"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

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Depression, Mania, Mental Health, Narratives, Reality, The Mind, Yoga

The Lenses Through Which We See Ourselves

I really don’t like going more than a week without posting something new, but my novel has sucked me back into it. This is a blessed joy that also feels kinda like a violent storm.

I’m convinced that giving birth and creating art are pretty similar in terms of intensity and magic (though I’m sure a billion mothers would roll their eyes at this). But what I mean is that artistic creation can also be an incredible, laborious process gifted to us from the great beyond. The gestation period here is much more unpredictable, though. And at least you know what you’re getting when you’re pregnant, and in most cases, it comes out all beautiful and squirmy and warm. I’ve found that when I write, the more I think I know what I’m creating, the more my creativity laughs in my face. (Surprise! You’re giving birth to a hairless purple giraffe that shoots lasers out its eyes! Hope you still love it!)

When something I’m working on says “please pay attention to me,” I listen. This necessarily means that other things have to fade into the background. Sometimes these things fall into the category of “basic necessities,” such as eating and sleeping. Doing these things feels so irrelevant when a project needs me. If you love me and this worries you, just know that I’ve also begrudgingly accepted that eating and sleeping are things most people need to do on a daily basis.

But I feel like I should say that very advanced yogis (like decades-long trained, hella deep yogis from India) tend not to eat and sleep as often as we in the West do. The human body doesn’t require anywhere near 8 hours of sleep if the rest of the system is kept in good balance. This is especially true if the mind isn’t given free reign to burn through psychic energy with all of its cyclical thoughts; such thoughts further exhaust us when they intensify emotions. Seriously, the undisciplined mind uses sooo much energy.

There’s a relationship between a yogi’s feelings of wakefulness/decreased need for sleep and bipolar mania: What is referred to as full-blown mania is an unchecked, unplanned expansion of consciousness. Whereas a yogi has trained to feel awake, alive, and supremely transcendent, a manic patient hasn’t. It’s like jumping straight to the top of a very precarious ladder: The view is phenomenal, but of course we fall.

This is extremely meaningful with regards to the way we look at bipolar disorder. Like perhaps it’s inaccurate to label these experiences symptoms of severe, chronic illnesses?

Speaking of bipolar mania: This is one of the lenses I want to discuss self-beliefs through.

Beliefs are extremely powerful things despite the fact that they are, by definition, not based on personal experience. Here’s an easy way to understand what I mean, inspired by one of my most favorite mystics, Sadhguru: Do you believe you have ten fingers, or do you know it?

The things you know for sure don’t require belief. They’re solid and you don’t question them because it’s all right there in front of you.

Direct experience is the only thing to trust regarding all things existential and God-related.  My awareness of God is based on things I have felt and seen, and I would never dream of picking up a belief system—this includes atheism, by the way—instead. I would not even believe a famous prophet if he were standing right in front of me. This would be an insult to curiosity, a slap in the face to the incredible opportunity I’ve been given to seek and find out what reality is. It’s important to live from Truth based on what you actually know, and frankly, it’s a bit weak to put faith in a thing that has never been made really real to you. Millions of people do this. (I find it equally weak not to seek at all, but that’s a different conversation.)

On the other hand, I’m more than willing to simply believe that mankind has set foot on the moon. I didn’t see it and I wasn’t there, but if pressed to say if I “believe” it happened, sure. The evidence seems sufficient enough. (Mostly, I just don’t care if it’s true or not, but that’s a thing I believe.) “Beliefs” really should be saved for stuff that doesn’t matter so much.

But the big stuff? Re: Life and death and reality and God and who you actually are? You shouldn’t “believe” a thing! Find out for yourself. Until then, it’s far more honest to admit that you just don’t know.*

*But please don’t insist that just because you don’t know, the Truth “can’t” be known. I have heard this from more than one skeptical person. The most interesting thing about this statement is that usually, these people (whom I love) have not even really looked. They’ve consulted their minds up to a certain point and explored themselves no further. Truth cannot be found in the mind.

And yet, to make it through the day, we all have beliefs about ourselves.

The relationship between stories and beliefs is close: Beliefs reinforce stories, and stories reinforce beliefs. They hold each other up. If one starts to fall, the other one does, too. I’m inclined to say that stories come first in the form of tiny micro-stories (memes) traded around in the hivemind, but I haven’t parsed it all out yet.

The most powerful stories and corresponding beliefs are those that are about ourselves. Stop and notice: What kind of narratives do you have going on in there about yourself, right now?

“I am a failure;” “I am a good person;” “I am lost;” “I am an American:” These are all tiny stories that we can come to believe throughout the course of our lives. While meaningful, they are still just stories, and to me, every story becomes less true with every added judgmental adjective.

These beliefs can fluctuate a lot based on our mood and what has happened to us lately, and ultimately, they depend on whatever is most commonly reinforced in our own minds. We all have the capacity for self-hatred and/or self-love; it just depends on which one of these things we cultivate regularly.  Positive or negative, beliefs are strengthened the more often we tell ourselves stories (i.e. have thoughts) about ourselves.

Your self-beliefs are inextricably linked to your emotions. This is why Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (which commonly guides people with depression to question automatic, negative thoughts) works statistically just as well as antidepressants do—no side effects, bodily poisons, or Big Pharma required. Of course, in dire need, use both! Do all the things! (Unfortunately, CBT does not prevail for existential depression because you can’t think your way out of death.  Existential depression is where the deep, deep work begins.)

Today I felt like drawing pictures, so I drew some. My goal here was to represent the way we view our mistakes through various lenses and their corresponding self-beliefs: Depressed, manic, healthy (by Western parameters), and ultimately, from the perspective of higher consciousness. I don’t know if it’s going to make any sense to anyone who might be reading this, but it does to me, so here goes:

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In the grand scheme, mistakes aren’t even a thing. Everything you’ve done that you regret has been necessary for your growth and evolution, and for the evolution of those whom you affected. Some part of you created the mistake so that you both could move into deeper understanding.

