Inner State, April 2014

This post is the first in an intended series detailing how I got from the intense “click” of awakening to where I am right now. And where exactly am I right now? Well, I am just right here, in peace, living a simple life where I write, meditate, and connect with others. I step into the sunlight with music in my ears and dance-walk wherever I go. This joy, this peace… it cannot be taken. If it could, it would not be the real thing.

Sometimes my mind offers up loneliness and I am not aware enough to leave that loneliness be. I grab onto it and contact men from my past, even though it could not be clearer that I am supposed to be by myself at this time in my life. I go to bed alone, thinking I’d marry the next fool who asks, if only we could do what needs to be done in this world together. (This point—about men and my compulsions towards them—is relevant, as you will see.) Still, on the whole, I am deliriously happy.

This is not meant to come across as braggy. I try to be mindful about sounding proud, in part because pride is a function of an egoic mind that likes to fancy itself as something So Great. Also, it’s no fun to listen to someone talk about how great their life is when we aren’t in the same place. I gather, from looking around, that most of us are not in a similar position of peace. We humans are still greatly deluded, fearful, dramatic, internally split, and confused… all synonyms for “suffering.”

The significance of my joy now is that it hasn’t always been this way—not by a long shot: Two and a half years ago, on December 1st, 2015, I was released from the mental hospital into the absolute darkest time of my life. As I tried to carry on, my entire being felt saturated in shame and despair. I was emotionally fragile, insecure, and very defensive as a result. I had no idea what had happened to make the fabric of reality fall to shreds before me.

Trying to assimilate the experience of psychosis into a rational worldview feels, in a word, impossible.

So, how did I move from one end of the spectrum to the other, especially if my financial/relational circumstances have actually deteriorated? What happened?

I will tell you, though my ego-identity is hesitant to do so. I am choosing to ignore that ashamed voice in my head, because I know it is only interested in preserving its small self. My ego-identity believes that if it is seen fully, no one will ever love it. That is a powerful bargaining chip for my mind to have, and it is one I suspect many of you can relate to. Luckily, I know that that little “person” is not the true Me.

So, I am just going to try and stay grounded in my Being and do what I have been sent to do: Write.

April 2014

I’m 26 years old. It is mid-afternoon, sunny outside, and I am alone in the house. My countryside home is beautiful yet humble, and was built by my great-grandfather. My husband and I were married in the backyard nine months ago by a family friend of his. It was a truly blessed event. We love each other, and are slowly trying to make this house our home.

On the surface, in all regards, I am The Luckiest Woman Alive. Look at all I’ve got: A marriage to a good man, a handsome yet dopey long-haired black cat, a yard with the perfect garden patch my own grandfather tended to into his 80s, a shop for my husband to make music and/or build skate ramps in, and a healthy body. Right across the street, there is a whole field of tulips in bloom.

Sounds pretty good on paper, right?

Except that inside, I am deeply angry and negative. I judge people incessantly, finding them at fault for all kinds of things. I drink a lot—as in, I black out at least once a month, and am drunk at least three times a week. I smoke cigarettes, especially when drunk. I smoke weed and make horrible food choices when I am hungover. I say thoughtless things that hurt people’s feelings. None of these are my worst most shameful habit, which I will discuss in later posts, after I’ve had time to cope with the fact that I have been called to write about it.

I go in and out of hating myself on a regular basis. There is no logical reason for this self-hatred other than that I know, somewhere inside, that I am not acting like the human I know I can be. I am not creating enough; I’m not doing enough for others; I’m missing something. Through the (totally inaccurate) lens of pain, I interpret this to mean I’m so defective I cannot even begin to pull myself into a higher echelon of thought and behavior.

It’s not that I am without my bright points. Historically I have been loved by some for speaking my mind, being brash, being a (mostly) fun drunk and not giving a fuck. I am capable of being somewhat charming when occasions require it. I like making homemade gifts for my family, and there have surely been times when I’ve been deeply heartful and compassionate.

I am smart, and being smart is The Most Important thing to me. Having beer after beer (and smoke after smoke) while engaging in rigorous philosophical discourse is my absolute favorite thing to do. My dearest friends appreciate this in me. My favorite people are all deep and brooding and addicted, and to my monkey-mind, it is fun.

Overall, I see myself as maladaptive, and probably actually evil somewhere inside. I am convinced that if anyone saw this evil, they would have nothing to do with me. They would vanish in a heartbeat, and they would be right to do so.

So much for the husband, the cat, the tulips. I am a Dark Thing, a Bad Thing, and when you believe this about yourself sincerely (as I did), there is no outward configuration that can bring you any joy.

