Culture, Inner Work, The Ego, The Mind

Anger & Ego Triggers

Today I want to talk about ego triggers and the wily, pernicious nature of the ego. The ego is a psychological entity that controls the vast majority of human beings, myself included. Spiritually speaking, the ego is the unique yet illusory identity we buy into as being our true selves. Living within the illusion of a false identity brings most—if not all—of the suffering we endure throughout our lives.

It’s like you’ve been playing Super Mario Brothers for so long that you literally believe you are Mario. Really, you’re a fully developed human playing a game. No matter how many times Mario gets wiped out by a turtle shell or falls off the edge of the Earth, the real you is going to be fine. “Enlightenment” is the sudden and abiding realization that you’re not actually Mario. The metaphor I described is experienced through your own consciousness, not merely understood conceptually. You step outside of all the limitations you were operating under during the many years you held such a delusive belief. It’s freeing and funny and if you want to keep playing you can, but you’re under no obligation, because jeez, it’s just a video game.

As you can imagine, it would create a lot of problems if you kept falsely believing you were Mario. You would be full of neurotic fear, only able to respond in pre-programmed ways, and constantly trying to stave off the inevitable “end of the game.” Now look around you and notice that almost everyone in the world believes they’re the characters they’re playing, too. This is the level of madness we are dealing with. The sincere belief in the ego as being ultimately real is the chief delusion in our species’ many layers of delusion.

Spiritual freedom comes down to becoming free of this illusion, free from the false you.

Usually, just as I’m feeling like “I’m actually kinda somewhat free,” something happens to prove me wrong. At this point, they’re trivial things since I’m no longer actively blowing up my life, but I still feel a sense of smallness and anger when they occur. Feeling small and angry is one of the most common ways we suffer in our culture, and for good reason: We were born into a giant machine of unconsciousness. Throughout our education we were systematically deceived and forced to be complicit in an order of subjugation we had no part in creating. When we become more conscious, the sheer enormity of all this can create a sense of powerlessness, and this is infuriating. What do we even do when the problem is this huge?

Back to the Mario metaphor: If we’re delusional enough to believe we are Mario, we’re definitely delusional enough to believe Mario’s world is real. Therefore, if Mario’s world (our physical world) is a disaster, we will feel acute anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear can be useful—if such emotions push us into growing up and tending to the world. Most of the time, though, we just feel paralyzed because we have to keep playing the game; thus we fall deeper into anxiety as everything falls apart. This is why truly seeing Reality is the long-term solution to suffering, as denoted by Buddhism and other Eastern religions. From this position we can use our characters to improve the state of affairs, but we also keep a peaceful perspective because we know it’s just a video game. We are most effective in this mode, when anger isn’t draining our energy all the time.

Prior to awakening from our egos but after noticing the rampant insanity of the species, we often want to do something good. It’s hard to know what really helps. Sometimes we get caught up in arguing with other people in the misguided belief that pulling someone around to our viewpoint will help. And yet, this so rarely happens: When people engage in arguments, particularly on incendiary issues, both parties usually just dig their heels into their existing positions. The result? Two delusive egos made more rigid, and zero shared humanity.

Before I began to really investigate my mind, anger was my predominant emotion. Until I was forced to, I didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) face that this anger was related to many more things than the issue at hand… like, really really old things that had nothing to do with the present situation. I would take on any heated discussion, and became disproportionately incensed about a lot of things. This is partly because there was a mess of deeply negative energy that had been pent up in me for years, and it sought to release itself in any way possible.

This is the main concern with carrying around old, unprocessed pain: It leads us to project a lot of bullshit onto every unrelated person and situation. We can easily sabotage relationships of all kinds in this way.

When I say “deeply negative energy,” I’m talking about something very real.

Another one of the helpful books I’ve read in my healing process Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The basic premise of this book is as follows: The traumatic events humans endure do not naturally release themselves the way they do in the rest of the animal kingdom. For instance, a gazelle’s life is threatened regularly on the savanna. Yet after every close call with a cheetah, they manage to return to baseline gazelle functioning without becoming hypervigilant and fearful at all times.

In human beings, the culprit of post-traumatic stress is the highly developed frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that gives us the capacity to reason and think abstractly; we owe our current domination of the world to this structure. Relating to trauma on a personal level, the frontal lobe overrides an instinctual process which discharges traumatic energy in other animals. Until we acknowledge and consciously let go of this energy in the physical body, it remains trapped, subtly pulling the strings in our interactions.

And about this word “trauma:” It’s so heavy, and many people believe it only refers to acts of war or long-term abuse. While these definitely fall under the category, trauma can also be the result of something like surgery, an accident, or emotional neglect. The body certainly perceives surgery as traumatic, and we know by now (or at least I hope we do) that separating body from mind is impossible. I also believe we’re pretty much all subconsciously dealing with trauma because the foundation of our culture is trauma, and our energy is not actually separate.

