Watching the Egoic Mind

The ego is the most misunderstood and underappreciated concept in the history of human evolution. This word gets thrown about casually all the time. Many people believe they have a hold on this notion, and perhaps they do on an intellectual level. However, intellectual understanding is not what we are after on the path. This is because intellectual understanding will not free you or reintroduce you to the Self.

As I’ve said, I once loved deep philosophical discourseor rather it felt “deep” because the mind was busy tying itself into ever-tightening knots. The depths of ourselves are not actually known until the egoic mind begins to thin. All of my conversations occurred while the core questions, “Who is speaking? Who even are we?” went ignored and/or unanswered. Intellectual conversations carry on like this all the time.

The reason for such misunderstanding is because 99% of what we hear, think, and talk about comes from the ego itself. In this post I am going to refer to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave* and compare it to the experience of living inside the egoic identity versus seeing through it and to the Self.

*The Wikipedia link says that the allegory is about “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.” But the allegory is not about education in terms of mental knowledge or accumulation of worldly facts. One with a Ph.D in theology is no closer to Truth than a farmer who dropped out of high school.

The allegory is about self-knowledge. It is about the way we can come to know true reality as opposed to what most of us accept as “reality” without looking very far inward. The allegory has survived for so long in the collective consciousness precisely because it is about the egoic mind, not “education” in the modern sense.

Most often, when we say we understand ourselves or others, it is ego talking about ego. Here we are still in the cave, theorizing about the light outside rather than just walking out into it. If we once had a spiritual experience, we might be remembering what it was like to be out there for a split second: Spacious, peaceful, open, clear. It is much rarer for one to walk outside the cave and never look back. I would like to see it become much less rare.

And it is almost only the “bad” human qualities we attribute to ego. We think it only means arrogance, greed, hot-headedness, and an inflated sense of importance. And while these traits surely do stem from an unexamined ego, they alone are not an accurate description of what an “ego” is or its effects on the being.

Here is the simplest description of your ego: It’s your false identity. It is a construct (truly just a thought) made up of personal history, belief systems, and group affiliations. It is a collection of labels and stories that have been assigned to you since (or even before) birth. You have taken on these labels and stories unconsciously, and believe they are what “you” are.

This falsenesssomething that is a clever lieis driving nearly all of our thoughts and actions in this world. Do we understand now how the world has gotten into the shape it is in? We live upon it while believing unquestioningly in a huge lie. This lie is so obvious it goes overlooked all the time.

Just for fun, pay close attention to the next new person you meet. Most of the time, if you ask them about themselves, they will launch right into their ego-story: “I am John, I work at a pharmacy, I have a dog, etc.” Or just ask someone “who are you?” Again, it will almost always be about personal history, personal relationships, their profession, interests, etc. Straight away, they are speaking from their ego. It is rare for someone to go “off-script.” The ego is what we are usually talking about when we use the word “I:” It is “ourselves” as particular individuals. These small stories represent the cave we are all living in.

What is the origin of this cave, this ego-identity?

It is conditioning, through and through. Everything you believe about yourself is the result of conditioning. This is easy to unravel: The body you were born with did not come with a name. Your parents gave you one, and slowly conditioned you to respond to this name. We are all conditioned to believe we are smart or stupid, worthy or unworthy. We are conditioned to believe that certain self-expressions are acceptable and others must be suppressed; we are conditioned to believe all kinds of things like “money equals safety,” “nations are real,” and “a partner will make you happy.”

Consciously conditioning another person to believe something is negatively called “brainwashing.” But even if we “reject” all beliefs, we will find that this root constructthis false “I”—will happily latch on to the belief that “it is a person with no beliefs.”

If you take yourself to be any kind of person at all, you are missing the Truth of your Self.

Sometimes we read or hear truthful statements about the ego and dismiss them: “I’ve heard all this already; I understand all that,” etc… Well, what are we trying to defend, then? What is the source of our restlessness and lack of ease? Why do we continue to chase experiences and live in unpleasant life situations? Why do we find it so difficult to sit quietly in peace?

Once this “false one” is unmaskedonce we walk in out into the sun from the cave—the struggles naturally come to an end. Because we are not separate from one another, it is true that the whole world is uplifted when even one being makes it out.

But I don’t want it to seem so hard! There is actually no cave or ego to “get out of.” See this and you will know freedom right now. And you do not have to sacrifice everything in your life to look within. I am of the belief that most realized beings move towards lives of simplicity because silence just becomes preferable to conditioned chatter and noise. However, peace is still an inner experience everywhere they go. Living from the Truth, a sage is also capable of having relationships and jobs and other “normal” life situations, but many don’t. These things are often a kind of energetic drain.

The main difference is that they have seen who they are, truly and doubtlessly, and allow life to unfold before them. There is no fixed “person” within them. They tend to radiate peace and stillness, but are capable of any unabashed expression—yes, even anger and sorrow. They are simply not identified with their emotions.

As far as getting free, it isn’t very helpful to “think about” the ego-identity. When we think about the ego from the ego, it is tantamount to painstakingly wandering around the cave, taking inventory of its nooks and crannies: “Ah yes, here is the water drip; here is the crack in the cave wall; here is the rock where I stubbed my toe…”

We are also fascinated with the projections on the walls, always discussing them and pointing at them. The obsessiveness over worldly “stuff” is truly silly. You are given no aerial view this way, and no idea about how beautiful it is outside.

To see the ego in its entirety, we must start to make steps towards its exit. If we are lucky and our minds are ripe, our efforts will fruit in no time. We will run right to the edge of the cave and into the sunlight to find that none of those projections were real in the first place. From this position, it will seem bizarre how steadfastly most human beings fight to remain inside of it.

However, it seems that most of us prefer to live in the hallway towards the exit of the cave: We want the imagined safety and familiarity of the cave (the cherished personal identity) and an open free life in the sun.

My friends, this is not possible. It is the work of the egoic mind to convince you the cave is safer. The exact opposite is true: In no time at all, the cave is going to collapse and crumble in on you, so why waste another moment inside of it? The desire to have both can easily create many lifetimes of discord for you.

The true way to live is in complete freedom from the egoic mind. This is also the way our culture goes about transforming into one that is actually healthy and responsible in the long run. Our way of life in the egoic hivemind is much like a snake eating its own tail. It may seem tasty and interesting until we see, with horror, what is happening. Only then will we say, with shock, “my God, what have I been doing?!”

Perhaps the Self is realized right then.

The question is, will we realize these things?

The Click on the Couch

This post is a continuation of a series on what occurred during my personal awakening process.

It feels important to say that from where I am now, there is little belief in the person who once seemed to exist, the one who felt so isolated and shameful. When the occasional shame-pangs hit me now, there is a steadiness and ability to watch them pass. Who “I used to be” is really not the point. No one’s individual “story” is the point, nor do I find my own or others’ to be particularly interesting.

And yet it can be helpful to see how one goes from tremendous self-abuse and ignorance to deep peace, because this is the story of humanity at large. In a way, our entire species is recovering from a nightmare we have unwittingly created for ourselves.

