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

Reflections on the Mental Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Mania, Mental Health, The Mind, Well-being

The Blessing of Mental Illness

We can think of the conditioned mind as a jail cell that we mistake for the entire world. When we see reality (i.e. “wake up”), it results in the equivalent of departing from this cell and into the wide open world. It’s like we march instinctively to the door of the cell—a door we never knew existed before that very moment—and step out into a vast field, experiencing sunlight for the first time. In many cases, we don’t know why we’ve been moved to this action.

Many people take steps towards the door. They become “spiritual” and challenge a few of their old beliefs, yet ultimately remain in the cell. Sometimes they’re right at the door with their hand on the knob, and they turn around to go hang out in jail for a while longer. The person always has a logical explanation for this action: “It’s not the right time,” “I have more important things to do,” “I’m fine the way I am,” “This doesn’t make any sense,” and “I just can’t accept this,” to name a few. When we get really close, the mind becomes even more preposterous, desperately trying to keep us in its grip. It might even say “Stop! I’m dying!” even though our bodies are perfectly healthy.

The cell of the mind can be very compelling. It has many tricks to keep us trapped within it. Nonetheless, it is the destiny of all beings to exit our cells. We will all discover true freedom and know the Absolute; it is only a matter of when.

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While beautiful, this departure from the old mode of thinking can be very overwhelming: A lasting shift means you can’t walk back into the cell. You turn around and the door to your cell is locked, or, more accurately, the entire structure has disappeared.

This is why awakening can feel so chaotic, especially for those of us who do not (consciously) seek to awaken. All our lives, at the encouragement of the world, we sincerely take our minds to be who and what we are. We believe the things the mind says about us, no matter how contradictory. We believe the things it says about others, no matter how cruel or simplistic. We cherish the mind and build it into something that seems strong. We stock it with stories and information and world-based knowledge; we use it to reinforce itself and our egos by finding all the “right” things to think. We become entranced by our personal histories, continuing to regale ourselves and others at every opportunity. And yet, for all this effort, identification with the mind and the past is always a misstep.

On the quest for fulfillment and Truth, we often make this misstep over and over and over again.

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Those of us who experience mental illness can feel like we’ve been born into awful jail cells: They are tight and cold and perhaps the only food we get is stale bread and butter. What I am describing would be the equivalent to a depressive and/or anxious mind; it affords little comfort and is incredibly limiting. (This notion stands apart from one’s intellect, which can still be extremely sharp. A strong intellect isn’t of much use if the mind itself keeps the person in tremendous pain.)

In terms of thought, such a mind can convince us we are worthless, that life is not worth living, and that there is something dramatically wrong with us. It will show us only what is evil and sick in the world; it may even unconsciously invite evil and sickness in order to affirm itself. I remember this mode of life now as a distant memory or an absurd dream.

The most important factor for this jail cell to go unexamined is not that it be an enjoyable place, but that it be stable. Most of us feel perfectly okay with our small cells because they feel consistent enough. We can even observe that many people in this world are not comfortable in their minds at all. We can see on the contorted faces of “important people” that they are miserable, taking everything seriously, constantly having to maintain their egos. They lead ridiculous lives, and the people around them help build their distorted realities. The minds they occupy and identify with are not cozy, but they are reliable, and this reliability is enough to prevent one from seeking true freedom.

Someone who might do well in this world (materially speaking) would be someone with a nice jail cell, a comfortable-enough mind. Here they are given various foods, room to stretch out, and a lot of things to read and look at. They take themselves as “fine”—maybe even “happy.” And as far as their reality goes, this is true. The dream of thought in which they operate is a nice enough dream that waking up is no concern of theirs. Such is their course in life, and you cannot wake up someone who sincerely wants to stay asleep. However, as life on Earth becomes increasingly tense for humans, I expect there will be fewer and fewer of us who have the luxury of remaining unconscious in such a way.

Those who are comfortable and/or stable within their minds have very little motivation to leave. This is the blessing of mental illness: The level of discomfort that the mind can bring is the very factor that compels us to get out of it.  Self-hatred, chronic anxiety, fear, neurosis—these things are like the jail cell shrinking in size, perhaps becoming unlivable. When the mind becomes unlivable for extended periods of time, we might call this severe depression, which our culture explains in various ways. The primary causes of depression are very simple.

