Consciousness, Culture, Spirituality

Judgment & Unconsciousness

The last few days have passed happily, and for this I am grateful. Being in this space—where I listen to music by myself and eat by myself and comment on books to myself—often comes with some expected bleakness. I have chosen this aloneness and I know it is important, so none of this isn’t meant as a complaint. I am also learning to see the beauty even in my lowest moods, because we can never predict exactly how these things are working on us.

When there is wisdom within me, I think of suffering as being similar to the way seeds are beaten by the climate or the way beans have to boil for a long time to be ready. When we are held too-comfortably—never worked upon by despair or rage—we are more likely remain as hard small inert things. Many of us have little incentive to become unless we are worked on intensively, and sometimes that means enduring a great deal of “reasonless” pain. Learning to see this larger picture is very sweet. I say all this while in a level mindset, with a cup of tea and the heat on and a heavy blanket and a smile. In the midst of intense suffering, though, these things are hard (or impossible) to remember. We just want the pain to go away, and I surely empathize with that.

As I prepare to head to the ashram in Texas, my nervousness and excitement have begun to compete with each other. I’m surprised that I’m headed there so soon, but sometimes a seed needs little watering to sprout if other conditions are favorable.

I started this post to address the way I write about things like alcohol and unconsciousness and culture. It might sound as if I am judging all these things as “bad,” but that’s not the case. I take no moralistic stance on the use of alcohol or drugs. I take no moralistic stance on this culture. We’re all just here, choosing and receiving whatever experiences we need to evolve in soul. For me, that has been to apparently black out a lot and have difficult relationships, experience a rough awakening, become somewhat distant, and not really know what to do with myself. I accept that, though some days it is harder than others.

I am doing what I can to mend past behaviors where possible, mostly by working on my own stuff and really ensuring my mistakes do not get repeated. I have a lot of experience with repeating mistakes. Still, I know all of these things—alcohol addiction, culture, thoughtless behavior, catastrophic breakdowns—are just expressions of consciousness. It is the conditioned mind that does all kinds of things with these expressions, including judgment and unskillful reaction.

In striving to become fully free of the conditioned mind, it feels prudent to say this: The Self does not judge or take morality to be anything more than a mind-made construct. This usually doesn’t mean we behave immorally, but that there is a mad yet perfect logic to God that we cannot access from our monkey minds. Also, there is a fine line between one we might call insane and one who is just totally submerged in the Absolute: There have been arguments over whether certain yogis are lunatics or if they’re realized, and “God-intoxicated” is a phrase I once read to describe Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza is credited with disseminating the idea of “pantheism,” the concept of an infinite, all-embracing God as opposed to a singular, patriarchal God. He is an awesome example of someone who followed and spoke the truth despite the way his society felt about it. I have loved the phrase ever since, and often feel that “God-intoxicated” is what I might like to become, no matter what that looks like externally.

And even if I do speak of human unconsciousness as “a root concern,” I know that unconsciousness, too, is really just another expression of consciousness. It is consciousness hiding from itself, temporarily of course, because the Truth does not stay hidden forever to anyone or anything. Whether tomorrow or at the end of our lives or right now, it will be seen.

I once heard from a wise artist that “we live in a universe of consequences.” His words have stuck with me, because they are so firmly rooted in the truth. “Consequences” is one of those words that is often used threateningly, or with the subtext that punishment is on the way. Of course, like all words, it is actually neutral. All it means is that things follow each other. Events create other events. Choices, be they well-considered or not, make new realities in every passing instant. This is an important thing to recognize, because in this statement we see that we ourselves are responsible for our world.

However, truly understanding the gravity of this sentiment, sometimes we can become paralyzed by how we are (or might be) impacting everyone and everything else. In every instant, there is a new world unfolding into forever. We wonder, who will I pass on the street if I leave in three minutes from now instead of five? What people will I meet if I go into this establishment instead of another? Getting lost in possibility and unforeseeable consequences is a thing more than one friend has reported to me, yet strangely it isn’t something I have felt frozen by.