If you’re coping with latent trauma, I highly recommend the book.

An ego trigger is anything that makes you aware of the fact that you are still clinging to a special, false identity. In this case, I’m mostly talking about anger, which is always felt due to a perceived threat. Truly, the only thing that can be threatened is the ego. Who you really are is invulnerable and immortal. You know these triggers as soon as you feel the need to defend something you did/said, the desire to make someone else wrong, or if you lash out even when nominally challenged. Even enlightened beings have egos—they are just totally conscious of their egos, and these egos are not as fixed as Mario.

On the path, rather than desire the world not to trigger our egos, we understand that having our egos triggered is an opportunity for practice. It lets us know that our delusional self still lurks in the mind, probably driving most of what we do in life. Ego triggers are like a blaring sign that say Keep doing your work. From here we can look at what triggered us and what false self-beliefs are wrapped up in it.

The solution, as always, is to be aware. I can reliably notice that my ego has been triggered when I become physically hot, flushed, and on edge. I start making up all kinds of reasons why it was wrong for someone to do or say whatever they said/did. It’s a dark kind of self-boost that I know makes me less pleasant to be around. I become preoccupied with the (ridiculously small) incident and agonize over it. I believe it is a literal form of temporary insanity to be caught up in this way of thinking and feeling. It creates a blindness to what is really in front of me. Luckily, the more I watch it, the less power it has to get me to continue a fruitless argument or run my mouth.

If someone’s unconsciousness creates an intensely charged trigger within you, it is because you have unconsciousness to dispel within your own being. It’s not “their fault” for “making you” feel mad. In order to be free, we have to look at ourselves instead of placing the blame elsewhere. For as much as we try, we can never change others. The spiritual path is one of great individual responsibility: You hold no one else accountable for your behaviors and feelings, but also learn not to self-blame. It’s a delicate balance, but very rewarding when you finally start to get your house in order.

It is a mistake to try and make the world psychologically comfortable for us. It simply cannot be done. Even if we succeed in doing this once in a while, we miss an opportunity to face our most difficult emotions and tend to them accordingly, thereby becoming more emotionally resilient. Though I would love to live in a vastly more compassionate world, we cannot control what hurtful words people may say. Trying to forcibly control people’s speech results in a sense of suppression and greater anger. I do not want to live in the culture where people use the “right words” yet feel coerced and pissed off inside. To some degree, I already am living in that culture, and it doesn’t seem to be fostering much more peace or dampening our collective anger at all… in fact, it seems to be doing the opposite.

Also, when you’re extremely sensitive (and I am), the entire world becomes an emotional trigger. For me, seeing a 2-year-old stare at an iPad during his lunch can trigger deep anger and sadness. Seeing construction for retail space on the lot I thought would make a nice community garden also triggers anger and sadness. Reading the same tired political arguments on Facebook triggers… you guessed it, anger and sadness.

My ego-identity is furious at seeing humanity in this state, and furious at how rarely people seem to regard their own minds as being just as problematic as anything else. What this highlights is that I still have some delusions to burn down. Fortunately, I do try to be wary of placing the problem elsewhere: These are my emotions to own and navigate; they are part of this life experience and no one else’s responsibility to deal with. They can be a blessing if I use them to fuel my growth and creative endeavors, or a curse if I stew in them, believing they are the fault of someone else.

One thing is for sure: If we wait for the whole world to transform before we can be at peace, we will be imprisoned forever.

– lish

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Awakening, Conditioning, Enlightenment, Mental Health, Spirituality

Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– Lish

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Awakening, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Spirituality, Transformation, Truth

Notes on the Truth

The most confounding concern for any spiritual seeker is this: “How?” How do we “become enlightened?” How do we realize the Truth? How to we realize the Self? How do we stumble upon that which we really are? How do we become that which is infinite, changeless, and formless in our own consciousnesses, not simply in theory? Usually, for some amount of time, the mind is obsessed with the how, and chases after the moment of awakening like one might chase after anything else.

But if there is anything we can say about Truth, it is that it is paradoxical and does not follow any fixed laws. I will not lie and say there is a predictable way to attain it (nor am I fully comfortable with using words like “attain” for it). At best I can offer some tools that have helped to integrate my awakening, but it would be dishonest to say I was looking for what “I” re-discovered in myself, or that there is any particular method by which it occurred. It came out of nowhere in the midst of a life that felt rather saturated in problems. My entire being was blindsided by it, and this created a big mess. This is why I advocate for gradual, sane awakenings.

