Mental Health, The Mind, Conditioning, Addiction, Awakening

Addiction and the Conditioned Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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"Levels", Mental Health, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego

The “Unplanned” Awakening

An uncontrollable pull towards higher consciousness is the defining feature of a spiritual awakening. (Actually, the defining moment is the “click,” the actual “moment of waking up” that occurs for reasons I can’t explain. There isn’t much more I have to say about the “click,” at least not right now.)

I’d like to address why I have chosen to use the phrase “higher consciousness.” I’m not a huge fan of a hierarchical concept of consciousness because it immediately invites the ego to compare “its level” to that of those around us. We often want to know where we are on the scale, affirming that we are above some, like our parents and/or annoying co-workers maybe, but below others, like saints and realized mystics. Unless we remain vigilant, visualizing a hierarchy of consciousness tends to reinforce the mindset that we are better or worse than others. The conditioning that goes into imagining ourselves as better/worse than others is very deep-seated, and requires diligence to overcome. There is a lot of habit energy bound up in this way of thinking, so it takes a lot of fresh awareness to alter.

And when we get down to it, pure consciousness is not rooted in ideas of “higher” and “lower;” it cannot be “thought to,” and it cannot be defined. It simply is. All attempts to define consciousness fail immediately and always will, because definitions serve to create something static, and consciousness is not static… except it is, in a way, but also always moving. This thing is beyond both chaos and order; beyond movement and stillness. The experience of it does feel supremely still compared to the frequent inner chatter that often reigns in the mind, but it is also ever-flowing, not inert.

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From Basic Teachings of the Buddha, by Glenn Wallis.

And yet it still feels important to say that awakening pulls one towards “higher” consciousness, simply because that is my lived experience of awakening. When I am really here, I feel unquestionably higher than when I am bound up in habits (higher than before, not “superior to others.”). It feels undeniably better to rise each morning without a hangover, sit down, light some incense, and come back to the home in my heart than to repeatedly harm myself. Speaking of higher/lower in this way is not a moral judgment call, but a statement on how differently we can feel and live. It is about the experience of life becoming richer, more free, and more joyful, versus more trapped, more isolated, and more cravey.

There is suffering and not suffering. There is the feeling of being mired in past events, allowing old events/interactions to haunt us, and there is having personal power right now. If you try both of these experiences on, it becomes very clear which is more preferable, AKA “higher.”

Additionally: without the understanding that expanding our consciousness can result in a better direct experience of life, what would our motivation to do it be? This thing will not get us money. It will not get us fame, power, popularity, or any other tangible reward. It will not even “save the world.” In the beginning, we trust our intuition that there’s something greater than these things to attain to (or else we would never let go of our desires for such things), and there is.

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Awakening can happen whether the unconscious ego likes it or not, and whether or not we went looking for it. The unconscious ego may really, really not like it. The difficulties that can arise when the ego is resistant to its illusory nature, of course, may all be part of what you need to grow, but man, they can also be really rough. You can make things easier on yourself by not denying or resisting that you’ve woken up. This can only happen if we are aware that it has happened to us.

This was one of the main reasons why “my” awakening (which I put in quotes because it is not really “mine” to take credit for) was so incredibly fraught with chaos, confusion, and humiliation. At the time of the “click,” I didn’t even know things like ego deaths were possible. Throughout my education, I don’t believe we ever discussed the possibility of psychosis being thought of as a “spiritual emergency.” The message here is loud and clear: Smart, educated people understand that brain chemicals and genetics are “real,” and all that spiritual stuff is “not real,” or, at best, it’s still “less real” than science. (One of the most amazing and frustrating things about waking up is that you find literally the exact opposite to be true, but, I digress.)

I had meditated only a handful of times, and then stopped, because I wasn’t ready. There were times when I felt heavily bombarded with the reality of death as an abstract idea sometime in “the future,” and this bombardment gave me intense hits of anxiety, usually when I was trying to get to sleep. Still, I somehow always managed to sidestep this thought, get out of bed in the morning, and continue on in life as usual (“as usual” was with great suffering and anger, btw.) Part of this, again, occurred because that’s what I chose for myself, albeit unconsciously: This was what I needed to end up in this exact place right now.

