Conditioning, Narratives, Reality, The Ego, Well-being

Happy 4th!

Nations Are Illusory

There has never been a need to cut the world up into nations. There is land. There are climates. There are variances in topography and coordinates which correspond to unique geographic locations. But there is no such thing as a nation once you have become unconditioned.

What we refer to as “our country’s history” is a collection of stories passed down from one generation to the next.  Stories can be twisted to fit any agenda; they are the most manipulative device known to man. I could tell you stories about myself that would make me look awful, and I could tell you some that would make me look great. I expect the same is true of you. Neither one would be based in reality because reality only exists here and now; also, everything is so much bigger than any single story can touch. 

Stories are the things your mind holds onto in order to keep your ego intact, or in this case, the ego of the nation. And so, from moment to moment, I am a woman without a story unless I choose to make one up. I do this often—and we all do. The only question is whether or not we’re aware that that’s what we’re doing.

According the story that is perpetuated in American culture, today is Independence Day. Here’s that story as I see it: A few hundred years ago, some people freed themselves from the tyranny of one guy and went on to oppress a bunch of other people. In the following years, some people ended up way better off; others ended up way worse off. Today, the remaining people are among the richest, saddest humans in the world. Regardless of their comforts and rights, they remain neurotic. Many are outright miserable.

I know there are more poignant aspects I could focus on, and that with the right intonation and rhetoric of glory, I could say something  patriotic: “The founding fathers emancipated themselves from an oppressive, greedy monarch and went on to build a country based on the ideals of liberty and individual pursuit of happiness.” See?  I can do it; it’s just so obviously one-sided.

Anyway, if the goal was for us to be very materially wealthy and very psychologically ill, I’d say this thing is a great success.  But of course it wasn’t.  The goal was freedom, and we are still so far from it.

Freedom is a State of Being

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the US or against Independence Day; it’s meant to be a post discussing actual freedom.  I’m so totally pro-freedom that I want us to be free of nations.  I want us to be free of limiting beliefs.  I want us to be free of borders and security agents with guns and hostility towards one another.  I want us to be free of fearing our fellow humans and free of fearing death.  I especially want us to be free of fearing life. I want us to be free of suspicion. I want us to be free of fearing that at any moment, freedom can be taken away, so we best militarize and lock up.

True freedom can never be taken way, nor can it be granted by another.  It is an individual’s personal work to get and remain free of his/her limiting mentalities (and, of course, to understand what that “self” actually is). Someone who is retired with millions of dollars can easily be mentally enslaved. Someone who is in jail can live outside of the confines of the body and mind and dwell in a kind of peace that eludes everyone else.

It is the work of the collective to create functional communities wherein we don’t treat each other like equipment, constantly assigning value to one another. In this made-up lala-land I inhabit in my imagination and envision as a real possibility, we would give of ourselves as we could and accept when needed. No one would fear for their survival, thereby becoming free to devote energy to inner development. This is the place I want to live, and it is one I know can exist because I can think of it. It is also clear to me that creating such a culture is a requirement for allowing the Earth to heal itself from years of abuse.

The story I want to be able to say regarding the transformation of consciousness goes like this: “Humans freed themselves from their own oppressive minds, ceased to identify with illusions, and came together to clean up the mess they’d unconsciously made.”

What I am Free From

I get that this has all been very pie-in-the-sky: Nations dissolving, people treating each other with love, blah blah blah.  I know it seems like there are a million steps we have to take before we get there, but the truth is that awakening happens in just one moment. One click of light and it’s all over. The self that thinks of the self falls away. The self that is separate from others is revealed as a facade. It all seems so idealistic until you get a taste for it and begin to feel the changes within yourself.

Suddenly, it’s feasible: We really don’t have to keep waging war on this planet or on one another if only we could drop every single lie that stands between us. The war within us is the war without. The things that leave us feeling like we’re 50 different people all the time are the same things that divide us on the whole. Total system overhaul is dependent on us transforming ourselves and  moving forward consciously.

To round this little post out in a much more normal and personal note: Today is my 100th day alcohol-free! I didn’t plan it, and if I had, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. I’ll be spending the day playing outside, being with loved ones, watching fireworks, and drinking a bunch of nonalcoholic ginger beer and grapefruit soda. I choose to see today as a celebration of my freedom from alcohol addiction.

