Awakening, Conditioning, Enlightenment, Mental Health, Spirituality

Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– 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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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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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

How Awakening Feels

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

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

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

Sanity & Who You Really Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Two Snowflakes…

Awakening goes differently for everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Feelings in Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on that at some point in the future.

– Lish

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Addiction, Awakening, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Mind

Addiction and the Conditioned Mind

Usually when I tell someone new that I’m sober, they ask if I go to meetings. My answer is no, I do not. This opens up a new line of questioning, or I feel compelled to explain myself further. For many people there is an unspoken understanding that getting sober “on your own” isn’t really possible, and that those who think this is an option are doomed to fail. I’m not here to argue that it should be done alone, and agree that it’s probably easier when there are a lot of other people supporting your choice. But it is possible; all it takes is a bit more consciousness.

“I just use a basic awareness approach,” I explain, “I watch my mind lie to me all day long, and simply do not buy into its lies.” That really is it. It’s that simple—and that hard.

In recovery from anything, we learn to watch the habit-ridden mind spin out its familiar patterns. Here’s the key: We just keep watching it and remaining aware of the crazy things it says without being moved to action. We realize that just because a thought or impulse is arising, that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Craving? So what? We’re cravey for a minute, and then we’re not. This is the nature of the common mind: It pulls us in different directions all the time. It is not a safe place.

Using awareness becomes very difficult with severe addictions because, over time, addiction systematically lowers our ability to exercise choice. Still it is true that if we make the commitment to change a habit that no longer serves us, all we must do is strengthen a new way of being: Every time we stay aware of the mind rather than acting out the entrenched impulse to drink or smoke or use (or do anything), we become a bit more free. This is the basic internal process of all recovery from addiction, no matter what the modality is called.

It feels important to note that nowhere in my line of thinking is this idea that “I can’t drink.” Why remove my agency like that? To say this is inherently disempowering; it carries a subtext of “but I would if I could.” Therein lies immediate suffering. It shows that we view giving up alcohol to be a sad consequence of our mistakes, but this really isn’t true. Stripped of its allure, we can clearly see: Drinking alcohol actually isn’t that awesome. Surprisingly enough, ingesting poison isn’t super beneficial for a happy life. This is true especially when we experience certain levels of freshness and clarity that we just can’t feel while drinking regularly. Experiencing consciousness in its fullness makes getting drunk laughable.

Every day—dozens of times a day, even—we know we actually can drink. We can do and say many things that are harmful. We can… but we don’t. We are humans with some amount of will, and this will becomes stronger the more we use it.

We rewrite the mind’s patterns in this way, transforming ourselves little by little. When we are very near to freedom from the mind, it even begins to feel like a fun game. When it comes down to it, we—being pure, unconditioned consciousness—are just playing with our conditioned human minds. We are entertaining the mind through many lifetimes, and its every move is a requirement for our eventual liberation. We come to see that in the end, the mind was really an opponent we created for ourselves.

And why did we do this? Just for fun, just to do it. It is beautiful and hilarious when we win the game, and necessarily a surprise. It’s kind of like hide and seek, except that instead of opening the closet to find freedom hiding there, freedom appears magically before us when we least expect it.

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I’ve read a lot of popular blogs and stories on addiction, and I see what makes them popular: The drama. We love this juicy notion of “battling addiction,” “me vs. alcoholism,” “how my demons almost won,” etc. We feed on a Hollywoodesque creation of good vs. evil in the storyline of the whole world, unconsciously sustaining a war of cosmic forces that ultimately doesn’t even exist!

We actually energize the mechanisms of evil by giving evil our strongest attention. Similarly, we give addiction power and strength by treating it like an “enemy” we must “defeat.” Psychologically turning oneself (and the world) into a battleground ensures casualties, and we should also watch our propensity to do this. It makes life more difficult than it needs to be, plus we can even become addicted to this kind of drama. The unconscious ego loves drama because it results in an intense story to affix itself to.

But it is not “my addiction” or “my disease” that dresses alcohol up to appear as a fun choice. The simpler fact is that it is really the conditioned mind—the mind I practice observing as often as possible, and the same kind of mind most humans occupy—that does this. This  conditioned mind (and the various ways such minds influence each other in the collective) is the root of all behavioral/mental disorders, as well as many physical diseases. This makes our solution to such problems actually quite easy to see: Get everybody unconditioned!