I don’t just say this as someone who has made a lot of mistakes (and who is probably currently making them). I also recognize that the mistakes which have harmed me were also part of what brought me to the truth and the light. We can acknowledge when past behaviors have caused emotional harm, and we can apologize for those behaviors—and we should.  We can honor another’s feelings when they say “hey, that hurt when you did/said that thing.” This helps us to understand one another and ourselves.  Understanding is a prerequisite for love.

The balancing act is this: It’s all already perfect. It’s all exactly as it is. Events are occurring and you have done things; it is only the reactive mind and emotions which codify these events into things that are good and bad. There is another dimension of you that doesn’t need to do this with everything, and really doesn’t want to. (Psst: This is what Nietzsche was talking about when he wrote, “That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.” I freaking love that quote, and only after I lost my mind did it really become like, “oh DUH!”)

Does this mean we go forth behaving however cruelly we wish, knowing that morality is false? On the contrary: When we see how perfect the truth is, we naturally become more mindful of our behaviors and guided towards less harmful courses of action. The whole Universe is an exquisitely balanced math equation on its own; behaving in harmful ways screws up the beauty of this equation.

The whole notion of morality is actually based in higher consciousness; it’s just that the mind can make everything way too complicated, trying to intellectualize things like normal human decency. In an expanded state, love and compassion are as logical as drinking water when we are thirsty.  Explaining the “why” would be pretty silly, no? If we know we are all each other, we automatically lose the need for morality and self-beliefs. It’s all just so clear.

Then, after we realize it, living in such a state of balance as a human being is possible with only one thing: Practice.

Have an awesome day!

– Lish

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

Happy Solstice!

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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& one last thing…

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Love,

Lish

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Reality, Spirituality, The Mind, Well-being

What Consciousness Is

A lot of people think they understand what is meant by the word “consciousness,” and this is paradoxical because the mind cannot understand it. It’s like trying to explain water to a fish: It just is. It’s here; it’s everywhere. It is either experienced directly or not at all.

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You’re in it, you breathe it, and it moves you.

And yet here I am.

There has never been a more crucial time for humans to collectively realize the Truth. It has been crucial for a long time, but this whole Internet/globalization thing could actually be the key to getting us over the threshold. I don’t know how it’s all going to go, but I do know that the continued existence of human beings on this planet depends on raising our overall consciousness. This is the most important work we can do, for consciousness is the thing that gives rise to all beliefs and viewpoints (and the actions which stem from these things), for better or for worse.

Head’s up to any super-rational readers: Often, this stuff seems cool to talk about until suddenly it sounds like nonsense, and at some point it kinda does. I’m confident in my nonsense, but ask no one to accept it without consulting themselves first. 

Regarding the human mechanism, consciousness is:

  • The higher faculties which lead to behavioral changes, emotional regulation, and increased well-being: Higher human consciousness is where free will lives. It is where non-transactional, unattached (true) love abides. It is where the logic of forgiveness is made clear. Without it, we’d be stuck in our same cycles forever, continually holding grudges and living in fear. This is why mindfulness meditation is so beneficial for patterns of addiction as well as other forms of personal growth.
  • Woven into your very body, not just your brain: It’s the thing in you that knows how to make food into skin cells and to contract your heart muscle every few seconds. You have no control over these processes, and with a deadened view of life, they seem rote and unimportant. If we grasp the enormous sophistication of this instrument, we see how intelligent our bodies really are. Further along, we wonder what might happen if we could tap into the level of intelligence our unconscious bodily workings depend on. (I personally have no idea, but it is very exciting to consider.)
  • The quality of being awake: This is the most standard definition, but what do we actually mean by that? Millions of people walk around with their eyes open all day, utterly unconscious. It is easy to see when you pay attention. Those who are not sleeping often have no idea how much more intensely awake they could feel. But to be sure, it’s also that simple: Being conscious is to be alert, awake, and present, not just existing with eyes physically open.
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The machine beneath your ribs. Incredible.

Universally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The principle phenomenon underlying all that we can perceive: Emotions and thoughts, too. There are also many things floating around that we cannot perceive, such as invisible forms of energy (radio frequencies, infrared light, etc.). Deepening our awareness increases the subtleties we are capable of taking in. This can be awesome, but also feel like a burden in a world where such subtleties are not also perceived by those around you. Those of you who are sensitive will feel me on that.
  • A formless intelligence making all potential possibilities manifest. Nothing to extrapolate on here.
  • The one true reality: All that you see before you is an illusion held together by your mind*. What you think is “real” is based on the workings of the mind, and if it gets stretched beyond its capacities, your reality will also necessarily change (hello, psychosis). Thus there is no stable reality to be found externally. True reality lives in the inner dimension that can be uncovered with the uncompromising light of conscious attention.
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YOU.

*This is in line with the popular “we live in a simulation” stuff that’s going around. The idea of it being a simulation is accurate enough, but for me, that word removes our role in its co-creation. It’s like, “So what? I still hate my job and my marriage/body/state of mind within this simulation.”

Video game characters are pre-programmed to behave a certain way within their simulation; there can be no deviation from this. But as a human being, you can alter your programming by tapping into your higher faculties. If we want to call it a “simulation,” it is important to recognize that we are the junior programmers of this thing.

Rather than a simulation, I like to think of it like a lucid dream. We operate in a collective lucid dream, all too often acting like it’s soooo serious and totally missing the point that it’s a dream we can change—and quickly.

