Conditioning, Culture, The Soul, Transformation, Truth, Uncategorized

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

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Consciousness, Meditation, Spirituality, Suffering, The Mind, The Soul, Truth

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

 

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Awakening, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Spirituality, Transformation, Truth

Notes on the Truth

The most confounding concern for any spiritual seeker is this: “How?” How do we “become enlightened?” How do we realize the Truth? How to we realize the Self? How do we stumble upon that which we really are? How do we become that which is infinite, changeless, and formless in our own consciousnesses, not simply in theory? Usually, for some amount of time, the mind is obsessed with the how, and chases after the moment of awakening like one might chase after anything else.

But if there is anything we can say about Truth, it is that it is paradoxical and does not follow any fixed laws. I will not lie and say there is a predictable way to attain it (nor am I fully comfortable with using words like “attain” for it). At best I can offer some tools that have helped to integrate my awakening, but it would be dishonest to say I was looking for what “I” re-discovered in myself, or that there is any particular method by which it occurred. It came out of nowhere in the midst of a life that felt rather saturated in problems. My entire being was blindsided by it, and this created a big mess. This is why I advocate for gradual, sane awakenings.

There is no logical consistency to it, truly no “path,” and no guarantees about it. Realizing Truth stands in stark contrast to every other “goal” as we are taught to approach it. We are conditioned to believe that anything worth having must be ardently striven for. To experience the Self outside of this conditioning, you even have to let go of the idea that Truth can be “gotten” in such a way.

I have no answer to the “how,” except to say that there is no surefire “how.” I believe anyone who says they do have a definite “how” is either lying or mistaken.

One of my favorite quotes is that “enlightenment always happens by accident, but practice makes us accident-prone.” If you are out of practice, it can still happen; it’s just going to be a lot more intense (and not necessarily in a good way) when you wake up. I invite you to read this piece by Osho on “accidental enlightenment” if you’re interested.

One metaphor I particularly like is that enlightenment is similar to being struck by lightning, and following a conscious spiritual path turns you into a lighting rod. If you take up practices, keep yourself sober and healthy, read books by reliable sources, and follow your heart in life, your being is probably at a place where it is drawing nearer to enlightenment (or vice versa.). You make yourself more likely to “get hit” in this way. Even better, if this lightning strikes, it will be channeled through you in a much better way than if you do nothing to cultivate your consciousness ahead of time.

It is also prudent to view self-realization with just as much respect as we do literal lightning: It can bring with it a sense of pure power. In someone who is spiritually immature (as I was, and am still growing out of), this energy is really not wielded well at all. To continue following this metaphor, we have to imagine someone very strong who has the presence of mind to calmly withstand being struck by lightning. I don’t know if this is possible, but let’s pretend: You could end up running around like a maniac, caught on fire by your realization (without practice), or standing in awe of the totality of this power, allowing it to surge through your being and inform you of what, if anything, to do next (with practice).

When we wake up, it also becomes clear that the Truth has been with us the whole time; it has only been temporarily covered over with various attachments, illusions, and other mental clutter. It is like remembering you have a fortune when you believed you were bankrupt or waking up in the arms of your lover during a dream in which they have died: There’s a wash of relief for sure, and also a great deal of joy upon seeing your own mistake in believing things were not always this way. In the face of Reality, your former ignorance is revealed as a kind of joke.

I have made metaphors like this before, and I will continue to do so: Trying to be enlightened is like “trying” to have a heartbeat. It is always there, and always has been. Still, you can bring more awareness to your heartbeat; then maybe one day it just pops into your conscious mind: The steady, life-affirming rhythm you never could have existed without becomes eternal in your awareness.

When you the see the Truth that lives inside of you, all mysteries and maladies of the human condition become clear and even simple to resolve: “All” we have to do is realize the Truth. A good skeptic will not believe this, nor should they. And even though the words may seem too trite and childish to carry weight—“just realize the Truth”—what I am actually speaking of is completely revolutionary, healing, and hilarious when it is realized. It is not what you think it is.

So what is the Truth? I am not going to define it, in part because it cannot be defined. Truth never changes and yet it never repeats; how could any honest person define such a thing? Every person really does have to look for themselves. Anyone who has encountered the Truth will know they cannot adequately “explain” it to you, nor will they ask you to accept anything they say unquestioningly. This is another issue I take with religious institutions: These organizations often insist that followers “must” accept certain things in order to be known and loved by God. The main problem with all this “you must accept x prophet as The Best Savior” stuff is that it is patently False. God requires nothing of you or anyone else. God is unconditional acceptance, nonjudgmental observance, and pure awareness of All That Is. This space is also within you, and it can be realized. To say otherwise is to trivialize and make a mockery of God: Imagining this God has jealousies, preferences, and plays favorites? What we are thinking of here is an ill-mannered yet popular teenager, not the Almighty.