I’m working on a big post on alcohol right now: Why I don’t drink (it isn’t because I’m an alcoholic) and how I’ve practically spring-boarded from poor decisions, constant shame, and self-recrimination into positivity and actions that are more in accordance to who I know I really am just by giving it up.

The post will go up when it does, and until then, I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful summer. May you celebrate real freedom, as well—whatever that means to you.

Love,

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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Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being

About Stigma

The reduction/elimination of stigma towards mental illness is an admirable goal. However, as with most things related to mental health and society, I often see this issue discussed in a way that feels somewhat surface level.

There’s basically one main reason why stigma exists. Here’s a breakdown of it, and why stigma isn’t an isolated thing we can do away with by espousing more information in the form of statistics and stories (although I fully encourage you to share your stories—bearing in mind that they are just stories, of course).

No problem exists in isolation; all things are interdependent. This piece of knowledge is crucial to understanding ourselves and creating a healthier world.

Our current paradigm measures the worth of a human being directly by their economic output. For real. This is made obvious by the fact that people with less money die of treatable things all the time, even though the power of money is upheld by nothing but widescale delusion.

Stigma is not about people collectively misunderstanding the reality of mental illness. They’re actually seeing it clearly and noticing that those who are mentally ill tend to not to be so good at playing the do-career-get-stuff-climb-ladders game. One’s success or failure at this game determines whether or not they are valuable individuals in the eyes of the machine, and sadly, often in the eyes of the individual as well. This belief in turn compounds depression and anxiety because shame makes everything worse.

Whether or not you personally believe in this form of measurement (and I hope you don’t!), it is a view that gets conditioned into us by the larger culture day in and day out. This valuation of human life is where stigma comes from, and it is this deep-seated mindset about human “worth” that must be overturned before stigma can cease to exist.

Right now, I’m on leave from work because I’ve decided to discontinue my psychiatric medication. I’m feeling out my new brain, taking a lot of baths and naps, meditating, exercising, reading up on yogic psychology, writing, and generally doing whatever it is my body needs at any given moment. This whole process is necessary for me to be the healthiest (and best) me that can exist.  It also feels far more responsible than anything I’ve ever done.

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Common bed scene.

But essentially, I’m “doing nothing.” My current value through the economic lens is quite low, whereas someone who gets a lot done, spends money, and builds businesses is simply considered more important. This type of thinking is based on about a million layers of delusion that I’m not going to try and take down here.

It feels important to note that many “successful” people often have tremendous neuroses they are specifically trying to avoid/compensate for with big busy lives. The truer truth is that those who hoard resources at the expense of others are much sicker than a person who doesn’t want more than they need. They are unaware of their sickness; the lack of awareness is precisely what makes them more sick. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” applies here. Thousands of years later and it’s still simple unconsciousness which drives this system.

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I got this picture during Catholic mass when I was traveling through Ireland. I am not a Christian (or an anything -ist), but the guy knew what he was talking about.

I know I’m healing and growing in ways that will ultimately lead to new heights (whatever that means), but those things have no tangible function under this paradigm. Genuine human development (i.e. beyond an ego) is often discouraged and shied away from because of this. It’s like, if healing and growth don’t have an end result of more money (or love or whatever it is you’re lacking), what’s the point?

From the egoic perspective, progress can only be measured egoically, when there’s so much more to learn and gain outside of this construct. You can never know what the result of the path will be, because it requires deliberate steps into unknown territory. It is scary and comes with absolutely no guarantees.

But we can pretty much guarantee that if we remain attached to financial wealth as the defining feature of well-being and security, we will turn our backs on growth time and again. It’s not that money on its own is “good” or “bad” (and if your path brings it to you, awesome), but that many people see losing money as The Worst Thing, even when doing so is necessary to get well or to help others get well.

I have no reason to believe that my (or anyone else’s) highest potential will result in money. The vastness of human potential lies far beyond this little idea of success, and the feeling of having money cannot compare to the richness of touching the infinite inner dimension. Global change is dependent on understanding that material wealth always plays a very small role in one’s attainment towards abundant joy.*

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Genuine half-lotus smile. I also bought bought decaf today. I don’t even know what I am anymore, guys.

