Inner State, April 2014 (2)

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

April 2014

So. There is a significant discrepancy between what my life appears to be, and what my inner life is like. Externally: Bright, warm, normal, contented. Internally: Lost, hurt, addicted, ashamed.

I am so blessed I can’t believe it, and yet I am made of poison and Hell on the inside. I have been diagnosed with depression, yet something about this “diagnosis” feels partial, and I’m not sure I believe it myself. Something about the diagnosis feels fraudulent.

Very few people in my life know how I suffer. I put on a decent-enough show to those who are not very close to me (also, not many people are very close to me because I do not want them to see how Bad I am). There is little congruity to my personality: I can be scathing with my words in one minute and extremely sweet in the next. If pressed to justify this, I cannot, except to say I have no idea; I don’t know how to connect; I feel very far away from everyone all the time; I don’t know what is wrong with me.

My God, we feel so alone in the world when we don’t know who we are! It is the work of the egoic mind to convince us of this separation in the first place, and then to be dramatic about said separation because “connection” feels impossible when we are brash, discomfiting people who kinda want to destroy ourselves—except for with our own ilk, of course. This is the spell I am under.

Anyway, apparently everyone else can do stability and make stability for themselves somehow. I am incapable. I am shaky and hurt, trying super hard not to let anyone see how I’m pretty much in a constant state of crumbling.

Being in such pain and feeling so isolated, I’ve developed a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms. I know I am an addict; that is no question. If something is pleasurable I want all of it, forever, in as huge of quantities as possible. Ultimately I want to be destroyed by the things I take pleasure in. I want things that are very bitter, very smoky and caustic. I want things that are heavy and intense. I want all of them right now.

I’m not out for oblivion, which sounds like a state of floaty half-consciousness. No, I want to be going a million miles an hour towards a cliff with the sunroof open and the music on full-blast. I want to be on the edge of death but not quite there. This is how I would live my whole life if it didn’t guarantee societal/familial disapproval: I would teeter on a very fine line of self-destruction until at last I did self-destruct, and that would be totally okay with me. (Here’s a thing non-addicts don’t usually realize about addicts: In the clutches of addiction, we are 100% accepting of our fates and sorta just wish you’d leave us be. We do not want to be cared for or worried about.)

All day, this is the kind of intensity I want. Unfortunately real life does not have this flavor, and some other (higher) part of me knows it is immature to desire it anyway. I deal with real life okay (not very well, but okay) but honestly I just want to be in a hole with my indulgences.

In my addictions, sometimes I’m out to numb (food and television are great for this), but more often I’m out to feel excruciatingly alive (drinking way too much whisky, smoking, and listening to nostalgic music are great for this). I can only thank God that I was born with the intuitive power to avoid things like cocaine and amphetamines, which would have definitely ruined my life.

I also suspect that everyone around me has something figured out that I don’t. Do you know this feeling? Like somehow, all the adults in the world were given some kind of script or playbook that taught them how to Be A Person, and you missed it?

Anyway, it is obvious that there is definitely something wrong with me. I know this for sure.

Addiction is a tangled web rooted in generations of trauma, and very few addicts manage relationships well. We don’t have harmonious human interactions and just so happen to gravitate towards self-imposed obliteration. I am no exception to this rule. I’ve had intimacy issues for as long as I can remember.

On top of the alcohol thing, I am always preoccupied with some man (other than the one I am dating and/or married to) and suffer from the delusion that one will “save” me. Subconsciously I think the right relationship will stop me from hating myself. I think the right man will solve my problems. I think the “right love” will make life easy, I won’t have to fight with myself everyday; he will make me normal and happy. If asked outright, I would be clever enough to deny this. I know how delusional and weak it sounds. I don’t want anyone knowing how delusional and weak I am.

My chief addiction goes way back before whisky and cigarettes. This addiction is to men and male attention. Honestly, I remember being 12 or 14 or some horrifyingly young age and feeling the rush of knowing a man was attracted to me. It shames me now to write that sentence, but, it is true. If I didn’t feel called to write all this, I definitely wouldn’t, because it’s embarrassing, you know? But that is the first time I remember getting a noticeable emotional high, and I can’t be the only person who knows this feeling and its draw.

Getting male attention felt like some kind of power. It felt like I had something, and most importantly, it served as a nice substitution for a love I needed but did not receive at a very young age. My father, for as sharp and fun and handsome as I’m told he once was, slipped into his own addictions and he did not recover. I have very few memories of him. It hurts.

Of course, I’m nowhere near the point of accepting how much pain I am in over this, even 25 years later. To face that level of longstanding pain would be unimaginable; it would shatter me. Also, something about being intelligent (I graduated summa cum laude!) and introspective (people say I’m deep!) has made me believe I am more clever than, you know, basic human needs. Arrogantly I believe my big brain can out-think the absence of paternal love.