Mainstream psychiatry overcomplicates this simplicity and misses the point that human beings don’t really exist in a vacuum separate from the rest of the world. We only act like we do, and this great pretending act is actually one of the main causes of widespread depression. All through life we bullshit ourselves about who we are, usually without the luxury of even knowing we’re doing it.

Sometimes we see suicide as a way out of this unlivable jail cell. Here, we see just how hopelessly entangled we are with our minds: We believe that only way to escape the mind is to escape life itself. It doesn’t need to be this way. You can be free of a choking mind without ending your physical life—so free, in fact, that you will regard your depression as strange in retrospect. You do not have to live in your mind. You do not have to allow your thoughts to dictate your entire existence.

What you are is so much more vast and perfect than your jail cell. Discovering this vast perfection is only a matter of distancing yourself from those thoughts that pull you in, inviting you to live in them. It is in this way that we find who and what we really are. In this discovery, our prior suffering is small and faraway. It cannot touch the Truth.

We must learn to reject the mind’s tricks over and over and over again, to simply stay right here.

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The mind I took myself to be—the mind that was called “bipolar”—was like a shifting jail cell. There were times when this cell was filled with many beautiful things. It was enormous. It had a cozy bed and art on the walls and all the books I ever wanted. It had music and jewels and Indian food and gelato. Then, immediately and without warning, this cell would transform into a stark, tiny dungeon with nothing in it but the dirty floor. The height of my cell’s ever-changing nature occurred during a major manic episode and in the year that followed it.

What was once called “an illness” has revealed itself to be a great teacher. The whole time, as a deeper consciousness was germinating within my being, I experienced this mind as a terrible burden. It felt dense and heavy, like I just couldn’t go on within it (and I didn’t.).

Today, I couldn’t be more grateful for the levels of instability my mind has reached. What these experiences have taught me is that the personal mind simply cannot be a stable place, even for those who externally seem very stable. Its desires change from day to day, hour to hour. It will claim it wants one thing and then compel us to do the complete opposite. It can convince us to harm our bodies and environments in various ways. It will cling to events that occurred many many years ago. Being powered by the mind, these events will hold our beings hostage, destroying our opportunity for joy. The mind is certainly capable of clinging to stable depression rather than accepting the challenge for freedom, which would require that it lose its power. It will judge. It will make Heaven and Hell for us, perhaps in the same day.

Its instability is ultimately revealed in death: The personal mind will end when the physical body is no longer sustained. Only in our discovery of the timeless Self (that which is outside of the personal self) do we know life in its fullness. The jail cell of a conditioned mind represents both impermanence and smallness, both of which create suffering. 

Getting out of the cell and coming to know your true mind—this is where everything is.

– Lish

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Mania, Medication, Mental Health, Reality, Well-being

The Nature of Bipolar Mania

I’ve said before (here and here) that mania, in my experience, can occur during rapid, unplanned expansions in consciousness. Such expansions can happen if the ego takes enough hits to temporarily collapse, or when we do something like quit drinking after years of substance abuse (or both!). 

In response, the ego tries to keep up, resulting in delusions, and the pain attempting to be healed during this expansion sometimes expresses itself in rage and violence, especially if our movement/freedom is restricted. We desperately need to discharge this energy somehow, and being locked up in confined spaces is not helpful. The way to navigate life after a manic episode is to train in traversing these variations in consciousness skillfully, rather than allowing them to control you. If these pieces alone were to be understood by mainstream psychiatry, it would be revolutionary for all those suffering from mental illness.

The structure of the ego and the underlying consciousness must be incorporated into our psychological theories, or else we will do nothing but put a Band-Aid on the issue. We will fall prey to the mistaken belief that long-term medication is what’s necessary for these people, when truly, at some point, medication actually blocks the individual from further healing for the simple fact that it blunts emotion. (There are those whose instability is so debilitating and chronic that I understand the need for this, but in the majority of cases—especially for depression and anxiety—long-term meds are ultimately unhelpful.)

Emotions must be fully felt and released (mentally, physically, and energetically) for us to move forward on our paths. This is a process that, as of today, is generally only assisted by shamans, spiritual teachers, yogis, and/or other “alternative practitioners.” These healers can be hugely beneficial, but they’re not the ones we’re turned over to in the midst of extreme crisis. Instead, we’re locked up in hospitals and then shuffled around amongst people who, in all likelihood, have very little understanding of the relationship between consciousness and mental illness. When you’re extremely fragile (as one tends to be fresh out of the mental hospital), nothing feels worse than a blank, “yeah, right” stare from a caseworker when you say you’re not really ill. This needs to change.