It may sound simple, but once we start on the path, we see that there’s actually way more unconsciousness we must bring to light than we ever bargained for. No one can make this journey but us, on our own. And like any journey, it has its perils. Usually the mind convinces us to go back to normal mode, because shit just gets too scary. The mind will pull out all the stops to prevent us from escaping it, and fear is one of its most seductive ploys.

And the fact is that most of us are still so unconscious that we don’t even care to look deeply at what’s going on. We feel the process is unnecessary, having zero understanding of what it could mean for the entire world if we were to each take the journey and not turn around on the path.

Something very strange has happened with the concept of mind in the West: We identify with it almost totally, worship it, and live in it, often to our own detriment… and yet we continually diminish its power. “It’s all in your head,” we say, as if that’s no big deal. Psychosomatic illnesses are often treated as “less real” than those we can find an organic basis for, and we say things like “mind over matter.”

But what if we acknowledge that this mind has also created the matter and the very challenges that lie before us?

This is our true situation, though I don’t want anyone to take my word for it.

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We are very often under the mistaken belief that “we use our minds.” In the vast majority of people, this is not the case, for as our minds remain conditioned, they are using us. There really is no reason for happiness to be a struggle. There is no reason to feel bored, stuck, or trapped. There is not even any real reason to seek if you can feel utterly full of peace and joy right where you are (until we are even done experiencing joy and peace, but that’s for another post).

If you were, in fact, using your mind, would you use it to be miserable, negative, addicted, confused? Would you use it to be full of peace or full of discomfort and neuroses? Would you choose to experience life as a strange yet interesting adventure, or a series of difficulties to “get through”?

Everything we are discussing here is at the root of the spiritual path. Buddhism, at its heart, is about discovering the natural mind, the buddha-nature which is everything (as well as an infinite, perfect nothingness which also creates every thing), which we may also refer to as pure consciousness or God. Buddha-nature is always here. Consciousness is always here. Christ is always here. Allah is always here. The Holy Spirit is always here. God is always here. We are always here. There are many ways of saying this same thing, and all prophets have seen this same thing. You can fully experience this thing when your mind becomes completely unconditioned.

Our conditioning goes much deeper than we tend to appreciate in our ordinary dialogues. Often, people on the fringes of the political spectrum are under the impression that they have seen through their conditioning. In reality, questioning the status quo barely scratches the surface. It’s very common to question the easier things and stop looking when we start to feel uncomfortable or frustrated. If we continue to suffer from anger and walk around feeling judgmental, prideful, and caught up in the past, we are still very much under the spell of conditioning. We cannot help our fellow beings if this is our situation.

Things we take for “basic facts” must also be taken into consideration. Our “rational conclusions” should be turned and considered anew. That doesn’t mean we reject everything that has been presented to us, just that we have a genuine willingness to take it all into question. Some of the most seemingly “open-minded” people will never do this because it is so threatening to the identity.

However, if we do this honestly and sincerely—and do it until the bitter, sometimes-terrifying end—we will find that something miraculous awaits us.

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It is not just drinking that my mind tries to lure me in with: All thoughts and feelings which keep my being small are things I watch. For example, in meditation, the mind often says things like “What’s next?” “This is boring.” “I should be writing.” “My heart is beating too fast.” “I don’t need to be doing this.”

All of these are various forms of resistance to being present; they are just ways we cover up simply Being. Please note that there can be no peace within ourselves or in the world until we are at least okay with just being. The glory of consciousness is that we can even become superbly blissful just being. We are contented and joyful and clear-seeing, just sitting still. There is nothing to “entertain” or even “relax” us. We can just be here.

If we see the conditioned mind for what it is—a small game we’re playing within an unlimited consciousness—freedom is soon ours, because we become that unlimited consciousness. That goes for addiction, and for many more psychological afflictions.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, The Ego, The Mind

Five (more) Barriers to Enlightenment

Here’s follow-up post regarding the way we many of us think about enlightenment, and how this line of thinking also keeps us trapped. Here are some more common beliefs:

1. Enlightenment is “good,” “blissful,” “more evolved,” etc. Yes, liberation results in a profoundly positive mode of life as compared to being ruled by conditioned impulses and moods. If this were not true, there would be little motivation to seek.

But the point is that any conceptual understanding of enlightenment is mistaken. We can talk around Truth, but we cannot explain it, and whenever we’re busy thinking about “how it is,” we’re pushing it away. The mind is happy to do this, for it allows it to remain comfortably in charge.

Many people describe a bliss state that follows their awakening moment, but such feelings are not everlasting. All emotions are transient; this is a rule that does not change after we awaken. So if you’re hoping that awakening will get you into some state of perma-bliss, you’re in for a surprise.