Secondly, getting people to stop seeking by handing them the “correct” beliefs robs them of their opportunity to truly discover it. To me, this is the most tragic part: Clinging to and/or identifying with fixed mental positions means you have wrapped your purity up in a costume. Truth reveals itself once we give up our identifications, so when we try to goad someone into picking up an identification (as a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.), we effectively halt their spiritual growth. Anytime we “add” layers to ourselves—of belief or philosophy—we evade abiding in that pure state. Of course, those who dole out the “things that must be accepted” are not aware that they’re actually preventing the true spread of God in this world.

No one who has had this realization will claim they can give it to you. Instead they will ask you to look inside yourself, find your own answers, and never give up. They may suggest that you don’t make “enlightenment” a goal per se—indeed it is not “your” goal to achieve—but keep the thirst for realization close at heart.

In my quite limited wisdom, I would suggest not overthinking it, but seeking clarification from qualified teachers and books. There are many qualified teachers, but finding one requires some amount of spiritual discernment, since anyone can learn to simply say words about “existence” and “Truth.” Behind all this talk, there may be an ego seeking admiration and praise, or even just an ego that now assumes the role of a “spiritual teacher,” as if that means something fixed, with some superior sense of moral righteousness. With your own practice—meditation, reading spiritual books, breath work, journaling, yoga, or anything that truly stills your mind—you will begin to build up this kind of spiritual discernment. Dharma talks and satsangs will resonate in ways they did not before. You will develop “an ear” for those who are telling the Truth, and an equally astute sense for disingenuousness.

It is extremely helpful to find at least one spiritual friend you trust and clarify your knowledge together though conversation. I believe that two intelligent people looking inward can spark plenty of insight, even if neither has been “struck by lightning.” Asking is beautiful because it means we don’t know everything. It is always a humble act to ask questions. We must always accept that we really don’t know, and avoid falling into the trap of thinking we know much of anything at all. At some point accumulated knowledge even starts to feel like baggage—it just takes up space and it doesn’t get you closer to your Self.

Then, in one instant, the Truth arrives subtly and yet blindingly obvious. It is just the Truth.

– Lish

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Culture, Depression, Inner Work, Suffering, Transformation

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering, 2

One of my most popular posts is “The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering.” I felt like expanding on it in the hope of shedding more light on suffering, since emotional pain generates more questions than any other human experience.

Many well-known creators and thinkers over the course of human history were not without their demons. We look to these people and wonder what it is about emotional tumult that pushes them into acts of creative expression. We also want there to be a glimmer of something not-awful in all that torments us. The good news is that this is true: There is a relationship between these things, and if you are suffering often for “no apparent reason,” I believe it means you’re in the thick of becoming who you are.

In the first post I liken the spiritual growth process to the Theory of Positive Disintegration. In this metaphor, your ego is a seed casing and suffering is the pressure which pushes you to ultimately flower. Positive Disintegration is a theory of development I really love, in part because it views the human organism as growth-oriented by default. This has become glaringly obvious to me: By our very nature we are all pulled to evolve, to become, and to outgrow our childish and destructive behaviors. Yogic theory agrees: This view posits that the thing pulling on us is higher consciousness itself. Consciousness is always trying to pull you up and towards it, out of your neuroses and into your Self. In short, you are all but “doomed” to evolve and grow, whether or not you think you even want to yet.

Here’s the rub: To access these “higher” spaces means we must let go of that which we imagine to be safe and familiar. It’s when we try to remain seeds (or roots, or saplings) out of fear that hurts us. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to discuss that it is resistance to growth that creates the most suffering, not growth itself.

Having said all that, I don’t believe suffering is a prerequisite for creation. We are all creators, whether or not we are aware of it, and whether or not anything tangible is made with our bodies and/or minds. The romanticization of pain (and addiction and mental illness) is an unfortunate byproduct of our culture. We recognize the significance of art and that the act of creation is a wonderful thing to do as a human. So, when our great thinkers and creators are addicts and “crazy people,” we start to glamorize these parts of their minds. (FYI: Addiction and madness are super not-glamorous.)