But on a worldly level, it’s been difficult because spiritual/existential matters are are pushed very var away from the collective mind. We don’t sincerely talk about these things. We tend to dismiss them as unimportant and/or avoid them completely. These are uncomfortable conversations most of us shy away from, the result of being repeatedly conditioned to believe that engaging with such thoughts is “heavy,” “morbid,” or simply unnecessary. This is because a lot of us do not understand our own existences, and it feels more important that we take care of our material needs (for many, this is a real concern), and/or more pleasurable to remain caught up in whatever-else we talk and think about. I definitely still fall prey to this temptation, just like I do to the temptation of pumpkin cupcakes.

However, in many parts of the world, material needs are not really a concern anymore. Humans are so far beyond needing to worry about their survival needs, and therefore it follows that our energy should be expended to consider other matters. Why do we not turn towards life’s ultimate concerns once shelter, food, and safety are obtained?

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Silence.

The answer lies in that conditioned discomfort with matters of life and death, along with a persistent feeling that there must be “more” we have to get and achieve before we’re ready to pursue things of the existential nature. Our culture is very good at engendering this kind of insecurity and providing us with distractions even if we do feel “secure enough.” It can feel as if we are living in one tremendous practice ground, trying to stave off mindless entertainment and other indulgences left and right.

Many of us do not really feel safe, even if we have plenty of material comforts. We are often on guard about losing our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our money. The truth is that losing these things is certainly possible, and that nothing is guaranteed to us in life. Rather than face this fact and find solid ground within, we usually try to just keep everything on the outside “under control.” On some level, we’re  aware of the futility of these attempts to control life. “We” will not always exist, our jobs may become obsolete, we may get in a terrible accident or contract an irreversible illness, our relationships may become strained and distant, and there really isn’t anything we can do about these things.

And still, because these can be very uncomfortable realities to think about, we avoid them. Or, if we do acknowledge these truths, it’s fleeting and panicky. I’m not suggesting we sit around and ruminate on how we could lose everything anytime, nor that we sit around wishfully imagining how everything could “get better” in life. Both lines of thinking are out of touch with reality, even if the latter temporarily makes us feel better.

We must simply accept the impermanence of everything “out there.” Doing so makes a huge step towards inner stability, which is the only lasting stability we’ll ever find.

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If you (like me) have/had an ego that was/is bound up in being overly-thinky, judgmental, and somewhat damaged, the process of awakening will probably be extremely intense. You’re trying to heal, make intellectual sense of the whole thing (you can’t), and perform daily obligations that suddenly feel ludicrous. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but that is the nature of an unplanned awakening.

And it should be mentioned that all awakenings are “unplanned.” You cannot sit down with a calendar, plan on meditating for two years and then say “and then, on September 21st, 2019, I wake up.” The mind likes these kinds of “plans,” because then it feels like it’s “doing” something. It is much more unsettling (and exciting) to know that you could awaken at any moment, triggered by almost anything. We may not even experience it in this life, and that’s okay too, because we can still ameliorate our suffering by taking up certain practices. Turning awakening into a planned goal is understandable; the potential for it often gets us “on the path” in the first place. And yet, it is never something we can guarantee.

At best, we can prepare for it, so that the resulting changes are handled with skill and deep awareness.

– Lish

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

The Nature of Bipolar Mania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Yoga & Psychotherapy, The Evolution of Consciousness:

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

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

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

– Lish

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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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Conditioning, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Remaining Conscious in Times of Hate

One of the main challenges on the spiritual path is this: Finding a way to dwell in integrity without contributing to the aggression existing in the world. This requires a more subtle approach to life than announcing our feelings on various issues at every given opportunity. Believe me, I’ve done this. It didn’t work (the world’s still falling apart!), nor did it bring me joy.