Depending on what you’ve read/heard/seen about enlightenment, the click itself may actually may result in extreme confusion and nihilism. After all, your entire reality has flip-flopped, and you feel like you can’t go back. Maybe you didn’t even go looking to awaken. Suddenly, all the rugs that held you together are pulled out from under you. There’s nothing to stand on, nowhere to get to for comfort, no illusion of safety to be found anywhere in the world.

What does the ego like to do with this? Go on and on about how awakening is badass and gritty and hard (to the ego, it is certainly all of these things!). Then, at some point, because we feel we understand so much without trying (indeed because this thing cannot be tried for), we go on and say that the whole spiritual journey results in being “more evolved.” (In reality, there actually is no difference between one who is “enlightened” and one who isn’t.)

Being a human and having an ego, I have certainly fallen into the trap of believing this. A threatened ego will grab ahold of anything—even its own dissolution—to try and build itself up. But whenever we tell ourselves such stories, that’s really all we’re doing: Telling ourselves stories. None is more or less story than another, and neither is more or less “right” than another. There are words that point to the Truth, but ultimately everything that exists on the level of the thinking mind is equal. We only mistake some content for being “better” because it appeals to our egos, our sense of being “more” of something (evolved, right, compassionate, wise, intelligent, etc.) than others.

This whole “more evolved” thing is becoming a very popular idea, but we must remember: The state we dwell in when we are awake is one that it is timeless and changeless. It is the source of evolution itself we learn to move with. The source does not evolve; it simply is. Therefore we do not merely become “more evolved” versions of the people we once were. In fact, we eventually must drop the idea of ourselves as “a person” at all, because this sense of being “a particular person” in and of itself sets the stage for suffering.

The ego thrives on fancying itself as better than others, and it is even happier to wrap this inflation up in a new “oh this is spiritual therefore it is humble” packaging. But how can we be humble if we believe we are “more evolved”?

We must be mindful of sneaky, ego-appealing words if we yearn for Truth and freedom. Calling ourselves spiritual does not make us “more evolved.” It only makes our minds as grasping and falsely identified as anyone else’s, though perhaps in the know about chakra alignment.

However, there are individual paths that are growth-oriented (changing harmful habits, treating ourselves better, dwelling in presence, etc.) and there are paths that ensure stagnation. An individual can evolve and notice these positive changes, but what we’re ultimately getting at is moving beyond this construct of “me.” Enlightenment is not about our little selfhoods. Self-improvement may be a side effect of this work, but it is not the goal. For no matter how much improvement is done to the ego, the ego remains small and limited. This ensures ongoing confusion and pain. So, while “you” can certainly evolve, this “you” must ultimately be seen for the illusory construct that it is.

2. You are not enlightened. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves: Deep down, we all know if we are free or if the mind has us in its grip.

But really, “enlightenment” is just your most basic state of existence. To be and experience life 
without constant thought is your natural way of being. In this state, the mind is a tool no different from the fingertips I’m using to type up this blog post. When we need it, it is there and used without difficulty. When we don’t, we don’t pay much attention to it. Just as we do not allow our idle fingertips to pinch our own skin or other people’s, we do not allow our minds to abuse us and/or others through constant judgment. And we certainly don’t get caught up defining ourselves as our fingertips, no matter how useful they are.

What I am describing is not the average mode of operating. Even when our thoughts are killing us, we usually do not question them. The mind can be so seductive, and if we pay attention, we notice the way it is constantly luring us. All thoughts are like a passing mist we become fascinated with and attach ourselves to. Ever more troubling, some of the most seductive thoughts we have are those we think can make us free of this never-ending, unwelcome seduction!

This is all a trick, and the mind must be seen for the trickster it is. I witness my mind taking over innumerable times a day, and even then my mind sometimes manages to fool me into false beliefs. There is a phase, perhaps a long one, that we go through where the mind tries to jump in and tell us how we’re doing everything wrong with our lives, or “wasting our time” with this inquiry, thereby discouraging us from freeing ourselves.

The mess we’re in is as follows: We inherit many stories from our families, nations, and cultures. When we unconsciously build these stories into ego-identities, they become very uncomfortable to question or let go of, because losing one’s identity feels like death. We glom onto the popular belief that endless thinking is necessary, or even worse, that it is “the only way to be.” We fall into the trap of believing that thinking can solve all problems, even though it very often does the opposite. For a very long time, humans have collectively sought to solve each new problem the mind creates with a new mind-created solution. Do we see the insanity in this? We are trying to use the thing that made the mess to also clean it up.