The reason this is unfortunate is because our best work actually comes when we are calm, well-cared for, and “out of the way” of the creative process. Additionally, work can be done with joy done even when it deals in heavy matters. For instance: I’m here writing about things like the apocalypse, addiction, and mental illness and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

I believe artists often wrestle with demons because many millions of humans are not yet as keenly aware of their inner evolution. They have not yet been pulled into the storm of what Dabrowski would call “Stage 2.” If, by some incredible miracle, everyone were to wake up to Reality at once, the “demons” we see in the gifted would dissolve immediately. The average amount of awareness, being quite low, acts to hold those back who are trying to grow at an accelerated rate. If they were in a more nourishing environment—one that saw the value in their evolution rather than feeling threatened by it (or worse, trying to find a way to “monetize” said evolution)—suffering in this way would be reduced.

It’s almost like creators and philosophers across generations have always been trying to climb out of a mud pit made of tyranny, cruelty, and other hierarchies (even if they themselves have fallen to cruelty and egotism). We all know this is virtuous on some level. It is also difficult and painful for them to challenge the mold around them—and when I say this, I mean in unfashionable ways. In society there is often a “cause du jour,” and many of us feel righteous when we jump on the bandwagon to challenge these things. But in this sense, I am more speaking of philosophers such as Kierkegaard (or Truth-bringers such as Christ) who were denigrated and yet continued to follow their hearts and consciences. These kinds of people are significantly more rare, and for this, can receive a great deal of ostracization. This kind of life can render one isolated and “in their own world,” which, of course, hurts. It does not need to be this way.

Here are some additional bulletpoints on growth and suffering:

  1. As a human, you are pulled towards growth. Growth means leaving your seed casing, your present ego. When we intellectualize it, question it, doubt it, or suppress it, we are fighting a process that cannot really be fought. 
  2. We create suffering by refusing to accept the changes that accompany inner growth. I can’t tell you what changes will need to be made once you start really expanding. It may be certain relationships, your job, your location, your habits, or any number of less-dramatic tweaks. On the other hand, you may not feel moved to change much externally at all. No one can say what will need to be done if/when you wake up or grow spiritually—only your own inner compass can point you to these changes. Also, your intuition probably already has an idea. My advice is to follow that intuition, even though your mind will resist it. To see this process through, your conditioned mind has to get out of the driver’s seat of life. It is not your friend. 
  3. The more often we refuse to accept who we are and what we need to do, the more suffering we cause ourselves. Refusal to do what you are pulled to do (in favor of the mind’s “but wait” nonsense) is resistance, through and through. For instance: Alcohol was a big thing for me. My ego did not want to give it up. In service to my ego, my mind did a great number of tricks in order to keep me drinking for years longer than I should have. Guess what? The amount of suffering I created for myself due to my unwillingness to drop this habit is incalculable: So many humiliating texts were sent, and so much morning shame was endured. In Ireland, after not being able to eat normally for three days due to a whisky hangover, I pleaded with my liver to not give up on me. It sucked. Now I fully recognize that it was part of my path to play around with this drug for as long as I did. Letting go of alcohol happened in its own time. Still, along the way, it hurt, over and over and over again, and always in the same way. It really comes down to this: How many times do you need to humbled by suffering before you’re actually ready to change? The answer is different for everyone. 
  4. Growth won’t stop just because the “little you” feels over it. Do we understand what I mean by the “little you”? I mean the one who believes it “should” be in control, who falls into despair when life does not go “their way,” and assumes they can muscle life into some kind of acquiescence to better suit their desires. The “little you” is made of childish delusion; it does not want to accept disagreeable realities or concede that it really isn’t in charge. More times than I can count, I have asked myself this question: “When will this whole thing just end?” And that created a lot of suffering, because here’s real talk: It won’t end. This is another good thing to just accept. Yes, in regards to spiritual awakening, it will level out. This turmoil does not last forever. If you persist and persist and persist, the mind will take its rightful place within your expanded consciousness and quit creating awful feelings for you all the time. I promise you this will happen if you just keep going, even when you think you can’t. But growth itself is unending. The intense awakening is more like the drastic moves out of the seed casing and above the ground. In this sense—to liken you to a tree—once you are a sapling, the emotional storm settles. Even so, you’re still going to be growing upwards for a very long time.