Existentially speaking, consciousness in pure form is…

  • A formless, timeless thing from where we come and to where we go: I really don’t want anyone to take my word on this. You’re the brainiest creature on the face of the Earth and you know how to think for yourself. This kind of spirituality does not dole out beliefs for people to attach themselves to for some kind of false comfort. Nonetheless, this is a truth I realized that one time I sort-of died, and so I am sharing it.
  • Not a thing you “have” but your truest identity: The ego loves to make consciousness into a “humans only” thing. It is treated as a unique tool for the ego to wield, and when thought of in this crude way, the world becomes a mess. Perhaps some of us extend this property down to our pets, and maybe some to insects, but that’s where the line generally ends. This limited view allows us to continue feeling special in comparison to the rest of Nature, and the ego indulges in specialness. If we place our attention in the aliveness that is inherent in Nature, we realize that all of it is conscious, albeit in a different way than us. You are Nature, too, and so you are it; you have simply come in a form hardwired with the ability to know this.
  • Life and death: The two are not separate or different and always exist in equal measure.
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Yin and Yang. For as cliche as this symbol has become, its implications and meaning are still entirely missed under our current paradigm.

Intellectually speaking, consciousness is…

  • Paradoxical: Getting comfortable with paradoxes is key. The mind won’t like it because the mind is much much smaller than this thing, and the ego wants “you” to remain small and identified with it. At some point, intellectualization has to take a backseat to the living world. If we cannot distance ourselves from rationality (which we often falsely equate with intelligence and as necessary for morality), we can never “get it.”
  • Frustrating: Pure consciousness cannot be proven to you by anyone else. It requires deliberate self-exploration of spaces that aren’t entirely comfortable. 

Globally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The thing that determines what is done with our cleverness: For physically modest mammals, we’ve done quite a number on this Earth, and it is all due to our cleverness. Cleverness split the atom; a low level of consciousness is what resulted in the bombs being dropped. Cleverness makes enormous scientific advances; low consciousness results in the fact that people are still dying of hunger when there is plenty of food in this world. Cleverness without consciousness is essentially what’s killing us. It is the combination of the two that has the power to lift this world into a holistically better place.
  • Still evolving: I almost said “rising,” but that implies progress from a human perspective. Some people ask, “If it’s rising, why does everything look more messed up than ever?” And the answer is that the ego has a death grip on those who cannot accept evolution and change; i.e. those who are exceptionally delusional and still in power. Just as a highly ego-identified person lashes out when the big reveal arrives, a highly ego-identified culture tries to close itself off just as things are starting to open up. Here we have your Brexits, your rigid borders (and proposed walls), and anger towards immigration and refugees. It’s just an unconscious preservation of the false self on a worldwide stage.
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Big shifts are occurring.


So there you have it. 1400 words that get you no closer to experiencing the heights of consciousness, but hopefully illumine why this thing is The Thing.

To any eyes that fall on this post, I send you love and light.

– Lish

 

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"Levels", Depression, Mental Health, Spirituality, The Mind

Embracing Your Darkness

It’s been a rough few days, so I admit that there may be a charge of (gasp!) negativity to this post. So before that, I want to put something out there that I hope will be nice to read, or at least not hurtful: All people are worthy of love and acceptance. Every single one. The most revolutionary act we can take is to practice living from this mindset. I feel the sting of disapproval often, even if it’s “all in my head” and/or egocentric. I walk around in fear of judgment. Sometimes it is raw and painful. The deepest wish I have for myself and others is that we learn how to release these fears and move towards genuine compassion for one another.

I know we all come to these things in our own time, but it is still what I wish.

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Yep.

Feel What You Feel, Unapologetically

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the negativity: I’m a human being who has emotions. Sometimes these emotions result in me standing over my bathroom sink, ready to vomit from sorrow. Sometimes I feel like I can run for miles floating on wings of bliss alone. Other days I feel nothing at all, and the arrival of this emptiness is both disorienting and lovely. Honestly, I’ve lived most of my life believing that everyone more or less operates in this way, so it’s been odd to receive medical diagnoses for such experiences. But whatever. That’s how it’s done, and sometimes it can be really helpful.

It’s important to bear in mind that none of our emotions are “right” or “wrong.” They just are. Acknowledging this was huge for me, and so I encourage you to let it sink in: No emotion is “better” or “worse” than any other. Some may be easier to accept because they are pleasant, but in trying to reject the bad ones, we miss out on a whole lot. We close ourselves to what they are trying to teach us. We decide that these parts of us are not worth loving when they are actually the parts that need our love most.

As soon as we stop mentally labeling our feelings as “good” and “bad,” we make a quantum leap into maturity. We step into a state of mind that respects all of our experiences without shutting down. I personally don’t really know how to feel hurt without closing myself off to others, but if I just bring in a little awareness, it becomes slightly easier.

Further along we come into a space that can, from a compassionate distance, witness our very human responses to our very insane environments on a collective level. This compassionate distance is required to look clearly at our situation. When we’re too close, we lose the holistic perspective. Only when we accept that this is not how humans have evolved to live (rather than simply pathologizing individuals who can’t “hang”) can we get around to fixing this trash heap we call culture.

I seriously don’t even know what to write sometimes because it all comes down to this: Everything is really messed up and we’ve got to build a new culture, one conscious being at a time. I know that it’s already sorta-kinda happening, and it makes me thrilled.

But I also know that large groups of people and movements built around certain “beliefs” can quickly degenerate into equally unconscious hiveminds, albeit in different clothing. Look at what happened to the hippie movement, or even more obvious: Jesus Christ was a total baller about love and acceptance, and yet many of his “followers” still reject their fellow humans on a regular basis.

I write in part to encourage suspicion of the “brand” mentality of the path. I write to acknowledge that this thing is yucky. I write to warn seekers of slipping right into a spiritual ego, thereby continually avoiding the depths of themselves which necessarily include pain—some of us more than others.

