Know Yourself First

Today I wanted to share an illustrative metaphor regarding the egoic mind and its relationship to the world we create. Many of us are caught up in attempting to force or manipulate the world into what we think it should look like. As well-intentioned as this may be, it is misguided. I drew this picture to help show why it is essential to know who we are first and foremost:

ink (2)
For whatever reason, I forgot to include violence and war in the branches: Such unconscious acts based are also on the delusion that we are not, in fact, only ever waging war against ourselves.

We are largely in the habit of assuming things about who we are—primarily that the “I” we are focused on is a collection of memories, stories, personality, preferences, history, relationships, etc. This construct is actually a very contracted version of the true You. It is flimsy like a shadow, always changing, and subject to death. The ego-identity, for as important as the world makes it out to be, is actually non-existent.

It doesn’t even matter what the ego dresses itself up as. All are equally unreal in the ultimate sense, and none are more helpful to humanity than those who seek to rid themselves of such falsehood. All egos can become fundamentalist about whatever beliefs they take seriously.

Once this root is pulled, pure being can at last shine through. From here it becomes very clear what to do for our fellow humans, if anything at all. One realized being sitting in supreme peace actually uplifts the world far more than a hundred angry protesters.

This is not laziness, and this is not sitting and thinking. Being is neither of these things.

I was inspired to draw this picture by a Thoreau quote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

This is an appropriate statement for the way most of us attempt to act “morally.” We choose a few good behaviors, perhaps a “cause” or two, and become concerned about them. We then go on to believe—or at least act as if we believe—that the rest of our choices do not matter once we pick said causes and invest some energy into them.

We donate money to charity and yet purchase clothing made by children in factories. We protest war and yet go home to sharply chastise our spouses and children. We claim to love animals, yet we support industrial meat by eating it. We make claims about wanting to experience our Buddha-nature, but go on to loudly judge Christians. We say we love our family members, yet fail to accept them when they deviate slightly from the family culture.

The difference between what we profess to value and how we behave could not be more pronounced. Of course the mind always has clever justifications. I have heard them all and I have made millions of excuses in my own life for my callous thoughts and language.

It is rare to see someone striving to become effective in challenging the culture cumulatively. This is the only way it can really work, because every issue is indivisible from every other. We often settle for “good enough.” It is an act that protects the ego, which gets to continue imagining itself as this great, radical person.

Conversely, it may imagine it is never good enough, again thrown into hyperbole about what a “bad person” it is. Both views are equally delusional. The mind has many tricks to preserve its hold over us… whichever line of thinking works for the mind, it will use.

So what is this incongruity all about? Who does this?

It is not enough to answer that humans are, by nature, contradictory and bad. I find this belief to be weak and unexplored, the result of one’s own belief in themselves as being unworthy.

Throughout history there have been human beings (some are alive even today) who realized who they were and let go of half-measures. They existed in peace, gave themselves up, and become examples for what humanity is capable of.

It is worth mentioning that for these people, no matter how financially poor, there was never even a sense of sacrifice. Once you give yourself over to consciousness it becomes clear how blessed you are, even with limited “real world” accommodations. Ramana Maharshi allowed thieves to “steal” from the ashram where he lived and refused ownership of land given to him, so deep was his experience of his Self as All. He had next to nothing but was immersed in God. He was also vocal that there was indeed nothing special about him. What is called “enlightenment” is available to all, and is the opposite of “special.”

As far as ignoring the whole: The true mind does not do this. One who has awakened to Truth does not do this. The dream of separation and dualism is over for this one, and it is understood how hopelessly entangled we are with one another.

Another step: “entangled” is not even correct. We do not exist as separate entities from God, or anyone else for that matter. To be entangled or connected implies there are separate parts to connect. But this seeming separation—dualism—is playing out within a nondualistic consciousness.

 

And yet, and yet… words fail. Sit and see for yourself.

Our focus is extremely shortsighted. From egoic minds, we criticize the external world without taking the opportunity to turn around and notice our own patterns of hatred. Too, we miss the largest point, which is that we are what makes the external world. All of us. Together. This is a co-creative act no one gets to opt out of. You are creating the world and the culture right now whether you like it or not.

We try to take a chainsaw to capitalism, war, big banks, colonialism, political systems, poverty, racism, on and on. But, just like a tree or shrub, what happens when one limb is cut? It grows back, sometimes even stronger. All kinds of effort goes towards chopping away that which will absolutely grow back. The only permanent solution is to pull the root, which lies in your own mind.

Pulling the root of the ego reveals the truth of who you are. We must do this first, before attempting to change the world. Only then does it become clear where our strengths lie, what uplifting work we are suited to. It may not even be in any “big, grand” way. I know many people harbor dreams of being great spiritual leaders, but even this is often the ego’s sneaky attempt to dress itself up and project an “important” vision of itself into the future.

God has moved me to a town of 130 people with no social media and one backpack. I have about $600 total, and still have student loan debt. There is no long-term “plan.” Surely I am not living any common Westerners’ dream. It bears mentioning that external conditions really are not the point: Money/no money, stuff/no stuff, relationships/no relationships… It is not my lack of belongings that “makes me spiritual.” A simple, uncluttered way of life truly makes most sense to my heart, and we will all be steered in unique directions depending on our constitutions.

Upon realizing the Self, we may find that we are still moved to engage in activism, but it will come from a far more grounded and loving place—not one of divisiveness, revenge, or anger. This charged notion that “those people are doing something evil to me/us” will have dissolved.

In short: Know who you are, and do what you will. If you do not know who you are, drop as many things as you can and seek yourself. It is not a physical journey, and anyone can start taking steps. You really do not need to go anywhere but inside of your own self.