I am blind, so blind.

I believe I can logic my way out of this hole, so I have been journaling about these issues for as long as I can remember: How do I get fixed? How do I be one of those normal-seeming folks? How do I be wholesome and sweet and put-together? They seem to have some gene I was not born with. I have been looking into all this since I was 14 or 15, right when my childhood wounds began to metastasize into widespread angst.

I have no answers. So here I am, on the couch, 11 years later, still journaling about all my problems. I am writing about the current dude-I-am-unreasonably-obsessed with (not my loving husband) and trying to sort this out: What do I really want out of my relationships? More importantly, what the fuck is wrong with me?

I am also under the illusion that if I just think hard enough about my stupid life and all of my dysfunctions, they will somehow get ironed out.

This is also false, but I don’t know it yet. I don’t know anything, and I don’t even know that I don’t know anything.

I am just writing about why I can’t stop thinking about this dude-I-am-unreasonably-obsessed with, and feeling ashamed. This is somewhat of a standard practice for me. I am writing, writing, looking into this core issue, trying to put the pieces together at last.

Depression: Micro to the Macro

Ultimately, the spiritual path brings you back to good old common sense.

What to eat? Mostly fruits and vegetables, and no poison, thank you. When and how long to sleep? When you’re tired, as long as you need to. What do do or say? Whatever comes into the heart. Life takes care of itself in various ways, with the help of other loving human beings (and with continued work, of course). There is no need to overthink every conversation, event, or behavior. Things are fine.

As you may know, one issue that is dear to my heart is mental health. At the root of this concern is my awareness that we are an ill species acting as a scourge upon the Earth for no good reason. I believe this phase in evolution—the phase of the egoic mind—will one day be remembered of as a time of collective mental illness. This collective mental illness could best be described as “the delusion of separation and death.” Almost all suffer from it, though to varying degrees.

We have gotten so deep into this delusion that when someone senses “hey maybe this isn’t right; something feels off,” we tell that person they are the ill one. They “have depression,” or, in my case, also “bipolar disorder.”

I feel I am constantly seeing the condition of depression get overthought, when it is very simple: An ill culture creates ill people, and vice versa. A vicious pattern has been in place for a long time. We do not have to look very far to see how our culture, on the whole, is very much in the grips of insanity.

I find it strange and ridiculous how we are still studying and medicating depression, while only a small number of people are out there saying “hey our culture is screwed up, and this is why we are depressed.” When people do say this, they are not fully heard because our impulsive minds want a less complicated fix than “actually, everything needs to change. Maybe—just maybe—we need to rework the entire way we live and then see how depressed we are.”

Additionally, when I see someone talking about cultural transformation, they, too, are often still under the spell of the egoic mind. This mind usually wants to blame all of our pain on government, the patriarchy, capitalism, civilization as a whole, etc. An egoic mind also often believes it has The Answer in things like “sacred medicine” instead of Western medicine. It can create a whole new list of “woke” rules that will not, in and of themselves, heal humanity’s illness in the long-term. The only thing that can really do it is to wake up from our delusive dream.

In short: To see depression truly healed, we must create a world we can feel at peace within, as well as lives worth living.

Saying that depression is the result of “bad brain chemicals” is like saying someone is thirsty because they haven’t had any water lately. While technically true, this answer is so surface-level and isolated that it is barely any help.

Following this metaphor, imagine that instead of taking a thirsty person to a spring to drink, we give them a small cup of water that has all kinds of sediment (and perhaps bacteria) in it. “Drink this,” we say, “and it might help. It may leave you with grit in your mouth and possibly infect you with another disease, but, it’s the best we got.”

Still following this metaphor: We accept the glass of dirty water because we have forgotten where the clean stream is located. We know it must be somewhere because we do remember, even if faintly, how it feels to be simply happy/not thirsty all the time. So someone in a lab drums up a poor substitute for water. Some people think “hey this is close enough, and I can market it.” And rather than focusing on the fact that we need to remember where the clean drinking stream is and get ourselves to it pronto, we continue to suffer the thirst and drink dirty cups of water day after day. What else can we do?

Man, I hope this metaphor resonates for someone out there.

The clean spring is within us all, beyond the egoic mind we suffer from. The dirty water is the half-effective antidepressant-bandage. And if we’re going to go see healers about our depression, please let it at least be to someone who knows where the spring is located, someone who isn’t so ill themselves as to believe a glass of dirty water a day is a solution.

tl;dr: Depression is the direct result of a living in an unconscious culture that is completely deluded about itself.