One of the most concerning aspects of psychiatry is that the people who have written descriptions of the various psychological maladies have generally not suffered a psychotic break/spiritual emergency for themselves. In psychiatric interviews/assessments, what this amounts to is a game of telephone wherein the patient tries to describe what they are feeling (these experiences are beyond words and thought). The doctor, with his/her intellectual faculties, chops the whole thing up into that which they and their colleagues can digest. Usually, they are also looking for specific illness features, thereby ruling out and/or ignoring the parts that don’t fit.

All they can do is take notes from the outside and compile a list of symptoms they are capable of discerning. Most psychiatrists have no idea how real these experiences are, and I mean that literally: Whatever we perceive is what “makes” our individual realities. What one may call “a hallucination” is just as real as everything you can currently sense. And, just as the Buddha (and many other spiritual teachers have alluded to), dreams are just as “real” as waking life… but now I’m getting off track.

This is not meant as a slight against such professionals; it is simple human nature. The problem arises when the patient’s experience is extremely different than what the practitioner is capable of understanding, and then the practitioner goes on to believe they know what’s best. While hospitalized, I was acutely aware that none of the doctors or nurses had any true knowledge of where I was at or what I was going through. It was infuriating and wrong to have such people in control of my care at a time when I needed something very different.

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I’ve set out to explain a bit more about what the experience of mania like is from inside of it. It is my hope that this description might illuminate why a full-blown manic episode can be something far greater than a lapse into illness. Instead, when viewed through the right lens, it can be a catalyst towards growth, healing, and total potential.

The transition from a psychotic break/spiritual emergency to a balanced, higher state of consciousness can occur in two ways: 1. The patient is regarded with proper compassion towards their state of being, and gently guided to understand how a new path in life may be walked. This is not how the mentally ill are treated. As well-meaning as mental health practitioners are, they tend to be overworked, undercompensated, burnt out on empathy, and lacking the fundamental tools to care for their patients in the way they need. 2. After our episodes, we are thrust back into the “real world,” struggling to incorporate wtf just happened to us and left to fend for ourselves by way of research and alternative therapies (none of which are free or even covered by insurance in most cases.) I’m on route 2, because that’s the only route there is outside of the mainstream narrative.

What I’d like to see is all of our psychiatrists and psychologists sitting down at mandatory classes on consciousness so that we—the freshly released and deeply confused—at the very least come away with a modicum of hope for our futures. Instead we’re presented with statistics on what our “conditions” mean, encouraged to take medication we may not want to take, and surrounded by the fresh Hell we unconsciously created while in the throes of mania. This is at least part of why the fall back into depression occurs, and it’s so weird to me that this point tends to go ignored in the medical explanations of bipolar disorder.

If you lost control of your mind and behavior, making a fool of yourself and hurting people you loved, wouldn’t you get depressed? Wouldn’t you feel ashamed and lost? The depression that follows mania has much more to do with these factors than with a change in brain chemicals, or rather, the two accompany one another rather than the “misfiring brain” being the primary cause of suffering. Depression is a perfectly understandable emotion to follow such an episode, especially if the episode is seen as nothing but a sign of long-term illness. Labeling this depression another facet of the disease is straight-up dishonest.

A paradigm shift within psychiatry and psychology is the only way to improve this situation. It must take universal consciousness into account. Currently, we’re stuck at the levels of the brain (physiology and neurotransmitters, the science of which is not fully understood) and the mind (the thinking machine that only constitutes a small part of who we are.) Complete healing can only occur when deeper levels are included, including old energies that are frozen in the body, and particularly that timeless, limitless dimension we all have within us—the one I call “pure consciousness.”

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Without further ado, here are the symptoms of bipolar mania as listed in the DSM-V (the handbook of mental disorders):

  1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  2. Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
  3. More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  4. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  5. Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
  6. Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
  7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments

This relatively short list does not even touch what it’s like for the person inside of it. Again, this is because the people who wrote the list are probably pretty underdeveloped spiritually (as our culture is overall), not to mention “illness-oriented.” In the West we do not view wellness and balance as a ladder we can climb to an incredible, all-seeing state. The best we can do is to lack any obvious illness and construct an effective ego. This is such a limited way to experience life. I wish I could share with you how much more amazing we could feel (and how this state would translate to the creation of a beautiful world), but alas, it’s a journey that must be walked by you and you alone.