There is no logical consistency to it, truly no “path,” and no guarantees about it. Realizing Truth stands in stark contrast to every other “goal” as we are taught to approach it. We are conditioned to believe that anything worth having must be ardently striven for. To experience the Self outside of this conditioning, you even have to let go of the idea that Truth can be “gotten” in such a way.

I have no answer to the “how,” except to say that there is no surefire “how.” I believe anyone who says they do have a definite “how” is either lying or mistaken.

One of my favorite quotes is that “enlightenment always happens by accident, but practice makes us accident-prone.” If you are out of practice, it can still happen; it’s just going to be a lot more intense (and not necessarily in a good way) when you wake up. I invite you to read this piece by Osho on “accidental enlightenment” if you’re interested.

One metaphor I particularly like is that enlightenment is similar to being struck by lightning, and following a conscious spiritual path turns you into a lighting rod. If you take up practices, keep yourself sober and healthy, read books by reliable sources, and follow your heart in life, your being is probably at a place where it is drawing nearer to enlightenment (or vice versa.). You make yourself more likely to “get hit” in this way. Even better, if this lightning strikes, it will be channeled through you in a much better way than if you do nothing to cultivate your consciousness ahead of time.

It is also prudent to view self-realization with just as much respect as we do literal lightning: It can bring with it a sense of pure power. In someone who is spiritually immature (as I was, and am still growing out of), this energy is really not wielded well at all. To continue following this metaphor, we have to imagine someone very strong who has the presence of mind to calmly withstand being struck by lightning. I don’t know if this is possible, but let’s pretend: You could end up running around like a maniac, caught on fire by your realization (without practice), or standing in awe of the totality of this power, allowing it to surge through your being and inform you of what, if anything, to do next (with practice).

When we wake up, it also becomes clear that the Truth has been with us the whole time; it has only been temporarily covered over with various attachments, illusions, and other mental clutter. It is like remembering you have a fortune when you believed you were bankrupt or waking up in the arms of your lover during a dream in which they have died: There’s a wash of relief for sure, and also a great deal of joy upon seeing your own mistake in believing things were not always this way. In the face of Reality, your former ignorance is revealed as a kind of joke.

I have made metaphors like this before, and I will continue to do so: Trying to be enlightened is like “trying” to have a heartbeat. It is always there, and always has been. Still, you can bring more awareness to your heartbeat; then maybe one day it just pops into your conscious mind: The steady, life-affirming rhythm you never could have existed without becomes eternal in your awareness.

When you the see the Truth that lives inside of you, all mysteries and maladies of the human condition become clear and even simple to resolve: “All” we have to do is realize the Truth. A good skeptic will not believe this, nor should they. And even though the words may seem too trite and childish to carry weight—“just realize the Truth”—what I am actually speaking of is completely revolutionary, healing, and hilarious when it is realized. It is not what you think it is.

So what is the Truth? I am not going to define it, in part because it cannot be defined. Truth never changes and yet it never repeats; how could any honest person define such a thing? Every person really does have to look for themselves. Anyone who has encountered the Truth will know they cannot adequately “explain” it to you, nor will they ask you to accept anything they say unquestioningly. This is another issue I take with religious institutions: These organizations often insist that followers “must” accept certain things in order to be known and loved by God. The main problem with all this “you must accept x prophet as The Best Savior” stuff is that it is patently False. God requires nothing of you or anyone else. God is unconditional acceptance, nonjudgmental observance, and pure awareness of All That Is. This space is also within you, and it can be realized. To say otherwise is to trivialize and make a mockery of God: Imagining this God has jealousies, preferences, and plays favorites? What we are thinking of here is an ill-mannered yet popular teenager, not the Almighty.

Secondly, getting people to stop seeking by handing them the “correct” beliefs robs them of their opportunity to truly discover it. To me, this is the most tragic part: Clinging to and/or identifying with fixed mental positions means you have wrapped your purity up in a costume. Truth reveals itself once we give up our identifications, so when we try to goad someone into picking up an identification (as a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.), we effectively halt their spiritual growth. Anytime we “add” layers to ourselves—of belief or philosophy—we evade abiding in that pure state. Of course, those who dole out the “things that must be accepted” are not aware that they’re actually preventing the true spread of God in this world.

No one who has had this realization will claim they can give it to you. Instead they will ask you to look inside yourself, find your own answers, and never give up. They may suggest that you don’t make “enlightenment” a goal per se—indeed it is not “your” goal to achieve—but keep the thirst for realization close at heart.