  5. Ultimately, sadness and pain are transient thoughts. I know this won’t land well for anyone with severe depression, but hear me out: Consciousness (you) always exists in boundless, infinite form; sorrow and despair just float through at times. Like everything else within pure consciousness, they come and go. Pure consciousness is the only unchanging thing. It is actually the attention we lavish upon sadness and pain that energizes them. Pay more attention to the negativity in someone, and they will become more negative. This is true for what you attend to in yourself as well. I don’t mean to imply that “changing where your attention goes” is a quick and easy task, or that recovery from a pattern of depression is going to happen overnight—but it can be done, and it is worth it. Nothing that I advocate for happens overnight. Recovery from anything, including deep depression, is rather the result of much effort and tenacity and belief in the possibility of recovery. There is a mental resilience that must be in place. If we are lacking this mindset, it is helpful even to start there.
  6. We cannot make logical sense out of life and/or anguish, even though we really want to. I know this is also a very unsatisfying thing to read, but it is true. Sometimes pain can be treated like a clue: Alcohol made me miserable, so I quit drinking. My job is becoming difficult for me, so I’m taking up a new endeavor. Other times pain completely defies rational explanation. There is no predictable, proportionate “amount” of pain that yields some other amount of growth. Similar to point #3, it really has to do with how long you need to be “worked on,” and that’s different for every individual. This thing isn’t an exact recipe yet it is also assured: Put enough pressure and heat on carbon, and it becomes a diamond. When we have a bit of space in our hearts, we can look back on suffering and see that it was actually a rather strange state to be in. And at the risk of sounding harsh, we can see that it is actually a bit arrogant—again, the work of the “little you”—to assume you should be the decider for when suffering is over. We are far more powerful than we imagine, but we are not the ultimate deciders for how we grow and what we need. The best we can do is make those necessary changes, keep up our practices, and have grit. Expecting a constant answer for the “why” of suffering is itself indicative of the need to grow. The truth is simply that we do suffer… until we don’t anymore. What happens in between is mysterious, and when we cultivate wisdom, we can even see the beauty in it. Furthermore, surrendering to the fact that all of this isn’t really “your call” can actually help a lot.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Consciousness, Culture, Mental Health

Empaths & Addiction

Tomorrow would’ve been my father’s 65th birthday, but he fatally overdosed on methadone when I was 17. He passed along his addictions and disposition to me, and I feel that in some way I atone for his life by living mine in this way now. If I do not follow in his footsteps and instead run in the opposite direction, his life was not a waste—though of course it is true that no life is ever “a waste.” That very notion is heavy with judgment, and I do not judge him or anyone else for the times they have fallen. I dedicate this post to him.

I said in this post that addiction is not a disease on its own, and I want to clarify that statement.

Obviously addiction is a serious condition that requires intervention as soon as possible. As far as I’m concerned, anyone struggling with any addiction (even if it’s just a “small” problem) would serve the world best by dropping everything and prioritizing their recovery now. Of course that would require us to live in a society where we took care of one another, one where people could unashamedly take a much-needed break from money-work and focus on their wellness. That is not where we live. Why is this? Unconsciousness, particularly the belief that we as “certain individuals” are “more deserving” of services and a happy life than other human beings. Also, we’d need effective treatment modalities that meet people where they’re at rather than trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction, but that’s another topic.

Why do the richest people not share more of their money? Ego and unconsciousness. Why does our society not have sane healthcare and rehabilitation policies? Ego and unconsciousness. This is always the root of that which we call greed, selfishness, and evil: The spell of the ego, the hypnosis that convinces us to act like we are not all of the same exact fabric. The only long-term strategy to lift ourselves out of this haze is to become like “carriers” for consciousness, to dispel darkness in this way. It is out of this internal process that external changes are born. The egoic human mind is what requires overturning first and foremost: Without pulling this ignorance up at its root, we are still doomed to self-destruction, no matter how democratically it is carried out.

Those that get labeled “addicts” are often intelligent, sensitive people. Not long ago, I told a friend that sometimes I feel like “the dials on me are cranked all the way up”: I mean the dials for absorbing emotions, noticing others’ needs, frustration, and impatience, as well as picking up on their underlying anxiety. These things strike a chord because they also live in me, but they are heightened in group settings. I’m sure that many of you understand this: Some people call it being a Highly Sensitive Person, or just being an empath. As an empath, daily life means taking a lot in on an energetic level, and that’s just one piece of it. Being an empath is a strength, not a weakness, but it can make life more painful.

