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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Depression, Mania, Mental Health, Narratives, Reality, The Mind, Yoga

The Lenses Through Which We See Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ink (18)ink (19)ink (20)ink (21)ink (22)ink (23)ink (24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have an awesome day!

– Lish

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Depression, Medication, Mental Health, Narratives, Podcast, Well-being

A Personal Note on Depression

Before I start this thing, I want to make sure to say that Episode 1 of The Free Fall podcast is now up on Soundcloud! 

The episode features our personal backstories as well as our intention to take part in a new conversation surrounding mental health in America.

On Wednesday we sat down to record episode 2, where we touched on the issue of depression as we see it. As you know, this is a big topic with no easy answers and no quick-fixes.

For whatever reason, the following post came out super personal. This is something I’ve largely avoided, because dwelling in stories isn’t really my way (anymore). Or maybe it is. Maybe we’re never all one thing or another, and I shouldn’t not post things just because they violate some rule about whatever I thought I’d post before a whole new day (and a whole new me) existed.

I take issue with depression being labeled a disease, even though I fully understand the neuroscientific basis of it. My BA is in psychology, and I received the MDD diagnosis at age 25.

From my place in life now, I understand the truth of that situation: I was living deeply out of alignment with my values and I had no idea who (or what) I was. This is why I was depressed. Never once did I have a medical condition.

At that time, I was drinking a lot to cover-up a mess of old pain I never dealt with. FYI: Suppressed feelings, particularly those of fear and shame, don’t just vanish into thin air. They actually get buried in our sub- and unconscious minds where they incubate. When one becomes fully conscious—as in during an awakening—that old pain can surface in some pretty harsh ways.

In addition to that whole thing, I was in a field of work I had no business in (mental health), because I was very much hurt and apparently on the brink of going insane myself. Driving to work felt like the most inauthentic, self-loathey, “wtf is this my life?” thing ever. I did not talk about this often. It’s a hard pill to swallow when the thing you worked for and thought you wanted feels even more ridiculous and wrong than every other step you’ve taken in your life.

Furthermore—and this is the biggest thing—I had unwittingly shut myself off from the inner dimension in order to protect my ego. The only real, abiding piece of me went ignored in favor of my half-baked plans. My soul was unexplored but I was very thinky, and this is a deadly combination.

For as fucked up as I felt, I was societally on track: The college degree was in the bag and I had a job with a salary. Holy shit, adulthood! I was doing it!

I didn’t even know how unbalanced and unhealthy I was. I just kept thinking hey, if I get the external conditions just right, some feeling of love and solidity will arrive. Millions of young people think this right now, and even more adults endlessly configure their external conditions, still chasing such feelings.

Shockingly, because this is a completely backwards way to live, I was pretty bummed. Almost always. These sad feelings took shape in misdirected anger, apathy, and isolation. They took shape in shameful behaviors I’m not going to talk about right now. And yet, because of the world we live in and the fact that the majority of people are living in this backwards way, it never dawned on me: Oh, I might be looking at this picture upside down. Maybe that’s why I’m so confused and frustrated with it.

Instead I got a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, a prescription for fluoxetine, and anorgasmia. Thanks, Western medicine. (I’m actually okay with Western medicine; it’s just the “you’re diseased, take this pill” message that’s limited and harmful and utterly Wrong.)

Essentially, I ended up depressed because I’d bought into the story that I was supposed to live a certain way; that I was supposed to use my intelligence and energy to do things I didn’t entirely understand or agree with, and that the best life available to me would be found in this One Way.  

I will write, again and again, that it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the college-and-career track. It’s that we all sell it to each other as The Only Way. We do this because if we don’t take that route, we can easily end up homeless and have no insurance and die prematurely. This is not a supportive way for human life to flourish. I also can’t imagine that anyone with an unconditioned mind would choose the life that billions of people are currently living.

With all the trappings of a decently good middle-class life, I still managed to hate myself. And that hate was 100% irrational. I knew it was irrational, and yet it was still there.  It was gnawing and punching me in the head day in and day out. Constantly. I poured booze on it and it was chill. On my way to work, I’d sob, and I wouldn’t know the reason for it, but I’d get a breakfast wrap and a humongous iced coffee and it was chill.

One time at work I cried a whole bunch and I explained only that I was tired. That was the tip of the iceberg as far as tears go, and yes, I was tired. I am still tired, but for very different reasons and in a very different way now.

I am tired of living in a world where we don’t take care of one another. I am tired of people who have completely valid feelings being told that they have chronic illnesses that they need to manage, sometimes with medication that creates more problems than it fixes. I am tired of those same people being told, in various ways, to expect the bare minimum out of life. I am tired of the fact that even what we consider “a good life” is still nowhere near what humanity is capable of. Mostly I am tired of people misunderstanding the Truth, which is that we are all each other. Realizing this to the core clears everything up.

Luckily, I am not tired of writing.

Love,

Lish

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"Levels", Depression, Mental Health, Spirituality, The Mind

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.

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Yep.

Feel What You Feel, Unapologetically

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the negativity: 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.

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YOU.

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 consciousness. 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.

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Again: yep.

 

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

After this semi-tirade of a post, 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

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Depression, Mania, Mental Health, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Dying Before You Die

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

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

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

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

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Beware. The tide always rises.

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

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

The Ego and World Structures

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

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Another hospital drawing.

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

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

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No one. No exceptions.

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

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

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

Mental Health & the Ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms of the Ego Death

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

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

Anyway, here goes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Just look.

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

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

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

Ego Death and Rebirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Depression, Mania, Medication, Mental Health, The Ego

Mania, Depression, & Consciousness

I’d like to say that (for at least some of the time) being manic rules.