This other thing—”presence,” “being,” “spiritual liberation,” “moksha,” “nirvana,” “enlightenment,” etc.—is with you at all times, ready to be rediscovered. It never left. It is just being covered with thoughts we stitch into grandiose stories about who we are and what we “must do.” These stories breed fear and keep us largely unconscious of what exactly is going on here.

Enlightenment is here with you, and you are already it. We only need to uncover it instead of constantly piling delusion on top. This uncovering it is not something you have to work endlessly at. You do not need to jump through anyone else’s spiritual hoops, meditating for years and years, to become what you already are. Just see what’s in front of you (not what you think about what’s in front of you) and take it from there.

3. Someone or something can “enlighten you.” Freedom is not something that can be granted to us by another individual. This very premise—that others can “make us” free, or “make us” anything—is the very essence of enslavement. It means that on a psychological and spiritual level we are beholden to others, that we allow the external world to dictate our feelings.

Freedom is not about being able to do what you want at any given moment. If this were your situation, you would still be in bondage to your own desires. Liberation is an internal experience that is always with you. If it could be given or taken by someone or something outside yourself, it would not be ultimate freedom. This thing can never be given, never be taken, and never goes away.

4. That people who are enlightened don’t experience anger, sorrow, fear, or [insert “bad” emotion here.] Often we imagine some kind of cross between a psychopath—utterly detached from their emotions and those of others—and a loving prophet. Here you designate a lofty, unreachable category of human for yourself, not to mention a type of person you may not even enjoy being. See what you’re doing? Creating yet another elaborate story about what “enlightened people” are like, and even more painfully, comparing yourself to them.

Humans are humans, and yet again, we place “enlightened” ones in a separate, higher category from “ordinary” humans. Paradoxically this is true, as the lived experience of being awake results in freedom rather than bondage, and we know which of these is the true form of existence.

However, we do not become emotionless. Anger rises, we are aware of this anger, but we do not become this anger. Thoughts arise, we are aware of these thoughts, but we do not buy into our thoughts. Heartbreak, loneliness, and despair may come upon us, but we learn to notice their fleeting nature. We then resume with awareness. Emotions simply lose the power to suck us in and convince us we really are them. The various stories these feelings compel us to roll around in fall away easily.

Delusion is like this: Every little thought has the power suck you in, get you to fixate on it, and become increasingly small. (Whether the thought pleases or displeases you, it is still going to be very small.) Enlightenment is like this: You know what and who you are at every moment, and the thoughts and emotions roll off of the presiding, pure awareness that you are.

The other concern with this line of thinking is that, in striving to be awake, we inevitably begin to feel bad about our very human feelings. The logic goes like this: We know we want to be enlightened, and apparently enlightened beings don’t get mad. So, when we do get mad (and we will), not only do we suffer from the pain of anger itself, we suffer because we think we are “unenlightened” for feeling this anger.

Comparing yourself to a “perfect enlightened being” is really just a wonderful way to tumble into neurosis. Perfection is a human construct, and even Christ Jesus and the Buddha did things their followers can explain away because they are blinded by this notion of their “perfection.” There was that time Jesus cursed a fig tree for no apparent reason, and that time he got all pissed and violent with those money-traders in the temple (understandably so). The Buddha—before he was “the Buddha”—abandoned his family to pursue enlightenment.

We should be clear on this: These were people who realized the Truth, and their radical acceptance of all beings is what sets them apart from those who dwell in delusion. However, they were not “perfect” if we judge them by any kind of normal human moral standard. Perfection and God are both beyond morality, because morality is a nothing but a mass of ideas. This is to say that yes, of course realized beings are “perfect,” but in reality, everything is already perfect, including you. This may offend our common way of seeing the world, where problems seem to be everywhere. But when we see reality we know this is true, and that it is only the mind that says otherwise.

5. Life’s problems will cease to exist once we’re enlightened. Let us examine what makes something a “problem.”

At any given moment, it’s actually our choice to see something as a problem or not. Do not misunderstand what I’m saying here: There are many situations in life that require action. If we regarded our whole planet as a piece of ourselves (this is our actual situation, by the way) everything would be effortlessly attended to or left to be. But, with pure awareness, you don’t have to label so many things “problems.” We don’t have to believe it’s a problem that we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have to believe it’s a problem if we’re single. We don’t even have to believe it’s a problem if we’re starving to death. (Again, it feels important that these words not be mistaken: It is unnecessary for anyone on this planet to starve to death, and poverty and hunger in the modern world are created by collective delusion we each have the power to see through.)