Then there’s the intellectual part, which looks around and recognizes that the jig is just about up on civilization as we know it. We see the swarms of desperate human beings, the thirsty, the hungry, and those who will be cooked by the heat of the sun due to our current mode of living. We see the last of the snow leopards, the toxic air, the end of rainforests. I confess that I’ve sobbed at the thought of a caterpillar being run over by a car (it was a rough day). Even if it is not in direct view, we can intuit what is coming, and it’s not great, to put it mildly.

If you really see what may very well happen—what is happening—it is not an option to “spin” these images. Also, this isn’t merely a negative view I am taking: These things are just as much a part of our world as beauty is, and to turn a blind eye to either is to live in delusion. In those moments when I’ve been crippled by the sheer magnitude of suffering we’ve created, said beauty is cold comfort. We are doing our damndest to stamp beauty and biodiversity out as fast as possible for no reason other than collective insanity.

When you feel these things as part of your own being—not to mention whatever personal history you’re trying to renegotiate—it is natural to want to deaden these feelings. (It doesn’t help that booze is fashionable and totally normal in our culture.) We have no escape from a world that is infuriating and saddening—unless we choose suicide, which also occurs at a higher rate for addicts. The second-best option is to escape from the mind. We are not encouraged to speak out, to discover our light, or call bullshit on all of these systems. If we do, it tends to feel ineffective and slow, like we are still missing something (indeed because we are.). Growth is an uphill battle. On top of all this, we still have to eat food and make rent, and the things we have to do to survive can be emotionally taxing in their own right. In such a bind, what else is there to do but get wasted?

Non-addicts look at addiction and think it is irrational. But to an addict, engaging in addiction makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how billions of people manage to not get drunk or high most nights of the week. I also don’t understand how billions of people aren’t losing their minds. What world are they living in that feels at all tolerable? How do they not rush to become numb as the apocalypse unfolds? (In any case, they do numb, only in a much less life-disrupting way.)

As Glennon Doyle says, what we call “the mentally ill” are like the canaries of the world. We are the ones trying to warn others of what is going on here, but we don’t yet know how to do it. All we represent is an exaggerated version of what lives in others, and that is also why mental illness is often regarded with such extreme fear. And here is something I have said and will continue to say: If some individuals are mentally ill, it is because we are collectively mentally ill. The statistic for “mental illness” in the US stands at 20%. What does this say about our culture at large? To make mental illness and addiction “some people’s” problem—to assume that there is something unique about “our” constitution that is problematic, ignoring the larger mechanisms in this stage of human existence—is shortsighted and honestly ridiculous.

The human species is like one organism that is itself ill. The most perceptive cells simply take on this illness at a higher, more obvious rate. Paradoxically, I also believe those who get labeled “ill” in this way are closer to health and sanity than those who aren’t as energetically privy to what’s happening on Earth: If you notice the presence of poison before it actually kills you, you’re one step ahead of those who don’t notice it at all.

There is also a predictable progression of the illness of conditioning that strangely involves going deeper into it before you recover. In this sense I am talking about the spiritual process, which we are all undergoing, though to varying degrees: All of your neuroses, attachments, and fears will be intensified for some time. The mind and ego pitch an intense fit at seeing their numbered days. But then, at last, one day you’re finally in the clear. I also suspect that this temporary intensification is what’s to come on a much more widespread human scale, though I hope to be wrong about this.

Back to what I mean when I say “addiction is not a disease on its own:” The precise definition of words like “disease” doesn’t concern me; everyone is always using these kinds of words differently anyway. However, there is one condition—one kind of mindset—that makes us susceptible to all other disorders and afflictions: It is the one that dreams our lowercase-s selves to be ultimately real. In this state, we feel powerless and threatened regularly. We actually mistake ourselves for the substances which temporarily stop the pain. When the mind is ignorant of the Self, it attaches strongly to anything that soothes it. Freeing ourselves from this dream is the greatest thing we can do to heal, and it is the only way to dwell in deep happiness that does not depend on anything else.

Recovery is to reenter that state of purity (the Self) which is always with you. This alone can alleviate suffering; it changes everything in ways that are as-yet inconceivable. There are practices we can take up to abide in this space, but it also goes a long way to simply be reminded that it—you, in your innate perfection—really do exist.  

– Lish

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Inner Work, Mental Health, Personal

Lessons Everywhere

I wake up. I remember I am moving to an ashram/retreat center in Texas, and that this is exactly what I need to do right now. I reflect on some of the events that have led to this moment and this decision. I think of the things I have destroyed and the things I have created, of choices that have unfolded into both beauty and horror. On some choices I am still overwhelmed with remorse and shame; on others I laugh and think yes, that was exactly the right thing to do. Most are just a big question mark, like who am I to decide how this whole thing is supposed to go.