In the end, “worth” in and of itself is a conditioned delusion. We are all simply here, living and breathing and being. We have come with unique traits and talents; some of them lend themselves to financial wealth and others do not. Neither is better or worse. We can learn to appreciate the variations in human ability without measuring each other (and ourselves) in a crude, hierarchical way. And as always, the only way such hierarchies will begin to really fall away is when we individually cease to view each other through the limiting labels we cling to.

If all humans would see through all delusion at once, stigma would disappear along with a lot of things we know are very unhealthy for life on Earth.

*It’s getting a bit old seeing the word “abundance” thrown around as a synonym for “financially wealthy.” Right now, if you’re reading this, you are enough. That’s the whole truth and trick of being abundant.

Secondly, mental illness really can be quite scary and uncomfortable. I have a lot less to write on this matter, because that’s basically it. People who are in psychotic episodes can be totally unpredictable. Unless you’ve been there and/or had extensive training on compassionate care for fragmented human consciousness, witnessing these experiences can be unsettling. I say this as someone who has been acutely psychotic.

There’s a lot more to dig into about the fear of losing one’s mind, which a lot of people (particularly those who undergo major spiritual shifts) harbor. When the mind is “everything,” the loss of it is naturally interpreted as horrific. I’m not going to extrapolate on all that here, because it isn’t as directly related to stigma as the other stuff. Still, it feels relevant to mention that our fears of extreme madness are generally the result of us all being a little mad.

Given the complex and deeply-rooted nature of stigma, it can feel like “okay, so, what do we do?”

I feel this way about all the suffering in the world, and my answer is always the same: Cultivate a life based on eliminating the delusive ways you view yourself and others. Delusional beliefs are innumerable; there is always work to do. Most of us have dozens and dozens of them that go unexamined because the loss of a belief often results in external changes that the ego interprets as inconvenient or undesirable. (Plus it feels like we are “less,” and the ego never likes that.)

At the “end,” when you have at least a sliver of awareness about the nonsense you’ve been telling yourself, live from what you know with love and intensity. (I really am trying my best to do this.) Make the process the goal and there can be no such thing as failure. Commit to this path and remember that you’re always on it, even when you “fail” by judging and/or abusing yourself.

We’re not talking about quick-fixes anymore, friends, and we’re not talking about the “little I” that wants the path to result in ego-based success. We’ve gotten smarter than that. “Getting rid of stigma” will require a fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves, just like all other true change. We can do it.

Love,

Lish

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Meditation, Podcast, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Yoga

Happy Solstice!

Dear Readers,

I wanted to post something quick today in celebration of the solstice and to recognize International Yoga Day. Happy summer for now; happy divine union forever.

Full disclosure: I don’t do the yogic postures, and I don’t really know why. Okay scratch that—I meditate, which is a part of yoga, but that’s it. At this point I’m more interested in yogic philosophy and its overlap/departure from the mainstream points of view in the West.

On that note, here’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I recommend that everyone give it a once-over, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder:

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Gifted to me by someone I once considered “my unwitting guru.”

I’m also working on a bigger post about how this book has helped to integrate my awakening as well as view my “illness” (bipolar disorder, type 1) in a new light. Seriously, it’s awesome.

First up: My friend Jill and I recorded a podcast yesterday. We’ve decided to call it The Free Fall. 

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I also scored this (enormous) whiteboard from a friend. I’ve been receiving a lot of help and love lately, and when I start to think about the magnificence of these things, my heart can get overwhelmed. Thank you to all! ❤

Essentially, that’s what we’re doing whenever we make the choice to live in alignment with our souls. It takes courage to follow our intuition and do what we know we’re supposed to do (as guided from a deeper place, not external/societal parameters) even when it doesn’t make logical sense. We’re free falling from moment to moment, being okay with the fact that we’re here and breathing in the present moment. It’s the wide-open unknown we’re traversing, after all. We’re following the breadcrumbs and trusting; always trusting and being grateful for what we’ve been given, big or small.

