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

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

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

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

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

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Beware. The tide always rises.

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

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

The Ego and World Structures

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

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Another hospital drawing.

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

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

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No one. No exceptions.

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

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

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

Mental Health & the Ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms of the Ego Death

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

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

Anyway, here goes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Just look.

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

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

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

Ego Death and Rebirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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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 (we simply don’t suffer, period), 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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Mania, Mental Health, Well-being

I am Still Afraid.

So!  The new About page is up.

Even though most of you know who I am, this blog still doesn’t have my name on it. There are a few reasons for this: I want to share this site with my family first, since they have an interest in my health and well-being.

Secondly, I haven’t gone back through all the posts I wrote while I was really-highly-very-manic.  I won’t put my name next to something I can’t stand by, and the odds of me standing by something I wrote when I was unstable are very very slim. Usually the message is there, but the sentences come out disjointed and too-serious.  There’s a sweet spot in consciousness that leads to creation, and mania lies well beyond it.

As soon as I’ve some rereading, clarifying, and editing, I’ll be like “Here I am; these are my new thinkies since I lost my mind.” Except my thinkies are not new.  Everything I’ve come to know has been articulated in various spiritual disciplines over the course of millennia, and/or expressed in cultures that were crushed during colonization.  At least some of this is related to the study of consciousness and yogic sciences once refined in ancient India.

To be honest, I haven’t taken a yoga class since I was a teenager, and for a long time I was disdainful towards the word itself.  Just like with the term “spirituality,” it annoyed me how yoga was co-opted and capitalized on: “But we’ll be so in peace as we march towards extinction and exploit all life on Earth…”

But I’m learning that yoga is something much more complex than seems to be treated in the West (all Lululemon-and-privilege, as I saw it): The yogic process can be much more mentally arduous than it is physical. Yoga psychology posits that one can be guided through vast amounts of unconscious material to ultimately emerge as a transformed individual. This person operates from a new level of consciousness; they fundamentally exist in a way that is very different from before.

I don’t claim to be so advanced in this regard. I’ve experienced heights and expansions in ways that defy words, but the exploration is not fully in my control yet.  I meditate for 15 minutes every morning (and sometimes in the evening) and do with my body what feels right with regards to stretching. This seems to be working out pretty well so far, not that I’m opposed to challenges.

In addition to the yogic sciences, there are also words of wisdom from various faiths that speak to me—things that are just perfectly clear on every level. It’s become painfully obvious how the thread of Truth weaves through all religions, and I’ve only recently moved through the frustration that comes with watching the Truth be so misunderstood that humans create war and closure and everything-else-that-is-bad-in-this-world.

Humans are slow to learn, and for this, we suffer.

In my post Awakening Chooses You, I wrote that none of what I know could be verified scientifically. As long as we look for truth in the outside world and limit the process of “science” in such a way, this will be true.  But I’ve come to learn something new: There are definitely ways to study consciousness; they simply involve direct experience. At present, scientists are searching outward to try and determine reality, which is weird, because I thought we understood some time ago that reality is dependent upon its observer.  If this is true (and it is), it makes a whole lot more sense to study the observer that reality depends on.

I’m not talking about anthropology or even psychology, as fascinating as these fields of study can be. Those are still ways of looking at humans from the outside, albeit in a deeper context. I’m talking about studying ourselves beyond the mind.

Consider that your whole experience of life necessarily comes through you; that there is no way to perceive this thing except through yourself. If we want to know how it’s all working, the answer, then, becomes very simple: Study your consciousness. It is incredible what you can know when your mind is no longer running the show, racing to intellectualize everything.

As far as I can tell, few people can even fully grasp the notion that things can be known through a vehicle other than the mind. We’ve come to treat this awesome tool as the only tool for getting things done, and that’s harmful. Our reliance on the thinking mind has become so total that for many people, it must be consulted on what to eat, when/how much to sleep, what to say, and what to do with our bodies. Quite a bit of scientific research has been conducted in order to tell us that we’re supposed to eat real food, guys.  It’s nuts. These are things that—for a balanced individual—require no thought at all.

The very-busy mind is revered in the West, even though our very-busy minds drive us insane. The belief that thought is our highest tool is so ingrained that we even romanticize being miserable due to thought. A lot of people hold the idea that they’re just too smart to be happy (I thought this myself for awhile), and this notion is carried with a dark, smug kind of pride: “I’d rather see life as it is than be ignorant and happy,” they think. Except that they’re not seeing life as it is: They’re seeing it through a haze of preconceptions, conditioned beliefs, and old pain.  

Joy and smartness have nothing to do with one another. Until we gain at least a little control over our minds and learn how to be pleasant within ourselves, human intelligence indeed goes to waste.