The Problem is in Our Own Minds

The problem is in our own minds.

Honestly, this point feels too important for me to just write once, so I am going to say it a couple more times here and probably in future posts as well: The problem is in our own minds. The problem is in our own minds. No matter our political stances, our beliefs about “what should be done in the world,” or “which side of a line we’re on,” the problem lies within. The solution does, too.

Of course I am wary of using the word “problem,” lest we turn the mind into an enemy of sorts. I have definitely slipped into the trap of psychologically punishing myself for  being under the egoic mind’s hypnosis. Ironically, this is the ego punishing itself in order to preserve itself, because what we really are cannot be harmed.

Beating ourselves up isn’t the most helpful way to approach things, but we are often operating from a piece of conditioning that convinces us otherwise.

Usually we look outward to understand the state of the world. “Out there” is where we imagine reality is. When we interpret external reality as “bad,” it is usually the work of a mind that believes things “should” be going another way. This alone implies a state of non-acceptance, and most of the time, I avoid using the word “should” for this very reason. “Should” is what we say when we are living in a state of resistance to what is. It is a life-denying space that is usually rooted in avoidance.

If we seek to understand why the world looks the way it does (and I agree—much of it is horrific), we must start looking inside ourselves. We need to do this before rushing to blame, fix, or change the world. At this stage in human evolution, we are still very much an insane species, each with the power to purge some or all of this insanity, thereby uplifting the whole world.

Can we imagine what might happen if enough of us turned around to face the proper direction? If enough of us were determined to rid ourselves of the illness that is the root of human suffering?

Being in a state of deep peace ourselves, we would naturally create a peaceful world.

Another thing to bear in mind is scope, perspective, and our own responsibility to our fellow humans. We live in a world that is fraught with violence and despair. If we believe we are safely removed from these things, all we usually need to do is examine our clothing and/or our devices: They are usually made by children in factory conditions. We usually do not need as much stuff as we have. In this way, we are each responsible for the fact that such conditions exist and that our fellow humans have to survive as automatons in this environment.

Every day there is some other catastrophic event to behold. The most common response? We sit and stare at it. We make ourselves sick thinking about it. We get Very, Very Upset, and then we proceed with our daily lives just as we always have.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and I am not even talking about organizing and changing laws (though of course I would love to see us organizing and changing laws). I am talking about examining our own habits—including and maybe especially thought habits, and how they contribute to the hivemind that ultimately creates these terrible events. Our egoic minds are not separate from one another; they only appear to be.

We can look at our minds and the various ways we put energy into the world. Most of us wield our energy unconsciously, meaning we’re usually putting intense anger and negativity out there with no understanding of how it impacts the rest of the world. The net result is that we are stewing in a Jacuzzi of fear all day and wondering why the world isn’t getting any better.

We have to cease giving our attention to the worst things in the world. Placing your attention inward is not avoidance. If you think it is, I suggest taking up an intensive meditation practice. Actually, sitting and staring, transfixed by the suffering of others and then going to get a drink or use a drug or turn on a sitcom—which is usually what we do after we hear of something unimaginable occurring—that is avoidance.

Refusing to look at the underlying mechanisms in ourselves that are co-creating this world with all of it’s horrific events because it seems inconvenient or difficult for us—that is avoidance.

So when I choose not to disturb my inner peace by getting worked up by every horrible thing that occurs (these things are unending and always have been), it is not because I’m weak. It is not that I “can’t stand” to see these awful things. On the contrary: It is that I have already seen them all, and the solution has become very clear: Remain focused inward, keep my energies balanced, and try to direct others back to themselves gently. This is tremendously more effective than simply being upset and talking about how bad everything is.

It certainly doesn’t mean everyone will like us, because when we choose to live deeply in peace in a world built upon widespread violence, it can look kind of crazy or boring. But there is nothing special about such a way of life. “Spiritual living” actually becomes only practical when delusions begin to fade.

As a species, we have been exacting an incomprehensible genocide on all living beings for some time now. When the magnitude of this suffering is truly seen and felt within your own being, you become less and less snagged by “new” day-to-day horrors. It really just feels like “yes, yes, yet again, another unnecessarily awful thing that has been caused by human delusion,” and then you get back to work where it matters: Your own mind.

It is useless to fall to pieces over every tragedy. If you are going to fall to pieces over the world, I suggest falling to pieces over all of it: Every species that our unconsciousness has wiped out, every slave that has been taken, every child who is being harmed right now. Absorb that degree of horror and suffering; see if you can even fathom all that suffering. Fall completely to pieces and allow the divine to build you into something effective at turning this pattern around.