I am often caught in an inner dialogue about whether it is beneficial or not to share the details of my awakening. I wonder, am I energizing something that does not need to be chewed on any longer? Each day I think I will delete everything I have ever written, because it is so paltry compared to This Thing, because countless others have come before me (Lish) to say such things far more eloquently, and because sometimes I sense my lingering ego hoping for some kind of attention from it. I guess I’m saying, don’t be surprised if all this disappears one day.

However, something in me still feels pulled to share this for now, and so I will.

April 2014

I am on the couch writing about what I think I want out of intimate relationships. The funniest part is that I am already married.

You’d think we would give due consideration to such matters before making our commitments, but I do not think this is very common. More often, we find someone we love and just hope for the best. Or someone gets pregnant. Or someone feels obligated. Or both. Of course there is also genuine happiness in the relationship and I don’t mean to dismiss this. I do not have a cynical view of relationships, but a sober one: Usually, on some level, we are clinging to one another for some kind of safety, emotionally or financially (or both, because they are related). Then we do neat tricks with our minds to convince ourselves this thing is really, truly what we want, what “makes us” happy.

Yes there are rare, conscious relationships in which both individuals understand what the whole point of life is, if it is even fair to call it a point. That “point” is to wake up from the egoic dream and live in the peace of God. If you are both aligned on this level, healthy and challenging companionship can result. If one of you desires this and the other doesn’t—or if one of you suddenly wakes up—the relationship will naturally change into something less intimate.

As of this journaling moment, I haven’t even really dove deep enough into myself to see if I want a relationship. (I still don’t know the answer to this question, and am leaving it up to Life to provide me with the all the right external situations. So far, this has not failed me in the slightest.)

As I journal, I think maybe I want an open marriage. Pro tip: This is never the solution if you are confused about what you want. Really, I want something that allows me (what I imagine to be) greater freedom. Something about being partnered has always given me a sense of dependency and attachment; I suspect that you know what I mean.

There is a nagging thing in me that has always pulled me from kind lovers who mean me no harm. I have since learned that that thing is called a wild heart and it is not a bad thing unless you are stuck listening to a mind that says you are supposed to be in a singular lifetime relationship only forever. It is only a bad thing when we lack the awareness to say to our lovers “hey, I’m not looking for anything in particular.” It is only a bad thing when we think getting married will somehow fix the wild-heartedness which, again, is not even really a problem.

This “one lifetime relationship” conditioning makes many of us very ill at ease in the relationships we believe we are “supposed to be in.” We hang on desperately even though our hearts are pulling us elsewhere, to someone else (in my eyes, another teacher), or, ideally into our own selves. Usually when we are hopping around from lover to lover we are only seeking our true selves anyway. Sometimes this habit needs to be exhausted until we finally catch on to the silly game we are playing. There is no need to label it as “bad.” Others will do that for you, but pay them no mind either. Just do as the heart commands.

Also: Yes, I am aware this restlessness is partly due to abandonment issues, my addict father, blah blah blah. That is not the story I want to focus on today. The point is that I need to know myself desperately and yet I keep thinking I will find myself in “the right love.”

No matter what our compulsions, the underlying root is the same: We have no idea who we are. We believe this answer lies outside of us, in the configurations of our lives and in our achievements. We are terribly mistaken.

As I was saying: I think perhaps an open marriage is the solution to the fact that I am preoccupied with other men and that I desire more freedom. Oh how the egoic mind seeks to have its cake and eat it, too! It wants to preserve what it thinks it “has” and also collect more and more. So blind, this mind.

My ticking mind then starts to imagine what kind of life this would be, what others would think of me if I were to pursue this. Also, this is so not what my husband agreed to. There is something of a storm of fear about what others will think, and I am trying to sort out what I think I want. So much useless thinking, so much wasted energy.

And further, there is the underlying, humming question I have been asking myself since childhood: What the hell is wrong with me? This is a question I think many addicts can relate to, as well as those of us with mental illness labels: What is wrong with me; what is wrong with me?

And I cannot help but write again that the thing is always the same: Ignorance of the True Self. Psychologically speaking, that is all that is ever really wrong, and yes it is that simple.

The thought-stream continues: Well, so what if people think negatively of me? This is my life. This is the thought that does it for me: This is my life. Oh! This is my life! It’s like I’ve never fully realized it until just now!

The thought swirls a couple more times, and I experience a vague sensation of being sucked into a hole, a space in my mind that feels further inside than I normally go. I am looking into something; it is pulling me inward. Then, what truly feels like a light-switch is flicked in my mind: Click! An epiphany. I am fine.

A wash of relief overcomes me. I feel very light, and very happy. There is such peace in this moment. Somehow I know nothing will ever be the same, and I cannot undo whatever has just been done.

Know Yourself First

Today I wanted to share an illustrative metaphor regarding the egoic mind and its relationship to the world we create. Many of us are caught up in attempting to force or manipulate the world into what we think it should look like. As well-intentioned as this may be, it is misguided. I drew this picture to help show why it is essential to know who we are first and foremost:

ink (2)
For whatever reason, I forgot to include violence and war in the branches: Such unconscious acts based are also on the delusion that we are not, in fact, only ever waging war against ourselves.

It is very simple: We have forgotten who we are, and are in the habit of mistaking ourselves for things that are not original to us.

We are largely in the habit of assuming things about who we are—primarily that the “I” we are focused on is a collection of memories, stories, personality, preferences, history, relationships, etc. This construct is actually a very contracted version of the true You. It is flimsy like a shadow, always changing, and subject to death. The ego-identity, for as important as the world makes it out to be, is actually non-existent.

It doesn’t even matter what the ego dresses itself up as. All are equally unreal in the ultimate sense, and none are more helpful to humanity than those who seek to rid themselves of such falsehood. All egos can become fundamentalist about whatever beliefs they take seriously.

Once this root is pulled, pure being can at last shine through. From here it becomes very clear what to do for our fellow humans, if anything at all. One realized being sitting in supreme peace actually uplifts the world far more than a hundred angry protesters.

This is not laziness, and this is not sitting and thinking. Being is neither of these things.

I was inspired to draw this picture by a Thoreau quote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

This is an appropriate statement for the way most of us attempt to act “morally.” We choose a few good behaviors, perhaps a “cause” or two, and become concerned about them. We then go on to believe—or at least act as if we believe—that the rest of our choices do not matter once we pick said causes and invest some energy into them.

We donate money to charity and yet purchase clothing made by children in factories. We protest war and yet go home to sharply chastise our spouses and children. We claim to love animals, yet we support industrial meat by eating it. We make claims about wanting to experience our Buddha-nature, but go on to loudly judge Christians. We say we love our family members, yet fail to accept them when they deviate slightly from the family culture.

The difference between what we profess to value and how we behave could not be more pronounced. Of course the mind always has clever justifications. I have heard them all and I have made millions of excuses in my own life for my callous thoughts and language.