But mostly, I write because I need to, because keeping all this stuff inside has hurt me more than I could ever explain. I know it’s hurting a lot of people to keep their stuff in, too. I feel you and I know you.

May You Keep Fighting

The idea that struggle “shouldn’t” exist needs to die, and so I will help it die right now: Without struggle, we have no reason to go anywhere. Being comfy-cozy gives us no incentive to dig through the muck of ourselves and find the truth. This is so true that many of us create our own struggles where there needn’t be any, and we do this just so we have something to learn from. Similarly, this idea that being “positive” is the “best” way to be needs to die as well, and so I will also help it die: Feeling bad and wrong and ashamed are just as vital on the path as the “good” stuff.

I know it sucks (and that that is a total understatement), but these are the emotions that force us up and out of our seed casings. Ideally, we could all flow as freely as the rest of Nature, and perhaps one day we will. In this case, all of our self-created suffering wouldn’t be necessary for us to flower: We could just become and transform and live and let live. I truly and honestly hope humanity gets there. But for now, because we are much more complicated beings than flowers, we often require an intense beating to jar us from the (imagined) safety of the soil.

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YOU.

We must embrace the ugliness, the mistakes, and the horror. Yes, it’s all hideous and awful and too much when you start looking at it. And then when you really get into it, it can get to be way way too much, and sometimes you lose conscious control of what your body and mind are doing if you even had any in the first place. It is not my hope that your path goes that route, but, it’s not up to me.

Also worth noting: Deeply empathic humans are not able to look around the world and feel positive all the time. Yes, there is a way to sit in spaces of pain without being consumed by others’ suffering, and that is a skill we must develop if we wish to help others. But sometimes spiritual rhetoric looks like a whole lot of avoidance to me, and this is the exact opposite of what spirituality is “about.” (It’s really about everything, btw.)

The path brings you to reality: First, the reality of this physical world (suffering, suffering, and… oh, look at that: more suffering), and ultimately face-to-face with a chasm of emptiness that sort of laughs in your face as it moves you in and out of Heaven and Hell and It. This emptiness is the source of all things, including those that aren’t soft-and-fuzzy. On the path, we must remember that we aren’t looking to simply confirm our preconceived (read: limited) ideas about what divine love is like.

My point here is that positivity is awesome, but if you’re faking it, you’re betraying yourself. Your self will not allow this betrayal forever.

It’s Gonna Get Ugly

I did not go looking for this “spirituality” thing. I rejected it full-stop for a long time, and yes, I still dislike the word on account of the “everything’s gonna be fine” attitude it sometimes engenders.

Here’s real talk: Everything’s not gonna be fine.* A lot of people are dying. A lot of them are dying from stuff that is 100% preventable, such as hunger (which, by the way, only exists because of the collective ego and our fears around letting it go). We have altered the face of the Earth to such a degree that the actual climate has been changed. Species are going extinct left and right. In all likelihood, your water might not be ideal to drink.

The “good news” is that the Earth will balance itself out because that is what Nature does. Of course, this is actually bad news for a whole lot of human beings—maybe even you and me. This rebalancing is happening already. Things are gonna get extra bonkers sooner than later for us as a species.

The spiritual path is not the thing to do if you’re trying to escape these realities and feel good all the time. It is about seeing this world for what it is, falling down and through the abyss of your constructed self, and somehow, some way, building a new one on purpose. You go deeply into suffering to see what it’s made of instead of frantically treading above it by drinking and working and entertaining ourselves and socializing and/or even going on a bunch of spiritual retreats (or writing blog posts!).

It’s about seeing the root of these big bad things (climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, trafficking, abuse abuse abuse), and understanding that the most beneficial thing we can do is to stop directing anger outward and get to work on ourselves first.

It’s about coming to grips with this: Every terrible scenario “out there” originated in the human mind. Our minds communicate with one another in very subtle, seemingly invisible ways, and collectively we inhabit one average level of consciousness. Understanding this, the first order of business becomes to transform our personal levels into those that are grounded in love and clarity, thereby lifting up that average level. These principles are timeless.

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Again: yep.

 

This is what I work towards even when I stumble and backslide and fail, like, every day. This work goes on and on. Even once enlightened, we are going to be interacting with other humans, and our way of doing so will continually inform our awareness of how to be in this human form. This knowledge is always deepening: There is a space inside of you which goes on infinitely, and “getting there” is really just to freefall for eternity which is always right now.

*Okay, okay: In the end, everything will be “fine” if by fine you mean that this Universe will be swallowed up by some other Universe long after our planet has been burnt to a crisp. Sure. In that way, it’ll all be “fine.” But that is a totally unhelpful mindset for our shared physical plane. Yes, later on, there is a shiny heart of nihilism to the whole thing, but it’s not a very compassionate Earthly position to take.

Keeping the Faith

After this semi-tirade of a post, I want to note that I still have tremendous aspirations for everyone and myself: We can learn to find a balance between the difficult outer world and the limitless inner world. We can let go of the mind-made past and learn to see each other with new eyes. We can get to a place where joy is our default setting; where we can return to a place of peace, wholeness, and wisdom whenever we choose. We can accept when we are angry or hurt without shutting down and becoming so defensive and afraid.

These things are possible; it just matters how sincerely willing we are to make them happen.

– Lish

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Depression, Mania, Mental Health, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Dying Before You Die

Welcome to a nice long post on the death of the ego (complete with subheaders!). I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So far, I’ve been using the word “ego” to describe pretty much everything about us that isn’t pure consciousness (soul, god, divine essence, Christ consciousness, what-have-you.) The ego is all the impermanent stuff that we mistake ourselves for on a regular basis unless we get a swift kick in our asses: Career titles, genders, nationalities, and belief systems, to name a few. There are also physical things such as biological sex and race which are equally illusory, but they don’t fall apart in the same way that those other things can. For the purposes of this post, it’s the mental stuff we’re talking about: Generally, the ego is all that you think you are/how you present yourself to others on a psychological level.