Sometimes these feelings occur so the ego can continue to imagine it is a “certain kind” of person—empathic, sensitive, somebody who “really cares.” This lets it off the hook for doing any of the deeper work and healing that needs to be done. The ego says “look, I’m so caring, I’m crying over everyone, I just can’t take it, I can’t handle it,” effectively stopping the person from looking further.

I have absolutely felt this way before—for most of my life, even. But in the end, my egregious mess of emotions was helpful to absolutely no one, and I had to start examining myself on a whole new level.

A return to our original mind is required in order for long-term peace to prevail among human beings. Otherwise, we are only putting a new coat of paint on a home with a rotting foundation.

With Love from Santa Fe

Sitting on the railway platform in Albuquerque, I soak up the sun and notice how much it affects the way I feel. I think maybe I was only ever depressed because I didn’t spend hours walking in sunshine back home because the sunshine was blocked by cloud cover like 70% of the time. Maybe if I’d been born in Arizona or Texas or Southern California I wouldn’t have gone insane or ever wanted to destroy myself.

Of course it’s more than UV light, but it’s true that we become much more in tune with our bodies and what works for them once we wake up. For instance: I don’t eat meat or use drugs because I feel way better as a sober vegetarian than I ever did when I drank and smoked and ate meat. When I was younger, the whole no-meat thing was about ethics, and if I indulge in righteous indignation I can still get all riled up about that industry as well as the way booze is marketed (it’s cray cray).

I could work myself into a lather over any number of things I see being carried out in this world, but I’ve decided against it at this point. Why would I voluntarily disturb my inner peace? Anger is a form of suffering and I’ll never forget that. I don’t want anger; I don’t want hatred; I don’t want judgment. These things do not serve me or anyone else, even though the mind fights to hold onto them with many rationalizations. It really can be a shock when we start to pay attention to how hellbent we are on remaining mired in this kind of suffering. The mind says many things to convince us it’s necessary to dwell in certain awful emotions.

Yes, yes, yes. The culture is insane. The culture—our culture—is backwards and needs changing. We go about this by refusing to follow our cultural programming, thereby living revolutionary lives on a cumulative level. We are agents of collective transformation by transforming ourselves.

I know all of this, and yet my reasons for living the way I do are actually completely self-interested: I feel freaking awesome when I don’t weigh down my consciousness with unhealthy habits, and life has become significantly more beautiful since I surrendered to my heart. On the path, we actually sacrifice nothing even though it may look like we’ve “given up” certain worldly pleasures. Even better, when we dwell in peace and true happiness, others naturally benefit. Living freely begins to free others on its own, no matter what you’re doing externally.

That last paragraph reminds me of something I heard Sadhguru say once: “Everything is selfish; it just depends on how big your sense of self is.” So, if you’re mind/body identified and think of this current form as your whole self, you’re more likely to engage in actions that are what we traditionally think of as “selfish.” There is little motivation for someone to develop empathy if they can’t sense his or her self in other human beings.

Once your idea of self is expanded a bit, your choices and energy will begin to uplift all those you identify with (family, community, nation, etc.) If your sense of self includes all human beings, you’re probably not going to be down with violence, genocide, or hierarchical classism, because that hurts us (you) deeply. Expand it so far that it includes non-human life, and you’ll probably try to give up a lot of Earth-ravaging behaviors as is feasible, including the consumption of our animal friends. Again: This is because you truly and sincerely feel and see yourself in other living beings. It is not merely theoretical or rooted in mind-based judgment; you know you are a part of a much larger fabric than the contents of this current form. You are personally affected because your person includes everything. This is also the point where things like depression and anxiety become rampant: We feel all the suffering, but likely don’t have the strength of mind to hold it skillfully in our awareness.

Expand the sense of self so far that it snaps and disappears? This is when you merge with God and get to know/be the capital-S Self. Here, all bets are off, but you’ll still probably stick with healthier choices because they keep your energy so high and nice and clear. I won’t get into this too much in this post, but I am highly skeptical of any “enlightened being” who uses drugs and alcohol (in excess especially). It’s whack and I don’t trust it.

I arrive in Santa Fe and take a free bus to the hostel (so many things on this journey have been free and/or discounted; it’s beautiful). The guy who checks me in tells me that Whole Foods donates the food they can’t sell anymore to the hostel, and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with apples and peanut butter toast and chips and pumpkin pie, oddly enough. All I can think is “divine abundance,” and I’m laughing inside because that kind of talk used to annoy the shit out of me. And yet, here I am living in the light of God, being taken care of so well I could cry.