It is rare to see someone striving to become effective in challenging the culture cumulatively. This is the only way it can really work, because every issue is indivisible from every other. We often settle for “good enough.” It is an act that protects the ego, which gets to continue imagining itself as this great, radical person.

Conversely, it may imagine it is never good enough, again thrown into hyperbole about what a “bad person” it is. Both views are equally delusional. The mind has many tricks to preserve its hold over us… whichever line of thinking works for the mind, it will use.

So what is this incongruity all about? Who does this?

It is not enough to answer that humans are, by nature, contradictory and bad. I find this belief to be weak and unexplored, the result of one’s own belief in themselves as being unworthy.

Throughout history there have been human beings (some are alive even today) who realized who they were and let go of half-measures. They existed in peace, gave themselves up, and became examples for what humanity is capable of.

It is worth mentioning that for these people, no matter how financially poor, there was never even a sense of sacrifice. Once you give yourself over to consciousness it becomes clear how blessed you are, even with limited “real world” accommodations. Ramana Maharshi allowed thieves to “steal” from the ashram where he lived and refused ownership of land given to him, so deep was his experience of his Self as All. He had next to nothing but was immersed in God. He was also vocal that there was indeed nothing special about him. What is called “enlightenment” is available to all, and is the opposite of “special.”

As far as ignoring the whole: The true mind does not do this. One who has awakened to Truth does not do this. The dream of separation and dualism is over for this one, and it is understood how hopelessly entangled we are with one another.

Another step: “entangled” is not even correct. We do not exist as separate entities from God, or anyone else for that matter. To be entangled or connected implies there are separate parts to connect. But this seeming separation—dualism—is playing out within a nondualistic consciousness.

 

And yet, and yet… words fail. Sit and see for yourself.

Our focus is extremely shortsighted. From egoic minds, we criticize the external world without taking the opportunity to turn around and notice our own patterns of hatred. Too, we miss the largest point, which is that we are what makes the external world. All of us. Together. This is a co-creative act no one gets to opt out of. You are creating the world and the culture right now whether you like it or not.

We try to take a chainsaw to capitalism, war, big banks, colonialism, political systems, poverty, racism, on and on. But, just like a tree or shrub, what happens when one limb is cut? It grows back, sometimes even stronger. All kinds of effort goes towards chopping away that which will absolutely grow back. The only permanent solution is to pull the root, which lies in your own mind.

Pulling the root of the ego reveals the truth of who you are. We must do this first, before attempting to change the world. Only then does it become clear where our strengths lie, what uplifting work we are suited to. It may not even be in any “big, grand” way. I know many people harbor dreams of being great spiritual leaders, but even this is often the ego’s sneaky attempt to dress itself up and project an “important” vision of itself into the future.

God has moved me to a town of 130 people with no social media and one backpack. I have about $600 total, and still have student loan debt. There is no long-term “plan.” Surely I am not living any common Westerners’ dream. It bears mentioning that external conditions really are not the point: Money/no money, stuff/no stuff, relationships/no relationships… It is not my lack of belongings that “makes me spiritual.” A simple, uncluttered way of life truly makes most sense to my heart, and we will all be steered in unique directions depending on our constitutions.

Upon realizing the Self, we may find that we are still moved to engage in activism, but it will come from a far more grounded and loving place—not one of divisiveness, revenge, or anger. This charged notion that “those people are doing something evil to me/us” will have dissolved.

In short: Know who you are, and do what you will. If you do not know who you are, drop as many things as you can and seek yourself. It is not a physical journey, and anyone can start taking steps. You really do not need to go anywhere but inside of your own self.

 

Location: En route from Burlington, WA to Mitchell, OR

When Life Throws Pies

I’d like to start this post with a Mooji quote I only remember loosely: “As soon as you think you have life ‘figured out,’ life will throw a pie in your face.”

This is hilariously true. Every time I think I’ve “got it,” or even that I know what my “next step” is, something strange happens. The universe corrects me: You know nothing, lish. Stop trying to make things happen and dissolve yourself. At least now these lessons tend to be gentle as opposed to the ego-obliterating experience of having a public mental breakdown. At that time, God was hitting me hard, showing me all the secrets of the universe while simultaneously humiliating the small, egoic me.

In case you’re new to this blog, what I’m talking about is the “manic episode” I had about 2 and a half years ago. I put “manic episode” in quotes because I no longer buy into conventional stories of mental illness. If anything, I believe there is an illness that afflicts the vast majority of humanity, and it is the illness of conditioning. And I surely don’t see myself as illhell, I don’t even regard that time in my life as “bad” anymore. Don’t get me wrong: It was totally chaotic, unstable, and exhausting, but it went the way it went and I learned a lot from it. I now regard the episode as a blown-out expansion of consciousness that I was unprepared for. It occurred about a year after a spontaneous click of soul realization, a moment that changed everything forever. As Emerson might say, I was “blasted with an excess of light.”

Sometimes life is rough with us and grinds us down with a heavy hand. We have a choice to either be humbled and take the time to look into ourselves, or to feel angry and resentful by “what life/the world has done to us.” Often, we fluctuate between these two perspectives until the former becomes the only tenable position to take. I am now accepting of every life experience that has pummeled me into whatever I am now. In my heart I say to consciousness, Truth, God, whatever: Make me dust and nothingness, because I know You are there.

So there are your manic episode/forcible hospitalization-sized pies, and there are your “oh you think you’re going to be single, really?”-sized pies. I’m dealing with that second pie now. Life is catching me, yet again, but I am also being reminded that even my best-laid plans can be upended at any moment. I have no control; you have no control. Control is illusory. This has been made real in my experience over and over again.

Here’s my most recent example: Yesterday I planned to fly from Austin, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana. Why? Cheap tickets and a dear friend.

When I got to the gate, I learned that my flight would actually be departing from the other side of the airport. At that gate, I ended up in conversation with a man who was also planning to fly from Austin to New Orleans. We chatted while listening for more announcements regarding our flight, but didn’t hear anything about the departure gate getting switched back. When our flight time rolled around we decided to go back to the original gate. We weren’t allowed on the plane since it had already boarded. They gave us the “you’re supposed to be here 10 minutes before take-off” spiel, and our tickets were refunded. This is the first flight I’ve ever missed, by the way, and it didn’t happen because I was late.

At that point, I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing—like, at all. I didn’t really have any official business in New Orleans, and to be honest, I hadn’t even made solid plans with the friend who lives there. If I’d been alone I would’ve just gone back to Austin. But the man I’d been talking to offered to take me to his place in Georgetown, Texas, and I took him up on it. We had a delicious dinner followed by several mineral waters and then I stayed at his place. I informed him early in the evening of my intention not to date anyone on account of my fucked up man issues. He was chill with it; I slept alone.

So here’s the pie: The universe hands me this person three days after I decide not to date anyone for three months. I wonder, is this a trap set by my mind to see how committed I am to my true self? Or is this life handing me something I didn’t think I wanted but that is actually really beautiful, and to push it away would be foolish? Are both of these questions pointless? Should I quit overthinking every unforeseen twist in my life?