 

Location: En route from Burlington, WA to Mitchell, OR

From El Paso to Vegas

I write this from a car on the way from El Paso to Vegas. I have no idea why I am still traveling in physical space. All I desire is a place to Be, but energetically nothing has felt quite right. From Vegas I will go to Reno to see my teacher, Jim, have a talk, and feel where to go next.

I should say that even though I referred to Jim as “my teacher” in my last post—and he certainly is one of them—I consider all human beings (and life circumstances) to be teachers and students of one another. The question is whether or not we are conscious of it: Do we know that everything we are going through is an opportunity for practice? That we need every experience, no matter how bad, to point us to Truth?

Many of the situations I’ve been on throughout this journey have been teachers of patience. Before I was very invested in self-work and thrust into the shitstorm that was my awakening, I was an impatient person and saw no problem with that. In my view, the problem was not my impatience or lack of acceptance, it was that others were too slow and stupid. It was all very judgmental, and I own that. That is the work of the egoic mind: It imagines separate “others” and blames them for our suffering, which is really the result of our own existing unconsciousness.

Today I find myself spending time with people I would have never hung out with before. I shudder to think of all those I have shut out of my life by virtue of once having such a closed heart. Today, even if I don’t feel a deep connection, I know that we are each playing a role on one another’s paths. Most of these people do not consciously see me as a teacher. At some point, though, we come to see that the entire play of consciousness—what we tend to consider “the life experience” and/or “the world”—is, in innumerable ways, pointing right back into our divine self-knowledge. At this point, there is no escaping the lessons that begin to unfold around us. Sometimes it is so heavy-handed, it feels like too much: How was I so blind before?

Then, we begin to gently direct others back inwards. As I move more intuitively into the role of a teacher, I do this. It is challenging when people have not consciously accepted me as a teacher, because I know that is what I am called to do in this body/mind/form. It is becoming less and less possible to avoid doing this work, but not everyone has signed up for it on purpose. This is just another thing I’m learning navigate so that I can continue to be a light in the world. It is very important that I don’t build up an air of conceit over spiritual matters, and continue to accept everyone wherever they are at. 

When light is bright it hurts the eyes of those who are in darkness. As always, I say this firsthand: The light of God (which is ultimately Me and You) terrified and burned me greatly, such is its power. Not everyone wants to see their light—and in fact, when we are exposed to it for the first time, we often reflexively turn away. I turned away many many times before embracing what had actually occurred. Sometimes I still backslide into my old programming, but at the very least, I am aware that this can happen.

Until we are really ready, expanded consciousness can seem like terror, boredom, weakness, maybe even evil depending on the ego-identity of the one who is looking. These are all simply negative labels the mind places on Truth to avoid being blown away by it.

About my time in Georgetown: It was a pretty nourishing environment and a lovely little town. But I felt acutely my heart’s need to be in delving further into itself rather than building new relationships. I am still coming into my light, and feel a strong need to be alone, and/or near a teacher.

What good teachers really represent is pockets of powerful energy. I am reminded of a couple times Jim has mentioned on his blog this situation we get into after awakening: We have been broken and hurt for so long, and part of the awakening process is to heal. You can heal without awakening, but you probably are not going to go through an awakening without a significant period of healing.

Surely it is possible to have the ego surrender and dissolve completely, all at once, but this seems relatively rare, for reasons I am not going to guess at other than to say that the ego-identity is deeply entrenched. Usually it takes a bit of digging at rather than being pulled out at once on the first go.

Anyway, most of us will need several reparative surgeries as we integrate our awakening. We’re all walking around full of broken bones and open wounds, but we’ve been taking pain killers for generations and generations. Awakening says, “it’s time to heal now,” and takes all of our painkillers away so we can actually see and feel what needs to be dealt with. The things that used to work excellently for avoidance—watching television, drinking, Tindering, binge-eating—don’t numb us out in the way they used to.

It is very unsettling when you try to “go back” to your old habits for comfort, only to have them feel hollow and useless. I’m convinced this can even happen with habits such as yoga or meditation, even though they are considered spiritual. If we’re used to getting a certain sense of stability or comfort from them and spontaneously wake up, these things can also feel “off.” A fundamental inner change is taking place, and yep, it really hurts and it’s super weird.

Depending on your own personal lineage and history, you may need dozens of surgeries to “reset your bones,” so to speak, or even re-break them if they’ve healed up improperly at a previous time. What this amounts to in real day-to-day life is you needing a fuckton of rest as you undergo a complete energetic overhaul. Each time you come back in a little better shape; then you try to do something new and discover you still have some broken bones. You have to keep going back to the surgeon—in this case, divine intelligence and awakened energy—until your body is back in the condition it was meant to be in.

Some procedures, like having a cut on your knee stitched up, can take place anywhere, and almost any doctor can handle it. Other, deeper wounds may require a higher level of skill, and a super hygienic operating room. Good teachers are essential here. Our deepest wounds probably require a super-clean operating room and a surgeon who really knows wtf he/she is doing. It feels really important to say that this is not about “other people” being unconscious or having “bad energy.” It’s about honoring the healing process, doing what we know is best for ourselves, and choosing to be in places that are suited for the “energetic surgery” we require.

To be sure, it really does just feel as though God is pulling me along by a string. And when I say god I mean consciousness. And when I say consciousness I mean a state of Being beyond words, thought, or imagination. I also mean the most mundane, ordinary things, including stuff we don’t like. None of it is separate.

– lish

Location: En route to Vegas from El Paso

Facing Fears

It feels appropriate to follow up my last post with something about fear. This blog is now private, but I’ll probably make it un-private some point soon.

All of this is on par with the way I tend to deactivate/reactivate/install/uninstall my social media. I want to be seen and heard when I feel open, light, and truthful—then I want to retreat and become invisible when I acknowledge how much work I’m still doing. Yes, it feels neurotic. As far as the blog goes, I often have a sense of being “unqualified” to write about the spiritual process, the ego, or collective transformation just because I am not perfectly enlightened, whatever I think that means.