For as long as I can remember there has been an anchor in my heart, a knowing that everything will turn out however it turns out, and that it will be fine. (Not that I mean to feign stability, here: This anchor has seemed to disappear many times, as has my heart.) And when I say “fine,” I do not presuppose a fairytale ending. Sometimes a human life is little more than a series of painful events, and trying to force a silver-lining attitude about this is just false.

I think all I mean is that whatever happens will happen and it will be handled one way or another. This is a very simple, unemotional truth; c’est la vie. Troubling ourselves over it only creates further disturbance; it lessens our ability to be present and make wise decisions now. The best we can do is have the courage to listen to our hearts and try to be of sound mind. When we act from this place, we’re unlikely to go wrong, no matter what invisible set of dominoes we kick over. Beyond that, we just have to let go.

There are laws in this universe—both physical and energetic—that we simply cannot get out of. When we try, there is enormous friction, and we create a lot more pain than we need to. For example, there are physical laws about how much clean water is required to sustain a human population. When we live out of balance with these natural laws, some amount of humans will likely die of thirst or poisoning.

So, too, are there energetic laws, such as what tends to happen when we act angrily towards someone. They are either likely to reflect that anger right back to us, or internalize it as self-hatred. Either way, this energy gets recycled in some form that results in more suffering—unless anger is thrown at someone who is aware of what’s going on. When we are very aware, there is nowhere for such energy to resound. We become like Teflon for energies that might’ve triggered us tremendously in prior years. It is a very neat thing to witness yourself growing in this way.

It is simple unconsciousness that creates these imbalances, this sense of disharmony, this lack of awareness about energy. When we know by experience that consciousness dispels unconsciousness, we live differently. We begin to pay attention and follow these “universal stoplights,” not out of fear of punishment or even a “sense of morality,” but because it is so rational. Paddling against the current is exhausting and it gets us nowhere.

I will say that if given the preference, I think I’d rather live in a joyful and sane and healthy culture. The consequences of our current hivemind and way of being cannot lead to that. In this universe of consequences, 2 + 2 will never equal anything but 4, and that is what I try to remember, without believing anything in this world is “wrong” or “shouldn’t exist.” It is all simply part of the play.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Uncategorized

How the Ego-Identity Perpetuates Addiction

After my last post, I felt compelled to write more re: the ego, the mind, and addiction. It is my steadfast belief that transcending the unconscious ego (also know as the “assumed identity”) holds the key for solving every mental health issue that plagues humanity, and truly every issue that plagues humanity. That includes addiction.

I’m going to make my standard disclaimer that “understanding” the ego and consciousness occurs on different level than the conceptual mind. You might wonder, “how else can something be understood if not with the mind?” And the answer is that there is another part of you, an infinite dimension within that has always and will always be there. It is your ultimate destiny to experience this limitless nature eternally. This “limitless true nature” is not something fuzzy or conceptual. It is not an idea or a belief. It is as real and enduring as the blue sky or your beating heart—more real, even.

If you’re lost and don’t know what to do with your life—a common ailment in our society, particularly for young people—take heart. There is really only one thing to do: Find that limitless dimension and dwell in it. Put this at the top of your “to do” list, and let life take care of itself.

The Disease that is Conditioning

Addiction is not a disease on its own, but a particularly noticeable symptom of a greater disease. Words like “disease” and “illness” mean very different things to me than how they seem to be used colloquially. All conditioned minds are, in their own ways, diseased, and probably 99% of minds in the world are conditioned. Conditioning is the single, overarching illness of mankind. Its symptoms are myriad: fixation, neuroses, depression, anxiety, fear stories, preoccupation, worry, rumination, confusion, delusion, projections, chronic unprovoked anger, all the way up to psychosis and extreme attachment.

