who you think you are. Letting that go means your assumed identity will take a hit, and the assumed identity (ego) really doesn’t like this.

BIG, BLARING WARNING: Your ego will use your mind to retain its solidity, and this is not a maybe. It 100% will happen that your ego uses your mind against you. This is when you start to think things like “oh but such-and-such holiday is coming up; I can’t be sober for that,” or maybe you casually envision yourself on a camping trip with, of course, a beer. These are the sneaky ways the mind lures you back to those behaviors which maintain the old identity you’re (rightfully) trying to outgrow. In this case, your own mind is literally holding you hostage. Don’t let it win.

Very infrequently, my mind still does this. I imagine myself some years in the future, drinking straight from a bottle of red wine, blasting Rihanna and dancing in somebody’s living room. This delusional projection is always  a super fun and sexy time. Pretty quickly, I wise up: I see what you’re doing, mind, and it’s back to reality, which is something like me folding socks alone and listening to Rihanna.

The most important thing I want to instill you with if you’re considering giving up alcohol is this: You can get sober and live an amazing life. It will not be without its difficulties, but you can handle them, because you’re incredible and perfect and strong. I know that’s true.

– Lish

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Depression, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

The Maddening Spiritual “Middle Ground”

I just had one of my worst days in a long time. What’s more, all of my cures for bad days have flown away, because I have made it so: Alcohol’s gone, I was never into weed, food is too short-lived an escape for me, I got rid of the TV (which only played DVDs but even that was tripping me up), I don’t have the Internet in my apartment, and I’m on a spiritual book detox because after a while you just can’t read anymore of that stuff. I deactivated my social media last week, I’m single, and it’s never been in me to sensibly reach out to friends or family. By the time I need to reach out, I’m already neck-deep in emotions I do not feel safe sharing with anyone.

What this means is that when I struggle, there’s not much old ego-stuff to cope (see: numb) with. Guess what? My mind hates this, and therefore punishes me with a host of even uglier feelings: Guilt, shame, loneliness. This thought, always: I feel so alone and misunderstood. Despair, isolation. Check, check, check.

The most frustrating thing about these feelings is that I understand their origin perfectly well: Loneliness survives only in a mind which is conditioned to believe it is separate from others. Loneliness has its root in wanting. Only the ego needs to be “understood;” what we are is beyond understanding. The false identity craves connection, craves intimacy, craves anything at all. In Truth these cravings dissolve before us; we realize we actually have always been (and will always be) alone, but it is not sad, it is beautiful. We are alone, but we are God; we are everyone and everything, and we are peace itself. Persistent negativity of this variety is the result of unconscious stuff that doesn’t want to be seen, and yet it also does. Whatever I still cling to, it’s the death of me. Ambivalence is a killer on this path.

I get all that intellectually, but still I remain riddled with these emotions; clutched by them, suffocated by them. I sob in bed and ask for help and for a long time there is nothing but silence. Usually, whenever I next open my computer or pick up a book, there’s something there for me to read that helps. In this way I know my prayers are actually heard.

And yet I am a person. I’m still highly flawed and irritated with myself, especially with the fact that I’m highly flawed and irritated with myself. This is not about me having an unrealistic expectation about being “perfect,” but about going the whole way into spiritual freedom, all while knowing that my ego is fighting to protect something that will definitely crumble one day anyway.

There’s something gnawing in me that wants to make itself known: This is not bipolar depression, mmkay? (Even if it was, and even if bipolar depression was something different than “normal” terribleness amplified, the above statements would still be true.) It’s just been a rotten day. I know for a fact that my body/mind came standard with emotions that go to 11, but for the love of God, emotions do not always need diagnoses. Just because we’re not actually robots designed to feed the capitalist machine while maintaining that “we’re fine” in every passing conversation doesn’t mean we are sick.

In fact, I’m willing to say right now that emotions never need diagnoses, though they may certainly need healers. If we insist on doing this, the diagnoses should come with a huge note at the bottom, something along the lines of: You, as an individual entity, are just an idea with no grounding in Reality. Seeing this clearly will alleviate every problem you have, including your negative emotions. This may not be an easy task, so here’s a mood disorder diagnosis to have until you’re ready to let it go. If you never are, that’s okay. But we’re just putting it out there, because it’s revolutionary, and it is your final destination as a soul to realize this truth for yourself.