As a whole, we have been decimating other lifeforms and one another for a while now, and we know we are connected to each other. Are we so arrogant that we believe this shouldn’t hurt? How are we so ignorant as to think we, as individuals, just have “chemical imbalances,” and that these imbalances have little or nothing to do with the fact that we are exacting a mass extinction event on the planet? Apparently I should’ve just been okay with going to work and “having a nice life” while the rest of Me burned alive and starved and cut its own limbs off? I couldn’t, and I will never be okay with that.

Of course, no one’s depression is consciously related to the way our planet is in utter shambles. Instead, we think “I need a better job; my marriage is strained; if I just had enough money; my kids are driving me nuts…”

These things may play a part in your personal depression, because the egoic mind believes sincerely that its job/marriage/finances/kids are more important than seeing what is Real. But from an evolutionary perspective, you’ve got an alarm bell going off inside of you whenever you feel depressed or anxious.

This world is in deep peril, and our emotions are telling us this loud and clear—especially we, the smartest, most comfortable, and wealthiest ones… probably because we aren’t doing a thing to address it, even though we could be.

The question is: Are we mind-identified types ready to we do away with these simplistic “brain-based” answers and look at the evolutionary picture yet?

And this is happening: More and more young people are taking their lives. Almost every one of my friends talks about “having anxiety” like it is on par with buying a pair of socks. No big deal to live in constant fear, and nothing they can do about it either. Millions of us take antidepressants and suffer awful side effects, all while ignoring the larger picture, which is that we are depressed because we have made this planet a depressing place to live. Period.

(Optimistic note: It does not have to be this way! At all!)

This problem cannot be legislated away. This problem cannot be medicated away. This problem cannot be suppressed with drugs and alcohol. This problem—the one where millions of us are hating ourselves and wanting to die and/or actually killing ourselves—can only be solved by deep cultural transformation brought about by waking up from the egoic mind’s hypnosis.

And if you’re waiting for me to blame some system or person like the president or capitalism, I am not going to do that. I am going to place my attention on the root of the problem, which lies inside each of us: The egoic mind. It is this mind which compels us to hoard wealth. It is this mind which denies its relationship to the rest of the world. It is this mind, in its obscene blindness, which believes it can get away with destroying one another and never face consequences.

It is so wrong to believe this. It is this mind which has no faith in its Self, and looks externally to feel a happiness that can only be found within.

– Lish

Location: Mitchell, OR

Inner State, April 2014

This post is the first in an intended series detailing how I got from the intense “click” of awakening to where I am right now. And where exactly am I right now? Well, I am just right here, in peace, living a simple life where I write, meditate, and connect with others. I step into the sunlight with music in my ears and dance-walk wherever I go. This joy, this peace… it cannot be taken. If it could, it would not be the real thing.

Sometimes my mind offers up loneliness and I am not aware enough to leave that loneliness be. I grab onto it and contact men from my past, even though it could not be clearer that I am supposed to be by myself at this time in my life. I go to bed alone, thinking I’d marry the next fool who asks, if only we could do what needs to be done in this world together. (This point—about men and my compulsions towards them—is relevant, as you will see.) Still, on the whole, I am deliriously happy.

This is not meant to come across as braggy. I try to be mindful about sounding proud, in part because pride is a function of an egoic mind that likes to fancy itself as something So Great. Also, it’s no fun to listen to someone talk about how great their life is when we aren’t in the same place. I gather, from looking around, that most of us are not in a similar position of peace. We humans are still greatly deluded, fearful, dramatic, internally split, and confused… all synonyms for “suffering.”

The significance of my joy now is that it hasn’t always been this way—not by a long shot: Two and a half years ago, on December 1st, 2015, I was released from the mental hospital into the absolute darkest time of my life. As I tried to carry on, my entire being felt saturated in shame and despair. I was emotionally fragile, insecure, and very defensive as a result. I had no idea what had happened to make the fabric of reality fall to shreds before me.

Trying to assimilate the experience of psychosis into a rational worldview feels, in a word, impossible.

So, how did I move from one end of the spectrum to the other, especially if my financial/relational circumstances have actually deteriorated? What happened?

I will tell you, though my ego-identity is hesitant to do so. I am choosing to ignore that ashamed voice in my head, because I know it is only interested in preserving its small self. My ego-identity believes that if it is seen fully, no one will ever love it. That is a powerful bargaining chip for my mind to have, and it is one I suspect many of you can relate to. Luckily, I know that that little “person” is not the true Me.

So, I am just going to try and stay grounded in my Being and do what I have been sent to do: Write.

April 2014

I’m 26 years old. It is mid-afternoon, sunny outside, and I am alone in the house. My countryside home is beautiful yet humble, and was built by my great-grandfather. My husband and I were married in the backyard nine months ago by a family friend of his. It was a truly blessed event. We love each other, and are slowly trying to make this house our home.