Anyway, consciousness can be studied by way of becoming conscious. Generally, it takes time. It is subtle. (When it doesn’t take time and it isn’t subtle, you’re probably going to end up in the hospital.)  But ultimately the same ends are achieved as with normal science: People who have studied their consciousnesses agree on aspects of it because they’ve had similar experiences.

If you’ve never had a deep experience of oneness, an ego death, a sense of universal energy pulsing through you, or the deep knowing that you really are a god and a prophet, of course you will deny the reality of such experiences.  And if you’ve been conditioned in the Western way, you’re likely to chalk the whole thing up to someone’s brains going haywire with certain neurotransmitters.  This explanation achieves very little, and simply allows the neurotypical majority to carry on without looking too deep.  Everyone’s minds are constantly playing tricks in order to maintain a stable reality.

Yes, all this is kinda mystical. But in the end, the mystical is practical and this whole thing—consciousness—is what saves us from ourselves individually and collectively. Period.

The time is ripe for ancient knowledge to reflourish, and it is, as evidenced by the resurgence of interest in nonreligious spirituality in the West.  In keeping with my honesty streak, a lot of that stuff still feels pretty ego-based to me.  It’s extremely unfortunate that people try to leverage the Universe to push an agenda, or for personal (and generally material) gain—I’m looking at you, The Secret.

The thing is, all that Law of Attraction stuff can actually work, but without transforming one’s way of being, no amount of gain will bring lasting joy. Furthermore, material wealth has no real value, even when paired with a bunch of universe-manifestation rhetoric.  Learning how to manifest is little more than the simple act of pointing your thoughts in one direction rather than allowing them to flit about chaotically.  This is just a blip on the journey into higher consciousness, generally before one accepts that in reality, there is no personal self to inflate with accomplishments and objects.

Whew.  Looks like I have some feelings charged up in all that, so I’ll need to come back to it.

I started writing this post to highlight something very obvious about not putting my name on the site yet: I am still totally afraid of putting myself out there.  I admit this freely; I know how common it is to be afraid of baring ourselves.  And isn’t that the weirdest thing?  I’m aware that we all harbor similar fears about being loved through our worst stuff and weirdest ideas, that there’s no absolutely difference between my fears and your fears.

And yet still I stall.  Still I wait for the “right time,” knowing full well that this imagined “right time” rarely, if ever, exists.  This is in part because time itself is just a product of our minds, but now I’m getting off track.

Barring any unforeseen returns to extreme insecurity, the “right time” will probably be next week.

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Mania, Medication, Mental Health

You are the Upward Mind

Dear Readers,

You might’ve noticed that my site address and blog title have changed! The layout/look may also be changing in the next few days as I figure out which theme feels right.

In keeping with my growth and deepening awareness, Sanity Now has become The Upward Mind. I’m also working on a new About page, where I’ll soon share my personal story and, when I’m ready, my name. After going rather publicly insane in 2015, I’ve had a lot of fear around showing myself and my truths.  It’s about time to let that go.

When I started writing this blog (formerly titled “Sanity Now”), I was manic—like, bordering-on-psychosis manic. The title and the first posts are indicative of the urgency of my mental state. This in itself is a lesson: Our mindsets and attitudes have a serious effect on what we create, and I’m not just talking about our writing/art projects.  Our collective belief in a holistically healthier world is a requirement for it to become true.  When we continually carry ourselves in anger, apathy, and pessimism, we shrink the possibilities for what the world can look like.  Our way of being in the world literally determines what we see.

Back to my most recent manic episode: This time around, I didn’t end up in the hospital.  This is progress. Even better, as I sat with the awful physical sensations that go along with the external “manic magic” I’m sure some of you can relate to, I knew I was healing from personal pain and collective pain, since the two are actually inseparable.

My understanding is that psychosis—particularly that associated with bipolar mania—is meant to be a healing process. More so, full-blown mania is often the result of an accelerated rise in consciousness while one is still identified with the mind, and/or unaware of the evolution of consciousness. I’ll be exploring these ideas at length in the future, and I’m super excited about it.

Although I knew these things to be true, my mind still went really far down the rabbit hole. One night, while sitting up in bed, I entered a trance. Some intense stuff happened while in the trance—ultimately I made the conscious choice to remain in my body rather than go into the white—and then I pulled back to watch Parks & Rec bloopers to stay grounded in this world.

The next day I had enough insight to go my (awesome) doctor, who listened to me and felt my electricity and wrote me a few prescriptions. I begrudgingly took the pills after being unmedicated since my release from the hospital in December 2015. I guess I shouldn’t say “unmedicated,” because I was drinking periodically throughout this time, and alcohol is definitely a drug. Prior to the onset, I’d been sober for almost 3 months—much longer than I’d been sober in about 10 years. If there’s anything I know for sure, it’s that being sober for a few months will reliably result in mania for me.