In my quite limited wisdom, I would suggest not overthinking it, but seeking clarification from qualified teachers and books. There are many qualified teachers, but finding one requires some amount of spiritual discernment, since anyone can learn to simply say words about “existence” and “Truth.” Behind all this talk, there may be an ego seeking admiration and praise, or even just an ego that now assumes the role of a “spiritual teacher,” as if that means something fixed, with some superior sense of moral righteousness. With your own practice—meditation, reading spiritual books, breath work, journaling, yoga, or anything that truly stills your mind—you will begin to build up this kind of spiritual discernment. Dharma talks and satsangs will resonate in ways they did not before. You will develop “an ear” for those who are telling the Truth, and an equally astute sense for disingenuousness.

It is extremely helpful to find at least one spiritual friend you trust and clarify your knowledge together though conversation. I believe that two intelligent people looking inward can spark plenty of insight, even if neither has been “struck by lightning.” Asking is beautiful because it means we don’t know everything. It is always a humble act to ask questions. We must always accept that we really don’t know, and avoid falling into the trap of thinking we know much of anything at all. At some point accumulated knowledge even starts to feel like baggage—it just takes up space and it doesn’t get you closer to your Self.

Then, in one instant, the Truth arrives subtly and yet blindingly obvious. It is just the Truth.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Culture, Spirituality, The Mind

Karma, Awareness, & Cultural Change

Apparently some people use words like “karma” to explain why others live in extreme poverty, or why awful things like human trafficking and widespread exploitation exist. I find this both ignorant and without compassion. It is very simple: We are collectively ill because we are individually ill, and vice versa. The illness I am talking about—as written about briefly in this post—can simply be called “conditioning.” We are conditioned to take on a great number of beliefs, none of which are rooted in our original being.

Discovering your original being and abiding in it is what “enlightenment” and sanity are all about. Doing so neutralizes all karma. I believe it’s Mooji who has a beautiful metaphor of pure consciousness being like a zero: Multiply anything by it and it is always zero. Even 10 billion times zero is zero. All the evil in the world, if it touches this thing, can become still, perfect, and empty. Everything is stopped and made new in an instant.

I never planned on writing about “karma,” for the same reason I didn’t really think I’d be using words like “spirituality:” It’s contaminated. It is not well understood. It is used, like many other concepts, to excuse people of their responsibility to their fellow human and/or to gloss over huge systemic concerns: Why do bad things happen to people? It’s their karma. This is a crazy oversimplification, and I really expect us to know better than this. In our culture, even if it we don’t call it “karma,” plenty of people believe that others have impoverished, difficult lives because they “chose” or “deserve” it. 

Yes, we either consciously or unconsciously create the situations in our lives. But we also collectively create this entire world (also either consciously or unconsciously). We can change the likelihood of certain events for ourselves and others by becoming more aware of this tremendous creative power. The things that happen to us—good or bad—are individually and collectively created, because every event depends on every other event. Everything inter-exists and inter-occurs. That means we are all responsible for the fact that poverty, war, starvation, and exploitation are a part of our world.

Breaking out of cycles of abuse, trauma, and dehumanization requires greater consciousness of these realities, plain and simple. This movement towards consciousness can be as grand as a “big-E Enlightenment experience” or as simple as becoming aware that you are breathing once in a while. Every little bit helps.

Greater consciousness alone can ensure a not-horrible way of being for our species. Every external change is a reflection of this internal movement, and the best way to create change is to approach our world from the inside-out: We start with our own minds first. If we do not do this, we run the risk of simply putting a fresh coat of paint on a house that is actually burning to the ground.

I’m going leave the whole “past lives” thing out of it as well, because this idea treats “lives” as if they are separate and different from one another. Everything is life; it is simply perceived through different bodies and minds across space-time. And we are never really individual threads of consciousness; it only appears and feels that way. Also, fixation with the past is one of the most insidious problems our conditioned minds have.

Along these lines, I find past-life regression—along with hypnosis and “channeling”—to be little more than a distraction from what needs to be done here and now. This is not to say that sometimes hypnosis and/or other forms of mind-work aren’t therapeutic—they surely can be. But if it is Truth we are after, we must know when we’ve done enough work in this realm. We must come out of our trances and be here, awake and in reality. And although meditation may look like a trance, it is not. Its goal is to help us become more conscious of this moment and of ourselves rather dipping into an un- or subconscious state.

We can go very, very deep into the conditioned mind without finding the Truth, and in fact are only more likely to get further away from it by these means. I don’t regard activities like “channeling” with any more seriousness than I do watching football or getting stoned. It might be fun to some people, but it’s delusional to imagine we know more about existence and/or the universe by doing these things regularly.

The way I think of karma is very simple, and not rooted in anything but common sense and experience with breaking out of patterns: We are bodies of energy exchanging energy. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we are constantly putting out energy and absorbing it as well. If we are unconscious of all this, we are likely to trap ourselves in certain unpleasant energetic loops when we do or say things rooted in anger, fear, or self-hatred. We will be forced to face what we’ve put out there (not to mention all the not-great energy that’s already out there) until we become more conscious of what’s happening. The way we “break free” from karma is by abiding in the pure awareness underneath all of this energy, which has no inherent “goodness or badness.” Awareness is that great neutralizer, that big zero.