This is what addiction is at its most basic: An extreme attachment to a person, activity, or substance. We can study biochemistry, genetic predispositions, and environmental factors, but when it comes down to it, addiction is nothing more than a strong psychological attachment rooted in the false identity.  Attachments can be broken—we have all done this with ex-lovers, toys we outgrew, and friends we’ve lost touch with. Overcoming the addiction largely depends on how much damage has been done to the body while engaging in the habit and how severely one’s identity is wrapped up in said person, activity, or substance.

This second part brings me back to the ego-identity: For one to transcend their ego, the ego must fully accept its nature, which is not ultimately real. This “great revealing” is often referred to as an ego death or a psychic death or any other number of depressing phrases, usually ending in the word “death.”

Although I have experienced this annihilation and can attest that it does feel that way, I find these phrasings to be unnecessarily frightening. There can be no death for something that never existed in the first place, and the “imagined you” never really did. “You”—as a particular person—have always been a thought or a dream; it’s just that you take the dream Very Seriously up until the moment you wake up. This is why the waking up is glorious and beautiful and hilarious… until it isn’t anymore, because the ego almost always resists its death (which is not actually a death.).

Why Your Ego Uses Your Mind Against You

Just as any animal fights with everything it’s got to avoid dying, such is true with the unconscious ego. So, when our attachments (addictions) become a large part of who we think we are, the ego fights to keep them. This is because you threaten it when you take away the things it imagines it is: A gambler, a drinker, a smoker, a pothead, the partner of someone who isn’t nourishing to you, an over-shopper, a bulimic, an anorexic, a depressive, etc. It doesn’t want you to give these things up, because losing part of the identity is still felt as a loss, even if the “losing” is of something that’s hurting your body and mind.

The ego’s response is to resist. This is the crux and hook of addiction, and why addiction seems so hard to overcome. We identify with the activities we do regularly, so when we stop doing these activities, our identities feel that they are dying. The ego responds by weaponizing the mind, which will sporadically come to throw some seemingly unbearable cravings at you, usually when you’re right at the cusp of leveling up into a more free state. This will go on for some time, and I will write more about how conscious awareness is the only long-term solution for this. In this way we see that eliminating the false identity altogether holds the key to a full recovery, not only from addiction but from everything else we find so troubling about our lives.

I do not know how many treatment modalities specifically address the ego-identity (and/or fully acknowledge that this construct is always illusory), or the way giving up addictions threatens it. I’m sure there are some, and there are probably books that include this kind of language, and that is all very wonderful.

My wish is to see these things well-enough incorporated into mainstream discussions on addiction that people don’t have to suffer through dozens of ineffective treatment programs and do all their own research to find this stuff out. I want to also say that this isn’t even spiritual “woo” stuff we’re talking about: We’re talking about who you think you are, whether that image is rooted in reality, and how your mind maintains this supposed identity for better or worse.

What it Means to be Recovered

Just as I believe almost everyone has the illness of conditioning, I find that very few people are “recovered” and “sane.” To me, this means we have completely overcome the psychological illness that is conditioning, and that we abide in our true selves at all times. It sounds impossible, but this is partially because we treat ultimate liberation like an impossible myth. It is not that.

It is very sad to me that so many people seem to believe “you’re always in recovery,”  or “never really free from addiction.” My genuine advice here is to constantly remind yourself that can be fully liberated from your demons. Whenever a therapist/doctor/friend says something along the lines of “well you’ll always be recovering,” internally tune that shit out and listen to your inner self, which is always seeking to abide in everlasting freedom. You will not seek all your life, nor will you be recovering all your life. It may be a long, dedicated process, but to call it “endless” strikes me as a lowly way to view humanity and we are not meant to be lowly creatures, even if we often act like it (out of ignorance.).