An ego death is what happens when the constructs of your identity collapse all at once. At this point, we tend to acutely see how such constructs are binding everyone else around us as well: We’re divided and hurting one another over quite literally NOTHING. During all this, we also usually get a taste of reality (as much as can be experienced while still in a human body, anyway), and it can feel really incredible.

But it also hurts. To compare, it’s like watching an elaborate sandcastle you’ve worked on for your whole life get washed out to sea. Except you’re naked, living inside the sandcastle, and you’ve never been fully exposed to the elements. Oh, and you maybe sort of knew that the ocean was out there, but you had no idea how big and powerful it was. You more or less thought that you could build a good enough sandcastle to withstand the force of the ocean. This is a pervasive cultural myth that gets continually played out in our individual minds: “Build a strong enough sandcastle and the ocean won’t ever get you.”

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Beware. The tide always rises.

From where I sit today, I can say that on the other side of it, it’s like “oh so what; it’s just a sandcastle.” But if you have no idea that the ocean is out there and you’re happily tinkering away, adding more details to the sandcastle in order to reinforce it, you’re probably in for a rude awakening.

Ok, is that enough metaphoring for now? I think so.

The Ego and World Structures

The ego death goes by many different names, none of which are very comforting. Carl Jung called it the “psychic death.” Sometimes it is referred to as “the abyss” or “the great death” or “annihilation” or “death before death” depending on what tradition you’re looking at. Regardless, we’re talking about all the same feelings, and yes, it is a big deal.

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Another hospital drawing.

The ego death gets a whole lot of attention because it’s intense and dramatic, and before the unconscious ego dies, it totally feeds on drama. However, this drama is understandable: For much of humanity (and especially for those who wield institutional power), the unconscious ego is still in the driver’s seat of thought, action, and emotion.

The ego is the source of all non-survival based conflict. It’s why some eight dudes hoard an absurd amount of wealth and resources and why they freak out when someone says “hey, that’s not okay.” It’s why power is rarely if ever relinquished willingly. It’s why we never feel like “enough,” why we can’t seem to love ourselves and one another and embrace the fact that we are truly all one family. It’s just a whole lot of ego constructs that keep us believing we are all very different and separate and more-or-less-deserving than others.

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No one. No exceptions.

The ego must be constantly propped up. This happens either internally with our own thoughts, or in the form of recurrent external validation. When this consistent inflation goes away (perhaps because you’ve interrupted the thought stream intensively enough during meditation, had a full-on awakening, or lost everything in your life at once), the ego starts to die. It tends to not go quietly—after all, it wants to live just like everything else. It makes a scene, sometimes outrageously using your mind and body to hold itself together (hello catastrophic manic episode).

Here’s one way I remember to have compassion towards “the worst” individuals on the planet: Everyone who increases the suffering on Earth is doing so simply because they are trying to keep their flimsy sandcastle upright.  These are deeply insecure and immature individuals. The threat of death is around every corner for them, because they are aware on some level that none of what they have is permanent. It’s always going away in some form or another, and they have continually rejected the part of themselves that is still and timeless.

Make no mistake: It does not feel “good” to be in a place of great institutional power unless one has developed themselves a great deal. Most people seek out this kind of power precisely because they haven’t developed themselves and are using Earthly control as a substitute. Generally, they feel closed and lonely and often quite bored. The underlying state of consciousness for them is fear, and that is very sad for them.

Mental Health & the Ego

From a spiritual perspective, much of what we perceive as depression and anxiety is a result of the conflict between the ego and the soul/pure consciousness, which is always speaking. If we choose not to listen to this part of us, that doesn’t mean it shuts up. Ignoring it results in pain on many levels; it has us chasing crumbs of nonsense left and right.

It’s not that we’re trying to be all of one or the other (soul or ego). It’s more like the ego is in the driver’s seat and your soul keeps saying “please let me take over.” But the ego’s on a preset course—a highway that everyone else is on—too afraid to let the soul have a turn at the wheel. What if it drives you off a cliff? What if it takes you off the highway and onto a road where there’s no one and nothing and you’re out there and the car breaks down?

The ego continually says “No, we are staying on this highway no matter how congested and terrible it gets,” and the soul is like “Just trust me.” This conversation is ongoing, and yes, it makes you neurotic AF.

This dis-ease is different than the depression brought on by traumatic life events and sick cultures. These kinds of depression are created and sustained by the fact that the body carries old pain physically, mentally, and energetically. Additionally, we tend to leak our pain into one another/pick up other people’s pain when we aren’t too aware. I’ll have to discuss all of this in another post or series of posts.

When it comes to depression and Western culture, let’s go with this: Sometimes you’re trying to heal old wounds (like, really old: Your great-grandparents’ wounds, even). Sometimes you’re seeing right through our sick culture and feeling totally unmotivated to be a part of anything. And, far less occasionally, but sometimes, your whole ego is totally collapsing. There are other reasons and gradations regarding depression, and sometimes this alllll happens at once, such as in an awakening.

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Spiritually speaking, depression is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul.”

If you’re not sure which of these things you’re dealing with, I have a simple suggestion: Go balls to the wall. See a doctor, get some books of spiritual wisdom, take the medication, sit and breathe, eat nutritious food, get some exercise and be gentle towards yourself and journal. Do all kinds of things, just like you would if you were trying to heal any other part of you. Google a bunch of stuff about how you’re feeling and see what other experiences resonate. (Seriously, the Internet is a fabulous tool if you can manage not to get lost in it—just like the mind itself.) Do it all if you can, and the way out of depression will be revealed at some point.