This is a pretty crazy illusion/false belief I carry: That “until” I am at some (imagined, delusional) standard of perfect beingness, I have no business writing what I know is true. Some part of me is convinced that I should just drop everything, go sit in a park and be a transient beggar until, until… something. And that word—“until”—reveals the part of my mind that wants kick my fate further and further down the road.

By hiding, I reveal that think I must protect something. I reveal that I am afraid of vulnerability on some level. I seem to have deemed some part of myself and my work as “not good enough yet” or “not ready yet.” From a greater space of awareness, I see that this is my ego talking itself out of speaking the truths it’s been exposed to, because: fear. It’s also an avoidance of responsibility. I could just hop around the country going on dates and meditating on benches, you know? And yet, as fun as this is (for my unconscious ego), that is not what I am ultimately moved to do.

Also: Something happens to me at airports, especially when I’m flying one-way. Without any return plans, it feels unsafe, even though in reality it’s just me sitting at a gate with a piece of paper we call a boarding pass. Like most people, I overreact when I feel threatened. Next thing I know I’m sending text messages to people I haven’t talked to in a while—of course they’re men. That is my go-to method of ensuring a sense of safety: Make sure a man is willing to pay attention to me. 

I am aware this is at least partially rooted in the fact that my father was a volatile and neglectful figure all throughout my life. I am aware that I carry the emotional wounds of his behavior towards me in a program known as my unconscious ego. As I write this, I am living proof that all the mental “understanding” of your pain and its origins won’t erase it. We place so much emphasis on the mind in our culture, and it really is a poor tool when it comes to deep healing.

At this point, I do a lot of sitting and watching of the blockages in my heart (and in my throat a lot lately, which signifies that I do need to speak more truth). I exist with these blockages rather than labeling them “bad.” Sometimes they are there, and I accept them. I also see these “blockages”—which is really just another way of saying unconsciousness or darkness—as communicative. They are teaching me what needs to be done, which is continued heart-healing and more expressing of Truth.

I’ve also made a commitment to myself to avoid dating and all other ill-defined date-type scenarios for three months. The reason I’m doing this is simple: Since I was a teenager, I’ve been pretty screwed up about men. At present, I’m not even able to discern if I want a relationship and if so, why. The only way I am going to get clear on this is to put some distance between myself and all that tangled up nonsense. Then I will know if partnership is even something I’m truly suited for. If it is, I’ll be more likely to be in a deeply open and honest relationship if that is what arrives.

I have never had this. I don’t know very many people who have.

So, even though I don’t prefer to energize my own stories by writing about them ad nauseum (dad stuff, man stuff, nervous breakdown, alcohol alcohol alcohol), it would be a lie to act as if I am not impacted by my ego story anymore.

Again, all of this comes down to fear. I know I’m called to do this work, no matter what. I know I’m called to write about mental health and its relationship to consciousness and the spiritual process. I know I’m called to write about the ego-identity as the root of all external structures we profess to loathe (if you complain about late capitalism but do not at least strive for a meditation practice/other practice of inner work, I really don’t know what to tell you).

And yet I get scared of all the things we get scared of: Being misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and believed to be simplistic or platitudinous. As someone who was once mired in anger over the state of the world, I am aware of how “the spiritual answer” sounds to people who are at the level of intense frustration and outward blame. (This is the level most of us are at—if we even care at all.) I don’t want to be thought of as stupid or be disliked if I refuse to buy the ego-stories around me. I feel tired already at the thought of arguments I may have to face. I am saddened at the thought of “losing” those relationships and situations that are not fully nourishing to me on an energetic level, even though it isn’t really a loss.

Basically, sometimes I’m still a human who gives a shit what people think of me. The need for validation is a very deep egoic need that I haven’t let go of. Sometimes I hear people casually (and somewhat immaturely) say they “don’t care what other people think.” Usually, if ever the approval of our friends/family are pulled, we’re quick to readjust and fall back in line.

Even those who are “anti-” society in some way have their social circles they seek to appease. Sometimes, these kinds of circles demonize others. If we express the view that the “worst” people in the world are filled with unconsciousness and that there is nothing to be gained from hating them, there can be some push-back. I have found that people can be quick to defend why their hatred, their judgment, and their derision are acceptable, but other kinds aren’t. The blindness is staggering. I have also met a great deal of spiritual people who are still very much stuck at an “us vs. them” level, as I was for a long time.

In short: Living in a way that truly embraces humanity means you don’t really have a clique. The thought of losing a “group” or those people I consider “especially kindred” stokes fear in me.

But, in the end, it is not a service to me or anyone else to stay quiet when there are things I need to express. So I’m here, posting this thing, even amidst my fears and with the awareness that I am still working through issues. I am not free of desire. And even though I have seen enough to understand Truth conceptually, I am not always in peace. I’m still doing this thing. Sometimes it sucks, and at least I’ve released the fantasy that there will be a magical moment when it all “comes together.”

Unlike some of those involved in spirituality, I don’t believe we are “endlessly growing” or “always healing” or anything like that. There comes a time when we drop into divine flow and learn how to keep surrendering our small selves. It is no longer about healing at that point; it is about giving yourself up to the timeless, all-powerful stream of consciousness over and over, and trusting in it fully. Surrender and healing may happen simultaneously or one after the other, because there is no singular path. I seem to drop into flow, and then hit a karmic issue again. Then I heal, understand myself better, and begin to flow more.

Hitting the same karmic issue (have I mentioned yet that I’m kind of fucked up about men?) is annoying, but then again, it just is.