I generally reserve words like “sane” and “well” strictly for the unconditioned mind, i.e., the one that does not falsely imagine itself to be a particular person in this particular world. (I do not claim to have this mind, though I have glimpsed its reality.). This mind is very, very different from the one we normally operate in:

It is still, clear, unattached, unconcerned with time outside of practical matters, free of suffering, and utterly impersonal. In this mind there is no psychological “drag” which brings the past into the present. It is alert but not anxious. It does not identify with anything in the world. Its sense of self is universal, meaning that it sees that it is literally the same as everything and everyone else. This mind—the mind of Christ, the mind of the Buddha—wants nothing for itself. All notions of the “small me” vanish, and we become pure consciousness in human form. This is a person who enters the stream of the universal energy rather than fighting it, like we so often do no matter how this harms us. This mind leads to harmony and peace within the individual, and often moves them through the world encouraging others to that end. This is what your mind has the potential to become, if you just take your chance to look.

And these are the key differences between “recovery” as it is understood through the common lens and the kind of recovery I am talking about: One desires a functional member for society; the other desires total human potential and nothing less. One does not presuppose a true end to all suffering; the other does. One does not help the individual fully understand his/her existence but rather helps them “maintain” in a very base way; the other understands that until we know our true nature unshakably, we are impoverished. One puts limits on how beautiful, expansive, and equanimous life can feel; the other discourages all limitations because it knows all limits are false.

It may sound like a high bar I have in mind when I write about recovery and/or human potential, but to suggest anything less would be deceitful. We should not settle for anything less than what we truly are.

– Lish

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Depression, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

The Maddening Spiritual “Middle Ground”

I just had one of my worst days in a long time. What’s more, all of my cures for bad days have flown away, because I have made it so: Alcohol’s gone, I was never into weed, food is too short-lived an escape for me, I got rid of the TV (which only played DVDs but even that was tripping me up), I don’t have the Internet in my apartment, and I’m on a spiritual book detox because after a while you just can’t read anymore of that stuff. I deactivated my social media last week, I’m single, and it’s never been in me to sensibly reach out to friends or family. By the time I need to reach out, I’m already neck-deep in emotions I do not feel safe sharing with anyone.

What this means is that when I struggle, there’s not much old ego-stuff to cope (see: numb) with. Guess what? My mind hates this, and therefore punishes me with a host of even uglier feelings: Guilt, shame, loneliness. This thought, always: I feel so alone and misunderstood. Despair, isolation. Check, check, check.

The most frustrating thing about these feelings is that I understand their origin perfectly well: Loneliness survives only in a mind which is conditioned to believe it is separate from others. Loneliness has its root in wanting. Only the ego needs to be “understood;” what we are is beyond understanding. The false identity craves connection, craves intimacy, craves anything at all. In Truth these cravings dissolve before us; we realize we actually have always been (and will always be) alone, but it is not sad, it is beautiful. We are alone, but we are God; we are everyone and everything, and we are peace itself. Persistent negativity of this variety is the result of unconscious stuff that doesn’t want to be seen, and yet it also does. Whatever I still cling to, it’s the death of me. Ambivalence is a killer on this path.

I get all that intellectually, but still I remain riddled with these emotions; clutched by them, suffocated by them. I sob in bed and ask for help and for a long time there is nothing but silence. Usually, whenever I next open my computer or pick up a book, there’s something there for me to read that helps. In this way I know my prayers are actually heard.

And yet I am a person. I’m still highly flawed and irritated with myself, especially with the fact that I’m highly flawed and irritated with myself. This is not about me having an unrealistic expectation about being “perfect,” but about going the whole way into spiritual freedom, all while knowing that my ego is fighting to protect something that will definitely crumble one day anyway.

There’s something gnawing in me that wants to make itself known: This is not bipolar depression, mmkay? (Even if it was, and even if bipolar depression was something different than “normal” terribleness amplified, the above statements would still be true.) It’s just been a rotten day. I know for a fact that my body/mind came standard with emotions that go to 11, but for the love of God, emotions do not always need diagnoses. Just because we’re not actually robots designed to feed the capitalist machine while maintaining that “we’re fine” in every passing conversation doesn’t mean we are sick.