My answer for now is to just bask in gratitude, to sit on the deck in the Texan humidity drinking Topo-Chico as my heart beats out of my chest. It is to listen very closely to my inner wisdom, be honest, and enjoy the hell out of my life.

Anyway. He had to go to Los Angeles for work tonight so now I’m staying at his (beautiful) apartment until he returns. The last thing I said to him before he left was “I have literally nothing to offer you.”

Of course I don’t know how this happened. If you’d asked me 28 hours ago, “lish, where will you be tomorrow?” I would have said something like “drinking espresso and eating beignets while writing.” To be fair, that also sounds dope, but I’m pretty sure this is better. I am alone and at peace. I have a very comfy bed. There is a lot of healthy food here. I like this guy. All is well.

So I have no idea about life, you guys. I just have no idea. I continue to drop into myself and take chances and the universe/God/whatever continues to provide in all of these unexpected ways. This is what I mean by “divine flow:” Trusting that you can fall into yourself and your path, leap into the great unknown, and that you will land somewhere soft.

To be sure: I do not mean you should expect to meet only kind people who will take you in. But you might. You might also end up sleeping on the street. It might be pretty bad in physical reality, say, if you are shivering with cold and unable to secure food. I recommend doing some light planning before you drop out of your whole life, but simultaneously, I’m like, shrug. Wake up to Reality and do what you will. Simplify and find happiness there. If you experience a deep spiritual realization, you may be moved to do any number of seemingly stupid things, and my blog is not going to change that one bit.

Besides, this is the gamble we take when we decide we want to go further on the path. The “somewhere soft” place you land is a field of awareness inside, not anywhere in physical space-time.

I want to say that there is a deep, powerful knowing inside of you that you really can trust. Your ultimate destination is your true Self, which is also where the thought of “you” began. “You” are also just a thought, subject to the fleeting nature of the phenomenal world. What you really are is not a thought or a feeling or even a collection of these things. Every time you say something like “Yes but I’m just so…” you are falsely identifying with a temporal mental construct.

When it comes to the evolution of consciousness, the first step is the last and the last step is the first. There is no first or last and truly no sequential events, because there is no time. Consciousness is all there ever was and all there ever will be.

All of this is in you to remember, and when you do have a click of realization about who you are and what life  is, everything changes. I mean everything, including those things you might think you don’t want to change. If you seek to awaken, there is probably an intense ride ahead of you. There is also no other choice, because awakening to Reality is the destiny of all beings.

To quote one of my favorite Smiths songs, there is a light that never goes out.

– lish

location: Georgetown, TX

 

Facing Fears

It feels appropriate to follow up my last post with something about fear. This blog is now private, but I’ll probably make it un-private some point soon.

All of this is on par with the way I tend to deactivate/reactivate/install/uninstall my social media. I want to be seen and heard when I feel open, light, and truthful—then I want to retreat and become invisible when I acknowledge how much work I’m still doing. Yes, it feels neurotic. As far as the blog goes, I often have a sense of being “unqualified” to write about the spiritual process, the ego, or collective transformation just because I am not perfectly enlightened, whatever I think that means.

This is a pretty crazy illusion/false belief I carry: That “until” I am at some (imagined, delusional) standard of perfect beingness, I have no business writing what I know is true. Some part of me is convinced that I should just drop everything, go sit in a park and be a transient beggar until, until… something. And that word—“until”—reveals the part of my mind that wants kick my fate further and further down the road.

By hiding, I reveal that think I must protect something. I reveal that I am afraid of vulnerability on some level. I seem to have deemed some part of myself and my work as “not good enough yet” or “not ready yet.” From a greater space of awareness, I see that this is my ego talking itself out of speaking the truths it’s been exposed to, because: fear. It’s also an avoidance of responsibility. I could just hop around the country going on dates and meditating on benches, you know? And yet, as fun as this is (for my unconscious ego), that is not what I am ultimately moved to do.

Also: Something happens to me at airports, especially when I’m flying one-way. Without any return plans, it feels unsafe, even though in reality it’s just me sitting at a gate with a piece of paper we call a boarding pass. Like most people, I overreact when I feel threatened. Next thing I know I’m sending text messages to people I haven’t talked to in a while—of course they’re men. That is my go-to method of ensuring a sense of safety: Make sure a man is willing to pay attention to me. 

I am aware this is at least partially rooted in the fact that my father was a volatile and neglectful figure all throughout my life. I am aware that I carry the emotional wounds of his behavior towards me in a program known as my unconscious ego. As I write this, I am living proof that all the mental “understanding” of your pain and its origins won’t erase it. We place so much emphasis on the mind in our culture, and it really is a poor tool when it comes to deep healing.

At this point, I do a lot of sitting and watching of the blockages in my heart (and in my throat a lot lately, which signifies that I do need to speak more truth). I exist with these blockages rather than labeling them “bad.” Sometimes they are there, and I accept them. I also see these “blockages”—which is really just another way of saying unconsciousness or darkness—as communicative. They are teaching me what needs to be done, which is continued heart-healing and more expressing of Truth.

I’ve also made a commitment to myself to avoid dating and all other ill-defined date-type scenarios for three months. The reason I’m doing this is simple: Since I was a teenager, I’ve been pretty screwed up about men. At present, I’m not even able to discern if I want a relationship and if so, why. The only way I am going to get clear on this is to put some distance between myself and all that tangled up nonsense. Then I will know if partnership is even something I’m truly suited for. If it is, I’ll be more likely to be in a deeply open and honest relationship if that is what arrives.

I have never had this. I don’t know very many people who have.

So, even though I don’t prefer to energize my own stories by writing about them ad nauseum (dad stuff, man stuff, nervous breakdown, alcohol alcohol alcohol), it would be a lie to act as if I am not impacted by my ego story anymore.

Again, all of this comes down to fear. I know I’m called to do this work, no matter what. I know I’m called to write about mental health and its relationship to consciousness and the spiritual process. I know I’m called to write about the ego-identity as the root of all external structures we profess to loathe (if you complain about late capitalism but do not at least strive for a meditation practice/other practice of inner work, I really don’t know what to tell you).

And yet I get scared of all the things we get scared of: Being misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and believed to be simplistic or platitudinous. As someone who was once mired in anger over the state of the world, I am aware of how “the spiritual answer” sounds to people who are at the level of intense frustration and outward blame. (This is the level most of us are at—if we even care at all.) I don’t want to be thought of as stupid or be disliked if I refuse to buy the ego-stories around me. I feel tired already at the thought of arguments I may have to face. I am saddened at the thought of “losing” those relationships and situations that are not fully nourishing to me on an energetic level, even though it isn’t really a loss.

Basically, sometimes I’m still a human who gives a shit what people think of me. The need for validation is a very deep egoic need that I haven’t let go of. Sometimes I hear people casually (and somewhat immaturely) say they “don’t care what other people think.” Usually, if ever the approval of our friends/family are pulled, we’re quick to readjust and fall back in line.