Unfortunately, if it’s an ego death, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to do these things. All bets are off. It happens quickly. Your psychic shell is cracking and a kind of energy is going to start pouring through you that is indescribable. You’re going through a thing that not very many people will understand or know how to respond to. It’s going to happen how it happens.

If it is at all possible for you to drop your formal obligations immediately, please do so. An ego death (and the whole process of awakening, for that matter) isn’t like dropping acid, even though it’s become sort of popular to equate the two. You don’t just get to sleep it off and get back to work feeling a little clearer, a little lighter. The process transmutes every fiber in your being; it makes clear what is real and true and eventually moves you towards peace and power.

Symptoms of the Ego Death

I want to sum up a few of the key aspects of my personal ego death in case you think you’ve had (or are having) one. Keep in mind that this whole thing may be felt differently depending on how much inner work we’ve done, and also because the universe is very mysterious and playful. Some people don’t resist the ego death and some people do. I don’t know why some can stay calm and others can’t, but I suspect mine was so intense because I’d constructed a pretty defensive, rigid ego from a young age. I did this to protect myself and my tender little feelings; that’s always why every rigid ego is built. I also had a pretty “pish-posh” attitude towards spirituality, which did not help.

So, while mine was totally out of whack, please remember that plenty of buddhas and mystics have gone through the experience and managed not to end up permanently insane. (On the contrary, this is a step towards becoming more sane than ever.) They had conscious knowledge of what was going on and an understanding of energy, whereas I did not, and you may not either.

Anyway, here goes:

  • A psychological heaviness and intensity that feels unbearable. It’s not a panic attack. It’s not a depressive episode. It’s just… bigger. It’s all-encompassing; it’s tone is truly that of annihilation. It’s dense. It lacks the raw tearfulness common to healing/depression—not that you won’t cry; it’s just that you’ll be strangely “far away” from the crying. Mostly it’s a pervasive, enormous sense of nothingness that you have not been trained to feel comfortable in. Later on, provided we stay on the path rather than running back into the imagined safety of avoidance, we learn how to relax into the nothingness. But this first taste of it is like the ocean carrying you out to sea. Not only do you not know how to swim; you don’t even know what water is. One of the core delusions of my first major manic episode was that I was—somehow, some way—going through a black hole. That’s honestly still the best way I can think to describe it. If you feel like you’re going through a black hole, your consciousness is probably expanding and your unconscious ego is probably dying.

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I had also just finished this graphic novel. It was very ominous.

  • The irresistible desire to cling to anything. You’re drowning. Anyone who seems present and balanced is someone for you to try and grab hold of. Anything that might save you from yourself is embraced (drugs, alcohol, sex.) It’s like a mad grab to become less conscious, to return to the familiar world.
  • … But those things don’t feel the same, and sometimes they don’t work. Drinking made me uncoordinated but didn’t get me “drunk.” Other favorite ways to numb out were slow and uninteresting.
  • Extreme defensiveness. Your ego tries to defend itself by lashing out at people, just like a wounded/dying animal lashes out at those who try to help it.
  • Acute sensitivity to others. With the shell broken, you’re picking up on everyone else’s signals, and there is pain everywhere. You may feel the tremendous need to help the entire world. You can’t—not now, anyway.
  • The feeling that you’re losing your goddamn mind (up to a point). For about a week or so, I was checking in with others: “Do I seem okay? Does what I’m saying make sense? Do I look okay?” And they’d be like “yeah sure, you’re just going through some rough stuff.” When I stopped asking was when I was way gone. I didn’t need to ask anymore, and that was precisely when I had truly lost my mind. By then, hearing that I wasn’t well was absolutely horrible. I knew what was going on in the Universe; I understood it innately. I couldn’t explain it, but I did know, and being told otherwise felt like the ultimate betrayal from my fellow humans.

 

Notice how this description closely mimics what is known as a manic episode and/or a mixed episode. I speak from the perspective that all things are “spiritual” (or not spiritual; whatever, words are weak), and so I’m more likely to talk about “episodes” in these ways than in “chemical imbalance” terminology.

It’s not my role to decide for another if what they’re dealing with psychologically should be medicalized or not. My point is to say, “just look.” Look at this total universe and what is happening in this world, and decide if it feels appropriate to take on the “disorder” label.

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Just look.

If it does (and really, it might be appropriate for a while), please make sure you’re aware enough to drop it when it’s time to let it go. Don’t make the disorder into a part of a new ego, or it may never want to go away.

Lastly, an ego death isn’t something that just happens one time and then life’s all good-and-peaceful. (Maybe it was for Eckhart Tolle and some other super-lucky people over time, but that is not the common experience). The ego is continually chipped at, and then one day, there’s the tipping point.

If you stick with it, one day you’ll be like “okay, I guess I’m going out to sea.” This is what it is to surrender: You trust that it really will be okay to let go of yourself and get to work on learning how to paddle with life’s currents rather than clinging to the shore and continually rebuilding that sandcastle.

Ego Death and Rebirth

On a personal note, I’ve made it to age 30! I’m posting this from a coffee shop on Lopez Island, where I’ve taken myself camping. I thought I would be all immersed in the forest, sitting in half-lotus by the ocean or some shit, but I felt called to post this thing. This is part of flowing with the currents: I’m not attached to sitting when I feel like writing; I’m not attached to writing when I feel like sitting.

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Birthday evening view. There was a rainbow right behind me, and yes, I geeked out.

In hindsight my 20s feel like a battlefield wherein I’m  bloodily crawling towards nothing in particular. It’s just me struggling and stumbling, trying not to feel every single one of my wounds. As others pass me, I’m like “no this is fine! I’m good! Really! I’m getting a college degree and everything! Everyone drinks a lot in their 20s right?