In fact, I’m willing to say right now that emotions never need diagnoses, though they may certainly need healers. If we insist on doing this, the diagnoses should come with a huge note at the bottom, something along the lines of: You, as an individual entity, are just an idea with no grounding in Reality. Seeing this clearly will alleviate every problem you have, including your negative emotions. This may not be an easy task, so here’s a mood disorder diagnosis to have until you’re ready to let it go. If you never are, that’s okay. But we’re just putting it out there, because it’s revolutionary, and it is your final destination as a soul to realize this truth for yourself.

Of course I kid, even though I actually, really, honestly wish someone had taken the time to educate me on the true meanings of the ego and pure consciousness—ideally before I went “insane.” Nobody did, because they just didn’t know how, and also I wasn’t looking.

Hence this blog. Hence my life.

What I’m really getting at is that you can have your mind and ego blown to smithereens by God/Self/Being, and these wily things will manage to cobble themselves back together.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The mental “knowing” of All Things Spiritual really gets us nowhere. I gotta be honest, it often feels dreadfully ineffective to have a blog on consciousness because the whole punchline, after everything I write, is this: “But you really gotta see it for yourself.” It’s like spending your life describing to people the beauty of your favorite place in the world. You could do that, sure, but for the people you love, you really want to just buy plane tickets so they can go there and know the magic of this location firsthand.

Except there’s no ticket you can buy to this thing. Also, very few people seem to want to go. Or they say they do but balk when you get too close to the airport, or think they’ve already been there so what’s the point, or otherwise come up with 10,000 explanations for why they’re just “not interested in Absolute Truth.” They just want to be better people, or just take down the “worse people.” That’s the problem, after all—it’s certainly not their own unconsciousness.

And I get that. Hell, I want to be a better person. But ultimately, it is not “a good person” that I strive to be—in fact, I do not want to be a person at all. I’m not sure that this statement on its own makes sense, so I’m going to explain: “A person,” as defined by the conditioned mind, is always unreliable. One minute a person is happy, the next sad, then angry, maybe compassionate—a person’s entire way of being can be altered drastically just by threatening a few key attachments and/or illusions. It is a volatile construct, the egoic personality (and all personalities are egoic.).

People are inherently contradictory. They claim they’re one thing and then act differently. They say they’ve forgiven, and yet they bring up “the forgiven incident” when angry. They consider themselves loving and nonjudgmental and go on to say something quite hateful. They believe they are “good” and yet they say mean things. They swear they’re going to give this-or-that thing up—only to pick up the habit again in a few days. The flimsiness of the conditioned mind (again, this is the definition of a “person”) is so obvious it’s maddening.

I don’t mean this to be an attack. Nor is it meant to be the oversimplified, negative “People just suck” maxim that almost everyone reaches when they go deeply into conversations about the state of the world. Such a sentiment often serves to absolve us of digging further, of looking at our layers of self-deceit and fear stories. It is not a cynical attitude; it is just the nature of “personhood.” All that thinking and feeling without the stable foundation of Truth revealing that everything is totally fine? Of course we’re freaking wobbly.

And I admit fully: I’m like this, too. I’ve done all those things a thousand times. My mind is a disintegrating carousel I keep trying to get on, somehow believing it’ll be super fun this time. Then the carousel turns into a nightmare à la that creepy ride in the original Willy Wonka movie and I wake up a bit more. Oh, yeah! I remember. That’s why I don’t trust it! My mind lets itself think I’ve won sometimes.

I resolve to abide in my Self, my Truth, my unwavering Knowing… and then of course, I fail. Again. It’s exhausting, this middle ground. I wish I had advice on it, but I just cried and ate a bunch of cheese, so I don’t think I’m the best person for that.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Mooji, says that on the path, we’re moving from “person” to “presence.”