Within an hour I’ve made a friend who tells me about the motorcycle accident he got into 7 years ago. The brush with death threw him out of his old life and to Hawaii, where he took nothing but a hammock, essentially built a new family, and now appears well-established in his self-awareness. Around the hostel I hear him comment under his breath, “it’s all divine,” and I feel so happy. Because yes, it is all divine, and not just because we’re in this sweet little hostel grubbing on free organic mangoes.

We are both people who have experienced the terror of mortality and broken through this falsehood to some degree, changed our lives, and embraced the process of letting go. The vast majority of spiritually aware people I know are not doe-eyed and ignorant, even if some of the rhetoric may come across that way. They know hard shit and have decided not to let it rule them anymore. They have tapped into the nature of Reality on a level the mind instinctively backs away from, and worked to become nearer to this nature.

This new friend offered to show me around Taos, an spiritual/artistic community about an hour and a half away. There’s a (surprise!) free bus that goes up there during the week; in the town there’s something called The Snow Mansion, an ashram, and some hot springs. I don’t know what universe I am living in, but I am filled with gratitude.

In the morning at the hostel, I catch a ride to the Unitarian church service with another guest. I dash out of the hostel in semi-manic fashion, throwing random clothes on and chugging my cup of coffee so as to not keep her waiting. She’s a woman who has been traveling on the road in a van since October; her kids have moved out and graduated, she sold her house, and she’s free. I like her innately, though I’ll also say that the more I grow, I realize I pretty much like everyone innately. I also love everyone at the soul level.

Just like yesterday, my energy feels sharp: I’m going to do everything be everywhere save everyone yes yes yes yes. Fortunately, at the service we do a meditative qigong exercise that helps me calm down. Message received: Even if I’m flying, I have to eat more food; I have to be still. This is all aligning better than I ever could have planned, but I will not get overconfident. Humility all the way: I’m nothing, and all those whacky folks who believe in breatharians are on a whole different level (though I actually don’t dismiss any possibility).

After the service I return to the hostel to do my daily task—we all choose one in the morning as part of the agreement to staying here. I choose the “angel chore” card and end up saran-wrapping up about 50 pastries and putting them in the communal fridge. Another guest kindly drives me to Meow Wolf, an incredibly badass interactive art space (think Salvador Dali in neon 3D + Donnie Darko). I spend four hours geeking out and spending way too much time looking at everything through my phone; I don’t care, I’m sharing all of this; technology is miraculous.

On the walk to the hostel, snow starts to lightly fall but I don’t feel cold. By the time I get back, Whole Foods has made their Sunday donation and I’m looking at fridge full of dates and candied walnuts and various cheeses and salsa. I’m eating bean dip and kale salad with quinoa and goat cheese; my heart is going to burst I swear. I feel there is very little to say. I just want to sit here and shine.

The sun comes through the window and hits the orange slices I’m eating. A guest notices and mentions how nice it looks, and the only thing I can do is nod and smile. He says “you’re in bliss,” and I say “I am.”

– Lish

Location: Santa Fe, NM

Moving On

In 3 days I’ll be moving down the ashram. My apartment is mostly empty and my last day of waiting tables was Thursday. Even though I’ve been oscillating between fear and joy over this decision, the choice to devote myself fully to the spiritual path has never felt clearer. It seems worth noting that I am not doing this out of a desire to feel moral or noble or virtuous, or because I expect life to be easier at the ashram. It’s just that no step except this one makes sense to me based on where I’m at on my path. A life not rooted in spirituality feels not only ridiculous, but impossible. I feel excited to be living in a community where things like sobriety are well understood to be The Standard for healthy living, a place where we are not treating the path like a hobby. I like that I’ll be able to fall into silence if it feels right; I like that I won’t be expected to act like something I’m not. Deep authenticity is one of the fruits of the spiritual path, and it is sorely lacking in most of our interactions.

The evolutionary journey is as such: We are like popcorn kernels encased in cement. The cement represents tremendous ignorance—the things that cause us to create unnecessary harm to other beings and consider certain people to be superior and/or inferior to others. As we evolve, the cement cracks and breaks, and over the course of many lifetimes we become less ignorant. The cement wears thin. Then the time comes when we see that we’re a popcorn kernel; perhaps we’re even exposed to one who has popped. We become aware that our ultimate destiny is to break completely open and stay that way. We are to be light and airy and profoundly different than the kernel and/or the cement.

When you finally realize and accept that you’re a popcorn kernel, you will want to be in a microwave. I believe the ashram—or any other place of focused spirituality—is meant to be that microwave. The energy is as such that “popping” is more likely, whereas in “normal life,” we are more concerned with polishing up ourselves as kernels and rolling around to one place or another. (In reality, there is no difference between a spiritual place and a non-spiritual place, but I digress.)