Even those who are “anti-” society in some way have their social circles they seek to appease. Sometimes, these kinds of circles demonize others. If we express the view that the “worst” people in the world are filled with unconsciousness and that there is nothing to be gained from hating them, there can be some push-back. I have found that people can be quick to defend why their hatred, their judgment, and their derision are acceptable, but other kinds aren’t. The blindness is staggering. I have also met a great deal of spiritual people who are still very much stuck at an “us vs. them” level, as I was for a long time.

In short: Living in a way that truly embraces humanity means you don’t really have a clique. The thought of losing a “group” or those people I consider “especially kindred” stokes fear in me.

But, in the end, it is not a service to me or anyone else to stay quiet when there are things I need to express. So I’m here, posting this thing, even amidst my fears and with the awareness that I am still working through issues. I am not free of desire. And even though I have seen enough to understand Truth conceptually, I am not always in peace. I’m still doing this thing. Sometimes it sucks, and at least I’ve released the fantasy that there will be a magical moment when it all “comes together.”

Unlike some of those involved in spirituality, I don’t believe we are “endlessly growing” or “always healing” or anything like that. There comes a time when we drop into divine flow and learn how to keep surrendering our small selves. It is no longer about healing at that point; it is about giving yourself up to the timeless, all-powerful stream of consciousness over and over, and trusting in it fully. Surrender and healing may happen simultaneously or one after the other, because there is no singular path. I seem to drop into flow, and then hit a karmic issue again. Then I heal, understand myself better, and begin to flow more.

Hitting the same karmic issue (have I mentioned yet that I’m kind of fucked up about men?) is annoying, but then again, it just is.

The very essence of spirituality is that it is triggering and bothersome. It is ultimately unhelpful to constantly chase mystical experiences, or to seek comfort in any New Age practice du jour. These types of things make us feel temporarily good and may seem to help us “make sense” when our lives fall apart or when unimaginably awful things happen in this world. However, just like when we use drugs or alcohol or any other form of avoidance, this reassurance always fades. We are left alone to face ourselves, time and time again.

Many times we go seeking solace and peace in our preconceived ideas about spirituality. Usually, we have very little appreciation for what lasting peace requires of us. What it requires is intensive inner digging, and a commitment to keep digging even when you feel totally exhausted of healing, self-analysis, and inner looking. It requires that you take all external authority with a grain of salt, and turn away from those who do not line up with the truth of your heart—including turning away from close friends, family members, and spiritual teachers. It may require you to live a strange and distant life for a while. It requires that when you see something in yourself you don’t like, you don’t recoil or deny its existence, but see it honestly. It requires that when it is time, you’re willing to disidentify from victim stories and statements about how other people/the world “make” you feel.

What we are after is complete responsibility for our state of being. With the exception of the severely ill or those who are fighting for survival (probably not you), we can learn to work with our minds. We can get our emotions in order and become vessels for peace rather than people who continually create enemies with our illusions. We can stop overreacting to the pain that exists in the world and learn to see it from a place of true, solid compassion.

We are all capable of these things with inner work and commitment to the Truth. What I have in this life is that commitment. I am still working to renew my commitment to myself and to this world every day, even when I feel fearful of walking further through my own fire and sharing the things I just did with you.

– lish

 

location: Austin, TX

Three Spiritual Truths

A few days ago, someone asked me to share three things with them about spirituality. Just three? I thought. Given the opportunity, I’ll go on about this shit forever, which is exactly while I have this blog. It took me a minute to generate an answer, but when I did, I wrote back fervently and had to cut myself off because I knew he was probably getting a lot more than he bargained for. My response turned into this post.

This conversation actually occurred in a Tinder chat window. I’m sharing this piece of information a) for the sake of openness, b) to illustrate that opportunities to share truth can come in unexpected places, and c) to point out that really, no activity is more or less “spiritual” than any other.

I’ve actually made some very nice connections through this medium, even though for a long time it was something I was completely closed to. Being closed has probably protected me at times, but it’s also shut me off from a lot of really awesome people, including those I wouldn’t normally consider “my type.” We all have people in our lives who like to categorize and mock “other kinds” of people. This is, quite frankly, super ignorant. I have yet to meet someone who is incapable of showing me some depth if I ask the right questions. I have let go of thinking I have “a type” and of meeting people any particular way: The divine leaves nothing out and holds no thing or person in higher regard than another. It is only our minds that do this.

Still I admit that Tinder is largely a weird distraction I stumbled into while traveling. Even though it has resulted in some interesting conversations (and a couple I ducked out of pretty quickly), I’ll probably delete it because really, what do I think I’m even doing? Any sort of partner for me (which I guess I’m not so much avoiding as I am trying to navigate with significantly more awareness than I have in past years [also, I’ve been failing at this again]) is not likely to be someone who is swiping through Tinder.

Then again, I’m on Tinder right now, so I guess you never know. I’m becoming less and less convinced that our outward choices (aside from things like, you know, murder and war and abuse) are very indicative of what’s going on inside. People do things for all kinds of reasons—most of them are surely unconscious—and sometimes people do things for no reason at all. In most cases, it’s been my projection to assume I know why anyone does anything, and that’s a projection I’d like to let go of.

Somehow I’m rambling about Tinder at this point and that feels absurd, so I’m gonna stfu and get on with this list:

1: Consciousness/Truth/Self/God/Soul/Reality/Pure awareness are all synonyms. They are also literally the same in all beings. Everyone’s true identity is this ineffable thing, but we routinely mistake ourselves for the body/mind.

We get so hung up on words and their precise definitions, as if knowing them will get us somewhere. Aside from the fact that there really is nowhere to go, it’s important to remember that when it comes to reading spiritual lessons/listening to spiritual teachers, we stop trying so hard to nail down concepts. Truth isn’t conceptual. It is also important to learn how to listen to energy more so than content, because anyone can say these things without having a deep insight. We all know how to read energy to some degree; it is intuitive. If you start to pay attention to this skill, it will sharpen on its own.

From our average conditioning (inaccurate perception), the words generally get defined like this:

Consciousness: Human thought and thinking.
Truth: Different for everyone.
God: An external creator of reality. If one is religious, God is tied to a particular prophet.
Soul: Something special and individual that every human has.
Reality: The world we appear to live in and the events that go on in it.
Awareness: Mental knowledge of something.
Who we Are: An individual with unique traits and life situations.

Waking up turns all this on its head. We see that instead of there being multiple definitions that are super important to understand, there really is just this one thing that is beyond definition. We learn to use words differently according to the situation, but loosely, the above words refer to the same Absolute.

This brings me to # 2…

2: Pure consciousness cannot be understood by the mind. I have said this before. I will say it again. Many teachers say this, and yet the vast majority of us continue to approach spirituality by thinking, and then we end up frustrated. This kind of understanding is a function of the intellect, a part of the mind that is generally overvalued in most of the people I talk to.

This is why meditation has been the recommended practice for so long: In time, it puts distance between you and your mind, allowing you to truly examine your crazy and then get it out. While changing the way you think can be extremely powerful, Truth cannot be talked to or thought to. What can we do then? The answer is always the same; it is never new: Change habits, start sitting with yourself regularly, read some spiritual books, simplify your life, and see what emerges.