So I’m not saying I don’t want to be human; I just don’t want to be a person. First of all, I suck at it; secondly, it brings a lot of suffering—in part because I suck at it, but also because I see clearly the futility of trying to be better at Playing Person™. Doing so would not bring me to the Truth, and that’s all there is; that’s all we’re here for anyway: To evolve in consciousness until we see who we are, irrefutably, undoubtedly, perfectly, and not personally.

So what good would it really do to become more comfortable in groups? What joy would I find if I felt like “small talk” was a breeze (to be fair, I don’t think anyone really enjoys small talk.)? How much happier would I be if I could act like a person better? The answer: Not very. It is Truth I long for and nothing else, knowing full well that it will cost me my dear illusory “person.”

But whatever. She kinda sucks anyway, so it’s really no loss at all.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

On Healing and Awakening

Healing is a huge part of awakening. There’s just no way around it. And while it’s possible to heal without awakening, it is almost unheard of to awaken without undergoing an intensive healing process.

Living in Western culture, none of us make it to adulthood unscathed. It’s not just that many families unconsciously inflict harm upon one another (though this is true for a whole lot of people), it’s that we are programmed to believe certain things about our worth and our identities that are completely illusory. For lack of a better phrase, this programming really fucks us up. For children it can be as simple as not doing well in school (this is a very narrow definition for intelligence, btw) for them to receive negative messages about their “place” in society. We are also programmed to believe things about ourselves and others regarding skin color, “class,” appearance, nationality, religion—everything. As we grow up, rigid definitions about masculinity (i.e. “show no emotion”) and femininity (i.e. be thin and pleasant at all times) are also instilled.

When we “fail” to be the things our society expects of us, a tremendous amount of suffering can ensue. The need for a culture which allows children to grow and be, just as they are, is enormous. In such a case, we’d find that humans—when loved and supported by mindful adults—can become incredible, strong, and resilient individuals capable of far more than whatever our projected hopes are for them. Without millions of layers of delusion and conditioning, people are all wonderful.

When you wake up, you might find yourself not only healing from whatever you personally suffered, but from the entire dream of hurtful stories that have cut all of us up. Pair all that with the new dimensions of consciousness you’re blindly traversing, and we have a recipe for some really intense shit.

It’s important to realize that healing does not necessarily require that you’ve incurred any “serious” trauma (although that’s hideously common). Collectively we will all need to go through some kind of healing process in order to grow into more conscious beings. We can’t get around the fact that we’ve abused and killed this planet and one another for a very, very long time. The only thing left to do is face it. If you’re an empath, facing the enormity of the pain acted out unconsciously can seem like a bottomless pit of despair. There are things you can do to climb out of this, but it’s work. Lest any of you believe the spiritual path is one of bliss and joy, it is not always that way, especially in the beginning.

Because we’re so interconnected, we may also find ourselves heal from each other’s pain as well. For me, it was never just about me and my personal stories: I felt like I was quite literally having the experience of every human being who has ever been persecuted and tortured.

This isn’t true for everyone. Depending on how much inner work you’ve done prior to awakening, it may not be as lengthy or as deep of a process.  Every single person who awakens experiences it differently, and frustratingly, there’s not even a single path to “get there.” But, in general, you’re going to be having an astonishing amount of emotions you might have never knew existed and that you have no explanation for. Your pain (and every other dimension of consciousness within you) has been like a Jack pushed down in it’s box, and for mysterious reasons, the handle has been cranked just right so that it all pops out.

I don’t want to go so far into talking about the ways of healing and/or the amount of time it takes to heal. This is because I’m not on the other side yet, so for me to speak of complete healing without being completely healed would be sort of like the blind leading the blind. This brings me to a very important point: Not all practitioners of any kind (therapists, counselors, doctors, shamans, spiritual teachers) are healed and whole within themselves. In fact, most aren’t. A lot of people become doctors because it’s what their parents wanted for them, or because of the status doctors hold in society. A lot of people become psychotherapists out of a well-meaning yet naive desire to “help people” without ever going deeply into themselves. Their goals of healing aren’t necessarily motivated by an intuitive understanding of the human condition.