Maybe that sounds dramatic, but it really feels like I’ve made it by the skin of my teeth. As a young teenager (or maybe even 11 or 12), I kinda thought I would just kill myself at some point in my late 20s. I don’t know why I thought this. I wasn’t depressed. I was actually pretty happy, all things considered. I just foresaw that I might be done—not in a resigned fashion or in a fit of agony. Just like, ok, I did Earth as a human and now it’s onto the next thing.

The interesting thing is that my unconscious ego did die in my late 20s.  The hospital was a part of that death. The steps leading up to that—letting notions of a career, self-concepts, narratives, beliefs, and opinions go—those were all part of it. Giving up drinking and ending my marriage and were the tipping points.

As I was entering that manic episode—before I lost all insight—I knew that’s what was happening. I have no idea what would’ve occurred if there had been someone in my life who got it. There was so much energy involved in it that I don’t think I could’ve just sat with it at all. And to be fair, there were many people who alluded to having some understanding, but obviously no one could drop everything to be my shamanic healer. One friend said to me in passing, “it’s like you’re birthing this weird alien baby.”

I knew she was right on some level, but I did not know that the alien baby was a new me. I also didn’t know that this new thing would necessarily kill off the old one.

– Lish

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Mania, Meditation, Mental Health, The Mind

The Upside of Losing Your Mind

Losing your mind instills you with a special kind of insecurity.  It isn’t just that you can see everyone’s judgment, pity, and/or worry, and it isn’t that almost no one understands what it’s like to touch something so intense.  Those things are rough, and every day post-breakdown can be a battle.  But mostly, you become insecure because of one disturbing fact: Your mind can no longer be trusted.  Reality can apparently fall apart at the seams, and you may be none the wiser.

When you’re mind-identified—meaning you think that your mind is essentially who you are—this is a very very bad feeling.  The logic goes like this: If I am my mind and my mind is deeply fallible, then I am deeply flawed.  From this perspective, it is not that you have a disease; it’s that you are a defective model. You’re sure it was someone’s mistake that you ever made it out of the factory.  And then, because our society is heavily mind-based (with extreme prioritization of a specific, wealth-generating mind, no less), a non-functioning mind pretty much renders you worthless.

So you’re humiliated from everything-you-did-while-insane, reality is maybe not-real, and you’re kinda worthless.  I’m not going to lie: It sucks.  A lot.  

But there is a way out of the horror show life becomes after you burn everything to the ground. The concepts in this post are also helpful for the more common hellscape of thoughts that millions of people inhabit.  With work, we can even learn to be grateful to our minds for finally forcing us to put them in their place.  It is only from this perspective that we can actually use our minds rather than living in them full-time. It really doesn’t matter what our thoughts are like when we are blissfully far away from them.

I don’t mean to say that it’s easy to get there. I know people hate to hear that, because we are pleasure-seeking creatures and because we’ve been conditioned to believe that good things should be happening like Right Now. Nevermind that your very existence is predicated on billions of years of evolution: If something doesn’t make you permanently happy within fifteen minutes, you’re out of here!  I’m sort of joking, but not really.  We are a culture of instant rewards, and it really screws us up.

The path of growth is necessarily a long game. Nothing about it is “easy,” but later on, you will not even understand what else you were ever doing. Or maybe you will, and it’ll be kind of funny because you’ll find that many (maybe even most) of your activities were done simply to avoid yourself.

If you decide that you want “easy” back, there’s always going to be booze and food and television and gossip and the smartphone and the shopping. It isn’t that these things are “bad.” Most of us have dabbled (and/or languished) in all of them. Sometimes I still plunge myself into bad habits, and I can confirm: They make excellent distractions from growth, and they are decidedly easier than sitting down to transform your way of being. (And of course some of these things can be used in non-self-destructive ways, but the line is very fine, especially with little self-discovery.)

By the time you’re ready to take steps towards not-hating yourself, you’ll probably be at least bored of that stuff, if not downright fed up with the amount of pain said things are causing you. So even though I want to jump in and start talking about the mind in its proper context, it should be noted that the first step towards freedom is to commit to yourself and to this life and decide not to settle for less than what you want, emotionally speaking.

This is the hardest step, and absolutely no one can make you take it but you. Anyone who has ever loved an addict knows this is true. A family’s pleadings pale in comparison to an individual’s commitment to self-destruction. It is the same with unhealthy thoughts and emotions: Until we make a resolute, unyielding choice to deal with our stuff and take responsibility for it, our thoughts and emotions will be subject to a very unstable (and quite horrific) world.  The result is unsurprising: An unstable (and quite horrific) inner world.

Getting out of the terrible thought-pit takes a few steps of conceptual knowledge. It also takes practice.  It also results in increased freedom, so of course, it is worth it.  The aim sounds simple, but if it were, many more of us would be healthy:  It is to step slowly away from your own mind.

The main difference between temporarily “losing one’s mind” and “consciously putting the mind in proper context” is often a matter of intention and insight.  I could’ve benefited from hearing all of these things while I was in-the-depths of self-hatred, and also when I was collapsing.

This first part is key: You are not your mind. Intellectually, you might totally get this, but living from this knowledge is no simple task. If we were able to fully accept this truth, most of our problems would evaporate rather quickly. I’m not just talking about those recovering from psychosis/mania, but for the more common neuroses as well: Depression, anxiety, addiction, cyclical unwanted thoughts, etc. Even seemingly “well” people would cease to take their thoughts so seriously, and the relief from all that noise would be incredible. Understanding that your mind is a small circus occurring within a much larger you is the first step to gaining mastery over it.

With this understanding, you can start to step back a little.  Watch the mind be busy and do whatever it does all day long.  You—the real you; the pure consciousness beyond your mind—just get to grab the popcorn and sit back.  In time, you stop buying into the bullshit part of you that’s been taught to think horrible things.