Throughout this whole process, I do know I could’ve created less suffering if I’d better understood what was happening to me. It is for this reason that I write. It is for this reason I do not give up on myself, why I stay sober, and why I encourage others to expand themselves by dropping one habit and belief at a time.

On some days, my moods have covered the whole spectrum within a few hours. I no longer believe that rapidly-changing moods are indicative of illness, at least not in the medical sense. Still, this instability absolutely makes life difficult: When you feel differently about something—everything—every few days, it is exhausting and absurd. You just spin your wheels, overthink, and feel like shit about it. With growth, I am happy to say that the worst is getting further away and quieter. With each breath my mind loses the power to drag me into Hell. This is the power of becoming self-aware.

Right now, my day-to-day life feels like little more than treading water. I’m somewhere in between the next thing and yet I feel I’ve (finally) survived the hardest parts of the Big Terrifying Awakening. And I know it would be a mistake to chop this experience up into “phases” and/or a progressive timeline, because life doesn’t work like that. It actually works in no particular way. As soon as we think we’ve got it all figured out, life is sure to dole out a surprise to knock us down a few pegs.

Although I feel a bit like I’m here “just waiting,” I know there are always lessons to be learned. To the true student, every situation and person is a teacher. Life ceases to be split into that which is Buddha and non-Buddha. Therefore I am trying to soak up whatever remaining lessons are in this space where my time is definitely not spent wisely (case in point: Two nights ago I watched 2 hours of Parks & Rec, ate a burrito, and went to sleep at 8PM ). My energy feels pretty depleted overall, and I know it is because my body is not where my soul is moved to be. For practical reasons, I am putting energy into tasks that my soul is resistant to, and this is the arrangement of our entire society. When we do this—fight ourselves—we should expect to feel tired and disenchanted. It makes no sense to believe we can be vibrant if we engage in stagnation.

One thing I keep relearning is how much pain I can create for myself by trying to be both attached and non-attached to people, routines, and things. It’s like standing on an iceberg that is cracked down the middle, my feet slowly drifting apart while freezing water sloshes below. I’m practically doing the splits, hesitating to make a decision about which way to go. If I keep living like this I will be uncomfortable forever.

So often we play this game where we try to bargain with the soul: We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to keep our little selves and their comfortable arrangements while also surrendering to the vastness of life and going where this stream moves us. We cannot have both. If we want it All, we can’t have our precious “personhood.” I say this not only for any readers but also for myself, because it is one of the hardest pills to swallow. It usually has to be hammered in several million times in the forms of confusion, anxiety, and cognitive dissonance before we finally accept it: We cannot have both.

This is not a statement about how spiritual growth requires “sacrifice” because “sacrifice” implies loss. There is no real loss here, except of those things you will one day be glad to be rid of: Ego, false identifications, attachments, and neuroses. Rather, it is about soberly accepting that a bird must jump from the safety of the nest in order to fulfill its destiny, that discomfort and insecurity are an irremovable part of this thing.

We don’t get one without the other, and yet we always try to argue with this. In our immaturity, we want safety and growth, vibrancy and security. We want risks with guarantees. Basically, we want the evolutionary experience to be something other than what it necessarily is.

Occasionally I still think I’d like to be a wife and/or mother, and yet to pursue such a course would negate whatever lies for me when I take a step in an unknown direction. I suppose there is still time to choose such a life if it felt right, but there’s also this undeniable pull to teach, to write, to be, and just not get caught up in arranging my circumstances intentionally. It really feels like it is no longer up to “me” to decide what occurs or what I become. Yes this has always been true, but only recently have I begun to actually give up the illusion of control.

My heart could stop beating any moment, and I’m pretty sure the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a huge earthquake. Any number of illnesses could be incubating inside of my body, and no matter what, death is assured for me and everyone I love. These aren’t meant to be depressing statements: They are just true, and when we get totally clear on this fact, life changes. Suddenly, freedom is not a thing to put off. Love and joy are not things to put off. The excuses we use to get out of becoming ourselves don’t work anymore because death is just right there, daring us to blink. We can often accept our “lack of control” in theory, but to actually surrender to what this means brings about an entirely different way of being.