This creates a host of problems. If a healer isn’t aware of where they’re at on their journey, they can easily project issues onto you and/or seek to “fix” themselves by “treating” you. When this happens to you, it can be jarring, maddening, and sad. Even though I’ve seen some great people throughout my journey towards wellness, I can say that maybe only one of them has felt capable of deeply understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the way the whole thing went down (he’s a spiritual teacher).

But this was also a gift. Each time I saw a professional and came away feeling misunderstood, or as if only the surface layer had been discussed, the message came in strong and clear: There’s nothing “out there.” The answers, wisdom, and understanding exist perfectly whole and indestructibly within.

It is a great gift when you realize that the answers cannot be found in the external world. It is an even greater gift when you become free of trying to answer everything. Questions and answers all exist on an intellectual level, and the sharpest of intellects can get you no closer to the Truth. Our academic intelligence doesn’t get us there. This is also a very hard truth for the Western ego to incorporate, since we are also taught that endless thinking (the kind that is rewarded in our super narrow educational system) can solve everything. Sadly, “being smart” won’t help you as you awaken, and can actually hurt you if you’re always trying to intellectualize the process.

Today, I can see exactly why I was drawn to the field of psychology, and particularly why I wanted to be a substance abuse counselor at first: I had tremendous pain that I hadn’t worked through, and a drinking problem I used to keep it at bay. What better way to deflect and be “okay” than to tirelessly try to help others? Luckily the lights came on before I had a chance to unwittingly harm any clients, and now I wouldn’t dream of considering such a career unless I was confident in my well-being and ability to replenish my energies as needed.

I want to end this post with a link to a series of videos I found extremely helpful. After I got out of the hospital, unwilling to believe my experiences were simply the result of misfiring neurotransmitters, I started looking for alternative explanations for bipolar disorder. These videos (along with dozens of books) gave me a new lens through which to understand my manic episodes, and ultimately, a new lens through which to see all of life:

Important: This isn’t a matter of whether or not mental illness “exists.” Of course it does, even though mental illness is still sorely misunderstood. Though I went through phases of being anti-psychiatry and anti-medication (largely as a reaction from the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized during the most fragile and horrific time of my life), I’ve come to embrace the “keep what works; let go of what doesn’t” mentality. When I was acutely manic and had to try to go to work, I took the medication and accepted the bipolar label. We really do have to let go of our egos when it comes to our health. (This lesson should be embraced by anyone who thinks they’re “too tough” or “fine enough” not to seek treatment for anything.)

Even though you know your experiences are part of something greater than a medical issue, “having a spiritual awakening” still doesn’t buy you a few years off of work to integrate and recalibrate (although I wish it would!). In short: Accept the label when it serves you on the path to wellness; drop it when it doesn’t.

Now, being unmedicated and taking more responsibility for my wellness, I can let go of the label unless I feel the desire to explain to someone (who doesn’t consider themselves “spiritual”) what happened. The point is that, internally, I keep in mind that none of these stories can touch the truth of my being or anyone else’s.

– Lish

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"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Narratives, Reality, The Ego, Well-being

Happy 4th!

Nations Are Illusory

There has never been a need to cut the world up into nations. There is land. There are climates. There are variances in topography and coordinates which correspond to unique geographic locations. But there is no such thing as a nation once you have become unconditioned.

What we refer to as “our country’s history” is a collection of stories passed down from one generation to the next.  Stories can be twisted to fit any agenda; they are the most manipulative device known to man. I could tell you stories about myself that would make me look awful, and I could tell you some that would make me look great. I expect the same is true of you. Neither one would be based in reality because reality only exists here and now; also, everything is so much bigger than any single story can touch. 

Stories are the things your mind holds onto in order to keep your ego intact, or in this case, the ego of the nation. And so, from moment to moment, I am a woman without a story unless I choose to make one up. I do this often—and we all do. The only question is whether or not we’re aware that that’s what we’re doing.