I wouldn’t feel like I’m living with integrity if I were to stay silent as displays of hatred rise in Western culture. And yet it feels difficult to write about things like racism and hate without contributing to already-existing aggression and division: Whatever we read, we hope it agrees with us, or at least that it is easy enough to tear apart so that we can maintain our senses of “rightness.” Regardless of what you believe, you likely do this. (Or rather, your ego does this to prevent you from growing out of it.)

So I’ve spent a whole lot of time digesting the display of hatred in Charlottesville and watching the reactions online. I spent about a week deciding if I would even bring up the name of the town at all, mostly because discussing particular “events” has felt pretty unimportant to me since I started this blog.

Here’s why: Due to our average state of consciousness, we tend to all take part in a giant killing machine. My very existence (and yours, and this computer’s) are founded upon more suffering than we can even conceptualize. I’m talking about all of it: Slavery, genocide, misogyny, animal enslavement, and environmental abuse. These things are not separate issues; they are woven together with the same roots of ignorance and insanity. Unless we go full-monk, we can easily die if we try to opt out of this way of life—that is, after all, the only reason most of us take part in it at all.

If we don’t work together to change this trajectory, we will all die. That’s it. Furthermore, looking beyond social issues and into the core of your own being is what truly begins to heal social stratification. The evolution of the soul is the only reason we’ve moved at all closer to “equality,” although many of us don’t yet understand what that word would look like in practice. So that’s why I don’t focus on single “events” very often. Still, that weird, torch-carrying mob sparked enough outrage to inspire me to write a post about the social realm and the inner structures that underlie it. Our inner worlds create the outer world, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind.

I’ve taken some time to write this post because I’m really coming to understand how powerful words can be. We can be so quick to fire off that status update, argue our points, make others wrong, and (perhaps most harmfully, because it occurs within) judge each other. When words are used in this manner—to reinforce our egos and create reactions of anger—we hurt the whole world, no matter how right we are. As someone who once talked a lot more (and not always thoughtfully), this is an important practice to me: Cultivating awareness of the energy behind my words.

Having said allllll that, I finally just decided to do the radical thing of writing what’s true to me, and releasing my fears of being misunderstood. For me, this has been no small task.

Pure consciousness is ultimately a thing that lies beyond notions of “right” and “wrong.”

When we realize the limits and errors of moralistic judgment, we fall into a different mindset than apathy: Apathy doesn’t get me sitting here, pouring over my words, trying to be careful not to contribute to the anger on the internet. Apathy doesn’t get me journaling every day about my shame, which I know I must heal from in order to give positive energy to the world. Apathy doesn’t get me to quit drinking or to examine all of my interactions, cultivating feelings of openness and acceptance whenever I look someone in the eye. I do these things. I do them because it is abundantly clear that these behaviors, over the course of a lifetime, create more change than all the indignant opinions ever could.

I don’t bring this up in order to sound superior, because I really don’t feel that way. First of all, healing kinda sucks. You get dragged down into your own personal trauma, time and time again, trying to relax into and embrace it even when every part of you is burning up. There is no sense of triumph here. Secondly, at this point on the path, I mostly just feel conflicted because I’m still growing into my spirit. All day my mind constructs reasons why people far and wide are wrong for the things they do and say, and all day the more evolved part of me watches, gently bringing me back to reality.

I write (and live my life) with the hope of contributing to a workable, healthy way of life for all beings on this planet. Simplifying the world into “good” and “evil” and then creating a battlefield out of these extremes isn’t workable. The attitude, while understandable, is not based in reality, and I won’t contribute to it. When we try to force one another to “take sides,” we participate in the creation of war.

Honestly, part of me wants to say: Sure, yeah, take down all the statues. All they are is replicas of deeply delusional individuals who created an entire myth about “freedom” while eradicating already-existing cultures and enslaving another one. The founders of the United States were seriously deluded about their place in the universe, as were the rulers they fled, as are most of us today.