On the surface, in all regards, I am The Luckiest Woman Alive. Look at all I’ve got: A marriage to a good man, a handsome yet dopey long-haired black cat, a yard with the perfect garden patch my own grandfather tended to into his 80s, a shop for my husband to make music and/or build skate ramps in, and a healthy body. Right across the street, there is a whole field of tulips in bloom.

Sounds pretty good on paper, right?

Except that inside, I am deeply angry and negative. I judge people incessantly, finding them at fault for all kinds of things. I drink a lot—as in, I black out at least once a month, and am drunk at least three times a week. I smoke cigarettes, especially when drunk. I smoke weed and make horrible food choices when I am hungover. I say thoughtless things that hurt people’s feelings. None of these are my worst most shameful habit, which I will discuss in later posts, after I’ve had time to cope with the fact that I have been called to write about it.

I go in and out of hating myself on a regular basis. There is no logical reason for this self-hatred other than that I know, somewhere inside, that I am not acting like the human I know I can be. I am not creating enough; I’m not doing enough for others; I’m missing something. Through the (totally inaccurate) lens of pain, I interpret this to mean I’m so defective I cannot even begin to pull myself into a higher echelon of thought and behavior.

It’s not that I am without my bright points. Historically I have been loved by some for speaking my mind, being brash, being a (mostly) fun drunk and not giving a fuck. I am capable of being somewhat charming when occasions require it. I like making homemade gifts for my family, and there have surely been times when I’ve been deeply heartful and compassionate.

I am smart, and being smart is The Most Important thing to me. Having beer after beer (and smoke after smoke) while engaging in rigorous philosophical discourse is my absolute favorite thing to do. My dearest friends appreciate this in me. My favorite people are all deep and brooding and addicted, and to my monkey-mind, it is fun.

Overall, I see myself as maladaptive, and probably actually evil somewhere inside. I am convinced that if anyone saw this evil, they would have nothing to do with me. They would vanish in a heartbeat, and they would be right to do so.

So much for the husband, the cat, the tulips. I am a Dark Thing, a Bad Thing, and when you believe this about yourself sincerely (as I did), there is no outward configuration that can bring you any joy.

Bipolar Disorder & Consciousness

I have tried to make this post as simple as possible since this topic is very important to me. It’s about bipolar disorder and the (incomplete) way it is viewed in mainstream psychology/psychiatry. It’s about how you can heal from it. It’s about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have advantages, though it can be difficult to overcome without a sincere commitment to yourself.

My advice to anyone reading this who has the diagnosis (and really anyone else) is this: Be a badass, get to work on yourself, and become who you really are. Anything that is stalling your growth has to go. Yes, the cost seems high, but there is no other way, and in the end you will see that you didn’t really “lose” anything at all. I know, I know… “easier said than done.” But I promise, it is worth it a billion times over.

I hope this will be of use to some reader, somewhere, someday, who perhaps has had what we call “a manic episode” and cannot make sense of what really happened to them. That’s how I felt for a long time after I was hospitalized. My experience felt so real, because it was real, and to go along with the story that “I just have this illness because—oh wait, no one really knows for sure” felt unsatisfying and kind of like a lie.

I’ve read a lot about consciousness and bipolar disorder, but the most important thing is that I’ve lived it, just like I’ve lived addiction, awakening, and recovery. That is why I feel qualified to say these things. They come from my experience, and I don’t fully trust any authority who purports to understand that which they’ve never gone through on their own. I know these things firsthand, the same way you know you love your family and that the sky is blue:

  1. Ultimately, what you are is a thing called consciousness. You defy quality. You are limitless, formless, genderless, raceless. You are beyond mental constructs including “good and evil;” you are perfect beyond the concept of “perfection.” Also, you are not separate from anyone or anything else, except as the mind imagines it. In case it isn’t clear: I do mean this all quite literally, and I encourage you to realize these things for yourself. I would much rather you do that than take anyone’s word on it.

  2. In society, the “normal mode” of existence is called ego-consciousness, or the ego-identity, or simply the ego. Identity is just a thought. In this mode we do not feel limitless, genderless, or anything-less. We feel like particular people with stories and quirks and opinions. We have fears and comfort zones and certain people we close ourselves off to. There’s nothing “wrong” or “bad” about the ego—this sense of separation and individuality is what allows us to have our life experiences at all. This mode is useful for getting by in daily life: My ego is a writer who doesn’t use intoxicants, for instance. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a server who will move to an ashram in about a month… and yet I am also this Great Big Thing, not as measured by my “value” to society, but as to how I experience my own self.

    It is very important to know and remember that the ego is but a limited mode of being. It is like an ice cube in the ocean: Small, contracted, rigid, and ultimately subject to melting one day. When you believe this ego is all that you are, problems are created immediately. You worry about protecting this ego and everything that said “protection” entails. Here’s the thing: You can know your full, unlimited self and become truly healed, but doing so will require you to expand beyond the ego. This is an evolutionary process. This kind of growth is not something our society encourages, because the entire world order requires that we all take our egos seriously; that we believe sincerely in the machine we are a part of. Just as we have our individual egos, these little egos combine to create one big cultural ego. If that big ego were to be seen through in this instant, the world would probably look even more chaotic for a while, even though that is exactly what we need to survive as a species on this planet.