The mind prefers neat, seemingly clear paths: Get the degree, get the job, get the house, get the marriage, get the stuff, and then you arrive at security. This is the story the mind makes up in order to serve the ego’s need for safety. Of course, life tends to throw things in the way, and many people find that once they’ve finally arrived in this configuration there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety.

There are many reasons for this, but it generally comes down to the fact that the truest parts of ourselves have been largely (if not totally) ignored in the ego’s grand plans. And, just like the rest of you, the soul wishes to be known, loved, and expressed. It’ll keep bugging you until all the parts are finally aligned. As always, I say: I’m not there yet! I’m always in process over here.

The first episode of The Free Fall will be up in the next week or so. It’s really just a thing Jill and I felt pulled to do, and after we got done recording it, we both felt so much lighter and freer. I feel very honored to share that space with her and with you.

And now, a few pictures I drew the other night when I felt like conceptualizing consciousness vs. the ego. I mentioned this in the podcast, I’ve mentioned it in other posts, and I will probably keep saying it until it feels understood: The ego isn’t a bad thing. The poor ego gets such a bad rap, and this is unnecessary.

I assume this categorization stems from our strong desire to have life be black-and-white, because this way of looking at the world is just easier for the mind to digest than the highly complex truth (so complex it becomes simple, really). Also, facing this complexity necessarily turns us to self-inquiry, and most of us have a lot of stuff in ourselves we’d rather not look into.

The ego is not bad; it’s just illusory. When we don’t know it’s illusory, we often make a mess out of life, trying to use this limited idea of what we are to get whatever it is we think we want:

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& one last thing…

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Love,

Lish

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Reality, Spirituality, The Mind, Well-being

What Consciousness Is

A lot of people think they understand what is meant by the word “consciousness,” and this is paradoxical because the mind cannot understand it. It’s like trying to explain water to a fish: It just is. It’s here; it’s everywhere. It is either experienced directly or not at all.

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You’re in it, you breathe it, and it moves you.

And yet here I am.

There has never been a more crucial time for humans to collectively realize the Truth. It has been crucial for a long time, but this whole Internet/globalization thing could actually be the key to getting us over the threshold. I don’t know how it’s all going to go, but I do know that the continued existence of human beings on this planet depends on raising our overall consciousness. This is the most important work we can do, for consciousness is the thing that gives rise to all beliefs and viewpoints (and the actions which stem from these things), for better or for worse.

Head’s up to any super-rational readers: Often, this stuff seems cool to talk about until suddenly it sounds like nonsense, and at some point it kinda does. I’m confident in my nonsense, but ask no one to accept it without consulting themselves first. 

Regarding the human mechanism, consciousness is:

  • The higher faculties which lead to behavioral changes, emotional regulation, and increased well-being: Higher human consciousness is where free will lives. It is where non-transactional, unattached (true) love abides. It is where the logic of forgiveness is made clear. Without it, we’d be stuck in our same cycles forever, continually holding grudges and living in fear. This is why mindfulness meditation is so beneficial for patterns of addiction as well as other forms of personal growth.
  • Woven into your very body, not just your brain: It’s the thing in you that knows how to make food into skin cells and to contract your heart muscle every few seconds. You have no control over these processes, and with a deadened view of life, they seem rote and unimportant. If we grasp the enormous sophistication of this instrument, we see how intelligent our bodies really are. Further along, we wonder what might happen if we could tap into the level of intelligence our unconscious bodily workings depend on. (I personally have no idea, but it is very exciting to consider.)
  • The quality of being awake: This is the most standard definition, but what do we actually mean by that? Millions of people walk around with their eyes open all day, utterly unconscious. It is easy to see when you pay attention. Those who are not sleeping often have no idea how much more intensely awake they could feel. But to be sure, it’s also that simple: Being conscious is to be alert, awake, and present, not just existing with eyes physically open.
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The machine beneath your ribs. Incredible.