The very essence of spirituality is that it is triggering and bothersome. It is ultimately unhelpful to constantly chase mystical experiences, or to seek comfort in any New Age practice du jour. These types of things make us feel temporarily good and may seem to help us “make sense” when our lives fall apart or when unimaginably awful things happen in this world. However, just like when we use drugs or alcohol or any other form of avoidance, this reassurance always fades. We are left alone to face ourselves, time and time again.

Many times we go seeking solace and peace in our preconceived ideas about spirituality. Usually, we have very little appreciation for what lasting peace requires of us. What it requires is intensive inner digging, and a commitment to keep digging even when you feel totally exhausted of healing, self-analysis, and inner looking. It requires that you take all external authority with a grain of salt, and turn away from those who do not line up with the truth of your heart—including turning away from close friends, family members, and spiritual teachers. It may require you to live a strange and distant life for a while. It requires that when you see something in yourself you don’t like, you don’t recoil or deny its existence, but see it honestly. It requires that when it is time, you’re willing to disidentify from victim stories and statements about how other people/the world “make” you feel.

What we are after is complete responsibility for our state of being. With the exception of the severely ill or those who are fighting for survival (probably not you), we can learn to work with our minds. We can get our emotions in order and become vessels for peace rather than people who continually create enemies with our illusions. We can stop overreacting to the pain that exists in the world and learn to see it from a place of true, solid compassion.

We are all capable of these things with inner work and commitment to the Truth. What I have in this life is that commitment. I am still working to renew my commitment to myself and to this world every day, even when I feel fearful of walking further through my own fire and sharing the things I just did with you.

– lish

 

location: Austin, TX

Three Spiritual Truths

A few days ago, someone asked me to share three things with them about spirituality. Just three? I thought. Given the opportunity, I’ll go on about this shit forever, which is exactly while I have this blog. It took me a minute to generate an answer, but when I did, I wrote back fervently and had to cut myself off because I knew he was probably getting a lot more than he bargained for. My response turned into this post.

This conversation actually occurred in a Tinder chat window. I’m sharing this piece of information a) for the sake of openness, b) to illustrate that opportunities to share truth can come in unexpected places, and c) to point out that really, no activity is more or less “spiritual” than any other.

I’ve actually made some very nice connections through this medium, even though for a long time it was something I was completely closed to. Being closed has probably protected me at times, but it’s also shut me off from a lot of really awesome people, including those I wouldn’t normally consider “my type.” We all have people in our lives who like to categorize and mock “other kinds” of people. This is, quite frankly, super ignorant. I have yet to meet someone who is incapable of showing me some depth if I ask the right questions. I have let go of thinking I have “a type” and of meeting people any particular way: The divine leaves nothing out and holds no thing or person in higher regard than another. It is only our minds that do this.

Still I admit that Tinder is largely a weird distraction I stumbled into while traveling. Even though it has resulted in some interesting conversations (and a couple I ducked out of pretty quickly), I’ll probably delete it because really, what do I think I’m even doing? Any sort of partner for me (which I guess I’m not so much avoiding as I am trying to navigate with significantly more awareness than I have in past years [also, I’ve been failing at this again]) is not likely to be someone who is swiping through Tinder.

Then again, I’m on Tinder right now, so I guess you never know. I’m becoming less and less convinced that our outward choices (aside from things like, you know, murder and war and abuse) are very indicative of what’s going on inside. People do things for all kinds of reasons—most of them are surely unconscious—and sometimes people do things for no reason at all. In most cases, it’s been my projection to assume I know why anyone does anything, and that’s a projection I’d like to let go of.

Somehow I’m rambling about Tinder at this point and that feels absurd, so I’m gonna stfu and get on with this list:

1: Consciousness/Truth/Self/God/Soul/Reality/Pure awareness are all synonyms. They are also literally the same in all beings. Everyone’s true identity is this ineffable thing, but we routinely mistake ourselves for the body/mind.

We get so hung up on words and their precise definitions, as if knowing them will get us somewhere. Aside from the fact that there really is nowhere to go, it’s important to remember that when it comes to reading spiritual lessons/listening to spiritual teachers, we stop trying so hard to nail down concepts. Truth isn’t conceptual. It is also important to learn how to listen to energy more so than content, because anyone can say these things without having a deep insight. We all know how to read energy to some degree; it is intuitive. If you start to pay attention to this skill, it will sharpen on its own.

From our average conditioning (inaccurate perception), the words generally get defined like this:

Consciousness: Human thought and thinking.
Truth: Different for everyone.
God: An external creator of reality. If one is religious, God is tied to a particular prophet.
Soul: Something special and individual that every human has.
Reality: The world we appear to live in and the events that go on in it.
Awareness: Mental knowledge of something.
Who we Are: An individual with unique traits and life situations.

Waking up turns all this on its head. We see that instead of there being multiple definitions that are super important to understand, there really is just this one thing that is beyond definition. We learn to use words differently according to the situation, but loosely, the above words refer to the same Absolute.

This brings me to # 2…

2: Pure consciousness cannot be understood by the mind. I have said this before. I will say it again. Many teachers say this, and yet the vast majority of us continue to approach spirituality by thinking, and then we end up frustrated. This kind of understanding is a function of the intellect, a part of the mind that is generally overvalued in most of the people I talk to.

This is why meditation has been the recommended practice for so long: In time, it puts distance between you and your mind, allowing you to truly examine your crazy and then get it out. While changing the way you think can be extremely powerful, Truth cannot be talked to or thought to. What can we do then? The answer is always the same; it is never new: Change habits, start sitting with yourself regularly, read some spiritual books, simplify your life, and see what emerges.

Sometimes I get in discussions with those who are entirely in their minds, like Truth is another idea or a piece of trivia to pick up. It is not that. In order to effectively have these conversations, we have to drop into a different kind of energy and be ready to be wrong about everything we think we know. This is problematic for many people, because most egos don’t like to be wrong. As soon as we’re identified with what we already think we understand, we will defend it. I still watch this happen inside of myself sometimes, but it seems to be fading.