    One who transcends the ego (or who is trying to transcend the ego) can look “crazy” to those who have never seen beyond it. This brings me to bipolar mania.

  3. Bipolar mania occurs when we are unaware that we are trying to transcend our egos. This is evolution we’re talking about. It cannot be halted, and when we try to suppress it, it rushes up like a freshly released spring if given half the chance. Bipolar mania is an unplanned, unskillful expansion in consciousness, which explains why “feelings of expansion” is one of the main symptoms. These episodes can occur when our egos are severely threatened, like if too many changes in life occur within a short amount of time. They can also occur when we alter our consciousness through lack of sleep, drug use, or the abrupt stoppage of regular drug use. All of these things can trigger a deeper consciousness to emerge. The ego—not knowing that it is false, and not yet wanting to know this—believes it is dying, and rushes to defend itself. This is why we have delusions of grandeur and other self-beliefs that are out of touch.

    Part of this occurs because the mind is using every trick in the book to maintain that the ego is real, but the other part is simpler: You really are capable of much more than you were ever led to believe. When we are manic, we can catch glimpses of our potential, which might be much bigger than anything our small selves could’ve imagined. It is important to me to say that spiritual awakening/enlightenment does not lead to things like fame and wealth and all of these egocentric things. The highest “goal” is to become who you are, and whatever comes after that won’t matter in the same way at all. However, due to our conditioning about what “potential” means, the mind tends to go there if the ego is dying.

  4. Severe depression represents a contraction in consciousness. You think you’re worthless, small, and terrible. All of these things are functions of a mind that believes more strongly in the “little self” and is very caught up in what “we” have done or whatever we’re not doing that we believe “a good person” does. This contraction often occurs out of our awareness, so of course no one is to blame for any of their moods. Still, beneath all of this, consciousness is trying to emerge. The friction between consciousness and the unconscious ego can create depression in the first place. We resist change and/or looking at life in this new way because to do this represents stepping into unknown territory. The unknown is frightening to the ego, which likes to maintain and preserve its safety (even though its safety is an illusion.).

    Furthermore, our social/world structures—again, built from billions of little egos—are not currently interested in what is best or most joyful for human life. These structures are interested in perpetuating themselves, plain and simple, and in their unconsciousness they spiral onward even as they kill the host. One goal of a spiritual revolution is to create a world that leads to joy within humanity and other living beings, rather than this world where humans serve The Machine. Our structures (if we need them) should work for us, not the other way around. We should be quite clear about this: Even the people “at the top” live in service to this machine. They are not free by virtue of being at the top of the pyramid, and perhaps even less so than one who is “lower.”

  5. A healthy spiritual path should guide one to expand their consciousness little by little, until the entire ego is seen through for its ultimate illusory nature. I am a huge advocate for gradual, sane spiritual awakenings (when possible). Some of the kundalini-and-LSD stuff I’ve heard about really shows me that most people have no idea what it is they are dealing with or what their aim is in spirituality. This is not to say I’m anti-kundalini or even anti-drug, but that very often these things are approached naively, without the support of an experienced teacher, and these experiences can make us a little (or a lot) insane. Those of us who have had what they call “a full-blown manic episode” know that there is nothing fuzzy or cute about expanding in consciousness even though it is necessary, and even though doing so does lead to ultimate Truth.

  6. The solution to overcoming bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) is to train in the gradual expansion of consciousness. We are on the path whether we want to be or not. The most hardcore atheist is on the spiritual path. Serial killers are on the spiritual path. There is no difference between that which is “spiritual” and that which isn’t. The sooner we accept this and consciously get to work on ourselves, the better.

    Finding your own path may mean things like giving up drugs and alcohol, taking your nutrition more seriously, meditating regularly, praying (whatever that means to you), reading books on consciousness, journaling, changing your friendships or your job, becoming more solitary, finding a doctor who actually supports and listens to you, talking to your family about what you really think is happening, finding a spiritual community, etc. It’s a whole new life, not a hobby, not a “take this but leave that” deal. The main takeaway here is this: We cannot expect to be healthy and well if we continue to live in damaging ways, or if we keep trying to live the way others think we should live. Every time we do this, we resist who we are. We push ourselves away, but this method is ineffective: Consciousness can’t and won’t go away. Unless we commit to a significantly different way of life, the cycles of bipolar disorder are likely to return.