When it comes to energy (which cannot be fooled or faked), actions alone are not the strongest part of the equation. It has more to do with intent and how separate we imagine we are from those we believe we are helping. Do we feel fundamentally different from the one we are helping? Do we fancy ourselves saviors for “those poor less fortunate folks?”

There is a lot of presumption in this line of thinking: First, it assumes that one’s external circumstances are a predictor of their happiness, and this is simply not true. I have seen some very miserable people and some very happy people in my life, and material comforts tend to play a small part in their attitudes. One’s true happiness does not correspond to wealth or societal status. Secondly, we become totally cut off from our kinship when we separate people into categories like “the needy” and “the helpers.” We create more division this way, and it is not an accurate reflection of our shared humanity.

If we donate some amount of money to the poor with the goal of “shoring up karma” or to brag about our good deed, our donation is obviously rooted in the egoic mindset. There is a different feeling we have when we act from the heart: If we help, it is because it just happens on its own. If we give something, there are no expectations that something will ever be returned. The “transactional nature” of life falls away. There is no more “I gave you this so you owe me that.”

From this state, kind deeds happen because they must happen. That is often how I feel about writing this blog, not knowing who (if anyone) will read it, what it will mean to them, or if I will benefit from doing so. Something wakes me up in the middle of the night and moves me to write something, and so I do that. It is not the same as when we give or create in the hope of some tangible reward.

The essence of of pure* doing versus egoic doing is as follows: One presupposes something better will come for the small “I;” the other bears in mind that the small “I” does not exist. One is full of effort to “do a good thing;” the latter just seems to happen. This is why people who commit “acts of heroism” don’t always feel comfortable with the flattery that follows: When they were being brave, they were just moved from an intuitive, deeply human place. They did what they felt anyone would do.

It is doing in this way that is probably “good for your karma,” but by this time we have already seen through the falseness of “your” karma and “mine.” These are all energy exchanges, neither good nor bad and neither “mine” nor “yours.” And why is this? Because, of course, “you” and “me” are just mental constructs. I have to keep coming back to this point, because we are encouraged to forget this truth all the time.

Still, we can be happier mental constructs and we can occupy a more beautiful and open collective dream, and that is what spirituality leads to when it is practiced honestly.

*The word “pure” has this kind of chaste, moralistic connotation. That isn’t how I mean it. The kind of purity I am talking about is a feeling, a certain unobscured clarity of mind. A synonym for a “pure heart” might just be an unconfused heart: There are no snags to its movements or desires, as well as no need to explain itself.

– Lish

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

How Awakening Feels

There are lots of posts out there about this topic: “10 Signs of a Spiritual Awakening,” “The Top Symptoms of Awakening,” etc.

I decided to title this post “How Awakening Feels” because making a list of the things that you might be seeing externally is contrary to the fact that waking up necessarily happens within. It’s not about what things you’re drawn to, what coincidences you’re noticing, or even what changes you’re making in your life. Plenty of people move towards healthier ways of life and experience synchronicity without dismantling their egos. These can be wonderful things, and they may signify that something about your consciousness/way of perceiving the world is shifting. Still, that’s not quite what we’re getting at here.

Waking up may not translate to any great outside change immediately, though it likely will at some point unless you were hyper-aware beforehand. Due to our culture of unconsciousness, most of us are not.

Sanity & Who You Really Are

I don’t care for the word “symptom” when it comes to waking up. It implies illness, when that’s the exact opposite of what’s happening here. Rather than “coming down” with some kind of disorder or disease, you’re actually becoming sane in a way that not everyone gets to experience this time around.

Our collective madness is deep enough that we do not often recognize the validity of this process. That’s why sometimes people experiencing intense ego collapses and/or awakenings can get all kinds of diagnostic labels thrown at them, usually of the psychiatric variety. These diagnoses can act as a hindrance to further growth, but that’s a whole different topic for a whole different post.

To be clear, when I say “waking up,” I mean knowing in an instant who really you are, and knowing Reality because it’s just right here. In Reality, who you are is not different than who anyone else is. This statement is an affront to the unconscious ego, which spends almost all its time defending what is special and different about who it thinks it is. This is common even (and sometimes more so) in spiritual circles.

As we awaken, we find that individuality and separateness—two things our culture deeply cherishes—are nothing but great illusions. However, this is not a negative revelation that says “you live once and then you die, becoming forever unconscious.” Instead, this a positive revelation that lets you know “you’ll live forever as one with everything and everyone else.”