Sometimes I get in discussions with those who are entirely in their minds, like Truth is another idea or a piece of trivia to pick up. It is not that. In order to effectively have these conversations, we have to drop into a different kind of energy and be ready to be wrong about everything we think we know. This is problematic for many people, because most egos don’t like to be wrong. As soon as we’re identified with what we already think we understand, we will defend it. I still watch this happen inside of myself sometimes, but it seems to be fading.

Intellectual understanding is a function of the mind, and the mind is couched within pure consciousness. Truth can be known but this knowing is different from intellectual understanding. In the same way that I can only weakly describe what it’s like to get music-tingles or fall in love, I can’t explain this thing to anyone on a mental level.

I end up in a lot of conversations where I can feel, energetically, that we are approaching the discussion from the level of mental understanding. The person I am talking to is looking for evidence, reasoning, and other intellectual functions. These conversations don’t go very far anymore, because I truly have no interest or emotional charge caught up in arguments. This change was pretty hard for my ego to digest at first because my top two favorite things used to be getting drunk and entertaining philosophical discussions.

But, Truth is not a piece of trivia, a set of beliefs, or any other kind of dogma. It simply is.

3: The ultimate truth of existence can be known. Sometimes I run into this maxim when I end up in talks about spirituality: “We can never really know these things for sure.” It feels like I am expected to agree with it, but I don’t.

Actually, we can know. If I had any doubts about Reality, I would have never changed my life. If I went through hell and back only to be wading through the waters of doubt about who I am, what would be the point? The goal is to firmly know, and this is possible. Having the ability to realize the Absolute is the greatest privilege of being human, even though it can come with the experience of egregious suffering as well.

Lots of times people insist that it is impossible to be sure, generally because they are still looking for answers in their minds. Usually they have not started any spiritual practice and are engaged in consciousness-lowering behaviors, and yet they still say it cannot be known. This is always kind of weird to me. It’s like saying we can’t know for sure what color the sky is, but they’ve never even looked up.

In this case, “looking up” would be to give up habits that lower consciousness and commit to a life rooted in pursuit of self-knowledge. This only happened for me after I was graced with a strange and totally unexpected awakening. It can happen in an instant, truly.

Many of us are not consciously seeking Truth, and that is also fine. Know that it is always in your power to walk the path, but it’s serious work, even with the huge energetic boost of an awakening. At first it is deeply uncomfortable to see how wrong and ignorant you are about life and your identity. Now I find it to be generally fun, and have a little laugh at my mind when I notice it’s got me caught up in all the same bullshit as always (Oh hi Tinder/preoccupations with dudez).

In any case, we all arrive here in due time. It’s all happening just as it should, and it’s always an individual’s choice if they’d like to put in more effort towards reaching ultimate freedom. I highly recommend it, but also have no desire to convince anyone of anything.

– lish

location: Burlington, WA

Keep Looking Inward

I’m sitting upstairs at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. The sun and spring air are coming through an open window and I’ve got an iced Americano at my side. I’ve been listening to enough Beyoncé for her voice to be on frequent repeat in my mind, which is cool with me. All of this is to say that things are still bright and lovely on this strange part of my journey. In a couple hours I’ll take a night train over to L.A., which I can only assume is going to be romantic as all get out.

I could’ve easily gone out to the Grand Canyon, but all I really felt doing was walking around town in the sun and listening to music. It’s all I want most of the time. Often I stop to sit down for no reason but to feel the sun. The need to “do” is dissolving, which my ego-identity occasionally meets with worry: What happens when I don’t feel that ongoing push to do things? How will I survive? What would it be like if I really could just sit quietly in one place forever and be happier than I ever imagined possible?

The answer is I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

I also seem to be losing the need to have “reasons” for any of the things I do. The heart has no reason or aim but to lead you to Truth and yourself (which are the same thing), so I trust it. This makes for strange conversations: “What are you doing here in Flagstaff?” people ask. And rather than go through the whole story about moving to the ashram and all that, I just say I’m traveling. I have no reason for being here or anywhere at all. It just happened, the same way all of life is just happening for no reason whatsoever.

People also ask often “where I’m from,” being that this is a hostel. Honestly, having such conversations already feels old and I don’t enjoy doing it. I get the feeling that it really doesn’t matter, that we are only talking based on what we have been conditioned to talk about. It’s more fun to make it weird and say I’m from Mars or something, or jump straight into jokes because hey we’re all human and where we’re from means nothing about who we are.

I feel like writing something basic (and perhaps a little challenging) about consciousness and the spiritual path. There seems to be an upswell in certain personalities who are getting famous while using the word “consciousness.” They go on and on about archetypes and mythology and their audiences are, for some reason, impressed.

On the level of the rational mind, what they say checks out, and I understand why they’ve gained such a following. But when I tune into their energy it is obvious that they are operating from a bloviating ego-identity, and this is hard for me to watch. They have mighty minds but they are filled with ignorance, which is the state of humanity at large. This is why we really need to take a step back here. We absolutely do not need more bloviating egos; we need heartful presence and the energy of pure awareness.

The trouble seems to be that a lot (see: the vast vast majority) of people mix up the word “consciousness” with the word “mind.” In reality, these are two completely different things. Consciousness is actually an all-encompassing thing; there is a reason why light is the most oft-used metaphor for it. It is both within and apart from the mind, but here’s the kicker: Consciousness created the mind, and the mind is a temporal feature within it. The mind ultimately does not exist, but consciousness will always abide. Remove the mind and consciousness will be there, but until we have practice detangling these things, we find ourselves totally mixed up and making messes.

When we go looking for answers from the level of the mind, we’re starting from an inherently flimsy place. The mind has a beginning and an end, but consciousness does not. We must look at the mind from this place of stability if we are to understand anything about humanity at all.

Another concern is the generally unquestioned assumption of who we are. This is what the path is all about: Who are you, really, underneath all that blah-blah-blahing your mind does day in and day out? Who are you, really, underneath the character you play on a day to day basis? This character is not really who you are, but you have been playing it for so long that you forgot it was an act.

I know that some of you may be reading this and feeling like you “understand” what I mean. And so I implore you to check in and see: Where do you live your life from? Your heart; your self-knowledge as consciousness? If this is so, there should be an abiding peace with you always, and a life that is generally untroubled. There should be an awake stillness to your being and a mind that does not rule your movements or behaviors. There should be no more nagging questions about existence or confusion about what you’re doing here. There should be no need to defend yourself or what you see, nor to make others “get” what you think you’ve “gotten.”

Or, perhaps more likely, do you live from the belief that you are [insert name, job, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.]?

My goal with these questions and statements is not to pass judgment, but to continue to encourage anyone who reads this to just keep. looking. inward. The ego is so so happy to latch onto theories. The ego is so so happy to keep feeding itself with mental concepts of what Truth is, to think that it “knows.” But, since the mind lives on the borrowed light of the heart, it does not know things about itself until the underlying consciousness is expanded responsibly and gradually. It is only from this vantage point that we have any real perspective at all. The best metaphor here is that the moon only shines because the sun throws light upon it. Most of us are stuck believing we’re the moon, and arguing as the moon that we know a lot about the sun. The silly part is that without the sun, the moon is nothing but a cold rock, and we are all the same sun.

