The Mind, Spirituality, Conditioning, Culture

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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