And on another level, I notice this: If our minds don’t constantly assign labels to these objects (an “acceptable” statue vs. an “offensive” one), they actually are all equivalent. Take them down or leave them up; either way, it is our responsibility to pay attention to what our minds are doing when our eyes fall upon the things we’ve been conditioned to see as “symbols.” Nothing has meaning unless we let it. That’s true power, and it exists whether or not other people do/display the things we find acceptable. We can carry this power with us anywhere we go. I get to practice this every day in my small town, which sometimes feels loaded with triggers.

And as I’ve said before, I also want to note that none of us are even really “Americans.” I can’t say how many things I’ve read of people asserting exactly what it is that “true Americans” do. This misses the entire point: Just as racial hierarchy is harmful, hierarchical thinking based on nationality is harmful, too. In fact, labels of all kinds hurt us for the simple fact that they keep us separate. When we do this, we contribute as much to the separation of humanity as anything else.

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.” – J. Krishnamurti

We are only as separate as our minds make us. Therefore, if we wish to increase unity in this world, we will turn to to our own minds and investigate what exactly is going on in there.

The mind moves laterally about itself, generally used as a tool of ego inflation, reaffirming our already held beliefs. Self-investigation is not about finding the right beliefs to cling to; it is about dismantling all structures in the mind and seeing what’s left. Contrary to what you might imagine, you do not become mindless or spineless once you find this place, and you certainly do not dwell in hate.

As opposed to moving laterally, growth has a direction: Up or down. At some point, growth requires the humbling of the ego that knows everything about how other people “should” be. In time, we learn that becoming righteously indignant takes us lower. Making space for ourselves, being warm and open, and not reacting automatically takes us up.

This is why we sit in meditation. This is why we tend to ourselves before trying to save the world. Any other way spells disaster, sometimes short-term and sometimes long-term.

To some, a commitment to nonviolence (or daring to say that all beliefs are false and limiting) might be built on the fact that I’ve been so privileged by whiteness that I don’t understand the need for harder, more polarized resistance. I do not deny privilege. Unlike a person of color, I haven’t gone through a life filled with microaggressions, police scrutiny/outright violence or murder, and the general mistrust of my very existence. It would be ignorant of me to compare my life experience in a social context to that. But there’s much more to life than the social context, even though many of us act like (and probably feel like) that’s All There Is.

Here’s the best thing about suffering and the Truth: They are both non-discriminatory. Oppression in the world is clearly a thing that works hierarchically. For a long time, white males have collectively kept themselves at the top of this hierarchy by forcibly keeping everyone else down. (I don’t mean to instill guilt/shame in white males by stating this, as shame and guilt are always counter-productive.) Systemic oppression, genocide, and social privilege are, of course, based on factors like race and gender. I doubt that anyone reading my blog would need to be reminded of this.

Suffering, however, does not discriminate. And the Truth, which resides in everything and everyone, is experienced universally. Prophets from various time periods and social classes have all come back with the same basic messages: All is one, love each other, hatred never ceases by hatred, etc. etc. This is not mushy hippie shit we’re talking about, but fundamental laws of the universe: Hate + Hate = Hate. Violence + Violence = Violence. As much as our egos try, we can’t argue our way out of this math, which is really just about the way energy gets transferred from person to person on an invisible level.

I really didn’t understand this until after I lost my mind. There was a time when I felt ready to see a violent revolution, and now I see how much of that projection was fueled by the battle I was creating within myself. It doesn’t have to be that way, and if you believe that, you are contributing to an unnecessarily violent end.

Because they are universally experienced, Truth and suffering are the things we must explore if we consider ourselves to be compassionate human beings. In this space, life no longer becomes about “our people” and “other people.” Then, seeing how important we are to the way the world looks, we do the exhaustive work of excavating ourselves from the limiting, multi-tiered hell of the conditioned mind.

Yes, this feels like a much longer, much less pleasant, and much more intensive process than punching the right guy, but it is the only way. If enough people had had the understanding and courage to do this kind of work years ago, we would already be living in a far more peaceful society.

It’s looking dangerously possible that we may inflate our egos as all life is extinguished on Earth. We may succumb to fear as huge, necessary changes are made over the next century, trying to “go back” to some imagined time of greatness that never really existed. Or we may succumb to anger, trying to go forward to a goal that is poorly-formed, taking only one chunk of life into consideration. Doing either of these things will have us spinning in circles right into extinction.