Intellectual understanding is a function of the mind, and the mind is couched within pure consciousness. Truth can be known but this knowing is different from intellectual understanding. In the same way that I can only weakly describe what it’s like to get music-tingles or fall in love, I can’t explain this thing to anyone on a mental level.

I end up in a lot of conversations where I can feel, energetically, that we are approaching the discussion from the level of mental understanding. The person I am talking to is looking for evidence, reasoning, and other intellectual functions. These conversations don’t go very far anymore, because I truly have no interest or emotional charge caught up in arguments. This change was pretty hard for my ego to digest at first because my top two favorite things used to be getting drunk and entertaining philosophical discussions.

But, Truth is not a piece of trivia, a set of beliefs, or any other kind of dogma. It simply is.

3: The ultimate truth of existence can be known. Sometimes I run into this maxim when I end up in talks about spirituality: “We can never really know these things for sure.” It feels like I am expected to agree with it, but I don’t.

Actually, we can know. If I had any doubts about Reality, I would have never changed my life. If I went through hell and back only to be wading through the waters of doubt about who I am, what would be the point? The goal is to firmly know, and this is possible. Having the ability to realize the Absolute is the greatest privilege of being human, even though it can come with the experience of egregious suffering as well.

Lots of times people insist that it is impossible to be sure, generally because they are still looking for answers in their minds. Usually they have not started any spiritual practice and are engaged in consciousness-lowering behaviors, and yet they still say it cannot be known. This is always kind of weird to me. It’s like saying we can’t know for sure what color the sky is, but they’ve never even looked up.

In this case, “looking up” would be to give up habits that lower consciousness and commit to a life rooted in pursuit of self-knowledge. This only happened for me after I was graced with a strange and totally unexpected awakening. It can happen in an instant, truly.

Many of us are not consciously seeking Truth, and that is also fine. Know that it is always in your power to walk the path, but it’s serious work, even with the huge energetic boost of an awakening. At first it is deeply uncomfortable to see how wrong and ignorant you are about life and your identity. Now I find it to be generally fun, and have a little laugh at my mind when I notice it’s got me caught up in all the same bullshit as always (Oh hi Tinder/preoccupations with dudez).

In any case, we all arrive here in due time. It’s all happening just as it should, and it’s always an individual’s choice if they’d like to put in more effort towards reaching ultimate freedom. I highly recommend it, but also have no desire to convince anyone of anything.

– lish

location: Burlington, WA

Keep Looking Inward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you all,

lish

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

Less Mind, More Heart

In Austin, I responded to a craigslist ad seeking vegetarian housemates who were interested in self-awareness. The price was good, the location looked awesome, and I loved the idea of forming a small community of individuals who’d live together consciously. The man who owned the house was incredibly kind and offered to pick me up and show me the space. But when I stepped out of my friend’s apartment to go check it out, I got a very clear and obvious “no, don’t,” from inside. The signal was strong: Getting a place, no matter how beautiful, meant dropping several hundred dollars. It probably meant locking down a job. It meant “building a life,” to some extent.

I don’t really know how to explain my need to not do this, but that’s how I feel. Never has it felt so right to have nothing and be nothing. The soul compels me to stay open, to not move into a routine of predictability and consistency—not yet anyway. I respond to the soul and do not question it, because I’ve learned that obeying the soul is the only way to freedom and deep peace. The mind, of course, does not like this. It watches my bank account get a little lower and says “you need to get a job now,” “you need to know for sure where you’re sleeping tomorrow,” and all kinds of other totally practical concerns. My heart-based response is “I hear you, mind, but you take a backseat to my heart now.”

Even so, I do not advocate a head-in-the-clouds kind of attitude towards spirituality wherein we assume that “God will just take care of us.” Sometimes everything can feel so magical on the path that you’ve got stars in your eyes and it seems as if nothing can go wrong. On the level of Ultimate Reality, this is true. Everything is perfect. Nothing can go wrong. I hear these kinds of sentiments often, and yet when something actually happens in the world (death, loss of money, theft), very few people retain their equanimity. I’m not sure I would either, and I’m not trying to make the claim that any reaction is “wrong” or “unspiritual.” If anything, though, this fact does highlight the rarity and beauty of one who is grounded in the Self at all times. No outer situation troubles their peace. All events, including emotions and thoughts, are accepted immediately and then released. They do not allow others to determine their state of being. For them, the illusion of control in this world has fallen entirely, and surrender is the permanent state.

It also bears noting that if we get too confident in the magic of living spiritually, often something humbling occurs just so we’re reminded of how not special we are. We ought to never think of ourselves as more important or worthy of care than any other person in the world. The divine plays no favorites and takes no sides. It is true that consciousness and trust in the universe can carry us very far and lead to beautiful experiences, but remember: On the path, the ultimate goal is the dissolution of the ego-identity. And in Reality, no experience gets you closer to this goal than any other. Experiences and life situations happen on the level of the mind, but on the soul-level, none of these things feel particularly different. The status of the soul remains unchanging and yet always new, even as the outward configurations change rapidly and unpredictably. Soul is boundlessly complete and shining; mind fluctuates and chases the things that mimic the light of the soul.

Even as much as I’m in love with this nomadic way of living for now, I know that travel isn’t necessary for self-awareness. I have ended up in this conversation with many people who are convinced that travel is a prerequisite for developing a universal perspective. This is simply untrue. One whose sole possession is a cardboard box in a small village who traverses their consciousness easily understands more about the human condition than someone who has traveled the world collecting experiences. Once you know the root and the source of your own being, there is nothing that “exploring other cultures” can really teach you. Everything we need to know about ourselves and the state of humanity is right inside of us and requires no physical relocation.