So, if you will, this move is about me going willingly to that microwave. I do not hope to come back the same, but not because I think there is something “wrong” with me right now. Actually, for the first time in my life, I do not feel defective all the time (though I still do on occasion.). But the conditions of my life here are such that I may remain a kernel for a very long time, never reaching the right intensity of heat to see the process all the way through. Until I do, there will be dissatisfaction and cycles of misery. I will be my own prey over and over again. I will be profoundly more at risk for depression and/or addictive behaviors unless I follow through. By making this move, I seek to fulfill my destiny, which is the destiny of all beings, and that destiny is to know and be God.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and I am reeling in my expectations as much as possible. It’s entirely plausible that nothing life-altering will occur. Either way, I will learn something, for when you are hell-bent on learning, every single step is a lesson.

I have been thinking a lot about how my last post might go, particularly the points I want to put out into the world before I take off. I have no idea when I’ll post again, and some part of me wonders if I will at all. This iteration of me loves writing, and as of right now, it feels completely aligned. But part of this thing is releasing all attachments, including the ones the mind currently labels “good and aligned.” Having the courage to let go of it all is how we discover what is always there, underneath and beyond, timelessly, naturally.

I no longer buy the argument from my ego that I am “supposed to write.” Really, I am “supposed to be” whatever I’m moved to be by the greater consciousness that has been moving me this whole time. I am “supposed to be” what I am. Maybe that will result in writing; maybe it won’t. I feel it is important to relinquish all attachments and expectations of “being like” anything or anyone, or clinging to previous identities that once suited me. When we try to hang on in spite of the way the soul magnetizes us towards things we fear and need, we become trapped.

I have no doubt that this has happened to many creators: At some point, the obligation to create can overshadow the purity of its origin. Suddenly the thing that was once done out of pure soul desire becomes as rote as anything else. No longer do we write, paint, or make music because we love it, but because others expect it of us and the title of “creator” has been built into our ego-identities. There have been phases for me where creativity comes effortlessly and gladly. But when I am just “trying to finish something,” it comes out wrong and I am not delighted by the process of ushering it into the world. To me, this is worse than doing nothing at all.

So I want to say I will write if and when I can, but that it is possible I won’t, and that has to be okay with me. Anything the ego imagines itself to be is just that—an imagination, and not the true Self. We can have delusional imaginations about “who we are” no matter how noble the profession. Some work may benefit the world more and sow the seeds for a beautiful future, but neither identity is more real. This is because Reality does not actually run along a gradient; it is known or it is not. One who knows the Self and does nothing but sit in meditation surely benefits the world, perhaps even more than those who put great effort into making change. This kind of benefit is imperceptible to most people, but it is real nonetheless.

Besides, the fact is that there is no new wisdom. The fountain of eternal knowledge is always the same; the words only flow out through seemingly different minds and mouths. It is no surprise that spiritual masters say the same kinds of inscrutable things over and over again, in part because of this principle, and in part because they know repetition is one strategy to overwrite an existing mental pattern.

Anyone with new answers, a new religion, a silver bullet, or a quick route to self-realization is not being honest (though they may be unaware of their dishonesty). Seeing this, I really don’t know what else to say in this or any post. Is there anything more powerful or wise to say than “Sit with your self until you find the true self”? This has been said over and over again, by so many sages, in so many parables and poems. It doesn’t get any simpler: Sit still with yourself. Find out who you are. All other information is extraneous. When this is known, all knowledge is revealed and suffering begins to burn away. It seems difficult until it doesn’t.

Sometimes writing feels cheap in comparison to sitting in silence, and it is said that some of the best teachers teach by silence alone. Similarly, the Buddha said that it is best to speak only when it improves upon silence, and yet is very rare that the things we say—gossip, grievances, complaints, formalities—meet this standard. And I have to ask, with no solid answer, do my words improve upon the beauty of a blank page? I am not so sure. I do this thing because it happens, but I do wonder: If I were to break through every last illusion, would it also begin to feel somewhat arduous or small?

All of this is to say that I don’t know what will happen, and this is always true. This post has written itself, which means I am okay with it. When our actions become absent of the “doer,” I believe we are on the right track. If things write themselves, they will go into the world. If it feels like pulling teeth, I will resume with mindful non-action, which is actually one of the most useful skills to have. It’s not the same as being lazy, and it’s not the same as checking out or getting stoned. It is just learning how to sit and be. Until we are capable and happy simply being, peace cannot flourish internally or anywhere else.

– lish