I also often come back to the way intellectual understanding is small, and how consciousness does not get “understood” in this way. I want to bring it back to teaching: Many people accept the teachings of Christ in theory; they go to church and they are kind, but very few practicing Christians recognize that a true implementation of Christ’s word would ensure a complete breakdown of society as we know it… in the end it would be for the better, but it would a breakdown nonetheless. Hierarchies of all kinds would fall, even those supposedly built around Christ.

This is precisely why so many of His teachings have been edited and shunned and “disallowed” over many centuries: If we commoners were to fully realize our perfection, drop our neediness, and accept that we are alive, how might we spend our lives? Would we work for undeserving masters (and by this I don’t mean specific people, but an overall system which drives us into insanity and ruins our planet)? Would we dull ourselves and live the same unfulfilling way day after day?

I don’t think we would. Not for a moment longer.

– Lish

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Consciousness, Culture, Depression, Inner Work, Mania, The Mind

Bipolar Disorder & Consciousness

I have tried to make this post as simple as possible since this topic is very important to me. It’s about bipolar disorder and the (incomplete) way it is viewed in mainstream psychology/psychiatry. It’s about how you can heal from it. It’s about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have advantages, though it can be difficult to overcome without a sincere commitment to yourself.

My advice to anyone reading this who has the diagnosis (and really anyone else) is this: Be a badass, get to work on yourself, and become who you really are. Anything that is stalling your growth has to go. Yes, the cost seems high, but there is no other way, and in the end you will see that you didn’t really “lose” anything at all. I know, I know… “easier said than done.” But I promise, it is worth it a billion times over.

I hope this will be of use to some reader, somewhere, someday, who perhaps has had what we call “a manic episode” and cannot make sense of what really happened to them. That’s how I felt for a long time after I was hospitalized. My experience felt so real, because it was real, and to go along with the story that “I just have this illness because—oh wait, no one really knows for sure” felt unsatisfying and kind of like a lie.

I’ve read a lot about consciousness and bipolar disorder, but the most important thing is that I’ve lived it, just like I’ve lived addiction, awakening, and recovery. That is why I feel qualified to say these things. They come from my experience, and I don’t fully trust any authority who purports to understand that which they’ve never gone through on their own. I know these things firsthand, the same way you know you love your family and that the sky is blue:

  1. Ultimately, what you are is a thing called consciousness. You defy quality. You are limitless, formless, genderless, raceless. You are beyond mental constructs including “good and evil;” you are perfect beyond the concept of “perfection.” Also, you are not separate from anyone or anything else, except as the mind imagines it. In case it isn’t clear: I do mean this all quite literally, and I encourage you to realize these things for yourself. I would much rather you do that than take anyone’s word on it.

  2. In society, the “normal mode” of existence is called ego-consciousness, or the ego-identity, or simply the ego. Identity is just a thought. In this mode we do not feel limitless, genderless, or anything-less. We feel like particular people with stories and quirks and opinions. We have fears and comfort zones and certain people we close ourselves off to. There’s nothing “wrong” or “bad” about the ego—this sense of separation and individuality is what allows us to have our life experiences at all. This mode is useful for getting by in daily life: My ego is a writer who doesn’t use intoxicants, for instance. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a server who will move to an ashram in about a month… and yet I am also this Great Big Thing, not as measured by my “value” to society, but as to how I experience my own self.

    It is very important to know and remember that the ego is but a limited mode of being. It is like an ice cube in the ocean: Small, contracted, rigid, and ultimately subject to melting one day. When you believe this ego is all that you are, problems are created immediately. You worry about protecting this ego and everything that said “protection” entails. Here’s the thing: You can know your full, unlimited self and become truly healed, but doing so will require you to expand beyond the ego. This is an evolutionary process. This kind of growth is not something our society encourages, because the entire world order requires that we all take our egos seriously; that we believe sincerely in the machine we are a part of. Just as we have our individual egos, these little egos combine to create one big cultural ego. If that big ego were to be seen through in this instant, the world would probably look even more chaotic for a while, even though that is exactly what we need to survive as a species on this planet.

    One who transcends the ego (or who is trying to transcend the ego) can look “crazy” to those who have never seen beyond it. This brings me to bipolar mania.

  3. Bipolar mania occurs when we are unaware that we are trying to transcend our egos. This is evolution we’re talking about. It cannot be halted, and when we try to suppress it, it rushes up like a freshly released spring if given half the chance. Bipolar mania is an unplanned, unskillful expansion in consciousness, which explains why “feelings of expansion” is one of the main symptoms. These episodes can occur when our egos are severely threatened, like if too many changes in life occur within a short amount of time. They can also occur when we alter our consciousness through lack of sleep, drug use, or the abrupt stoppage of regular drug use. All of these things can trigger a deeper consciousness to emerge. The ego—not knowing that it is false, and not yet wanting to know this—believes it is dying, and rushes to defend itself. This is why we have delusions of grandeur and other self-beliefs that are out of touch.