Here are some of the additional components of mania that I experienced:

  • Beauty everywhere: Things are not simply beautiful; they are beauty itself. Every act, from shaking cinnamon into my coffee to seeing two deer playing in a graveyard, was meaningful and glorious. You become attuned to the miraculous nature of life itself.
  • Fresh, awake, alive: Think of the most refreshing sleep you’ve ever woken up from in your life. Multiply that by a thousand, and you have a faint idea of how clean and clear we can feel when manic. Life feels deeply fresh and new and fun. Each moment is a joy. Every cup of coffee felt like my first. These elements particularly line up with states of mind that are often discussed in high spiritual states.
  • Extreme, near-crippling empathy: Everyone becomes transparent. Their emotions are obvious and clear, and most of them are suffering, even if they’re unaware of/in denial of said suffering.
  • Heightened senses: There becomes a strange ability to tune into and become conscious of things you weren’t before. In the hospital, I watched and listened to two doctors talking about me behind the glass enclosure where the staff sit (which, by the way, wtf? It makes you feel like a zoo animal.). They were unaware that I was listening. Smells seemed to hang around a lot longer than usual, music contained riffs and melodies I’d never heard before, and every color became more vibrant.
  • Faster metabolism and other bodily processes: My toenails and hair grew faster. I was always hungry. I felt like I could run for miles and miles. It feels almost like the body is receiving some kind of “upgrade.”
  • Oscillations of burning and coolness: I’m not going to pretend I understand the way all of the energy involved in this process works, but I know it’s intense, and that it gets expressed in these kinds of sensations. I read, I believe in The Untethered Soul, something about “the yogic burn:” Old, negative energies are burning away as we heal un- and subconscious energies trapped in the body.
  • Tingling sensations: Along the same lines as above, I often felt tingles on my skin, particularly when I felt I was conversing with “god.” This “god” was, of course, me trying to cope with other parts of me, yet still the tingling during these times was significant.
  • Moving through the Universe: I felt certain that a version of me was going into a black hole. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the widely celebrated memoir on bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind, describes the sensation of traversing out to Saturn.
  • An urgent desire to help: This feature is rarely mentioned, but it’s so important. Issues that we can easily shutter away on a day to day basis—poverty, environmental degradation, and abuse of all kinds everywhere—spring forth as deeply troubling. We feel like the only people concerned with these issues. It feels desperate and immediate, like we can’t handle the fact that everyone else is just walking around “fine” while so many people are dying and in pain. It is maddening, and we just want to do something.
  • Extreme frustration with the state of the world/the lower levels of consciousness: It all just felt like it was happening too slow. I was ready for everyone to just drop their bullshit—all the stories they tell themselves about why we cannot live peaceably amongst one another and with the rest of nature, every lie they live that keeps them unwittingly enslaved. I wanted everyone to just “get it:” Life is beautiful and we are all each other! It felt like absolutely no one else really understood.
  • Complete understanding: You can’t explain it, because it’s beyond words. So you try, and you sound insane. For example, I told the designated mental health practitioner at the hospital that “I knew all the secrets of the Universe.”

These additional features of mania may help us understand that it goes much further than what the DSM-V shows. A manic episode—and/or a collapse of the ego—can be seen as an individual’s attempt towards growth and wholeness, not simply a manifestation of latent, underlying “illness.”

From Yoga & Psychotherapy, The Evolution of Consciousness:

“But an acute psychotic episode may represent an attempt—however misguided—to break free of one’s limitations and come to terms with aspects of himself that were repressed. From the point of view of the growth process, such a person should not be considered “sick” if he is actively reorganizing and evolving. This point has been dramatically made by R.D. Laing who has said: ‘… to be mad is not necessarily to be ill. If the ego is broken up or destroyed… then the person may be exposed to other worlds ‘real’ in different ways from the more familiar territory of dreams, imagination, perception…’”

Of course, many psychotic people are not actively “reorganizing and evolving,” and for them, radically different care should be given. It certainly did not appear that way when I was psychotic, and yet, I have since embraced the process of evolution and continue on the path towards higher consciousness today. There are several factors that can help everyone resume with growth, thereby letting go of depression, neuroses, anxiety, etc, and I encourage deep and honest inquiry into these various paths if you wish to be free of suffering.