Of course I kid, even though I actually, really, honestly wish someone had taken the time to educate me on the true meanings of the ego and pure consciousness—ideally before I went “insane.” Nobody did, because they just didn’t know how, and also I wasn’t looking.

Hence this blog. Hence my life.

What I’m really getting at is that you can have your mind and ego blown to smithereens by God/Self/Being, and these wily things will manage to cobble themselves back together.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The mental “knowing” of All Things Spiritual really gets us nowhere. I gotta be honest, it often feels dreadfully ineffective to have a blog on consciousness because the whole punchline, after everything I write, is this: “But you really gotta see it for yourself.” It’s like spending your life describing to people the beauty of your favorite place in the world. You could do that, sure, but for the people you love, you really want to just buy plane tickets so they can go there and know the magic of this location firsthand.

Except there’s no ticket you can buy to this thing. Also, very few people seem to want to go. Or they say they do but balk when you get too close to the airport, or think they’ve already been there so what’s the point, or otherwise come up with 10,000 explanations for why they’re just “not interested in Absolute Truth.” They just want to be better people, or just take down the “worse people.” That’s the problem, after all—it’s certainly not their own unconsciousness.

And I get that. Hell, I want to be a better person. But ultimately, it is not “a good person” that I strive to be—in fact, I do not want to be a person at all. I’m not sure that this statement on its own makes sense, so I’m going to explain: “A person,” as defined by the conditioned mind, is always unreliable. One minute a person is happy, the next sad, then angry, maybe compassionate—a person’s entire way of being can be altered drastically just by threatening a few key attachments and/or illusions. It is a volatile construct, the egoic personality (and all personalities are egoic.).

People are inherently contradictory. They claim they’re one thing and then act differently. They say they’ve forgiven, and yet they bring up “the forgiven incident” when angry. They consider themselves loving and nonjudgmental and go on to say something quite hateful. They believe they are “good” and yet they say mean things. They swear they’re going to give this-or-that thing up—only to pick up the habit again in a few days. The flimsiness of the conditioned mind (again, this is the definition of a “person”) is so obvious it’s maddening.

I don’t mean this to be an attack. Nor is it meant to be the oversimplified, negative “People just suck” maxim that almost everyone reaches when they go deeply into conversations about the state of the world. Such a sentiment often serves to absolve us of digging further, of looking at our layers of self-deceit and fear stories. It is not a cynical attitude; it is just the nature of “personhood.” All that thinking and feeling without the stable foundation of Truth revealing that everything is totally fine? Of course we’re freaking wobbly.

And I admit fully: I’m like this, too. I’ve done all those things a thousand times. My mind is a disintegrating carousel I keep trying to get on, somehow believing it’ll be super fun this time. Then the carousel turns into a nightmare à la that creepy ride in the original Willy Wonka movie and I wake up a bit more. Oh, yeah! I remember. That’s why I don’t trust it! My mind lets itself think I’ve won sometimes.

I resolve to abide in my Self, my Truth, my unwavering Knowing… and then of course, I fail. Again. It’s exhausting, this middle ground. I wish I had advice on it, but I just cried and ate a bunch of cheese, so I don’t think I’m the best person for that.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Mooji, says that on the path, we’re moving from “person” to “presence.”

So I’m not saying I don’t want to be human; I just don’t want to be a person. First of all, I suck at it; secondly, it brings a lot of suffering—in part because I suck at it, but also because I see clearly the futility of trying to be better at Playing Person™. Doing so would not bring me to the Truth, and that’s all there is; that’s all we’re here for anyway: To evolve in consciousness until we see who we are, irrefutably, undoubtedly, perfectly, and not personally.

So what good would it really do to become more comfortable in groups? What joy would I find if I felt like “small talk” was a breeze (to be fair, I don’t think anyone really enjoys small talk.)? How much happier would I be if I could act like a person better? The answer: Not very. It is Truth I long for and nothing else, knowing full well that it will cost me my dear illusory “person.”

But whatever. She kinda sucks anyway, so it’s really no loss at all.

– Lish

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

Reflections on the Mental Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

How Awakening Feels

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

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

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

Sanity & Who You Really Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Two Snowflakes…

Awakening goes differently for everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Feelings in Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on that at some point in the future.

– Lish

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