As always, it is not enough to believe these things. Plenty of people “know” we are all one, and/or believe we live in a hologram, and/or think that “nothing really exists.” First of all, this is an oversimplification. Secondly, most people who say such things still very much live in their ego stories. This isn’t meant to be a judgment so much as a testament to the weakness of mental positions alone. The mind can gather so much information, and yet the person can be totally unconscious of why they do the things they do. (Even worse, they are usually clever enough to think they know why they do the things they do.) We can easily make a seemingly deep statement like “everything is impermanent” while carrying on with our jealousies and grudges. Truth must be made real in your whole being, outside of the mind. This is how we become liberated and step into great power.

Who you are is not separate from God, which can (in part) be described as a limitless field of pure, perfect consciousness. This consciousness is in all things; it is that which you can experience and that which you can’t. It is nothing and everything, the Alpha and the Omega, etc.

Beneath various attachments, fears, doubts, and about a gazillion layers of conditioning, that’s what you really are: Perfect, timeless, ever-conscious, ever-alive. It is more beautiful than the word beautiful can denote; it is more still than the mind can fathom.

It is my deepest wish for every human being to know this space within themselves, and let it guide them towards a life of wellness, joy, and authenticity.

No Two Snowflakes…

Awakening goes differently for everyone.

Mine, for instance, has been rather chaotic. I didn’t know anything about spirituality beforehand, as my preconceptions led me to take a “no thanks” attitude towards it. Furthermore, I believed my thinky mind could find all the answers I’d ever need, and my ego was built around a hurt little soul who really didn’t want anyone to see or help her. When the ego starts to fall apart and this hurt is exposed to us for the first time, the vulnerability can be excruciating.

In spite of the fact that there are probably as many different “stories of awakening” as there are buddhas, we ultimately all see (and become) the same thing. This isn’t along the lines of “well you have your truth and I have mine.” While diplomatic, that statement is way off the mark. This may work for arguments and mental positions, but we’re working on a different level here. Capital-T Truth is the same for everyone who sees and becomes it, and no prophet or religion can have a monopoly on it.

This thing is that vast field of pure consciousness, and man, it’s really powerful. I cannot stress this enough. No matter how much energy or kundalini or LSD or whatever you’ve experienced, it does not compare to the raw, clean power of pure consciousness. It feels like everything you do is completely effortless. You’re not moving your body, your body’s just being moved. Even right now, as I compose this blog post, it feels that way: “I,” lish, am not writing it—it actually feels preposterous to take personal credit for anything I’ve written. It is simply being done; this body and mind are secondary.

This thing is powerful enough to heal you and move you into a new way of being. It’s also powerful enough to heal us collectively and move us into a sane way of living on this planet—if that’s what we choose. Of course, first we’d have to decide that we really want it, that we’re finally ready for the Truth.

And yet, the ego resists. Like any other entity, it doesn’t want to die. We’d have to be really sick and tired of this strange carousel to decide it’s time to jump off—especially because we don’t know what’ll happen to us if we do.

It takes a lot of courage, and no one but you gets to decide when that time is.

Common Feelings in Awakening

Of course, “feeling” isn’t quite the right word. Feelings exist on a mind/body level. Awakening occurs on a soul/consciousness level, a part of you that can easily go ignored all your life if you don’t feel moved to pay attention to it. So, feelings are expressions of this thing, and consciousness moves through them. But when it comes down to it, it’s just really simple and really clear. It’s not an emotion; it’s not even a “sensation” or an “experience,” even though those are words I sometimes use for it. The moment I will describe is of clarity and purity and simplicity and goodness.

And, to get technical, this blissful moment is not necessarily the same as the final “extinguishing” of craving and the personal “me.” It’s more like a strong hit to the ego which triggers an arising of new growth within. Trying to deny and suppress this growth process will suck. A lot. Genuine awakenings pull you along whether you like it or not.

I see this first spiritual experience as the little kiss from God promising me ahead of time that I’d be okay and that it would all be worth it, even though everything was about to get super difficult. Without it I might’ve folded shortly after the mental hospital, succumbed to my diagnosis, and never felt empowered enough to speak the Truth.

Instead, I had this incredible thing to hold onto until I was ready to let it go.

Super important: These feelings were, in time, obscured by the return of more familiar (awful) feelings. It was almost like they came back with a vengeance. During the journey towards integration of the awakening, it was like my mind wanted to punish my ego for thinking it could vanish so suddenly, and it definitely did this.

Before I go too far on that tangent, let’s talk about the feelings that immediately came after this first spiritual wake-up call:

Aha!: It’s instantaneous, like you just suddenly know, even if you’re not clear on what it is that you know. I think I described it to some friends as an “epiphany.” In a Zen book, I read of the comparison that it can be like “running into an old friend,” and I like that. It’s like running into a dear old friend you haven’t even thought about in years, but oh my god, you love them so much and here they are giving you a hug!