Short of having a spiritual awakening, which isn’t something “we” can ever guarantee will happen in this life, accepting that our psychological maladies can be part of a much greater and more beautiful process would be an excellent start.

– Lish

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

The Lenses Through Which We See Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have an awesome day!

– Lish

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

Dying Before You Die

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

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

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

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Beware. The tide always rises.

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

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

The Ego and World Structures

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

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Another hospital drawing.

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

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

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No one. No exceptions.

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

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

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

Mental Health & the Ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Ego Death

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

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

Anyway, here goes:

  • A psychological heaviness and intensity that feels unbearable. It’s not a panic attack. It’s not a depressive episode. It’s just… bigger. It’s all-encompassing; it’s tone is truly that of annihilation. It’s dense. It lacks the raw tearfulness common to healing/depression—not that you won’t cry; it’s just that you’ll be strangely “far away” from the crying. Mostly it’s a pervasive, enormous sense of nothingness that you have not been trained to feel comfortable in. Later on, provided we stay on the path rather than running back into the imagined safety of avoidance, we learn how to relax into the nothingness. But this first taste of it is like the ocean carrying you out to sea. Not only do you not know how to swim; you don’t even know what water is. One of the core delusions of my first major manic episode was that I was—somehow, some way—going through a black hole. That’s honestly still the best way I can think to describe it. If you feel like you’re going through a black hole, your consciousness is probably expanding and your unconscious ego is probably dying.
  • The irresistible desire to cling to anything. You’re drowning. Anyone who seems present and balanced is someone for you to try and grab hold of. Anything that might save you from yourself is embraced (drugs, alcohol, sex.) It’s like a mad grab to become less conscious, to return to the familiar world.
  • … But those things don’t feel the same, and sometimes they don’t work. Drinking made me uncoordinated but didn’t get me “drunk.” Other favorite ways to numb out were slow and uninteresting.
  • Extreme defensiveness. Your ego tries to defend itself by lashing out at people, just like a wounded/dying animal lashes out at those who try to help it.
  • Acute sensitivity to others. With the shell broken, you’re picking up on everyone else’s signals, and there is pain everywhere. You may feel the tremendous need to help the entire world. You can’t—not now, anyway.
  • The feeling that you’re losing your mind (up to a point). For about a week or so, I was checking in with others: “Do I seem okay? Does what I’m saying make sense? Do I look okay?” And they’d be like “yeah sure, you’re just going through some rough stuff.” When I stopped asking was when I was way gone. I didn’t need to ask anymore, and that was precisely when I had truly lost my mind. By then, hearing that I wasn’t well was absolutely horrible. I knew what was going on in the Universe; I understood it innately. I couldn’t explain it, but I did know, and being told otherwise felt like the ultimate betrayal from my fellow humans.

 

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

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

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Just look.

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

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

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

Ego Death and Rebirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Depression, Mania, Medication, Mental Health, The Ego

Mania, Depression, & Consciousness

I’d like to say that (for at least some of the time) being manic rules.

If you’re ever stuck wondering why a bipolar person won’t stay on their medication, know that it’s because they can naturally touch aspects of the human experience most people can’t fathom. And, as hard as it is to admit, the pull of these dimensions really does feel like it outweighs the consequences: It’s like being on MDMA + shrooms for two months straight. There’s a depth and intensity too real to resist, family and responsibilities be damned.

To the outsider it looks horrifying and out of whack, but to the manic person it all makes sense and can be pretty fun. We recognize that something is really wrong with the humorless masses; why can’t they see how awesome everything is? Isn’t it obvious that we all just need to grab a beer together before setting out to clean up the world?

It’s like this whole thing (life, that is) has been an enormous joke and you finally get the punchline after years of believing the joke was dead serious. You’re just laughing and laughing and lashing out at anyone who impedes you. Then you stumble upon those who still believe in time and routine and the economy and sleep, and apparently they’re still calling the shots. It’s lame.

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One of 10,000 pictures I drew while hospitalized.

On a more serious note, people often don’t stay on their meds because it feels disingenuous. When you become committed to growth, you have to know how your brain functions without all the stuff it’s been subjected to. I’m including everything in this: processed food/chemicals, harmful cultural memes, friends/family who might not be as good for you as you once thought, and, yes, drugs. This is why spiritual retreats exist and why transformation tends to be at least somewhat solitary.