If you’re ever stuck wondering why a bipolar person won’t stay on their medication, know that it’s because they can naturally touch aspects of the human experience most people can’t fathom. And, as hard as it is to admit, the pull of these dimensions really does feel like it outweighs the consequences: It’s like being on MDMA + shrooms for two months straight. There’s a depth and intensity too real to resist, family and responsibilities be damned.

To the outsider it looks horrifying and out of whack, but to the manic person it all makes sense and can be pretty fun. We recognize that something is really wrong with the humorless masses; why can’t they see how awesome everything is? Isn’t it obvious that we all just need to grab a beer together before setting out to clean up the world?

It’s like this whole thing (life, that is) has been an enormous joke and you finally get the punchline after years of believing the joke was dead serious. You’re just laughing and laughing and lashing out at anyone who impedes you. Then you stumble upon those who still believe in time and routine and the economy and sleep, and apparently they’re still calling the shots. It’s lame.

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One of 10,000 pictures I drew while hospitalized.

On a more serious note, people often don’t stay on their meds because it feels disingenuous. When you become committed to growth, you have to know how your brain functions without all the stuff it’s been subjected to. I’m including everything in this: processed food/chemicals, harmful cultural memes, friends/family who might not be as good for you as you once thought, and, yes, drugs. This is why spiritual retreats exist and why transformation tends to be at least somewhat solitary.

Whether a doctor prescribes it or you’ve been poisoning yourself with drugs and alcohol, you know that these things are not you, and you must know you.  In order to realize yourself as a being without false identities and attachments, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 beers or 200 mg of Lamictal.  There’s a need to wash out of both if we have any hope of discovering what our day-to-day consciousness is really like.

This is not something that very many people who go off their meds can articulate, probably because consciousness is still vastly misunderstood. For them, it just feels better not to take them (there are also side effects which are often straight up not worth it). I’m not suggesting that everyone’s choice to go unmedicated is wise. This is very personal stuff, and we are each responsible for feeling out where we’re at on our journeys into wellness.

Being that my manic episodes have both coincided with abstinence from alcohol, I’ve come to the conclusion that regular drinking truly does function similarly to a pharmaceutical regimen.  It’s not that I was stable when I was drinking—hell, I’m not “stable” on Lamictal, either. I still get angry and short and finicky and deeply negative sometimes, but both do prevent me from going up up and away. However, I now know that I just might have to go up up and away to clean out every last one of my old wounds and get to a new resting level of consciousness that is truer to my nature. (Psst: That nature is God, and it’s your nature, too.)

Here are a couple drawings of what alcohol does to consciousness and what happened when I stopped drinking:
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Everything comes up.

It bears repeating that consciousness is the underlying principle in all behavior, thought, and emotion. When it springs up, everything springs up, including the production of dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. Alterations in consciousness result in alterations of neurotransmitters, not the other way around. Scientifically speaking, the principle of neuroplasticity shows that there’s some higher thing that can guide/change the biological organism of the brain. We are capable of accessing this higher thing and using it to our benefit. 

This is amazing.

It is the ego which feeds on seeing itself as special in any way, even if that means being “the worst.” It just wants to be the most anything: Most good, most bad, ugliest, prettiest, most-in-pain. It doesn’t matter. The genuine “middle” (emotionally, materially, relationally) feels less preferable to the ego than the drama of being the best or worst. That’s because the ego’s whole thing is separation, and possessing qualities which others do not have makes us seem further from them, i.e. more separate.  All of these delusions of superiority and inferiority are simply a way for the unconscious ego to remain in charge.

There seems to be a misconception that ego inflation is always a good feeling. For instance, when we get a new thing that we don’t need, the “happiness” that results is the ego thinking “oh yay, I’m more now!” Being that it is “your” possession, its acquisition makes you feel a little bigger. This reinforcement of the ego is what fuels our culture of endless garbage and useless products.

But there are more insidious aspects of the ego that are harder to notice, such as when we cling to pain as an identity. Constant self-loathing is just as ego-based as pride, and it is from this frame of mind that suffering gets interpreted as precious. Don’t get me wrong: We are almost all super-highly-very-wounded. Western culture thrives on wounding its citizens, and the resulting hurt is real. The issue here is when we remain mired in our wounds because we unwittingly (or maybe even wittingly) feel that our darkness and hiding and sadness make us unique.

Healing of wounds requires radical self-love and an “I’m not messing around here” attitude. It is a sacred process. It demands that we compassionately sit with pain rather than automatically turning to behaviors of avoidance or making the whole thing into our own private soap opera.

On the other hand, egoistic self-hatred must be sustained with constant negative thought content. It is an unconscious process, but a very common one: When losing our pain means losing part of us, we may do anything we can do keep that pain, even if we sincerely think we don’t want it. Deep down, of course we don’t want to suffer (we simply don’t suffer, period), but the unconscious ego sure does:

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The ego interprets the loss of a pain identity as a negative thing, because it is becoming “less.”

This is why the idea of “depression” as a permanent condition doesn’t sit well with me. As soon as the diagnosis is built into one’s identity, the odds of healing drop dramatically. Sadly, it’s a persistent belief in the mental health field that certain emotional states are chronic and will always need “managing.”

This is false, and I hope to be living proof of it. As of this post, I’m three days medication-free. Please know that I won’t try to play it like I’m all good for the sake of what seems to be my truth. When and if I start losing my shit, I won’t be afraid to say so, and I’m not attached to being off medication. I do, however, have a strong intuition that doing this will eventually result in more frequently-felt union with the divine. I think that sounds a lot better than a life lived on a wobbly carousel bolted to the ground by a mood stabilizer and several IPAs.

– Lish

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