Extreme relief: I once felt like I had so. many. problems. Addiction, abandonment fears, obsessions, insecurity, self-hatred, worldly failure, lack of purpose, isolation, disconnection, chronic shame… it was a shitshow in there, you guys. In that moment, these things simply flew away like birds from a wire. An enormous weight dissolved from my heart, and it was so relieving to know I didn’t have to feel that way anymore.

Humor/hilariousness: And what, exactly, had I been so concerned with anyway? It seemed super funny to me that I ever imagined I’d been so trapped. It was just like “duh; you’re loved.” I even called to mind some of the things that used to have me all stuck in shame—the torches I carried for ex-boyfriends being most significant. I laughed at the person who thought any of that had ever been a big deal. Because it wasn’t. Like, at all.

Joy: There was a flooding of joy that resulted in some happy, hysterical crying. “Oh my god, everything is fine,” I thought. I had the sense that I always would be fine. I have mostly hung onto this knowing ever since this moment, though it has been forgotten on occasion.

Deep peace and stillness: You know how it feels to have an obnoxiously overactive mind? I expect you do, because we’re encouraged to develop this kind of mind in Western culture. Now imagine that the volume on your  loud mind has been cranked down by about 80%. This was the most disorienting part for me. My mind had been a huge part of my identity (like it is for most of us), and so to “lose” my precious thought content was an even deeper jab to my already-bleeding-out ego.

These feelings occurred in the span of a few hours. It was great and really strange.

After a few days, I was in full-blown “wtf is happening to me?” mode. The meaninglessness sunk in and my mind was pretty disgruntled at being tossed from the throne. Confusion invaded my being like an alien presence I hadn’t asked for. This is when things got weird, and worse, and eventually culminated in a glorious catastrophe I could sum up as “Winter 2015/2016.”

More on that at some point in the future.

– Lish

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Awakening, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind

The Future of Awakening

Enlightenment could be* something we see more and more of in the coming generations. Due to the rampant destruction of our home planet, moving past the ego is really the only evolutionary card that remains: We have conquered all other forms of life, temporarily outsmarted the process of natural selection, and increased our numbers at a staggering rate. The cleverness that has allowed for this to occur is precisely what’s killing us, because our minds have not yet been cracked open by great consciousness.

We are, by and large, still at the level of the egoic mindset—the sincere belief that we are separate, special entities consisting primarily of body, mind, and not much else. It isn’t that this belief is false so much as that it’s a very small piece of the real picture. What you are is limitless, but living from the personal ego is inherently limiting.

This internal change is only thing that can bring us deep peace in times of chaos. It will allow us the equanimity to be generous when we ourselves may be living in scarcity, as well as the power to decide how we want to experience life even if things are burning to the ground (which they likely will.). In short: Widespread enlightenment is the only thing that will get us through the apocalypse. It even can dramatically change how the entire thing goes down.

Now, I know “apocalypse” is kind of an alarmist word, but I mean it in a good way. The literal Greek meaning for apokálypsis is “an uncovering.” Wikipedia says this: “In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden, ‘a vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.’” Is it not clear that we are living at the threshold of the apocalypse, both in layman’s terms (the world as we know it is coming to an end) as well as the religious way? When we pay attention, it becomes very obvious, as well as what we need to do about it: Wake up. Uncover those heavenly secrets and live by them. Everything else is just treading water.

This is the widespread movement towards true sanity. Just by reading this post, you’re a part of it. By becoming more aware of yourself as a truly conscious being (not just a conditioned mind in a human body), you will play a huge part in our internal revolution. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

What is Awakening?

I’d like to be clear on what I mean by “awakening.”

To many, “awake” means “being aware of social/environmental issues and injustices.” It means activism, speaking out against certain things, and becoming more conscious of what we consume. While admirable, that’s not what we’re talking about in terms of spirituality. In fact, devoting ourselves to forcibly creating change in the outside world is often a distraction from the chaotic mess inside. And it goes deeper: When we wake up, we see that just about everything we’ve done from a less-conscious position was nothing more than a distraction, something we did to avoid ourselves.

I once had many reasons to avoid myself. I lived dishonestly, but couldn’t fully see it because when the dominoes start to fall you’re likely to lose your shit. Without training, we often resist the Truth at all costs. And while I am still in the process of melting away my reflexive ego, I know without a doubt that I am pure consciousness. The mind/ego often pulls me away from this knowing, but the more I watch it, the easier it becomes. Life begins to flow more effortlessly and peace becomes my default mode.