    Another perhaps-difficult pill to swallow is this: There is simply no “halfway” when it comes to finding your true self, though we often like to act like there is. Many times in my life I have begged and wished to “just be normal,” ignorant of what it was I truly wanted. Turns out that God (which is also consciousness) is not interested in social normalcy or upholding our current world order—not in the slightest, and in fact the opposite. Any wish that is not in alignment with your true self will go unfulfilled, and this “just be more normal” wish usually falls into this category. We’re talking total transformation with the possibility of becoming Yourself, not whatever you and others expect that self to be. It is so important that we keep going, even when it feels impossible, even when it feels endless, and even when it seems like it isn’t getting better.

    I promise, even if it doesn’t feel like it, it is improving.

– Lish

You do not Have to Suffer

The spirit of this post is simple: You do not have to suffer. You really don’t. It doesn’t matter how long you have suffered or what your reasons are for suffering. If you’re reading this, you can be free of suffering.

Even more beautifully, we can recognize that underneath all of our conditioning, we simply do not suffer. Beneath the many layers of what we’ve picked up in this world—much of it being complete madness—we don’t suffer at all. What you truly are is not a thing that suffers, nor does it try not to suffer. What you are is not a thing that is ensnared by the external world and/or the conditioned mind, nor does it strive to be un-ensnared. It simply is free of all conditions and limits, and there’s nothing you have to do to make this true.

It isn’t even accurate to give it the label of “freedom,” because in the realm of pure consciousness, we lose both our need and desire for words. Descriptors fail us at these heights, and at times it even feels like we literally cannot speak. Words are necessarily used in the realm of concepts, ideas, and other mental constructs.

But pure consciousness is not a mental construct, and this is precisely why we fail and disagree upon trying to define it. Pure consciousness is what’s left when all mental constructs fall away. That means the more we theorize about it, the further we get from understanding it. When we do this, we’re just stringing more constructs together when really we should be aiming to take them all down. Seeking answers within the mind is like being on a treadmill and believing you’re running to paradise.

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Each of us must experience the reality of basic awareness for ourselves, and at times, we all do. It’s just that the mind tends to rush back and cover this experience up, and then it’s back to business as usual. After living this way for so long, we have slipped into the belief that “normal consciousness” is one that’s thought-ridden, habit-ridden, small, personal, and separate. This belief in personal separation is fertile for further beliefs, many of which create great suffering: Feelings of superiority and inferiority—and thus hierarchies of all kinds—cannot sprout without this belief in the small, personal self.

Our belief in what is the “normal” state of consciousness is quite backwards: Pure consciousness (what we are, not what we “have”) is expansive, knowing, aware, nonjudgmental, and constantly fresh. This is actually our natural state, and it can’t really be separated from anything. Of course consciousness exists in our minds and egos, but these represent a contracted, limited version of it. Going permanently beyond (or beneath, if you prefer) these things results in total liberation.

In this space, wisdom flows naturally and life comes very easily. Here we are able to look at suffering and smile at its smallness and ultimate nonexistence. After we see, confusion and frustration sometimes arise when we try to explain the inexplicable, or when we expect others to see what we have seen. If we are committed to remaining as our true selves, we make an effort to use this frustration as a practice for patience and humility.

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When imagined by the conditioned mind, this “absence of suffering” isn’t terribly exciting. Even using descriptors such as “clear,” “fresh,” and “awake” often don’t appeal to us enough to really look. Voluntarily sitting quietly with no distractions is nobody’s idea of a good time. If your feeling towards the spiritual path is that it is tranquil though dull, you aren’t alone, but this couldn’t be further from the truth: Knowing consciousness is not dreamy and tranquil; it is wide awake and alert. It is a state of perpetual surprise.

Picturing this kind of freedom as “boring” (as compared to the excitement of our personal dramas, plans, and drug-induced states) is one of the mind’s favorite tricks. And as long as the mind can use the concept of boredom to put us off from seeking, it will.

Whenever I get this mistaken feeling of “boredom,” I try to sit with it. In this way, we can see through boredom’s illusory nature. Life cannot ever be boring if our eyes are new every moment, and they are.

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When it comes to suffering and its release, we aren’t just talking about acute despair. Regret, guilt, shame, painful rumination, jealousy, worry, fear of the future, background irritation, longstanding resentment, insecurity, bitterness, anxiety, depression, boredom, all of those times we just “feel off…” all of these and more fall under the umbrella of “suffering.” When these things are pulled from their common root of belief in separate personhood, we know an entirely new mode of living:

This is a state of total awareness of the world without becoming caught up in the world. It is engagement with others without being sucked into their stories and/or taking on their various energies. It is the joy of sitting in stillness. It is experiencing senses that are actually sharper without the roar of constant mental chatter. It’s seeing, unobstructed by judgment. It’s being home and feeling pretty much the same everywhere you go. It’s in this way that we lose the urge to constantly chase experiences in the mistaken belief that there’s “something more” for us in “some other place.”