In order to illustrate the relationship between the real you (pure consciousness) and the mind-identified you, I drew a couple of pictures!

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1: When you are largely mind-identified…

vs.

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2: From no particular identity, with full awareness of the Self.

If this makes no sense, don’t worry about it.  Watch the mind long enough, and it will.

One important aside before I move on:  For me, and probably many others, mania is the result of uncontrollably moving from 1 to 2 without practice.  It is consciousness-expansion without “trying:” The mind races to fill the newfound space and inevitably reaches its limits. The ego uses the mind to reinforce itself because it is under great threat, and therein lie your delusions of grandeur. From this view, one of the symptoms of a manic episode is easily explained: “Feelings of expansion.” When manic, you feel expansive because are literally expansive. Our culture does not regard this expansion as real or evolutionary, but it is both of those things.  Also, you haven’t been taught how to keep your behavior in check while you merge with the whole freaking Universe.

After I learned about the evolution of consciousness and did a small amount of practice, I was able to handle my second manic episode far, far better than my first. My depressive tantrums are more like short-lived storms rather than months of drizzle (also with storms), and my background feeling is stillness.  I’m sure some of that is due to luck or genes or whatever.  But most of all, I know it was even more important that I had an internal unwillingness to view my experiences through the lens of a permanent “disorder.”

Once you have semi-digested that the real you is much more than your mind (or your body for that matter), practice is essential.  The thing I’m going to suggest next is getting so much attention nowadays it makes me feel giddy: Meditate.  I feel like I’m always reading something new about how meditation helps with almost everything, particularly with regards to mood/thought/daily functioning.

I also know that it just isn’t something we do until we’re ready. None of my posts are meant to imply that anyone “should” do anything, or that they’ll have the same results as I have.  When it comes to mental health, individualized, intuitive approaches are sorely needed. However, mental structures function the same in everyone, and there are things that are beneficial to all bodies.

The most important thing to remember here is that there is no wrong way to meditate. Yes, there are Zen techniques and guided visualizations and breathwork and chants. To keep everything simple and not-too-woo-woo: Get comfortable, softly straighten your spine, and be somewhere quiet. Start very small; we’re talking 5-7 minutes.  It’s going to feel like forever and you will be whining in your head and all that means is that you’re diverging from familiar, shitty ways of thinking.  (I’m pretty sure if you Google “How to Meditate,” you’ll get about ten zillion results. It can be overwhelming, and that’s why I try to keep it simple.)

Meditative states also occur in a variety of daily activities. Basically, anything that helps you become calm, focused, and unaware of time can be considered a form of practice. For me, writing these posts is meditative, drawing clusters of spirals is meditative, and watching trees move in the wind is meditative. Though there is much to be gained by going deep into it in the “traditional” way, my point is that meditation can mean a lot of things.

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Meditation in Sharpie.

If you’ve never experienced a sober, elongated period of mental silence, this can be disorienting or enjoyable. It really depends on how big of a role your mind plays in your personal identity. Today, I deeply enjoy it, but at first, it was The Worst:  After my unplanned awakening, my thoughts immediately became much “further away.” Because I treasured my very-thinky mind and equated it with my whole self, this felt like a major problem to my ego.

At the time, it felt as if nothing had “meaning.”  What was really happening is that I had stopped constantly labeling everything and seeing the world through a million layers of preconception and judgment. Life became far less noisy, and it was uncomfortable because it was so, so new.

From a consistently expanded level of consciousness, we can learn to choose whether or not to think at all.  Existence without a constant thought stream is literally peaceful beyond words.  Those who are advanced in this regard can dwell in a space of stillness and silence whenever they choose.  (FYI: I’m totally not there.)

Detaching from the mind renders us no less able to think, but gives us the power to decide which thoughts we energize. I am still 100% capable of calling to mind that I want to kill myself and that I’m worthless—yes I can do all that useless self-talk.  Usually I choose not to think such things anymore, but just now, I did, and oddly it was kind of funny since I wasn’t taking it seriously. I got to look at my mind doing all its weird stuff and smile at it. Over time, we learn how see thoughts and reject them if they suck.

For me, there is still a threshold of emotion that, once met, all my spiritual shit goes out the window.  Usually this happens when I am tired or improperly nourished or a particular emotional chord is struck, totally unintentionally by others.  This is why prioritizing yourself and your health is of the utmost importance.  Smooth growth is dependent on balance, and I know that because I grew a whole lot while I was still highly imbalanced.  It did not go smoothly.

Anyway, this an incredible skill to learn: What is it that you want to think about, or do you even want to think? Do you want to think of politics and fear all day, or do you want to think of love and friends and light? I am of the persuasion that if most people could feel the profound peace of seeing the world without all their mental noise, they’d want to take a long break and dwell in all the beauty their minds have been covering up.

And if you don’t want to call any of this spiritual, don’t.  Because it isn’t and it is because words are always surface-level and if we get hung up on them, we will never stop fighting.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; it matters that it works.

As of this moment, I am grateful to my egregiously “fallible” mind. It has made Heaven and Hell for me within a breath, and I am just beginning to understand its power. This is not meant to be a boastful statement about me personally: Everyone’s minds are incredibly powerful. The human mind is an amazing tool; one that we have hardly even begun to put to use. This is because without consciousness, the mind falls into chaos and is used to achieve lower goals.

Getting it (somewhat) in order it has taught me the following lessons which I would not have known otherwise:

  • There actually is no stable external reality, and trying to force one causes much suffering.
  • Our five senses are also not reliable: That’s why we shut our eyes and stop moving to find out what is real,
  • There is much more to us than our minds,
    And, with some practice,
  • If your mind starts to “go,” you can learn to simply watch it go.
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