As my heart said “don’t settle in Austin,” it simultaneously said, “go to New Mexico.”

It’s kind of jarring how abrupt and obvious my intuition can be. One minute I was thinking “Oh, I’m going to check out this nice house near Barton Springs,” and in the next it was like “Nope; I’m done here.” My intuition has, on its own, become more developed the longer I stay sober, meditate, and otherwise listen to it. I know well the risks of denying my intuition. Suppressing the heart’s movements and wanton passions is a recipe for misery every time. The heart wants what it wants and points directly to those things and people you need to become self-aware. Listen to it. Your mind will protest, but maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll just lose your mind someday.

In order to responsibly follow the heart, some maturity is needed. For example: If I went wayfaring like this five years ago, I would’ve been drunk all the time and could’ve easily ended up in some less-than-ideal situations. Fortunately, I’m older and grounded now, and was in the awesome situation of having musician friends in town to play South by Southwest. I ended up watching music with them all day long, and the next day they graciously let me get come along with them to Albuquerque. Unceremoniously I grabbed my things (two bags and two boxes) and got into the car. We hung out at a house show for a while, the guys drove through Texas until 4 in the morning, and then we crashed at a Days Inn. I dropped off the boxes at a local post office in order to jettison more stuff. Now it’s just me and two stuffed bags. Driving around with the band was really amazing and hilarious; I basically laughed for 24 hours straight and felt great even while totally sleep-deprived.

Today I sit at a coffee shop in Albuquerque, waiting for the train to Santa Fe to arrive.

When I went to the ashram I did not know I’d go to Austin or how; when I got to Austin I did not know I’d go to Albuquerque or how. I have the delightful sensation of leap-frogging through the unknown and being pleasantly surprised at every turn.

One day I feel I may need to write a series of posts about developing intuition and staying grounded, but for now I’ll just say that heartfulness is the most needed quality in this world. We need more people grounded in heart, people who are willing to let their presence and energy do the talking for them. An untrained mind will always try to convince you otherwise. It thinks people need to be “told” about what is right, what needs to be done, how to be spiritual, and on and on. It’s obvious that this is ultimately ineffective and a tactic of the “spiritual” ego-identity. One who silently radiates Truth teaches more powerfully than the most verbose intellectual does.

The harsh news is that unless we’re capable of sitting in one place with ourselves and knowing peace, we can’t spread peace throughout the world. Miraculously, once we’re straightened out, we find that the rest of the world starts to follow suit, and all of life becomes infinitely more beautiful. Even a world that is as unconscious as ours can be viewed through calm, divine eyes; these eyes do not judge or hold anything against the world for not being what the mind might call “perfect.” These are the eyes that know perfection is already here. They are the eyes of the heart.

– lish

 location: Albuquerque, NM

Happiness and the Heart

I keep trying to write the best “oh hey I’m back in the world” post, but I’ve accepted that it isn’t gonna happen. The truth is that I have very little to say. I am happy and free; I am so happy that I didn’t even know happiness could exist in this way. The coffee shop I’m sitting at is playing “Shadowplay” by Joy Division, I am caffeinated, I am fed, and in my backpack I have Don Quixote and Leaves of Grass to read. I admittedly feel like a bit of a cliche as a spiritual wanderer; I’m also totally okay with this. My phone is charged up and yesterday I downloaded a playlist of rap from the early 2000s. I cannot imagine what else I could need at this moment.

I feel somewhat wary that if I say too much about the joy that surges through me on a daily basis, it’ll come across as braggy or disingenuous. There is even sometimes a sense of embarrassment for how freaking happy I am. And yet, at the same time, we’re living in this world where there is such a dearth of true joy that I  feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops: I’m healthy, free, happy, stable, and grounded, and this is possible for everyone on Earth. I am calm and often feel naturally meditative… all this, even though I’m not clear at all on what my next move in life will be. I have no job, no car, no permanent living space, no plan, and yet it feels completely fine to be falling in this way. There is a sense of having nothing yet having everything. There is no fear and I feel safe and taken care of. I am confident in what I’m rooted in: It is a safe space within that has no end, but no longer feels so big that I’m afraid of it.

It is very beautiful indeed, and that is a tremendous understatement.

This is not to say every moment is bliss. Two days ago I hardly felt real. I sat in the Texas State cemetery and cried a little for no particular reason, wondering when I’d finally be the “fully whole and integrated” person I expected to be by then. There was a wash of nothingness in my being, and even though I wrote quite a bit, the words felt hollow and empty. My energy was low, but from where I sit now I see that the low energy wasn’t even a problem. The problem was that I started the day from the wrong mind which said I “should” be busy “accomplishing” things (write a short story, write a blog post, read 30 pages, go for a run).

Quite simply, that’s crazy. I know this is what we do in our culture—make goals and attack them—but achieving worldly goals really isn’t what I’m going for here. I’m going for inner freedom, full stop. How free can we be if we’re beholden to the mind that forces us to go-go-go, even when what we really need to do is sit in a cemetery and cry for no reason? Being in tune with our energy and allowing it to move us (rather than forcing an action due to our conditioning) is the only way to live. Furthermore, when I allow in this way, I actually get things done while dwelling in a space of deep peace and aliveness. When we are not living in a state of surrender to the way things are, including our ever-changing energies, we make ourselves miserable.

This platitude, this thing we hear over and over again with regards to spirituality—surrender—makes more and more sense the further you go: Stop trying to be somebody; stop clinging to the memories and beliefs about what your life should look like. Applying “shoulds” to life negates our ability to accept what is and reveals an attitude of thanklessness. We deny our very lives by insisting that they “should be” going any other way than they are, and grasping onto the ego identity when the soul is ready to wake up only brings suffering. The answer is to just keep letting go of all the things you think you know; jettison as many thoughts and beliefs as you can while maintaining stability. Just trust and breathe: If your life is not in immediate danger, you can access profound peace. The more I do this, the better and better I feel.