Whether a doctor prescribes it or you’ve been poisoning yourself with drugs and alcohol, you know that these things are not you, and you must know you.  In order to realize yourself as a being without false identities and attachments, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 beers or 200 mg of Lamictal.  There’s a need to wash out of both if we have any hope of discovering what our day-to-day consciousness is really like.

This is not something that very many people who go off their meds can articulate, probably because consciousness is still vastly misunderstood. For them, it just feels better not to take them (there are also side effects which are often straight up not worth it). I’m not suggesting that everyone’s choice to go unmedicated is wise. This is very personal stuff, and we are each responsible for feeling out where we’re at on our journeys into wellness.

Being that my manic episodes have both coincided with abstinence from alcohol, I’ve come to the conclusion that regular drinking truly does function similarly to a pharmaceutical regimen.  It’s not that I was stable when I was drinking—hell, I’m not “stable” on Lamictal, either. I still get angry and short and finicky and deeply negative sometimes, but both do prevent me from going up up and away. However, I now know that I just might have to go up up and away to clean out every last one of my old wounds and get to a new resting level of consciousness that is truer to my nature. (Psst: That nature is God, and it’s your nature, too.)

Here are a couple drawings of what alcohol does to consciousness and what happened when I stopped drinking:
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Everything comes up.

It bears repeating that consciousness is the underlying principle in all behavior, thought, and emotion. When it springs up, everything springs up, including the production of dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. Alterations in consciousness result in alterations of neurotransmitters, not the other way around. Scientifically speaking, the principle of neuroplasticity shows that there’s some higher thing that can guide/change the biological organism of the brain. We are capable of accessing this higher thing and using it to our benefit. 

This is amazing.

It is the ego which feeds on seeing itself as special in any way, even if that means being “the worst.” It just wants to be the most anything: Most good, most bad, ugliest, prettiest, most-in-pain. It doesn’t matter. The genuine “middle” (emotionally, materially, relationally) feels less preferable to the ego than the drama of being the best or worst. That’s because the ego’s whole thing is separation, and possessing qualities which others do not have makes us seem further from them, i.e. more separate.  All of these delusions of superiority and inferiority are simply a way for the unconscious ego to remain in charge.

There seems to be a misconception that ego inflation is always a good feeling. For instance, when we get a new thing that we don’t need, the “happiness” that results is the ego thinking “oh yay, I’m more now!” Being that it is “your” possession, its acquisition makes you feel a little bigger. This reinforcement of the ego is what fuels our culture of endless garbage and useless products.

But there are more insidious aspects of the ego that are harder to notice, such as when we cling to pain as an identity. Constant self-loathing is just as ego-based as pride, and it is from this frame of mind that suffering gets interpreted as precious. Don’t get me wrong: We are almost all super-highly-very-wounded. Western culture thrives on wounding its citizens, and the resulting hurt is real. The issue here is when we remain mired in our wounds because we unwittingly (or maybe even wittingly) feel that our darkness and hiding and sadness make us unique.

Healing of wounds requires radical self-love and an “I’m not messing around here” attitude. It is a sacred process. It demands that we compassionately sit with pain rather than automatically turning to behaviors of avoidance or making the whole thing into our own private soap opera.

On the other hand, egoistic self-hatred must be sustained with constant negative thought content. It is an unconscious process, but a very common one: When losing our pain means losing part of us, we may do anything we can do keep that pain, even if we sincerely think we don’t want it. Deep down, of course we don’t want to suffer, but the unconscious ego sure does:

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The ego interprets the loss of a pain identity as a negative thing, because it is becoming “less.”

This is why the idea of “depression” as a permanent condition doesn’t sit well with me. As soon as the diagnosis is built into one’s identity, the odds of healing drop dramatically. Sadly, it’s a persistent belief in the mental health field that certain emotional states are chronic and will always need “managing.”

This is false, and I hope to be living proof of it. As of this post, I’m three days medication-free. Please know that I won’t try to play it like I’m all good for the sake of what seems to be my truth. When and if I start losing my shit, I won’t be afraid to say so, and I’m not attached to being off medication. I do, however, have a strong intuition that doing this will eventually result in more frequently-felt union with the divine. I think that sounds a lot better than a life lived on a wobbly carousel bolted to the ground by a mood stabilizer and several IPAs.

– Lish

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Mania, Meditation, Mental Health, The Mind

The Upside of Losing Your Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1: When you are largely mind-identified…

vs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meditation in Sharpie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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