So what is “waking up”? It is waking up to who you truly are, and who you truly are has nothing to do with your worldly identities. Waking up is an immediate re-connection with the Absolute (or the Divine, if you like), followed by a sustained choice to stay in this place. It is waking up to ultimate Reality, which is limitless and unknowable by the conditioned mind.

And it really is felt like that: A shaking awake from a strange dream where you sincerely felt like you were a particular person, that certain things were very important, and that you needed x, y, and z to be comfortable. These things (and many more delusions) just start to melt and fade. If we can relax into it, spiritual growth can be an enjoyable challenge, rather than a long, harrowing episode of “wtf is going to happen to me?!”

By the way, this aforementioned episode is only ever harrowing to the ego. It will be the one screaming. The true you is always totally fine, safe, and at peace. But after you wake up, the ego’s days are numbered. It knows this, and does not go quietly. Your mind will try to convince you of many, many things to keep you under its control. Learn how to stay aware of all this (rather than engaging), and you, too, can become a free, unlimited being.

Witnessing the Ego

Awakening is still a rather rare phenomenon. I don’t know why this is, other than the fact that our seemingly slow growth is part of the play of consciousness. When Reality (us, Truth, Self, same-same-same) is seen and fully incorporated into your being, it can seem preposterous that you were ever so unconscious, and that so many people still are very unconscious. What are they doing? Who do they think they are? Why are they in such a hurry to get to the next place where they’ll likely be dissatisfied?

The newly awakened ego can get really caught up in such questions (which are actually judgments). We have to learn how to watch frustration rise in our beings. There are many opportunities for practicing this every day. We become truly grateful for these opportunities, even if we’re gritting our teeth at the time.

This “watching” is probably the most powerful skill to develop as you come into your awakened self. Once it sees that it’s on the way out, your ego will try to reassert itself over and over and over again. The simple watching of it—its sneaky mechanisms that try to pull you back into being a small and suffering person—will eventually starve it out of existence.

This is what it really means to be “self-aware.” You are aware of your true Self, and just as importantly, you are aware of those things that are non-self: Your emotions, your ego, and your thoughts. They unfold within you, but they’re not you. They’re fine for now, but not worth paying attention to when the rest of you is actually infinite.

Enlightenment vs. Worldly Awareness

When I say “awakening is rare,” I mean on a real, soul level. There are plenty of us who mentally understand the concepts of the ego and pure consciousness. However, when we look around, we find that the vast majority of us are still not living from our true identities. We are, by and large, quite caught up in projections about how the world “should” look and investing our energy into external issues that will never actually be resolved without widespread internal transformation.

Sometimes, we blame individuals for the state of the world. When we’re feeling a bit smarter, we blame “systems.” Do we see the insidious nature of blame? All of the problems are placed “out there,” onto someone else, even though our interpretations for the world are created in our own individual minds. We happily ignore the structures in our own minds that create these systems, because doing this kind of looking can really create a sense of discomfort.

I don’t want to sugarcoat the spiritual process in any way: To the ego (which we are most likely operating as), this unfolding can be extremely rough. Spirituality still has a reputation for being this kind of dreamy, lofty thing. From my old ego, I imagined it like that, and then I got my ass handed to me.

Spirituality actually is existential, undeniable, solid, and life-changing. Awakening can be felt severely, and it even has the power to drive you literally insane. I believe this is especially true for those of us who are enculturated to the Western ways of seeing the world, which revere mental aptitude—even though this aptitude rarely buys us happiness. (The perils of our overactive, unmastered minds is evidenced in part by our astonishing rate of mental illness.)

Often, we don’t like to admit that our anger, derision, and tearing down of others is just as harmful as anyone else’s. The ego always feels justified in having these emotions and acting them out. But, underneath the many reasons why “our hate is more okay than their hate,” there is the same energy, and we can’t argue with energy.

Our cleverness has been trying to argue with energy for a very long time, and yet we keep digging ourselves into a deeper hole. Sometimes, when violence (aka traumatizing someone else) temporarily “wins” us something, we think we’ve beaten the universe… and yet here we still are, traumatizing one another. (This is not a blanket statement against all violence, because there are no blanket statements that are true all the time.) Many of us are still mad enough to think that evil can be driven from the world with “the right kind of evil act.”

But the laws of our universe have been the same since this universe was born, and we don’t have the power to change them (nor do we want to, when we really understand them.). If we want to make a difference we must look at ourselves with even more piercing attention than we look at everything else.

We change the world like this, mind by mind.

– Lish

*Note: When I first published this post, I said we would be seeing more of awakening in the future. As I reflected on this statement, I realized that I was self-selecting and making assumptions. Because I read/listen to so many things regarding awakening and consciousness, it feels that way. But when I really look at the world, I don’t know. I want it to be so, but I have no idea. One thing is sure: Raising consciousness is how we get out of our current existential predicament.

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