According the story that is perpetuated in American culture, today is Independence Day. Here’s that story as I see it: A few hundred years ago, some people freed themselves from the tyranny of one guy and went on to oppress a bunch of other people. In the following years, some people ended up way better off; others ended up way worse off. Today, the remaining people are among the richest, saddest humans in the world. Regardless of their comforts and rights, they remain neurotic. Many are outright miserable.

I know there are more poignant aspects I could focus on, and that with the right intonation and rhetoric of glory, I could say something  patriotic: “The founding fathers emancipated themselves from an oppressive, greedy monarch and went on to build a country based on the ideals of liberty and individual pursuit of happiness.” See?  I can do it; it’s just so obviously one-sided.

Anyway, if the goal was for us to be very materially wealthy and very psychologically ill, I’d say this thing is a great success.  But of course it wasn’t.  The goal was freedom, and we are still so far from it.

Freedom is a State of Being

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the US or against Independence Day; it’s meant to be a post discussing actual freedom.  I’m so totally pro-freedom that I want us to be free of nations.  I want us to be free of limiting beliefs.  I want us to be free of borders and security agents with guns and hostility towards one another.  I want us to be free of fearing our fellow humans and free of fearing death.  I especially want us to be free of fearing life. I want us to be free of suspicion. I want us to be free of fearing that at any moment, freedom can be taken away, so we best militarize and lock up.

True freedom can never be taken way, nor can it be granted by another.  It is an individual’s personal work to get and remain free of his/her limiting mentalities (and, of course, to understand what that “self” actually is). Someone who is retired with millions of dollars can easily be mentally enslaved. Someone who is in jail can live outside of the confines of the body and mind and dwell in a kind of peace that eludes everyone else.

It is the work of the collective to create functional communities wherein we don’t treat each other like equipment, constantly assigning value to one another. In this made-up lala-land I inhabit in my imagination and envision as a real possibility, we would give of ourselves as we could and accept when needed. No one would fear for their survival, thereby becoming free to devote energy to inner development. This is the place I want to live, and it is one I know can exist because I can think of it. It is also clear to me that creating such a culture is a requirement for allowing the Earth to heal itself from years of abuse.

The story I want to be able to say regarding the transformation of consciousness goes like this: “Humans freed themselves from their own oppressive minds, ceased to identify with illusions, and came together to clean up the mess they’d unconsciously made.”

What I am Free From

I get that this has all been very pie-in-the-sky: Nations dissolving, people treating each other with love, blah blah blah.  I know it seems like there are a million steps we have to take before we get there, but the truth is that awakening happens in just one moment. One click of light and it’s all over. The self that thinks of the self falls away. The self that is separate from others is revealed as a facade. It all seems so idealistic until you get a taste for it and begin to feel the changes within yourself.

Suddenly, it’s feasible: We really don’t have to keep waging war on this planet or on one another if only we could drop every single lie that stands between us. The war within us is the war without. The things that leave us feeling like we’re 50 different people all the time are the same things that divide us on the whole. Total system overhaul is dependent on us transforming ourselves and  moving forward consciously.

To round this little post out in a much more normal and personal note: Today is my 100th day alcohol-free! I didn’t plan it, and if I had, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. I’ll be spending the day playing outside, being with loved ones, watching fireworks, and drinking a bunch of nonalcoholic ginger beer and grapefruit soda. I choose to see today as a celebration of my freedom from alcohol addiction.

I’m working on a big post on alcohol right now: Why I don’t drink (it isn’t because I’m an alcoholic) and how I’ve practically spring-boarded from poor decisions, constant shame, and self-recrimination into positivity and actions that are more in accordance to who I know I really am just by giving it up.

The post will go up when it does, and until then, I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful summer. May you celebrate real freedom, as well—whatever that means to you.

Love,

Lish

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