Abiding in this state represents a revolution of the human mind and psyche. This is the revolution required for humanity to survive and allow our planet to heal. At this stage in our evolutionary journey, revolution is no longer about which person is “in charge,” or even trying to enforce a way of governance that we think will be “good for everyone” (you know what they say about the road to Hell.). It is about seeing the Truth and moving naturally from this place. There is no move towards sanity that can be made without first seeing this.

We will either experience such a revolution, or we will die out due to our own unconsciousness. Neither the Earth, the Universe, or God will reach in and prevent this from happening. Clinging to fantasies of a “future prophet” or a literal “second coming of Jesus the person” is actually the opposite of truly knowing God.

We must do it on our own. As humans, we were each granted the capacity to see the Truth. We can see this, and if we do, we will know a boundless and blissful consciousness.

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If this is all true—and I maintain that it is—the question quickly becomes Why, then? If we don’t have to suffer, why do we?

There are several answers for this, but digging too far into them would detract from the simplicity of this message: None of us have to suffer. Half of me wants to say “it’s not easy,” and yet something deeper knows that it actually is the easiest thing you will ever do.

To your mind, seeing the Truth is hard work. But to your true self, nothing is more natural.

– Lish

The Blessing of Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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) 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

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.
  • 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:

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

The Lenses Through Which We See Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have an awesome day!

– Lish

Embracing Your Darkness

It’s been a rough few days, so I admit that there may be a charge of (gasp!) negativity to this post. So before that, I want to put something out there that I hope will be nice to read, or at least not hurtful: All people are worthy of love and acceptance. Every single one. The most revolutionary act we can take is to practice living from this mindset. I feel the sting of disapproval often, even if it’s “all in my head” and/or egocentric. I walk around in fear of judgment. Sometimes it is raw and painful. The deepest wish I have for myself and others is that we learn how to release these fears and move towards genuine compassion for one another.

I know we all come to these things in our own time, but it is still what I wish.

Feel What You Feel, Unapologetically

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the harder stuff: I’m a human being who has emotions. Sometimes these emotions result in me standing over my bathroom sink, ready to vomit from sorrow. Sometimes I feel like I can run for miles floating on wings of bliss alone. Other days I feel nothing at all, and the arrival of this emptiness is both disorienting and lovely. Honestly, I’ve lived most of my life believing that everyone more or less operates in this way, so it’s been odd to receive medical diagnoses for such experiences. But whatever. That’s how it’s done, and sometimes it can be really helpful.

It’s important to bear in mind that none of our emotions are “right” or “wrong.” They just are. Acknowledging this was huge for me, and so I encourage you to let it sink in: No emotion is “better” or “worse” than any other. Some may be easier to accept because they are pleasant, but in trying to reject the bad ones, we miss out on a whole lot. We close ourselves to what they are trying to teach us. We decide that these parts of us are not worth loving when they are actually the parts that need our love most.

As soon as we stop mentally labeling our feelings as “good” and “bad,” we make a quantum leap into maturity. We step into a state of mind that respects all of our experiences without shutting down. I personally don’t really know how to feel hurt without closing myself off to others, but if I just bring in a little awareness, it becomes slightly easier.

Further along we come into a space that can, from a compassionate distance, witness our very human responses to our very insane environments on a collective level. This compassionate distance is required to look clearly at our situation. When we’re too close, we lose the holistic perspective. Only when we accept that this is not how humans have evolved to live (rather than simply pathologizing individuals who can’t “hang”) can we get around to fixing this trash heap we call culture.

I seriously don’t even know what to write sometimes because it all comes down to this: Everything is really messed up and we’ve got to build a new culture, one conscious being at a time. I know that it’s already sorta-kinda happening, and it makes me thrilled.

But I also know that large groups of people and movements built around certain “beliefs” can quickly degenerate into equally unconscious hiveminds, albeit in different clothing. Look at what happened to the hippie movement, or even more obvious: Jesus Christ was a total baller about love and acceptance, and yet many of his “followers” still reject their fellow humans on a regular basis.

I write in part to encourage suspicion of the “brand” mentality of the path. I write to acknowledge that this thing is yucky. I write to warn seekers of slipping right into a spiritual ego, thereby continually avoiding the depths of themselves which necessarily include pain—some of us more than others.

But mostly, I write because I need to, because keeping all this stuff inside has hurt me more than I could ever explain. I know it’s hurting a lot of people to keep their stuff in, too. I feel you and I know you.

May You Keep Fighting

The idea that struggle “shouldn’t” exist needs to die, and so I will help it die right now: Without struggle, we have no reason to go anywhere. Being comfy-cozy gives us no incentive to dig through the muck of ourselves and find the truth. This is so true that many of us create our own struggles where there needn’t be any, and we do this just so we have something to learn from. Similarly, this idea that being “positive” is the “best” way to be needs to die as well, and so I will also help it die: Feeling bad and wrong and ashamed are just as vital on the path as the “good” stuff.