We really all desire to be free; to know Truth with no doubt whatsoever. If you feel the need to defend, that’s actually an insecurity; it’s something I see all the time. There is a pull from the heart to become more free and totally light all the time, and this pull (or rather, the ego’s resistance to the pull) is what creates all the difficulties in our lives.

If we are interested in our minds, all we must do is learn to sit back and watch our minds. It is very simple, and yet this sentence alone carries a lot of information that goes assumed: What is the “you” and what is the “mind”? The mind cannot free itself from itself, so, what is the “you” that is going to go about doing this work?

The general false assumption is that you are your mind, but this is actually false. We go around saying this word all day long: “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” and yet very few people have, since the time they (unconsciously) formed their egos in toddlerhood, sat down to examine what exactly this thing is. It is all an assumption. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk my entire life experience on such an assumption.

Obviously there’s a lot more to unpack here, but of course there’s the paradox that there really isn’t anything else to unpack. My recommendation is, as always, to go sit quietly with your mind for awhile and see what you uncover. Resist the urge to defend where you’re at on the path; why what you’re already doing is totally compatible with [insert spiritual teaching here]. I also see that all the the time.

Many people do not have such a practice, and yet they insist on discussing Truth and spirituality anyway. This would be like going to a quantum physics course and arguing with the professor when you haven’t even gone through Physics 101. Start a practice, commit to finding your true self, and things will start becoming clear on their own.

Anyway, next time I write, I’ll probably be in Los Angeles.

Love to you all,

lish

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

With Love from Santa Fe

Sitting on the railway platform in Albuquerque, I soak up the sun and notice how much it affects the way I feel. I think maybe I was only ever depressed because I didn’t spend hours walking in sunshine back home because the sunshine was blocked by cloud cover like 70% of the time. Maybe if I’d been born in Arizona or Texas or Southern California I wouldn’t have gone insane or ever wanted to destroy myself.

Of course it’s more than UV light, but it’s true that we become much more in tune with our bodies and what works for them once we wake up. For instance: I don’t eat meat or use drugs because I feel way better as a sober vegetarian than I ever did when I drank and smoked and ate meat. When I was younger, the whole no-meat thing was about ethics, and if I indulge in righteous indignation I can still get all riled up about that industry as well as the way booze is marketed (it’s cray cray).

I could work myself into a lather over any number of things I see being carried out in this world, but I’ve decided against it at this point. Why would I voluntarily disturb my inner peace? Anger is a form of suffering and I’ll never forget that. I don’t want anger; I don’t want hatred; I don’t want judgment. These things do not serve me or anyone else, even though the mind fights to hold onto them with many rationalizations. It really can be a shock when we start to pay attention to how hellbent we are on remaining mired in this kind of suffering. The mind says many things to convince us it’s necessary to dwell in certain awful emotions.

Yes, yes, yes. The culture is insane. The culture—our culture—is backwards and needs changing. We go about this by refusing to follow our cultural programming, thereby living revolutionary lives on a cumulative level. We are agents of collective transformation by transforming ourselves.

I know all of this, and yet my reasons for living the way I do are actually completely self-interested: I feel freaking awesome when I don’t weigh down my consciousness with unhealthy habits, and life has become significantly more beautiful since I surrendered to my heart. On the path, we actually sacrifice nothing even though it may look like we’ve “given up” certain worldly pleasures. Even better, when we dwell in peace and true happiness, others naturally benefit. Living freely begins to free others on its own, no matter what you’re doing externally.

That last paragraph reminds me of something I heard Sadhguru say once: “Everything is selfish; it just depends on how big your sense of self is.” So, if you’re mind/body identified and think of this current form as your whole self, you’re more likely to engage in actions that are what we traditionally think of as “selfish.” There is little motivation for someone to develop empathy if they can’t sense his or her self in other human beings.

Once your idea of self is expanded a bit, your choices and energy will begin to uplift all those you identify with (family, community, nation, etc.) If your sense of self includes all human beings, you’re probably not going to be down with violence, genocide, or hierarchical classism, because that hurts us (you) deeply. Expand it so far that it includes non-human life, and you’ll probably try to give up a lot of Earth-ravaging behaviors as is feasible, including the consumption of our animal friends. Again: This is because you truly and sincerely feel and see yourself in other living beings. It is not merely theoretical or rooted in mind-based judgment; you know you are a part of a much larger fabric than the contents of this current form. You are personally affected because your person includes everything. This is also the point where things like depression and anxiety become rampant: We feel all the suffering, but likely don’t have the strength of mind to hold it skillfully in our awareness.

Expand the sense of self so far that it snaps and disappears? This is when you merge with God and get to know/be the capital-S Self. Here, all bets are off, but you’ll still probably stick with healthier choices because they keep your energy so high and nice and clear. I won’t get into this too much in this post, but I am highly skeptical of any “enlightened being” who uses drugs and alcohol (in excess especially). It’s whack and I don’t trust it.

I arrive in Santa Fe and take a free bus to the hostel (so many things on this journey have been free and/or discounted; it’s beautiful). The guy who checks me in tells me that Whole Foods donates the food they can’t sell anymore to the hostel, and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with apples and peanut butter toast and chips and pumpkin pie, oddly enough. All I can think is “divine abundance,” and I’m laughing inside because that kind of talk used to annoy the shit out of me. And yet, here I am living in the light of God, being taken care of so well I could cry.

Within an hour I’ve made a friend who tells me about the motorcycle accident he got into 7 years ago. The brush with death threw him out of his old life and to Hawaii, where he took nothing but a hammock, essentially built a new family, and now appears well-established in his self-awareness. Around the hostel I hear him comment under his breath, “it’s all divine,” and I feel so happy. Because yes, it is all divine, and not just because we’re in this sweet little hostel grubbing on free organic mangoes.

We are both people who have experienced the terror of mortality and broken through this falsehood to some degree, changed our lives, and embraced the process of letting go. The vast majority of spiritually aware people I know are not doe-eyed and ignorant, even if some of the rhetoric may come across that way. They know hard shit and have decided not to let it rule them anymore. They have tapped into the nature of Reality on a level the mind instinctively backs away from, and worked to become nearer to this nature.

This new friend offered to show me around Taos, an spiritual/artistic community about an hour and a half away. There’s a (surprise!) free bus that goes up there during the week; in the town there’s something called The Snow Mansion, an ashram, and some hot springs. I don’t know what universe I am living in, but I am filled with gratitude.

In the morning at the hostel, I catch a ride to the Unitarian church service with another guest. I dash out of the hostel in semi-manic fashion, throwing random clothes on and chugging my cup of coffee so as to not keep her waiting. She’s a woman who has been traveling on the road in a van since October; her kids have moved out and graduated, she sold her house, and she’s free. I like her innately, though I’ll also say that the more I grow, I realize I pretty much like everyone innately. I also love everyone at the soul level.

