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

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Depression, 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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Reality, Spirituality, The Ego

Your Ego is Always Dying

Although I avoid using words like “mission” and “purpose,” I will say that I have a loose goal with this thing: It is to write about human consciousness—the most powerful force on Earth and the biggest issue we collectively face—in a way that is relatable to those who are new to the journey. I could’ve really, really benefited from this information in the last couple years, but I largely ignored spirituality because it seemed so irrational.

When you start digging around for stuff related to “consciousness” online, you usually aren’t too many steps away from stumbling across some archangel-and-alien stuff. To me, it has always felt premature to go on about the “5th dimension” while millions of human beings (on this Earth, in this dimension) are starving to death. These are the kinds of things that need to be addressed, and this is what the rise of consciousness could solve very quickly.

There are ways to understand consciousness without going that far. In the end, firsthand experience is necessary for full awareness, but there are still precepts we can grasp along the way.  One of the most important concepts in all this is the ego: It’s everything you think you are (except you’re not).

The most common metaphor for the ego is a bubble. In my first post on the ego, I likened it to a balloon because I didn’t want to plagiarize the metaphor from some unknown lineage of buddhas. Don’t think I’m missing the irony here: My ego’s desire for specialness decided it should use a more unique analogy for itself even though the best one was probably thought up by a nameless sage many centuries ago.  The ego really delights in specialness.

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Air = pure consciousness.  The bubble’s surface = ego.

The metaphor works great for a few reasons:  Within the bubble—and the very thing which gives the bubble its shape—is air. No matter how big or small or how long it stays afloat, it is always made of air, and all bubbles are made of this same thing. Consciousness is the primary principle of the universe; it is that which imbues all that we can perceive, as well as that which lies beyond conventional sense-perception. Beyond the mind there is this thing. Within and throughout all phenomena, there is this thing. It is your true identity, and it is mine.

Secondly, the surface of a bubble is ever-moving. This is a response to the way the outside air interacts with its properties—chiefly, water and soap. The surface of a bubble is truly beautiful: A cluster of them may look similar, but a close looks reveals that they are all undulating independently, constantly acting out a subtle play of iridescence. And of course, because a bubble has no thoughts, it doesn’t resist this movement in a frantic attempt to find “stability.”

It does not try to force the outer environment to stop moving for its own comfort. Clearly this would be a ridiculous thing to do, and yet we do this all the time. Whether externally focused (as in desperately trying to control others and our surroundings) or internally focused (as in mentally resisting every situation we find ourselves in that doesn’t suit our desires), the human mind has great trouble simply being. Similarly, we struggle with allowing nature to simply be around us. The bubble, being mindless, simply behaves in accordance with its nature, within and without*. If stability is to be found, it will only be in the air within.

When we cease to fight the constant change of the outside world and abide in the consciousness within, we are in peace and in power. We each move in unique and beautiful ways: Higher essence animates the ego rather than conditioned impulses, and we become both exquisitely complex and very simple—just like the rest of nature is.

*The point is not to glorify mindlessness, of course, but to learn how to put distance between you and the mind.

I will reiterate again: The ego is the false self, or, if we prefer, “the temporary self.”  The ego is human; the ego is of a certain profession; the ego is race and gender and belief systems and even personality. These kinds of things are usually taken to, altogether, make up who we “are.” On our temporal surfaces, this is true, but considering how fleeting and fragile a biological human life is, we cannot find much safety in it.

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Another common metaphor is a shadow: Yes it exists, but only because our bodies do.

We can do incredible things with our egos: Play music, share stories with friends, write blog posts about our egos, dance, make love—everything.  It is this “separateness” which makes individual creation possible.  And yet we can also do horrific things with our egos: Kill others, make war, rape, abuse, and exploit one another as well as many other living beings. The ego on its own has no quality; it is the state of consciousness within that determines what is done with it.

The goal with the ego is not to drive it out or to “kill it,” as some people seem to think. The ego is a necessary part of this human experience: To move throughout the world independently, the ego is what holds you together. Without it, there is boundless expansion of consciousness.  That can be super fun (until it isn’t), but without assistance and understanding, it is not an experience that can be easily navigated.

The idea is to continually occupy a state where the ego is seen as a neat illusion. From here you can inhabit the pure consciousness—your true identity—within. This is the only place of true power and balance:

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When we are acting from an unconscious ego, believing ourselves to only be the surface of the bubble, we are prone to much suffering. We’re unstable and unsafe, constantly looking outside for security, where it simply cannot be found. This can result in frustration and derision (or reverence) of others who seem to have something better “figured out” than us.

As soon as we see shine the light of awareness onto emotions such as jealousy, anger, and pride (all based in the ego’s need to be separate, special, and “more” than “others”), we become a little more free. This psychological process of checks and balances can be demanding and seemingly endless, but, hey: Freedom. I am still very much in the phase of checking and re-checking the impulses I have that serve my unconscious ego. This usually occurs in the form of tiny thoughts that place me either “above” or “below” others. From a higher space, I know how absurd these thoughts are; that we are all on the same crazy ride. When I’m hurt or tired, it can be hard to remember this.

The ego thrives on false identifications. We cling to these identities because a loss of self can result in a meltdown if one is not prepared—take it from me. Even seeing oneself as “good” and acting in ways that are “compassionate” can lead to a superiority complex, and imagining ourselves like this denies the parts that are shameful and sick. Integrating the self into one whole being requires us to face this stuff—all of it. Ego-based goodness is limited in what it can achieve, because it is still delusive.

The process of setting aside/humbling the ego is seen in most spiritual journeys. Possessions are given away, family is left behind, and the mind is given a total work over to explore and dispel delusive ways of seeing the world. Basically, anything we’re using to make ourselves feel “complete”—including our believies—must go.

Giving stuff up is not merely done for the sake of generosity: What’s being done is a systematic, deliberate relinquishing of the ego. The idea is to discover what is left when all has gone away, and to avoid becoming identified with any Earthly thing:

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However, there is only one difference between someone who is “on the path” and someone who isn’t: Conscious recognition. Consciousness evolves just like everything else, and since you are conscious, you are evolving. It isn’t an opt-in/opt-out thing we have going. The shedding of the ego is an evolutionary leap that is usually made up of a lot of little steps. Sometimes it all collapses at once, and if this happens to you in a highly ego-identified culture, you’re probably going to have a bad time.

Whether or not you are seeking to go through the process of ego-shedding, your ego will be taken from you in death. And before then, it will be injured in myriad ways: Losing people and things you are attached to, offhand comments that offend you, self-created thoughts that harm you, societal “failures,” etc.—these are all things that weaken the ego. That is to say, your ego is always dying.

The question is only whether we are accepting of its pre-physical death in order to find the peace beyond it, or continually propping it up in search of transient safety.

– Lish

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