But do you see? Every situation is absent of quality until the mind assigns it one. So it isn’t that all of the “problems” go away, but that it gradually (or suddenly) becomes up to us to decide what’s actually problematic, rather than immediately assuming that everything mildly (or even tremendously) troubling is a problem.

Because everything can feel weird post-awakening, you’re likely to face more problems before you face less of them. If you don’t know you’ve awakened, you may try to create new suffering for yourself because suffering is just so much more familiar. You might act in ways you don’t understand. You may need to change a lot of things about your life, and explaining your need to change these things might be impossible. (You are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone, by the way. It is enough to say “I just have to do this.”)

And your loved ones may surprise you with now non-loving they can be when you cease to behave according to their desires and expectations. Those around you may get upset if you realize that your job, marriage, friendships—or even your entire way of living—are way more dishonest and/or unhealthy than you were able to see before. Not everyone will support or accept these changes. It triggers something in us to see people change their lives, and this trigger does not always feel so good. In response to the stirring of discomfort, they may lash out at you, or, more commonly, quietly judge you.

In time this will settle. But certainly (and especially not at first) you will not become free of “problems.” You will gain the power to decide what’s a problem and what isn’t. Nothing about the external world changes, but your orientation to it does.

 

There are many more false beliefs about enlightenment, and I may write about them in the future. For now, we just need to remember that enlightenment is never a state we “reach” or even “attain.” There’s nothing to do or strive for. Just be.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality

Five Barriers to Enlightenment

This post was originally titled “10 Barriers to Enlightenment,” but it ended up too long. The other five will come at a later date, most likely next week.

Each of the following mental positions are easy to slip into. But the truth is that nothing stops us from experiencing our basic, “enlightened” state aside from our own fastidiously held beliefs and thoughts. This brings us right to belief #1…

  1. There are barriers to enlightenment. Go ahead and stop reading this post. Just give up the idea that anything stands between you and liberation, because it is only that: An idea. Ideas and thoughts, no matter how persuasive, are not ultimately real. They seem very real when we sincerely believe in them. They can take hold of us and drive us into mad behaviors that manifest in the physical world, but that does not make them real.

    The only stumbling blocks to enlightenment exist within the mind and nowhere else. This is why we train in continuously watching our thoughts, ideally before these thoughts turn into words and behaviors that will exacerbate the cycle of suffering.
    In reality, there are no barriers to enlightenment. The only barriers are the ones we imagine and continue to energize with thought. 

    2. “Enlightenment” is a special thing only for certain special people. This word—“enlightenment”—is so loaded that I almost don’t want to use it. And yet, if we avoid using it, it becomes this “word that cannot be uttered,” thereby becoming just as elusive and mysterious anyway. But that’s just the thing: Fetishizing enlightenment is part of the problem. When we do this, we treat it just like any other thing we might desire: A spouse, a piece of cake, a beer, a cigarette, a job, a college degree. Because “being enlightened” is not a special power or a thing to possess, but simply your true state of being, it cannot be wanted. Desire can exist only for things you don’t yet have. Enlightenment is not like this. You have it, your friends have it, your parents have it, and no one ever didn’t have it. (Using the word “have” is actually incorrect, because it makes Truth into a thing to possess, and it is not that.) Turning it into something very big and special reserved only for “certain” people is yet another delusion.It also creates a false hierarchy—”those who are enlightened”—and us mere mortals. This is not to diminish the value of our teachers, but we must recognize that holding others in extreme reverence can blind us from realizing our own selves. The responses we feel towards others reflect and draw out elements that exist within ourselves. Therefore, the good energy we experience in the presence of teachers is a drawing out of the light that’s already there. They are not “giving” us anything other than their true being, which is your true being, which is everyone’s true being.

    3. It takes “thousands and thousands of lifetimes” to become enlightened. I once had a therapist tell me this. (I did not see her many times after she made this claim.) This is a common belief that quickly disintegrates when we really look at it, just as many spiritual beliefs do.

    First, how do you know you haven’t already lived thousands and thousands of lifetimes? If we’re accepting this level of mystery about the whole thing, why can’t this be “your” 10,001st lifetime and that this is the one you’re going to wake up in? Furthermore, why can’t that moment occur right now?