Just like yesterday, my energy feels sharp: I’m going to do everything be everywhere save everyone yes yes yes yes. Fortunately, at the service we do a meditative qigong exercise that helps me calm down. Message received: Even if I’m flying, I have to eat more food; I have to be still. This is all aligning better than I ever could have planned, but I will not get overconfident. Humility all the way: I’m nothing, and all those whacky folks who believe in breatharians are on a whole different level (though I actually don’t dismiss any possibility).

After the service I return to the hostel to do my daily task—we all choose one in the morning as part of the agreement to staying here. I choose the “angel chore” card and end up saran-wrapping up about 50 pastries and putting them in the communal fridge. Another guest kindly drives me to Meow Wolf, an incredibly badass interactive art space (think Salvador Dali in neon 3D + Donnie Darko). I spend four hours geeking out and spending way too much time looking at everything through my phone; I don’t care, I’m sharing all of this; technology is miraculous.

On the walk to the hostel, snow starts to lightly fall but I don’t feel cold. By the time I get back, Whole Foods has made their Sunday donation and I’m looking at fridge full of dates and candied walnuts and various cheeses and salsa. I’m eating bean dip and kale salad with quinoa and goat cheese; my heart is going to burst I swear. I feel there is very little to say. I just want to sit here and shine.

The sun comes through the window and hits the orange slices I’m eating. A guest notices and mentions how nice it looks, and the only thing I can do is nod and smile. He says “you’re in bliss,” and I say “I am.”

– Lish

Location: Santa Fe, NM

Rethinking God

I returned from the retreat at Siddhayatan on Wednesday. I don’t want to write too much about it, but suffice it to say that it was an awesome experience. I could feel a radiance emerging within me while I was there, and Acharya Shree—the founder and spiritual master at Siddhayatan—has a definite energy about his being. He spoke the Truth and felt like the Truth, and that is the most important thing in a teacher.

We are living in an era where anyone can call themselves a spiritual teacher, and the Internet allows us all to say whatever we want. Especially when we’re starting out, it can be really hard to discern who has shed their ego (there aren’t many) and who hasn’t. It matters: When egos talk to other egos, not much wisdom is shared. When consciousness talks to consciousness, we enter a whole new realm of growth. Whoever you read/follow/listen to should clearly understand the difference (and overlap) in these terms.

Point is: Be skeptical. If you learn how to follow your intuition, you will know who is genuine in their teachings.

I want to talk about the word “God,” particularly how funny it is that I have a blog that makes use of this word even though I spent many years identifying as an atheist. I’m actually glad that I considered myself an atheist for so long: There was a certain strength and resolve to it. I stubbornly refused to accept anything I hadn’t experienced for my own self. It was like this: I’d never seen a unicorn, so I didn’t believe in unicorns—why should it be any different with God? I felt like the only way I would ever believe is if God arrived right in front of me and made itself known, which is exactly what happened, except not in the way my old mind thought it would.

The fact is that I didn’t believe in God because my idea of God was too small. Also, I saw lots of people who claimed to believe in this apparently all-loving, all-knowing being, but they were doing really awful things. Basically I saw no practical function for believing in God and no evidence of God’s existence. This brings me to an important point: Any useful God should be both experiential and practical: It should not require that we take anything on some other person’s word, and its presence should create peace, compassion, and the removal of all hierarchies. In this way we see the futility (and danger) of religious belief systems: They fail in both regards.

When one human becomes highly conscious while the rest of their society is unconscious, the result tends to be dogma. The fluidity and dynamism of a conscious being is so powerful that others seek to trap and emulate these qualities, ignoring that this light is actually within them all the time. Complex myths and rituals crop up in an attempt to “get” whatever this prophet had (psst: it can’t be “gotten.”), and these traditions get handed down, largely by social coercion and the threat of Hell. A collection of ideas and rituals make up a “religion,” the nucleus of which was someone who simply realized the Truth of their being. Of course, all this usually occurs after said conscious being is either cast our or killed by said society. The luckier ones tend to live very poor and very happy and everyone just thinks they’re eccentric.

If Christ were to rise and appear in any of the megachurches today, it is almost a guarantee that He would be denigrated and/or arrested, especially if He tried to speak. The majority of Christ’s followers would not accept Him—they would call Him crazy instead. I don’t say any of this to be insulting, but to point out how unconsciousness makes us blind to the Truth even though it is right in front of us at all times.

Until I was about 26, I was all science-science-science, mind-mind-mind. I clung to this conditioning because I was Smart and culture says it is good to be Smart (in this one way). Despite my seeming smartness, it never occurred to me that biology could be God and evolution could also be God and every other thing I thought “refuted” God—including suffering—could be God, too. There was always this silly “debate” going on, as if these two things were in opposition. When we aren’t under the spell of delusion, it’s obvious that there is actually no friction between God and science.

This is what becomes clear as you expand in consciousness: God is everything. Still, even saying that confines God to a limitation, because immediately the mind rushes in with an idea for what “everything” means. And even if we define God as “limitless,” we remain contracted in our minds. God does not have limits but the conditioned mind does, and when you hit them, frustration and/or confusion will occur. If you imagine the nature of a thing that it limitless, it will be limited to your concept of what “limitless” is like. Limitlessness must be known just like the sun and wind must be known: Through direct experience, not concepts.

For the believer and the nonbeliever, the imagined God is too small. God is not actually something to believe or disbelieve in. God is something you know, or something you are seeking to know. Most people are in the latter category—not that this is a bad thing—and many of them are seeking unconsciously, meaning they don’t even know they’re on the path (but they are because the spiritual path isn’t really optional). No matter what we do or don’t do, we are all destined to know, to see, to reach this realization. There’s no way to avoid it.

I find neither atheists nor theists to be “more right.” If we apply any label to ourselves, we are missing it.

The Self, Reality, the Absolute, pure consciousness (or simply consciousness, depending on the context): These are all synonyms for the word “God.” God is still oddly thought of as a being, a thing, an entity outside of our own lives and selves. In this belief, we see how powerless humans imagine they are, and this is very unfortunate. I think Catholics even teach children that they are born sinners, and this is just sad and Not Right. Why set a child up for a life of shame and fear if God is supposedly all-loving? The Truth is the opposite: We are all already pure and perfect in the eyes of God, and this is always true. We’ve just been taught in so many ways to forget, forget, forget.

And even though we treat higher states of consciousness as maybe being different or special, that’s not quite accurate. This “ultimate” consciousness is the underlying substance of all things and it is all things, both seen and unseen. Nothing is excluded. I will say this again and again: It’s already there; it only matters how aware you are of it.

God is inescapable, and I mean that in a good way, because the sooner we realize there is nowhere to run and no point to resisting ourselves, the sooner we relax into the Truth. This is a wonderful place to be: We become unselfconscious, awake, joyful, decisive, and clear. Life is simple and beautiful. Everything lines up on its own, and we live in a near constant state of flow.

– Lish

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