    Part of this occurs because the mind is using every trick in the book to maintain that the ego is real, but the other part is simpler: You really are capable of much more than you were ever led to believe. When we are manic, we can catch glimpses of our potential, which might be much bigger than anything our small selves could’ve imagined. It is important to me to say that spiritual awakening/enlightenment does not lead to things like fame and wealth and all of these egocentric things. The highest “goal” is to become who you are, and whatever comes after that won’t matter in the same way at all. However, due to our conditioning about what “potential” means, the mind tends to go there if the ego is dying.

  4. Severe depression represents a contraction in consciousness. You think you’re worthless, small, and terrible. All of these things are functions of a mind that believes more strongly in the “little self” and is very caught up in what “we” have done or whatever we’re not doing that we believe “a good person” does. This contraction often occurs out of our awareness, so of course no one is to blame for any of their moods. Still, beneath all of this, consciousness is trying to emerge. The friction between consciousness and the unconscious ego can create depression in the first place. We resist change and/or looking at life in this new way because to do this represents stepping into unknown territory. The unknown is frightening to the ego, which likes to maintain and preserve its safety (even though its safety is an illusion.).

    Furthermore, our social/world structures—again, built from billions of little egos—are not currently interested in what is best or most joyful for human life. These structures are interested in perpetuating themselves, plain and simple, and in their unconsciousness they spiral onward even as they kill the host. One goal of a spiritual revolution is to create a world that leads to joy within humanity and other living beings, rather than this world where humans serve The Machine. Our structures (if we need them) should work for us, not the other way around. We should be quite clear about this: Even the people “at the top” live in service to this machine. They are not free by virtue of being at the top of the pyramid, and perhaps even less so than one who is “lower.”

  5. A healthy spiritual path should guide one to expand their consciousness little by little, until the entire ego is seen through for its ultimate illusory nature. I am a huge advocate for gradual, sane spiritual awakenings (when possible). Some of the kundalini-and-LSD stuff I’ve heard about really shows me that most people have no idea what it is they are dealing with or what their aim is in spirituality. This is not to say I’m anti-kundalini or even anti-drug, but that very often these things are approached naively, without the support of an experienced teacher, and these experiences can make us a little (or a lot) insane. Those of us who have had what they call “a full-blown manic episode” know that there is nothing fuzzy or cute about expanding in consciousness even though it is necessary, and even though doing so does lead to ultimate Truth.

  6. The solution to overcoming bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) is to train in the gradual expansion of consciousness. We are on the path whether we want to be or not. The most hardcore atheist is on the spiritual path. Serial killers are on the spiritual path. There is no difference between that which is “spiritual” and that which isn’t. The sooner we accept this and consciously get to work on ourselves, the better.

    Finding your own path may mean things like giving up drugs and alcohol, taking your nutrition more seriously, meditating regularly, praying (whatever that means to you), reading books on consciousness, journaling, changing your friendships or your job, becoming more solitary, finding a doctor who actually supports and listens to you, talking to your family about what you really think is happening, finding a spiritual community, etc. It’s a whole new life, not a hobby, not a “take this but leave that” deal. The main takeaway here is this: We cannot expect to be healthy and well if we continue to live in damaging ways, or if we keep trying to live the way others think we should live. Every time we do this, we resist who we are. We push ourselves away, but this method is ineffective: Consciousness can’t and won’t go away. Unless we commit to a significantly different way of life, the cycles of bipolar disorder are likely to return.

    Another perhaps-difficult pill to swallow is this: There is simply no “halfway” when it comes to finding your true self, though we often like to act like there is. Many times in my life I have begged and wished to “just be normal,” ignorant of what it was I truly wanted. Turns out that God (which is also consciousness) is not interested in social normalcy or upholding our current world order—not in the slightest, and in fact the opposite. Any wish that is not in alignment with your true self will go unfulfilled, and this “just be more normal” wish usually falls into this category. We’re talking total transformation with the possibility of becoming Yourself, not whatever you and others expect that self to be. It is so important that we keep going, even when it feels impossible, even when it feels endless, and even when it seems like it isn’t getting better.

    I promise, even if it doesn’t feel like it, it is improving.

– Lish

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