Truth lies beyond all of this, and I stand for the Truth, because I know it is the only place where everlasting peace resides.

In summary, here’s we must “do” about the state of the world: Our work. We must look into our pain and ego-stories. I know it’s intense and you don’t want to do it. Most of us carry so much pain that we’d rather lash out at the world (including our own bodies, our lovers, co-workers, friends, etc.) before we really sit down to face it. But until we deal with our own wounds and see through all delusion, we will, in all likelihood, create more harm in the world. The endless journey inward is really all there is.

Oh, and duh: Organize peacefully.

– 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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Depression, Meditation, Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being, Yoga

When It Gets Bad

Note: As of this posting, I’m doing swell, which is just a testament to how quickly a mood can change. Still, I’m going to post it in its entirety because when I wrote it, I really needed to.

Guess what? The last few days have been, by and large, not great.

I work my ass off to not feel like total garbage: Daily meditation, a pretty rad diet, a lot of running, sobriety, journaling, baths… and of course I’ve done my rounds in therapy and with medication. In spite of these efforts, the thought that has dominated my mind lately has been along the lines of “I’m going to blow my brains out.” (Please know that I wouldn’t be putting this on my blog if it was really a concern.)

I keep wanting to drink (I haven’t) and sometimes I get devastatingly lonely. I know I have created my current circumstances—and we all have, whether we like it or not—but of course I don’t know why. I recently texted a loved one that my “5-year plan” involves getting back into binge drinking and shooting myself in the head off of a cliff. I was kidding, but there really are times when I feel, sincerely, that I am Not Okay, like at all, and I don’t think there is anything that will help. At night I ask the universe to just make me normal and good, but I never wake up normal and good. I wake up the same me who falls short in every regard, who doesn’t love correctly, who isn’t open enough, patient enough, consistent enough, un-thinky enough, kind enough, calm enough, or safe enough. I do not always act like who I am, and I haven’t yet figured out how to fix that permanently.

Why am I posting this even though I try to be all about light and the possibility of well-being? First, it’s real. We are supposed to share our experiences with one another, and I know that the feelings I have are shared by millions of others. The second we fall into the trap of believing our isolation, depression, grief, and self-loathing are any different than those felt by the rest of humanity, we become doubly lost.

Positivity and spirituality are sometimes treated as synonyms, and that’s just not genuine. The path embraces all feelings and states of mind, and it is generally understood that (for a while anyway) waking up hurts. And, even when it’s really horrible, I know that all of my feelings and thoughts are teaching me something. For whatever reason, I haven’t gotten the lesson. If I’d gotten it, this shit would cease. Maybe the lesson is simply in impermanence itself: Never, ever expect to feel All Good, because you will never, ever be static.

Mainly I’m posting this because hiding brings its own kind of pain. When we do this, we deny our true selves to the people who want to love us. It feels worse to hide, even though it definitely feels super uncool to write about my feelings, too. I also know I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, and at some point—maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, probably right after I hit “Publish”—I’ll regret posting it. Soon, I’ll file this time period away into that which I psychologically label “my tantrums.”

The point is: I’m better than I’ve ever been, and still, I am This.

In spite of the intensity of these emotions, I remain unwilling to consider myself ill. I will not accept the bipolar story and I will not label myself “disordered.” This narrative doesn’t serve me, and if anything it damns me to believing I am fixed being. Part of that fixed narrative comes with the notion that I’ll never be fully healed, and I don’t buy that. The only reason I’m even here and in an overall healthier place than I’ve ever been in is because I’ve refused to buy it.

Of course I don’t deny the existence of mental disorders, but rather consider all life experiences as variations in consciousness. This way of thinking makes the difference between the chance at deep healing and perpetual, cyclical illness. One promotes a false “normal/abnormal, neurotypical/neurodiverse” dichotomy; the other promotes a much more realistic spectrum. Training oneself in higher consciousness (by way of self-care, meditation, journaling, etc.) can lead to the cessation of suffering, or at the very least, the dampening of it.