I could’ve rode out the episode without medication, and I would’ve preferred it. However, that choice might’ve cost me my job in the process, and that’s not an option for me right now. Even though I caught my symptoms and got on meds ASAP, I had to take some time off of work so as to not yell at anybody and/or dispense unsolicited spiritual wisdom. I am blessed for my current employers, who haven’t fired me after two major manic episodes, though I will say that the second one went much, much more under the radar than the first.

Taking time off to “rest” means something entirely different when you’re manic than when you have, say, the flu. I knew if I left the house everything would get weird (because it really, really does), and the only time I did leave was to spontaneously join a march protesting the immigration ban. That choice felt obvious.

In order to stay half-sane, I watched a whole lot of Parks & Rec, or rather, I put it on as background noise while I drew clustered spirals and made cards for everyone I knew I’d be seeing within the next two months. The episodes started playing in reverse and the order of events within them didn’t make any sense whatsoever. And then there was the time that the television actually sent me a message. So yeah. That’s where I was.

Baths were good—sometimes three in one day—and Calming tea was good and fresh juice was good.  Taoist wisdom was almost too real. Zen aphorisms were too real.  When your consciousness is in a nondualistic space but you’re still out of balance, it feels like the energy of certain spiritual ideas will pull you right out of your body and into the ether of the cosmos.  I didn’t want to go; I wasn’t prepared. I knew I’d come back having forgotten everything, and I’d already come so far in the game.

I ate as much nutritious food as my snarling stomach could handle and didn’t force myself to sleep, trusting that it would come when it was time. Yes, I did sleep every night, even if just for a few hours, and even though manic sleep tends to be oddly still-conscious. I spent one unfortunate night on Trazodone, and awoke from a dream I was sure was real: It was the sound of someone jiggling my doorknob who was trying to get in to rape me. No more Trazodone for me.

It was during this time that I quietly launched Sanity Now, taking care not to put much time in it, and telling exactly no one.

In my first episode, I was beyond disorganized, Internetting everywhere all the time, expending energy as quickly as it came in. My deluded confidence and impatience were at an all-time high; everyone else felt extremely slow and dull and needy—oh god, the needs. I don’t feel great about saying all that, but that’s how mania goes. This time, I took care not to get lost in an Internet hole or try to express too much about the Universe. There were some tearful nights where I felt certain I would vanish from existence if no one “understood” me, and watching my behavior so as to not do anything crazy was very challenging.

It took about a week and a half for me to stabilize on lamotrigine, and today I’m on 100 mg a night and nothing else. Technically this is a sub-therapeutic dose, but it’s working for me, and my (awesome) doctor wants whatever works for me. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not want to be on medication, and as soon as the time is right, I will stop taking it.  At such a point, I will get manic; I will let my subconscious swallow me up; I will burn away every last shred of my unconscious ego and all my old pain. Until then, I will keep writing this thing and all the other things I need to write.

Whereas Sanity Now was a reflection of my personal urgency while manic, The Upward Mind is meant as a reflection of worldwide consciousness.  I’m talking about the collective mind that each of us has the power to shape: This is the mind that is the machine, and you have an active role in it.  The spiral and its unending nature are symbolic in many spiritual traditions.  To me, the thought of an upward spiral is representative of our ever-expanding personal and global awareness (again, they are one and the same). Raising the total level of consciousness is how we transcend our own suffering, and how we extinguish suffering for everyone else.

Just as unstable, diseased foundations came about one mind at a time, a new world is also necessarily created one mind at a time.  I’m not saying everyone needs to have a catastrophic breakdown like I did—what I am saying is that catastrophic breakdowns are to be expected in sick cultures, and covering them over with the idea that the illness lies within the individual is narrow-minded and simplistic and false.

Almost everyone is anxious, depressed, or at least a little resentful about how things are going in their own lives and in the world.  Millions of Americans are medicated for depression.  This is ridiculous.  If we are going to call these people “sick,” let’s put it in the proper context: They are having perfectly normal responses to living within an ill society, and this problem will continue to worsen until we all wake up.  Furthermore, the relationship between neurotransmitters and mood gets us nowhere closer to the root of mental illness than saying that cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth. It’s like, okay sure, but why?  There’s a whole lot more to the story of humanity than that.

I look forward to further developing this site and being more open about my experiences with mental health and how they relate to the evolution of consciousness.  With so many suffering people in the United States alone, I know there are people who can relate to all this, who feel like something is missing from almost every discussion on this issue.

There will be much more soon.

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