Universally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The principle phenomenon underlying all that we can perceive: Emotions and thoughts, too. There are also many things floating around that we cannot perceive, such as invisible forms of energy (radio frequencies, infrared light, etc.). Deepening our awareness increases the subtleties we are capable of taking in. This can be awesome, but also feel like a burden in a world where such subtleties are not also perceived by those around you. Those of you who are sensitive will feel me on that.
  • A formless intelligence making all potential possibilities manifest. Nothing to extrapolate on here.
  • The one true reality: All that you see before you is an illusion held together by your mind*. What you think is “real” is based on the workings of the mind, and if it gets stretched beyond its capacities, your reality will also necessarily change (hello, psychosis). Thus there is no stable reality to be found externally. True reality lives in the inner dimension that can be uncovered with the uncompromising light of conscious attention.
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YOU.

*This is in line with the popular “we live in a simulation” stuff that’s going around. The idea of it being a simulation is accurate enough, but for me, that word removes our role in its co-creation. It’s like, “So what? I still hate my job and my marriage/body/state of mind within this simulation.”

Video game characters are pre-programmed to behave a certain way within their simulation; there can be no deviation from this. But as a human being, you can alter your programming by tapping into your higher faculties. If we want to call it a “simulation,” it is important to recognize that we are the junior programmers of this thing.

Rather than a simulation, I like to think of it like a lucid dream. We operate in a collective lucid dream, all too often acting like it’s soooo serious and totally missing the point that it’s a dream we can change—and quickly.

Existentially speaking, consciousness in pure form is…

  • A formless, timeless thing from where we come and to where we go: I really don’t want anyone to take my word on this. You’re the brainiest creature on the face of the Earth and you know how to think for yourself. This kind of spirituality does not dole out beliefs for people to attach themselves to for some kind of false comfort. Nonetheless, this is a truth I realized that one time I sort-of died, and so I am sharing it.
  • Not a thing you “have” but your truest identity: The ego loves to make consciousness into a “humans only” thing. It is treated as a unique tool for the ego to wield, and when thought of in this crude way, the world becomes a mess. Perhaps some of us extend this property down to our pets, and maybe some to insects, but that’s where the line generally ends. This limited view allows us to continue feeling special in comparison to the rest of Nature, and the ego indulges in specialness. If we place our attention in the aliveness that is inherent in Nature, we realize that all of it is conscious, albeit in a different way than us. You are Nature, too, and so you are it; you have simply come in a form hardwired with the ability to know this.
  • Life and death: The two are not separate or different and always exist in equal measure.
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Yin and Yang. For as cliche as this symbol has become, its implications and meaning are still entirely missed under our current paradigm.

Intellectually speaking, consciousness is…

  • Paradoxical: Getting comfortable with paradoxes is key. The mind won’t like it because the mind is much much smaller than this thing, and the ego wants “you” to remain small and identified with it. At some point, intellectualization has to take a backseat to the living world. If we cannot distance ourselves from rationality (which we often falsely equate with intelligence and as necessary for morality), we can never “get it.”
  • Frustrating: Pure consciousness cannot be proven to you by anyone else. It requires deliberate self-exploration of spaces that aren’t entirely comfortable. 

Globally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The thing that determines what is done with our cleverness: For physically modest mammals, we’ve done quite a number on this Earth, and it is all due to our cleverness. Cleverness split the atom; a low level of consciousness is what resulted in the bombs being dropped. Cleverness makes enormous scientific advances; low consciousness results in the fact that people are still dying of hunger when there is plenty of food in this world. Cleverness without consciousness is essentially what’s killing us. It is the combination of the two that has the power to lift this world into a holistically better place.
  • Still evolving: I almost said “rising,” but that implies progress from a human perspective. Some people ask, “If it’s rising, why does everything look more messed up than ever?” And the answer is that the ego has a death grip on those who cannot accept evolution and change; i.e. those who are exceptionally delusional and still in power. Just as a highly ego-identified person lashes out when the big reveal arrives, a highly ego-identified culture tries to close itself off just as things are starting to open up. Here we have your Brexits, your rigid borders (and proposed walls), and anger towards immigration and refugees. It’s just an unconscious preservation of the false self on a worldwide stage.
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Big shifts are occurring.


So there you have it. 1400 words that get you no closer to experiencing the heights of consciousness, but hopefully illumine why this thing is The Thing.

To any eyes that fall on this post, I send you love and light.

– 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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