I know it sucks (and that that is a total understatement), but these are the emotions that force us up and out of our seed casings. Ideally, we could all flow as freely as the rest of Nature, and perhaps one day we will. In this case, all of our self-created suffering wouldn’t be necessary for us to flower: We could just become and transform and live and let live. I truly and honestly hope humanity gets there. But for now, because we are much more complicated beings than flowers, we often require an intense beating to jar us from the (imagined) safety of the soil.

We must embrace the ugliness, the mistakes, and the horror. Yes, it’s all hideous and awful and too much when you start looking at it. And then when you really get into it, it can get to be way way too much, and sometimes you lose conscious control of what your body and mind are doing if you even had any in the first place. It is not my hope that your path goes that route, but, it’s not up to me.

Also worth noting: Deeply empathic humans are not able to look around the world and feel positive all the time. Yes, there is a way to sit in spaces of pain without being consumed by others’ suffering, and that is a skill we must develop if we wish to help others. But sometimes spiritual rhetoric looks like a whole lot of avoidance to me, and this is the exact opposite of what spirituality is “about.” (It’s really about everything, btw.)

The path brings you to reality: First, the reality of this physical world (suffering, suffering, and… oh, look at that: more suffering), and ultimately face-to-face with a chasm of emptiness that sort of laughs in your face as it moves you in and out of Heaven and Hell and It. This emptiness is the source of all things, including those that aren’t soft-and-fuzzy. On the path, we must remember that we aren’t looking to simply confirm our preconceived (read: limited) ideas about what divine love is like.

My point here is that positivity is awesome, but if you’re faking it, you’re betraying yourself. Your self will not allow this betrayal forever.

It’s Gonna Get Ugly

I did not go looking for this “spirituality” thing. I rejected it full-stop for a long time, and yes, I still dislike the word on account of the “everything’s gonna be fine” attitude it sometimes engenders.

Here’s real talk: Everything’s not gonna be fine.* A lot of people are dying. A lot of them are dying from stuff that is 100% preventable, such as hunger (which, by the way, only exists because of the collective ego and our fears around letting it go). We have altered the face of the Earth to such a degree that the actual climate has been changed. Species are going extinct left and right. In all likelihood, your water might not be ideal to drink.

The “good news” is that the Earth will balance itself out because that is what Nature does. Of course, this is actually bad news for a whole lot of human beings—maybe even you and me. This rebalancing is happening already. Things are gonna get extra bonkers sooner than later for us as a species.

The spiritual path is not the thing to do if you’re trying to escape these realities and feel good all the time. It is about seeing this world for what it is, falling down and through the abyss of your constructed self, and somehow, some way, building a new one on purpose. You go deeply into suffering to see what it’s made of instead of frantically treading above it by drinking and working and entertaining ourselves and socializing and/or even going on a bunch of spiritual retreats (or writing blog posts!).

It’s about seeing the root of these big bad things (climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, trafficking, abuse abuse abuse), and understanding that the most beneficial thing we can do is to stop directing anger outward and get to work on ourselves first.

It’s about coming to grips with this: Every terrible scenario “out there” originated in the human mind. Our minds communicate with one another in very subtle, seemingly invisible ways, and collectively we inhabit one average level of awareness. Understanding this, the first order of business becomes to transform our personal levels into those that are grounded in love and clarity, thereby lifting up that average level. These principles are timeless.

This is what I work towards even when I stumble and backslide and fail, like, every day. This work goes on and on. Even once enlightened, we are going to be interacting with other humans, and our way of doing so will continually inform our awareness of how to be in this human form. This knowledge is always deepening: There is a space inside of you which goes on infinitely, and “getting there” is really just to freefall for eternity which is always right now.

*Okay, okay: In the end, everything will be “fine” if by fine you mean that this Universe will be swallowed up by some other Universe long after our planet has been burnt to a crisp. Sure. In that way, it’ll all be “fine.” But that is a totally unhelpful mindset for our shared physical plane. Yes, later on, there is a shiny heart of nihilism to the whole thing, but it’s not a very compassionate Earthly position to take.

Keeping the Faith

I want to note that I still have tremendous aspirations for everyone and myself: We can learn to find a balance between the difficult outer world and the limitless inner world. We can let go of the mind-made past and learn to see each other with new eyes. We can get to a place where joy is our default setting; where we can return to a place of peace, wholeness, and wisdom whenever we choose. We can accept when we are angry or hurt without shutting down and becoming so defensive and afraid.

These things are possible; it just matters how sincerely willing we are to make them happen.

– Lish