And yet, surrender is not the kind of thing we can be taught “how” to do in the same way we are taught to do other things. It is very subtle, and consists of bringing yourself back into this moment over and over and over. It requires a gentle vigilance with the undisciplined mind, which can often take us away and convince us to be very worried and stressed and sad. We must be gentle because if we try to “force” the mind, it will always rebel; we must be vigilant because we’re working on many lifetimes of conditioning here. When we slack, the egoic mind easily gains a foothold.

Still, no matter how we overcomplicate it, life is really very simple if you seek to know Truth: Drop into your heart. Take care of your body and purify yourself in this way (I’m generally talking total sobriety and veggies, guys; sorry not sorry). Sit with yourself in silence. Be grateful and stop blaming others for your state of being. One day, an unending fountain of peace will appear, and whatever happens after that is fine.

This peace is necessarily found outside of the mind and inside of the heart. A lot of people get caught up in arguments and discussions about Truth, but once it is found, these things become less and less interesting. Truth is not something to be right or wrong about; it is not something to defend. The mind cannot make sense of this peace, and this peace cannot be thought to. All the books and theories on consciousness are not important, and I say that as someone who was once totally identified with “writing about consciousness.” Reading and writing are nothing in comparison to simply dwelling in the presence of God, which is also You in your purest form.

The main difference between egoic happiness and true happiness is that the former can be taken away.

It arises alongside things like possessions, titles, money, fame, status, and other kinds of external validation. This temporary happiness is the result of the ego’s constant need to be inflated. Egoic happiness is fleeting and ephemeral, which (and I feel I must always make this part clear) doesn’t mean it is bad. It just means that it’s unstable: Wherever an ego identity derives its validation—be it from our relationships, our jobs, our skills, or our Tinder matches—these things will one day disappear.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy when a new lover comes into our lives or we get the perfect job, but that if there is not an underlying foundation of immovable peace in God, they are worthless. It’s important to keep everything in perspective: Life situations are subject to falling apart (or ending entirely) at any moment, and the only true safety is in the timeless perfection of the Self.

Deep gratitude naturally unfolds in this way: Not only am I free and alive in God, but I’m drinking an Americano and eating a banana with peanut butter? Holy shit! How glorious! All of life’s external configurations really are just icing on the cake of the Self. Somewhat paradoxically, we often have to give up all that icing in order to realize the cake. Even so, if we don’t renounce the icing voluntarily, it will be taken from us either way. This is the beauty of the fiction that is death: The lesson is built into the entire experience.

We are all bound for realization, true happiness, and peace that passes all understanding; the only question is how long it takes. It also requires the very unpredictable element of divine grace, an unimaginably powerful force I cannot explain, and so I won’t try. As human beings, we have the opportunity to put effort into our spiritual paths, and that’s the only way to up your odds of self-realization. With effort, we’re more likely to experience deep realizations, but they can happen either way, so it’s best to be prepared.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track, so I’m going to end this post. I hope to write again soon, but, as always, I don’t know—not because I’ve lost my love of writing (if anything, I love it more), but, again, because I honestly feel like I have nothing to say. There’s about 10 gazillion spiritual books that will say this stuff better than I will, though I’m sure I’ll improve. I’m personally reading through Talks with Ramana Maharshi and feeling like shutting the hell up. Perhaps I am just in a particularly still internal phase right now, but I can’t be sure. In the end there is nothing but immortality; there is nothing but this now here; there is nothing but perfect, awake emptiness.

The only plan I have in life is to go forth and carry this peace with me wherever I go, and if it feels right, I’ll update this thing.

Thinking of everyone lovingly,

– lish

Truth Takes No Sides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– lish

Revolution and the Soul

I have been sober for nine months. Choosing sobriety has been an invaluable piece of my growth and healing, however it still feels secondary: My real problem was never an addiction to alcohol, though many online quizzes over the course of my life would say otherwise. My problem was that I had no idea who I was, but the substitutions I accepted for this knowledge always felt, to some degree, counterfeit.

I have been on a frantic search for myself all my life, and have attempted to dowse my wounds in anything that seemed to resemble this discovery. It bears noticing that our addictions do resemble the discovery: There is comfort and assuredness in them, to a lesser degree than the soul offers, but far greater than anything else we can find. They bear a hardness, a consistency: If alcohol only got me drunk some of the time, I would not have come to love it so dearly. One secret of addiction lies in its reliability. Nothing in life is so guaranteed as the sensations granted to us when we indulge in our addictions. They do not fail us, and in the end, that is what addicts are chasing: Something that will not fail them.

When we do not know ourselves, we are automatically in danger. In this state we can become whatever the world tells us to be. The trouble with this way of operating is that the world cannot properly instill someone with a sense of self; it can only instill them with the proper beliefs and actions to further the state of the world as it already exists. If the world is steeped in war and exploitation, it turns humans into warriors and exploiters. The human being, without knowledge of itself, can be molded in any way that the zeitgeist demands: It can become a salesman or a politician or a hipster or a businessperson, depending on skills and circumstance, but it does not become who it is. Along the same lines: When one knows firmly who they are, they cannot be made them into something else. It seems that one function of the world as it stands is to rob us of our divine self-awareness in youth and turn us into automatons that further its current program. If a person truly knows who they are, this kind of conditioning cannot be done.

Most often we become decent, tangentially involved in the wider machine, doing our best yet still in many ways feeding this machine. It is not my aim to cast judgment on any specific way of life, but to highlight the way it so happens that we act together to destroy the wildness and purity that once shone gloriously on this planet. This destruction happens in spite of our best intentions, no matter how good we try to be. The question, as always, is why?