Because really, that’s what it’s all about: Suffering. Whether you call it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder, the main concern of the human experience is suffering. The harsher felt aspects of life that are pervasive and repetitive—the ones that get called “disorders” in our culture—persist because we are, on the whole, in a very low place. Greed rules the day. “Every man for himself” is the prevailing ethos. “Us and them” is a mentality that very few people ever escape. When our overall level as a people reaches something higher, we will see mental illness fall away. I’ve said this before and I’m going to keep saying it.

I doubt that this will happen in my lifetime, since our system still seems hell-bent on letting individuals know that they’re the ones with “problems.” In our haste to diagnose—to codify, to limit, to “explain”—we tend to just not bring up the ugly truth of the situation, which is that the world is burning to the ground and our paradigm is truly fucked up. Sick societies create sick individuals, and vice versa. Healthy people depend on a healthy planet, and our planet is really not healthy.

When healing occurs, it does so on an individual and collective level at the same time: We heal ourselves and—brick by brick, mind by mind—build healthier societies that make wellness a possibility for future generations. Until we do this work, we can only expect to see rising rates of suicide, depression, addiction, and everything else we claim to be against. I for one am getting a bit tired of the short-lived outpour of concern that follows celebrity suicides. I am also tired of the idea that a person simply not killing themselves is a great victory: If all we’re doing is constantly pulling each other back from the brink, we’re still failing miserably.

Not a single professional I’ve worked with has really broached the fact that I suffer because A. Suffering is inherent in human existence (and so I have no reason to expect not to suffer), and B. Our culture basically breeds people to suffer for the machine. It was always about “my condition,” “my problems,” “my depression,” “my story of why I hurt.” We all have stories about why we hurt, and to some extent, these stories need to be explored. Some stories are more harrowing than others, but even the most well-off, well-loved people suffer.

Finally, meditation and yoga are being regarded as helpful treatment modalities for mental illnesses. I want to address that here: The science behind psychiatric medication is based on the theory that your brain makes the wrong chemicals and these other chemicals will kinda fix it. The science behind yoga is based on the theory that you are a universal being and ultimately, you are pure consciousness. Get in touch with the part of you that is pure consciousness—through systematic postures and meditation—and suffering begins to transform. This is true for all forms of suffering, be they given medical labels or are simply the “normal” malaise of routine adult life.

These theories/sciences are not mutually exclusive. I will always advocate doing all the things to help yourself. However, through my (largely unintentional and also explosive) exploration of inner space, I’ve found that the latter theory is a whole lot more complete.

There is tremendous power in stepping into the realization that it’s not you. You are not an addict or a depressed person or anything else because something is wrong with you. Instead, we have tendencies to harm ourselves because…

  • Our overall culture is unconscious of the way it thinks and acts.
  • We do not understand and/or accept the depths of the ways we all affect one another. Even people who fancy themselves hella woke tend to carry some amount of hatred and derision in their hearts. This doesn’t work, and it still hurts everyone.
  • We literally carry legacies of pain in bodily memory.
  • Fear is the default mode of living.
  • We have forgotten the truth of what we are.

It’s not that you’re a defective model, and you do have the power to rise above all of these things.

When it comes to mental health and overall wellness, that’s what it’s all about: The cessation of suffering through the exploration of higher consciousness. Not endless treatment, not an illness-oriented model, and certainly not a narrative that you will always be one thing or another.

Let’s end this on a high note, shall we?

Before I sat down to write this post, I went for a run. Even when I’m in the depths of it, meditating and running tend to lift my spirits. Near the end, I found this rosebush in someone’s yard, and it was too beautiful not to take pictures:

Being a good millennial, I put these on the Instagram where a friend commented, “Peace roses.” Again, being a good millennial, I Googled it. Lo and behold, this is what’s called the Peace Rose. And although I regard the entirety of my life experience as equally meaningful and meaningless, I’ll gladly take signs like this in times of need.

If you’re reading this, the message is meant for you as well.

– Lish

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