    Secondly, to my knowledge, the Buddha himself never said anything of the sort. (Any Buddhist scholars, feel free to correct me.) Awakening—becoming free of suffering—is the explicit “goal” of the noble eight-fold path, even though when we approach enlightenment like a “thing to get,” we will always miss it (see above.) Nowhere did the Buddha say that it took special credentials or many lifetimes to awaken. Also, the way we often think about this whole “multiple lifetime” thing is off the mark, but I won’t get into that here.

    There is just no grounding for this idea in any text, and more importantly, you will not find it in your direct experience. Logically it makes no sense. It requires a lot of delusion in order to accept it in the first place. Do you truly remember living any other lives? Are you sure these are not mere imaginations? Doesn’t the “multiple lifetimes” concept require as much blind belief as anything else, and furthermore, what is the “you” that is supposedly continuing through several lives?

    It is important to proceed as if this, right now, is our only lifetime, and that this is the one enlightenment exists in.

    4. The “I” is an enduring, separate entity. This pernicious belief is the one we cling to at all costs. It is the most difficult one to let go of, and the construct the mind tends to serve at all costs: “me, “mine,” “I.”As soon as the “I” is threatened—in our society, this is usually when someone argues or disagrees with our opinions—we spring into action as if we were dying. This is a serious affliction that must be dealt with and watched carefully. We act as though our beliefs are limbs that are being hacked up. We feel on an emotional level as though we’ve been injured if we are made wrong. It is only this sense of ego that can be injured in this way, and it is only the ego that goes seeking such intellectual battles.This is enslavement at its finest. The “I” is so entrenched that we cannot engage in discussions without feeling our hearts race and anger start to rise. We cannot talk about our “beliefs” without becoming frustrated. This small notion of “I” keeps us trapped and limited in ways we are not even aware of until we see through it.

    To be sure, this what “enlightenment” is ultimately about: Becoming free of ego, free of the limited “I.” We very understandably fear the loss of this “I,” and yet it is the thing that must be relinquished in order to walk through the door to freedom. Try to locate where this “separate self” is. Try to find where you are not connected and/or a part of everything else. Try to discern how much of you would need to be “replaced” with something else (say with synthetic body parts or a damaged mind) before “you” were not “you” anymore. The more we play with this idea, the more obvious it becomes that it is nothing more than an idea.

    That’s all the “I” has ever been. Realizing this wholly results in that great “extinguishing.” This can be very relieving, though it is usually preceded by much fear.

    5. There’s a specific, “right” path that can get you to enlightenment. First: There is nothing to get to. It’s right here. Take off the thick lenses of thought and belief and here it is, just where it’s always been. (I freely admit that I, too, wear thick lenses of thought, and that I am not always skilled in dis-identifying from these thoughts, especially when they’re paired with strong emotions.)

    The Buddha’s path is a kind of “fake it til you make it” program. It is enlightenment which results in our notions of “morality” rather than the other way around. When we understand that we are in no way separate, it is only obvious to strive to be good to each other and the entirety of the Whole we belong to and are. When we see what’s true, no one has to enforce or overthink this.However, encouraging people to “be good” (via the noble eight-fold path) in order to attain enlightenment achieves two things: It encourages people to stop behaving insanely in the external world, even if they are still insane on the inside. This is positive. It also cultivates the consciousness of the seeker to handle it better when enlightenment does arrive. Things tend to go smoother if you’re already living in accordance with compassion, kindness, and love.

    Example: A man who poaches endangered animals for sport, regularly uses drugs and alcohol, and is married to his third trophy wife would likely experience a rude awakening. (It’s possible that he would have a clean break into liberation and change his ways easily. However, due to the level of delusion such habits are built upon, and the way these habits are built into his ego identity, there would likely be some amount of resistance.) Much about his way of life would fall apart before his eyes. This thing would likely wreck him, even though it would be exactly what he needs. (I suspect that the level of intensity certain people would face if they were to wake up is precisely what keeps them from doing so. I am sure many powerful people in this world fight hard to remain unconscious, though of course, they are also unconscious of this…) On the other hand, a person who already prioritizes detaching from the mind and living with kindness—and who knows that awakening is possible—will have likely a much smoother time.

    Ultimately there is no “path” to enlightenment, just like there’s no “path” to being made of flesh and blood. This is just how it is, whether you’re aware of it or not. Avoiding or denying enlightenment—which is what we habitually do—is unnatural, and yet we keep doing it. We keep insisting we want it, and yet keep on denying that it is True right now.

    The path is just right here. We just keep coming back to right where we are. We keep watching our thoughts as they cover our light. At some point, without trying, we stumble upon ultimate Truth.

    – Lish

 

 

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