In response to this question, individuals blame industry, and industry blames individuals. Each one ignores that the individual is the micro, the industry is the macro, and that they are parasitic upon one another. If either one were to completely transform, the other would follow suit very quickly. Upon such a revelation, it only matters who has the firmest resolve.

If you are not sure how to defect from the aforementioned worldly mechanisms, the answer is always to go within, to hunker in the heart until the steps reveal themselves. Do not seek with the mind. In all likelihood, the mind does not work in service to the real you yet. If it did, this mind would not create suffering in your being.

The difference between a soul-based aspiration and a mind-based desire often lies in its specificity: As I’ve stated, the soul does not crave objects or people, but the mind absolutely does. The soul does not have itself set on any rigid outcome such as fame or even a “better world,” but the mind does. The soul is not disturbed by setbacks, insults, criticism, or judgment; the mind hates every one of these fervently. Once we are unified in ourselves, words like “heart” and “mind” come to mean roughly the same thing; they work in tandem as perfect complements. The mind and heart form a sacred marriage within the overall human being, and together their offspring is unstoppable.

When we want to know the truth and drop away from collective illness, we must dwell in the heart and wait. Little by little (or perhaps all at once) the soul will become less shy in what it asks of us. Being the source of all wisdom, the soul is what guides us to become the culture-challenging yet loving individuals we often seek to become. When I say “loving,” I mean a state of acceptance that necessarily includes every last one of us. (This acceptance also does not mean “approval.”) Love does not chop us into categories and then judge who is worthy of It. Conditional love is not love; it is attachment. Seeing this, it becomes clear how severely love-starved we are as a species.

I feel confident that to be truly loving and revolutionary is a common aspiration, but striking a balance presents a challenge. Whether consciously or not, we all desire a free society where none are deemed invalid or insignificant. We do not wish to see each other as beggars, or even ourselves as “better off.” We also wish to be gentle towards one another, because inside of everyone and everything, the same soul lives. The soul always knows this, even as the hivemind creates its separations and various class divisions. Human beings desire to be loved and to be free; all other desires are merely disguises of these two primary aims.

Peace and freedom can only ever co-exist; engagement in one furthers the other. If a free society is sought after by violent means, it will fail. Over the course of history, understandably angry people have tried to bypass this truth. And yet, for every violent revolution that calls itself social progress, humankind still stands at the precipice of complete annihilation. For all of the supposed freedoms we enjoy, our misery is unprecedented. I ask honestly: Did the suffragettes march so that I could sit in an apartment and think of suicide? Was the revolutionary war fought so that we could stare at screens all day, fall into poor health, and take life for granted? Do we, as a whole, feel proud to have a timeline that consists of little more than trading one form of enslavement for another? It bears noting that those who seek greater freedoms are not usually the ones calling for violence; rather it is brought to them by those defending structures they threaten. But the point stands: How far have we truly come? How do we bring about the sorely needed internal revolution?

When action is taken from a mind based in truth, the movement is effective in that it promotes consciousness overall. When action is taken from a mind based in anger or a sense of being wronged, the effect is neutral or worse-than. Therefore, if we have external causes that we fight for, we must be firmly rooted in the truth first and foremost. If we don’t yet know what “truth” means, it must be prioritized over our causes. In coming into contact with it, the cause may change significantly.

Conditioned minds always crave more of the same, even if “the same” is a nightmare. The common mind is but a natural machine running the program for auto-destruct. These minds combine into one big mind, until humanity itself acts upon the planet like a natural disaster so wide in scope that it cannot be fathomed. It is the soul that holds the code to override this program, but you cannot force the soul to speak this code. This is in part because the soul does not respond to force, nor does it make itself known with blunt commands. After being suppressed for so long, you could liken the soul to a frightened kitten hidden in the basement of your house. We must listen closely to hear its cries, and there is much trust to be gained before it will climb purring into your lap.

Here the metaphor breaks down into absurdity, but is as follows: The cat you restore to health and docility transforms into a wizard that burns down your house. Secretly, this wizard also simultaneously builds you another more spacious and beautiful home. You can only move in once you accept that the wizard has always known—even from the time it pretended to be a crying, frightened kitten—that it would burn down and rebuild your house.

Even when the house is rebuilt, the wizard won’t stop coming over. It keeps showing up to fix problems you didn’t know existed, whether or not you like it. One day the wizard will sit with you and ask, “do you understand why I had to pretend I was a frightened kitten?” By this point, in seeing the heights of craftsmanship this wizard is capable of, you will understand, and thank the wizard for his deception. If you’d known beforehand what that scared little kitten would become, you would not have gone looking for it, believing you were doing it some wonderful favor.

Give the soul the tiniest recognition that you are there for it and listening, and it will take you for an entirely transformative ride. It will give you much more than you bargained for, until one day you learn to acquiesce and yield to its movements because the soul knows much more than you do.

Words along these lines—“obey” and “acquiesce”—used to really bother me. In service to worldly institutions and people in uniform, they still do. False authorities ought not be obeyed, and every external authority is false. Such people are unconsciously playing make-believe, and I take their authority no more seriously than I do a little girl who insists she is a princess. When I talk about obedience and acquiescence now, I only ever mean to your own self. All this fighting we do inside is unnecessary: All there is to do is yield to the soul. Let your mind pitch its fits, watch closely how it tries to destroy you, and then resume with the original plan: Yield to the soul.

The soul, using my emotions as a megaphone, has pulled me to act in many different ways. It has moved me to be solitary and honest, and to at least admit when I am acting irrational and childish—ultimately, to relinquish the latter. I admit with pleasure that I am still not rational, though my childishness rears up sometimes and I am temporarily possessed by things like jealousy and hyperbolic nostalgia. I sometimes want things that are not fair to others, but this is fading. I am becoming more me each day.

– Lish

Soul Over Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish