Why I’m Not Into AA

As you may or may not know, I’ve been sober since March 25th, 2017. Like, sober sober. No I do not smoke weed. No I do not microdose or do acid, nor do I recommend these things for spiritual reasons. Yes, I did eat some mushrooms last summer and perhaps that “disqualifies” me from the March 25th sobriety date in some people’s minds. If anything, that experience taught me that I am still not into mind-altering substances. I apologize if all this comes across as self-congratulatory; it really isn’t meant to be. I take no personal credit for my sobriety (or for anything), and do not feel it’s something to be proud of. My truth here is that drugs feel unnecessary, and I am very happy that I was moved to set them aside.

Drugs can provide us with interesting experiences and expose us to other relative realities. They may give us a broader lens through which to view the traumas we have endured, and if one finds a psychedelic experience to be deeply healing, I take no issue with this.

However, seeking Truth is another matter altogether. I have done the drugs and can say that these experiences do not come close to Realization. If we feel we are on the path, the best way to keep our minds is in a state of clarity, and the best way to keep our bodies is in a state of good health. If you spontaneously wake up and have been abusing your body for 10 years, that much more damage will need to be repaired. It is not fun, and it is avoidable.

I know that “sobriety for higher consciousness” isn’t a popular view to hold, but it is a true one. Drugs are for those seeking experiences. Truth is for those who are done seeking experiences and wish to come home to themselves. If we feel we need a biannual drug trip to “reset,” there is something we have missed.

Before March 25th, 2017, I was a drinker.

I started drinking heavily when I was about 18, finding it a very effective way to a) socialize, b) deaden my extremely overactive mind, and c) sneakily release aspects of my “shadow,” or, that suppressed part of me I regularly tried to deny. The shadow is the one with unhealthy preoccupations and deep negativity. It is revealed in all the “bad” things we do when we’re drunk that we wouldn’t otherwise do. We all have this “shadow,” and until we shine a light on it, it will escape somehow.

I loved drinking, and it is not an exaggeration to say that in my early 20s I blacked out at least once a month, sometimes once a week. That person I thought I was felt that it was “fun.” I was not ready to examine what was so fun about becoming less conscious, less present for the life I was living. Being that alcohol is an addictive drug (please never forget this, btw), I was pretty dependent on it in order to even be in large groups by the time I was 25.

The normal progression of abuse ensued. I won’t get into such details here, because they are literally the same for every single person who has stumbled down the road of addiction. It started out like “NBD this is totally normal,” but within a few years I found myself walking through Whole Foods with a terrible hangover as I confessed to my partner, “I definitely have a drinking problem.”

By the time I was 26, I was doing the thing where I semi-regularly took online quizzes with fun titles such as  “Are You an Alcoholic?” I always hoped the answer would come out differently than I knew it would. I bargained a lot, fudging the answers: Do I have more or less than five drinks per week? Who counts? 

Seriously, who counts drinks? If you are drinking straight out of a bottle of wine or drinking beers all day, as I surely did, this whole “measurement” thing is truly laughable. Also, if you are taking these kinds of quizzes and asking yourself these kinds of questions, the answer is “you’d do best to stop drinking, yo.”

After many attempts to quit, I finally did at age 29, and I did it without going to AA meetings.

I am going to say straight away that this was made possible largely due to an undeniable spiritual realization. If you’re trying to quit drinking, I do not recommend waiting around for a click of light. Please, do whatever works for you. If you are reading this and find AA beneficial to you, that is beautiful. But I want to share why it is that AA was never appealing to me, if only to offer a different perspective that may resonate with someone someday:

  1. AA reinforces the false dichotomy of “alcoholic” vs. “normie.” What is going on here? Alcohol is an addictive neurotoxin that our culture just happens to approve of. We are conditioned to believe that it is “normal” to “be able” to regularly ingest this drug. This is a ridiculous piece of conditioning I would like to see fall away entirely. I do not believe alcohol really has any place within a healthy society, again, because it is a poisonous drug that kills a whole lot of people in many different ways.
  2. AA encourages us to view ourselves as “moral failures.” I have written about this before in a much more long-winded post. Talk about a vicious cycle: Do you know why people want to deaden their pain with drugs and alcohol and/or kill themselves? Because they sincerely believe they are moral failures and the world is better off without them. The connection between “moral failing” and addiction needs to be broken. We already know we are fucking our lives up and hurting people we love, and we feel terrible about it. I had no desire to go crawling to an organization (in a church, no less!) to rub my nose in this more and more and more.
  3. AA encourages us to keep energizing the story that “we have a problem.” It asks that we to keep on identifying with a false story. Being that the ego-identity itself is ultimately false, all of our personal stories are also ultimately false. I am aware that this is a quantum leap in spiritual understanding, and to get to the point where we are ready to let go of our cherished stories is no quick task. But it surely does not help to keep telling them over and over again, always upholding the identity of “addict.” There is a time and place for processing trauma, but if we want to be free, we have to drop these stories someday. AA does not encourage us to let go of this story.No one is an alcoholic. No one is a “normie.” These are all surface-level stories. No one is an individual entity at all.

I could keep going, but I’m just going to include another link to Hip Sobriety, because this kind of talk is their whole purview. The founder of the company, Holly Whitaker, has written many blog posts about these things. She wants to live in a culture where addiction is viewed in its appropriate context, and so do I.

Ultimately, though, I think we both want to live in a culture where addiction is a non-issue, one wherein we actually take care of each other and cease our unconscious cycles of trauma. This can only come about by way of radical transformation made possible by realization of the Self.

 

 

There Are No Others

Q (to Ramana Maharshi): How are we to treat others?
Ramana Maharshi: There are no others.

Rarely do we notice how often we think of and speak about “others.” In such times, it is as if we truly believe “other people” are separate and different from us. “Otherness” is a chief symptom of the egoic/delusional mind. It is not true that we are separate, but so goes our longstanding hypnosis:

“We are right; they are wrong.”

“Christians are closed; Buddhists are open.”

“We [insert specific branch of religion] are open; other kinds are not.”

“My spirituality is more evolved than his.”

We can also sub the spiritual part out for our political affiliations, family grudges, or any other nonsense we find ourselves feeling superior about.

I see these attitudes often, and they are untrue. In many cases, the ego-identity has merely put on a new sweater. Perhaps we have experienced a snapshot of peace and freedom and built a new identity out of it. Now we are the born-again Christian. Now we are the meditating yoga-guy. Now we are the misunderstood American Muslim. Now we are a monk.

Picking up new identities and building stories around our spiritual experiences is extremely common on the path. This is where many stop investigating, thinking “they’ve got it.” But if we are sincere in our thirst to know God and be happy, all of this will fall away. No new “person” is constructed from a space of true freedom.

The above statements energize this idea that we are not one, when we really are. And further, we are not even one (which implies, to me, a single unchanging thing by itself, surrounded by nothing). We are actually nothing.

To the conditioned mind, this is not a positive statement. To one who is on the path, it is a great truth and relief: At last, I’m nothing! A burden is lifted when this is realized. We actually do not have to constantly strive, heal, grow, or be fixing something. We can Be, and it is fantastic just as it is.

More than being “all one,” it feels more appropriate to me to say we are all zero. We are this great vastness together, and this vastness is sewn into all that we can see within the dualistic world. It is a substance that is not a substance, comparable to light, in and behind everything that appears to be real. It alone is the only thing that is Real.

You are it.

There is a blankness, an emptiness, a stillness that underlies all that can be perceived. It is unbound. Of course the egoic mind finds these words totally unappealing. Blank? Empty? How boring! What’s the point? What does it do? The mind is disinterested in this kind of peace, because it knows the end of its reign over the being is coming near. It will find any excuse to avoid practices that could point to this imagined “end.”

But about that question: What’s the use anyway? Well, it is your destiny to abide in this place, to return to the state of clarity and harmony that you never truly left. Additionally, coming back to this place does more to eliminate all atrocity in the world than a lifetime devoted to humanitarian aid and/or activism would. I know that is a lofty claim, and so I invite everyone to sit down and find this thing I am writing about. When you do, please tell me if it is a false claim.

We are the vast peace of God as well as the temporary projected figures of said God. We are all God made manifest, and when we realize this, a flood of joy washes over us and our minds undergo a transformation that is hardly worth writing about.

If we allow it to happen, we move away from the small, “me”-centered mind and come to reside in this state of great internal emptiness. This is the True mind. It is already present, and the glory of humanity is that we are able to recognize it if our thirst becomes strong enough.

As I stated above, the “otherness” hypnosis of the ego is the primary delusion of humanity. It is the fall of man. The fall from grace in the Garden of Eden is precisely when humanity slipped into this dream. It is this mind that believes sincerely in the world as “reality,” and that it is a distinct, individual entity. How quickly we forget the energy of our hurtful words, the impact of our consumptive habits and addictions. How immediately we ignore the way every signal we put out reverberates into the world.

When operating from the personal mind, we live unconsciously. When humans live unconsciously, the result is a culture mired in darkness: Confusion, addiction, avoidance, thoughtlessness, apathy, boredom, cruelty, war, inequality, greed, obsession with very trivial things. We trade around our old trauma energies and insist there is nothing we can do.

The solution, as always, is to turn around and see your true Self.

If you are reading these words, believing there is something special about your pain or constitution that makes it impossible to realize Truth and be in peace, pay attention to who is saying such things.

Is that really you? The ego often likes to offer up this idea that its pain is somehow very special. It feels so alone. Its suffering knows no bounds.

I will say that healing is often a necessary part of the path. To some extent, suffering is often a result of collected negative energy of suppressed emotions. Our culture does not teach us how to safely and healthily release these energies, only how to blot them out (drugs, alcohol, food, television) and/or let it explode when it cannot be suppressed any longer (yelling, vicariously watching violent movies and sports, impulsive acts of violence). However, healing is not the primary goal of the path, and should not be entertained longer than is necessary.

And in any case, do not make your pain so precious that it cannot be let it go. The ego-identity will surely hold onto pain, and make even pain into “something special.” This is exactly why I am not a fan of mental illness labels, for the mind can be quite happy to latch onto these labels and build them into the identity. It likes any explanation for “why it is the way it is,” but these are all lies. Once depression is taken to be a significant part of the identity, it is much harder to let go of.

A dismantling of who we believe we are must be done and faced courageously. Without courage, we back down and make up lots of excuses when we deviate: I don’t have time for this Truth business. If we press on, the ego can get quite dramatic: If I move toward ultimate freedom I will be impoverished; no one will love me; I will be alone; I do not want to be a vagabond beggar!

Come on now. Are these things really going to happen if you start deconstructing the lies of your life?

My mind has said all of these things—even recently! And yet they are not Me. They are clever tricks of a mind that cannot exist without my say so.

On the other side, we begin to see that people really aren’t so different from one another. Uniqueness is merely superficial, and delusion still runs the gamut.

In time, we even begin to feel silly for our attachments and unsolicited opinions. These things exist on the level of the mind, which is to say they are impermanent, which is to say why bother with them?

Until we discover that which is not impermanent—abiding consciousness, peace in God, same/same—we do ourselves a tremendous disservice, traipsing around in the mind. We are like toddlers with hand grenades at this state in our evolution.

And always, there is this thing that is undying and ever-complete. Find that and confirm it as your true identity, and live from this place. Only then will the humanity we often profess to love have a true chance at flourishing.

Awakening & “Insanity:” A Clip From Mooji

Good morning, friends.

I’m not sure if I’ve said yet how in love I am with the teachings and presence of Mooji. He gets straight to the point, always aiming to take the most direct route to self-realization (God-realization, etc.). He intuitively reads energy, which is a necessary skill for effective teaching. It’s also pretty rare to find. Similar to Ramana Maharshi, he points all who listen right to where we are, which is here, already in Truth, which is also who we are. I can feel his depth even through the internet, and most importantly: His wisdom rings true with what I have experienced in my own life.

When I’m in my own space, my morning routine goes like this: Wake up, sit down to meditate (15-20 minutes), start coffee while showering, stretch/do other strengthening exercises to music, and then I listen almost exclusively to Mooji videos as I get dressed. If I have a few minutes I’ll read some of a spiritual text before I head out. (Right now, being that my hosts are Christian and I honestly don’t know much about this major spiritual tradition, I’m reading the Bible.) It’s a pretty awesome routine that puts my priorities and intention for life in central view right away. I recommend it.

Anyway, I’m here to share the video that popped up in my YouTube feed this morning:

 

It ties in nicely with what I wrote in my most recent post, and with what I know many of you are realizing today. In this video, Mooji is approached by a man who has been psychiatrically hospitalized twice. Mooji gently explains that the imprisoners (cops and psychiatrists) don’t really know what they’re doing, and are not aware of the spaces this man has been to.

In the end, though, it is ultimately a blessing to go through such experiences. “Sometimes your very sickness is your healing,” he says.

It resonated deeply with me. I hope you will also appreciate it.

– Lish

 

 

Depression: Micro to the Macro

Ultimately, the spiritual path brings you back to good old common sense.

What to eat? Mostly fruits and vegetables, and no poison, thank you. When and how long to sleep? When you’re tired, as long as you need to. What do do or say? Whatever comes into the heart. Life takes care of itself in various ways, with the help of other loving human beings (and with continued work, of course). There is no need to overthink every conversation, event, or behavior. Things are fine.

As you may know, one issue that is dear to my heart is mental health. At the root of this concern is my awareness that we are an ill species acting as a scourge upon the Earth for no good reason. I believe this phase in evolution—the phase of the egoic mind—will one day be remembered of as a time of collective mental illness. This collective mental illness could best be described as “the delusion of separation and death.” Almost all suffer from it, though to varying degrees.

We have gotten so deep into this delusion that when someone senses “hey maybe this isn’t right; something feels off,” we tell that person they are the ill one. They “have depression,” or, in my case, also “bipolar disorder.”

I feel I am constantly seeing the condition of depression get overthought, when it is very simple: An ill culture creates ill people, and vice versa. A vicious pattern has been in place for a long time. We do not have to look very far to see how our culture, on the whole, is very much in the grips of insanity.

I find it strange and ridiculous how we are still studying and medicating depression, while only a small number of people are out there saying “hey our culture is screwed up, and this is why we are depressed.” When people do say this, they are not fully heard because our impulsive minds want a less complicated fix than “actually, everything needs to change. Maybe—just maybe—we need to rework the entire way we live and then see how depressed we are.”

Additionally, when I see someone talking about cultural transformation, they, too, are often still under the spell of the egoic mind. This mind usually wants to blame all of our pain on government, the patriarchy, capitalism, civilization as a whole, etc. An egoic mind also often believes it has The Answer in things like “sacred medicine” instead of Western medicine. It can create a whole new list of “woke” rules that will not, in and of themselves, heal humanity’s illness in the long-term. The only thing that can really do it is to wake up from our delusive dream.

In short: To see depression truly healed, we must create a world we can feel at peace within, as well as lives worth living.

Saying that depression is the result of “bad brain chemicals” is like saying someone is thirsty because they haven’t had any water lately. While technically true, this answer is so surface-level and isolated that it is barely any help.

Following this metaphor, imagine that instead of taking a thirsty person to a spring to drink, we give them a small cup of water that has all kinds of sediment (and perhaps bacteria) in it. “Drink this,” we say, “and it might help. It may leave you with grit in your mouth and possibly infect you with another disease, but, it’s the best we got.”

Still following this metaphor: We accept the glass of dirty water because we have forgotten where the clean stream is located. We know it must be somewhere because we do remember, even if faintly, how it feels to be simply happy/not thirsty all the time. So someone in a lab drums up a poor substitute for water. Some people think “hey this is close enough, and I can market it.” And rather than focusing on the fact that we need to remember where the clean drinking stream is and get ourselves to it pronto, we continue to suffer the thirst and drink dirty cups of water day after day. What else can we do?

Man, I hope this metaphor resonates for someone out there.

The clean spring is within us all, beyond the egoic mind we suffer from. The dirty water is the half-effective antidepressant-bandage. And if we’re going to go see healers about our depression, please let it at least be to someone who knows where the spring is located, someone who isn’t so ill themselves as to believe a glass of dirty water a day is a solution.

tl;dr: Depression is the direct result of a living in an unconscious culture that is completely deluded about itself.

As a whole, we have been decimating other lifeforms and one another for a while now, and we know we are connected to each other. Are we so arrogant that we believe this shouldn’t hurt? How are we so ignorant as to think we, as individuals, just have “chemical imbalances,” and that these imbalances have little or nothing to do with the fact that we are exacting a mass extinction event on the planet? Apparently I should’ve just been okay with going to work and “having a nice life” while the rest of Me burned alive and starved and cut its own limbs off? I couldn’t, and I will never be okay with that.

Of course, no one’s depression is consciously related to the way our planet is in utter shambles. Instead, we think “I need a better job; my marriage is strained; if I just had enough money; my kids are driving me nuts…”

These things may play a part in your personal depression, because the egoic mind believes sincerely that its job/marriage/finances/kids are more important than seeing what is Real. But from an evolutionary perspective, you’ve got an alarm bell going off inside of you whenever you feel depressed or anxious.

This world is in deep peril, and our emotions are telling us this loud and clear—especially we, the smartest, most comfortable, and wealthiest ones… probably because we aren’t doing a thing to address it, even though we could be.

The question is: Are we mind-identified types ready to we do away with these simplistic “brain-based” answers and look at the evolutionary picture yet?

And this is happening: More and more young people are taking their lives. Almost every one of my friends talks about “having anxiety” like it is on par with buying a pair of socks. No big deal to live in constant fear, and nothing they can do about it either. Millions of us take antidepressants and suffer awful side effects, all while ignoring the larger picture, which is that we are depressed because we have made this planet a depressing place to live. Period.

(Optimistic note: It does not have to be this way! At all!)

This problem cannot be legislated away. This problem cannot be medicated away. This problem cannot be suppressed with drugs and alcohol. This problem—the one where millions of us are hating ourselves and wanting to die and/or actually killing ourselves—can only be solved by deep cultural transformation brought about by waking up from the egoic mind’s hypnosis.

And if you’re waiting for me to blame some system or person like the president or capitalism, I am not going to do that. I am going to place my attention on the root of the problem, which lies inside each of us: The egoic mind. It is this mind which compels us to hoard wealth. It is this mind which denies its relationship to the rest of the world. It is this mind, in its obscene blindness, which believes it can get away with destroying one another and never face consequences.

It is so wrong to believe this. It is this mind which has no faith in its Self, and looks externally to feel a happiness that can only be found within.

– Lish

Location: Mitchell, OR

Onto the Next

On Friday I’ll be moving to the small town I briefly wrote about in my last post. I haven’t written more about Mitchell because I don’t want to jinx it or make it sound too pie-in-the-sky, but the truth is that I fell in love with it the second I stepped off the van from Bend. I realize that my interpretation of this town is not going to be the same vibe that everyone else would get from it. Not by a long shot. Nobody is as excited about this choice as I am.

However, I trust my ability to read energy, and the energy in Mitchell, Oregon is good. It is small and I like that it is small. The hostel I will be helping out at is beautiful and a true labor of love from its owners. On top of all that, my intuition has not only kept me safe while vagabonding, it has led me to many beautiful situations. It is that intuitive power I’m trusting now.

Throughout my travels I have been well cared-for in Godand when I say “in God,” I include every single person who has helped me along my way, because all of them are also God. When I reflect on the past five months, mostly what I see is myself sitting blissfully in the sun. I also see various men who have dropped off out of necessity; I see me crying on roadsides and praying. I see music and tan lines and a window of experience I will pluck memories from in the future if I so choose.

And yet none of this brings me nearer to my Self. Many times, my travels have been referred to as some kind of “finding myself” mission by loved ones, and that has always felt a bit off to me. I am aware that there is nothing to be found “out there.”

The world as we know it is a projection of our own minds; the underlying consciousness is primary. If we were to realize these things within our own beings at once, the world would drastically change—and this is not impossible. The belief in its impossibility is actually one of the great obstacles to this change. I am also sometimes accused of being “idealistic,” but I just think everyone else is settling for way, way too little when it comes to how beautiful life can feel and how much peace we can dwell in. The depths of You are immeasurable, truly.

No matter: I have seen what I am and know without a doubt that this fabric is the same as all else. I “found myself” on the living room couch in April 2014. Everything since then has been a re-acclimation to a world I didn’t feel I belonged to anymore.

This brings me to another point: I feel like I’m supposed to write more personally about my awakening. I want to be clear right now that I really, actually don’t want to do this. If the last five months of my life call to mind visions of sunshine and music and bliss, the last four years overall call to mind shame, imbalance, instability, and fear. Putting all that out there sounds really unappealing to my ego-identity, which annoyingly means I should probably do it.

For some reason, I think I am supposed to share that mess. It is common to enjoy this idea that there is some magical “click of enlightenment,” and suddenly you’re a master with an ashram and a beautiful spiritual community. 

The middle parts (which can be very raw and not so pretty) are usually left out, or rolled into some charming lore about “The Realized Ones.” When you hear about Eckhart Tolle, there was a time when he “slept rough” post-awakening. Somehow it has turned into a cute story, the way he couldn’t really do job interviews anymore. It gets glossed over, how disorienting that time period can be. When we read about Mooji’s past, “grace came in the form of his sister’s house.” This is spiritual-speak for: “He crashed with his sister for 6 years because awakening laid him out and made his old life impossible.”

These people experienced some kind of divine realization, and by the time we learn their names, life has pulled a bunch of shit together. From that vantage point, awakening looks easy, but for most of us, it is not. There is a lot that happens in between the click and the transformed life, and it can get ugly.

It is my intention to write about how awakening can take intense and seemingly catastrophic turns, based on the only reliable source I know: My direct experience.

A final note: Walking through the town I went pretty publicly insane in actually feels okay. For the first two years after getting out of the hospital, it was like everything and everyone was a thorn being pushed into me, this very raw and wounded thing.

I sucked it up. I (somehow, miraculously) went to work. I went to the pub and eventually stopped drinking beer at the pub. I saw people who remembered me while I was crazy (I did not remember them) and it was awkward because apparently I’d been pretty entertaining in some cases, but by the time they were bringing it up, there was only shame in me.

It’s gotten a lot better, but there are still people I see and places I visit that hit me right in the solar plexus. Honestly I wish it was chill to break through those invisible barriers, through that old energy I sowed while unwittingly going through some unstoppable shifts. I know I violated social contracts and that it resulted in suffering. I have atoned for that within my own being in a very real way. I have apologized where it was appropriate, where it didn’t feel like the relationship would be made worse by doing so. I also know that it is presumptuous of me to wish anyone was “more okay” with me since I lost my shit or whatever; it is not my timeline to decide.

But sometimes I do think it would be nice if we could just get real and be like, “Hey, isn’t life hard sometimes? Aren’t we are all trying to take care of ourselves and be good people and sometimes we fuck up again and again and again? Aren’t we all struggling with our own pain? Aren’t we all just doing our freaking best?”

In this daydream we group-hug and thank one another, and the healing process inches slightly forward for us all.

– lish

location: Burlington, WA

The Trauma of Forcible Hospitalization

The other day, with the help of my spiritual teacher*, I realized that I’m still dealing with the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized. Of course I knew this on some level, but I’ve admittedly been trying to bypass the healing process. Why? Because, to put it simply, healing sucks. It’s necessary and feels great afterwards, but during, it’s no fun at all.

Thinking about the hospital and its surrounding events still triggers shame and grief in my being. Of course, avoidance never works forever. We live in a culture steeped in deep avoidance, which is something I would love to see change soon. Since I can’t make that happen on a wide-scale, I’m starting where I can: With myself. In an effort to face that trauma, I’m going to share some of the feelings I experienced while in the hospital.

I don’t know if posting this will help me to release anything, but I’m going to do it anyway. There’s been a tight/blocked sensation in my throat for over a week now, and as I continue to watch it, I know it is indicative of something I’m not expressing that needs to be expressed.

*My teacher’s name is Jim Tolles and his website is www.spiritualawakeningprocess.com. I have referred back to his website more than any other to help integrate my awakening. He’s amazing and I recommend reading his blogs and/or reaching out to him for a session if you feel you’re ready for a teacher.

First things first: Being hospitalized during a spiritual emergency is really traumatizing, and that should not be dismissed. A spiritual emergency can be something like an ego collapse/death, a psychotic break triggered by the use of drugs, or any other variation of someone’s “reality” breaking down that they simply cannot cope with. What these people need is compassionate care from those who understand that the human being is much more than a collection of chemicals. They need truly nonjudgmental care, not the kind that calls itself “nonjudgmental” and then literally labels us “disordered.” That is, pardon my language, a fucking judgment.

From the outside, it seems “right” to sedate those who are having a psychotic break/spiritual emergency. From the inside—well, you honestly have no idea until you go through it yourself. Not even a little bit.

The following paragraphs flew out of me. I’m aware they may sound hyperbolic, but they are accurate in regards to what it felt like to have my physical body restrained and my consciousness altered against my will:

Basically it felt like I was processing the sins of humankind through my own being. I felt the rape of every human who has ever endured such trauma and the persecution of every prophet. I felt the shunning and isolation that every outcast has ever experienced. I felt extreme, undeserved rejection. I felt the harsh punishment of every child who has done something their parents deemed wrong, even though they had no idea what they were doing. I felt horror and fear on levels I did not even know existed.

I felt like a baby whose leg had been cut off, and like everyone around me was standing by laughing as I tried to crawl around. I felt like this especially afterwards, when my friends (and myself) tried to joke about it out of discomfort, or when my loved ones expressed relief that I’d “finally accepted” I had been “crazy.”

I felt like every prisoner who was about to get their hands chopped off by the state. I felt like every person who had been in a concentration camp, subject to unthinkable injustice. It seemed like everyone around me was unconscionable and cruel and merciless—and stupid. Really, really stupid. To me, the hospital staff were no better than Nazis (I’m pretty sure I called them that, too) in the sense that they were “just taking orders,” “just doing what they’d been trained to do.”

Honestly, I still don’t see much of a difference between a Nazi and those who are still just moseying about life today, refusing to challenge a culture as murderous as ours. I recognize that it’s all fear and unconsciousness and so it is forgiven, but we are still killing each other. It is happening everywhere all the time for no reason other than widespread insanity. I don’t feel as though we have made much progress in this regard.

Being forced to take medication was an extreme violation of what I wanted in my own body. When I was taken to isolation, everyone just looked on like they didn’t hear me screaming to be let out, like my pain wasn’t real, like my extreme suffering didn’t matter because I was “hysterical.” I felt like everything I said fell on deaf ears, even though I know at least some of it was valid. Because no one knew what to do with me, they to took me to a bed and allowed strange men to shackle my body down when I was incredibly vulnerable and angry. To someone who is psychotic, it doesn’t matter if said men are apparently licensed to do this. It reads as terrifying.

I bit a male staff member for trying to touch me. I do not even feel ashamed of that now, although it was used as “evidence” of my insanity more than once by the psychiatrist and my caseworker. To me, it was very reasonable: I didn’t know him, I didn’t want him touching me, and my teeth were my only weapon. I never consented to him touching my body. More than one staff member actually laughed at me while I was psychotic; I saw it in their faces and heard it in their voices. I still believe that those people do not possess the emotional maturity to work with those who are in acute mental health crises.

Just so we’re clear: I’m not trying to assert that my actual circumstances—being a patient in the mental hospital—were “just as bad” as every human experience I just described. I don’t play the “suffering Olympics,” because it is a simplistic and unhelpful game to play. If anything, this is a testament to how one’s external circumstances are a poor measure for what they’re actually dealing with inside.

I’m just telling you how it felt, and it felt like Hell to an unimaginable degree.

There was no one. I don’t really like saying that, because my family and friends did the best they could. My husband came to visit me even though I’d just stepped out of the marriage. Some of my friends came to see me while I’m sure I was saying shit that made absolutely no sense. Everyone did what they could.

But really it felt like (and still does feel like) there was no one who saw my experience as deep and real and significant. Way too many times, people talked about how hard it was for them to see me in the hospital. I know they meant well, but it just made me feel worse for troubling them. Afterwards, a lot of people said “I wasn’t myself” in the hospital, but I didn’t even feel like I knew who I was. It was very confusing. I also felt like whoever they thought they’d “known” before wasn’t the True me. I felt, overall, horribly ashamed of myself and tossed in a corner to recover from the most intensely awful time in my life.

I felt these feelings for months and months after I was released. Everyone around me was still somewhat scared and worried, and my feelings of loneliness were staggering. I had no idea what had happened, and I felt so looked down on, so pitied, so mislabeled. I laid in bed with just saying “I’m scared; I’m scared,” even though I didn’t know what of.

Whatever explanations anyone had for my breakdown, I knew they were incomplete, and it was maddening.

Before I was hospitalized, I was highly sensitive and unstable and in violation of many many social contracts, but I was not violent. When I got into the hospital, I became violent. I want to say clearly and openly: Being forcibly hospitalized worsened my overall state of being during my spiritual emergency. Every professional failed to understand what was happening at a deeper level. They did not provide me with an alternative to the “disease” story, and the experience overall worsened my prognosis.

For as hurt and resentful as this post may sound, I do not begrudge anyone. People were trying to be there in every way they knew how, and I retreated from a lot of potentially nourishing spaces and people because I was just so shaken up. I had no idea what had happened. I just knew I needed to hide, lick my wounds, and turn my attention inward. I had to look into other explanations outside of “you got dysfunctional genes; your brain chemicals are all screwy.” Fortunately, that is what I did.

With this post, all I mean to do is share some of how it felt. I have no doubt that someday, someone will read this and it will help them feel understood. If you’re one of them, I hope it lets you know you’re actually not alone, and that you can move forward from the experience and even have a life filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Still, I mostly wrote this for my own self. No lie: I sobbed as I wrote most of this post as I recalled what it was like to be shuttered away, talked down to, drugged, watched, confined, and perhaps the worst part: judged, judged, judged at every turn.

I also want to get across something very simple: We can do better for one another. We can do so much better.

– lish

location: Georgetown, TX

Facing Fears

It feels appropriate to follow up my last post with something about fear. This blog is now private, but I’ll probably make it un-private some point soon.

All of this is on par with the way I tend to deactivate/reactivate/install/uninstall my social media. I want to be seen and heard when I feel open, light, and truthful—then I want to retreat and become invisible when I acknowledge how much work I’m still doing. Yes, it feels neurotic. As far as the blog goes, I often have a sense of being “unqualified” to write about the spiritual process, the ego, or collective transformation just because I am not perfectly enlightened, whatever I think that means.

This is a pretty crazy illusion/false belief I carry: That “until” I am at some (imagined, delusional) standard of perfect beingness, I have no business writing what I know is true. Some part of me is convinced that I should just drop everything, go sit in a park and be a transient beggar until, until… something. And that word—“until”—reveals the part of my mind that wants kick my fate further and further down the road.

By hiding, I reveal that think I must protect something. I reveal that I am afraid of vulnerability on some level. I seem to have deemed some part of myself and my work as “not good enough yet” or “not ready yet.” From a greater space of awareness, I see that this is my ego talking itself out of speaking the truths it’s been exposed to, because: fear. It’s also an avoidance of responsibility. I could just hop around the country going on dates and meditating on benches, you know? And yet, as fun as this is (for my unconscious ego), that is not what I am ultimately moved to do.

Also: Something happens to me at airports, especially when I’m flying one-way. Without any return plans, it feels unsafe, even though in reality it’s just me sitting at a gate with a piece of paper we call a boarding pass. Like most people, I overreact when I feel threatened. Next thing I know I’m sending text messages to people I haven’t talked to in a while—of course they’re men. That is my go-to method of ensuring a sense of safety: Make sure a man is willing to pay attention to me. 

I am aware this is at least partially rooted in the fact that my father was a volatile and neglectful figure all throughout my life. I am aware that I carry the emotional wounds of his behavior towards me in a program known as my unconscious ego. As I write this, I am living proof that all the mental “understanding” of your pain and its origins won’t erase it. We place so much emphasis on the mind in our culture, and it really is a poor tool when it comes to deep healing.

At this point, I do a lot of sitting and watching of the blockages in my heart (and in my throat a lot lately, which signifies that I do need to speak more truth). I exist with these blockages rather than labeling them “bad.” Sometimes they are there, and I accept them. I also see these “blockages”—which is really just another way of saying unconsciousness or darkness—as communicative. They are teaching me what needs to be done, which is continued heart-healing and more expressing of Truth.

I’ve also made a commitment to myself to avoid dating and all other ill-defined date-type scenarios for three months. The reason I’m doing this is simple: Since I was a teenager, I’ve been pretty screwed up about men. At present, I’m not even able to discern if I want a relationship and if so, why. The only way I am going to get clear on this is to put some distance between myself and all that tangled up nonsense. Then I will know if partnership is even something I’m truly suited for. If it is, I’ll be more likely to be in a deeply open and honest relationship if that is what arrives.

I have never had this. I don’t know very many people who have.

So, even though I don’t prefer to energize my own stories by writing about them ad nauseum (dad stuff, man stuff, nervous breakdown, alcohol alcohol alcohol), it would be a lie to act as if I am not impacted by my ego story anymore.

Again, all of this comes down to fear. I know I’m called to do this work, no matter what. I know I’m called to write about mental health and its relationship to consciousness and the spiritual process. I know I’m called to write about the ego-identity as the root of all external structures we profess to loathe (if you complain about late capitalism but do not at least strive for a meditation practice/other practice of inner work, I really don’t know what to tell you).

And yet I get scared of all the things we get scared of: Being misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and believed to be simplistic or platitudinous. As someone who was once mired in anger over the state of the world, I am aware of how “the spiritual answer” sounds to people who are at the level of intense frustration and outward blame. (This is the level most of us are at—if we even care at all.) I don’t want to be thought of as stupid or be disliked if I refuse to buy the ego-stories around me. I feel tired already at the thought of arguments I may have to face. I am saddened at the thought of “losing” those relationships and situations that are not fully nourishing to me on an energetic level, even though it isn’t really a loss.

Basically, sometimes I’m still a human who gives a shit what people think of me. The need for validation is a very deep egoic need that I haven’t let go of. Sometimes I hear people casually (and somewhat immaturely) say they “don’t care what other people think.” Usually, if ever the approval of our friends/family are pulled, we’re quick to readjust and fall back in line.

Even those who are “anti-” society in some way have their social circles they seek to appease. Sometimes, these kinds of circles demonize others. If we express the view that the “worst” people in the world are filled with unconsciousness and that there is nothing to be gained from hating them, there can be some push-back. I have found that people can be quick to defend why their hatred, their judgment, and their derision are acceptable, but other kinds aren’t. The blindness is staggering. I have also met a great deal of spiritual people who are still very much stuck at an “us vs. them” level, as I was for a long time.

In short: Living in a way that truly embraces humanity means you don’t really have a clique. The thought of losing a “group” or those people I consider “especially kindred” stokes fear in me.

But, in the end, it is not a service to me or anyone else to stay quiet when there are things I need to express. So I’m here, posting this thing, even amidst my fears and with the awareness that I am still working through issues. I am not free of desire. And even though I have seen enough to understand Truth conceptually, I am not always in peace. I’m still doing this thing. Sometimes it sucks, and at least I’ve released the fantasy that there will be a magical moment when it all “comes together.”

Unlike some of those involved in spirituality, I don’t believe we are “endlessly growing” or “always healing” or anything like that. There comes a time when we drop into divine flow and learn how to keep surrendering our small selves. It is no longer about healing at that point; it is about giving yourself up to the timeless, all-powerful stream of consciousness over and over, and trusting in it fully. Surrender and healing may happen simultaneously or one after the other, because there is no singular path. I seem to drop into flow, and then hit a karmic issue again. Then I heal, understand myself better, and begin to flow more.

Hitting the same karmic issue (have I mentioned yet that I’m kind of fucked up about men?) is annoying, but then again, it just is.

The very essence of spirituality is that it is triggering and bothersome. It is ultimately unhelpful to constantly chase mystical experiences, or to seek comfort in any New Age practice du jour. These types of things make us feel temporarily good and may seem to help us “make sense” when our lives fall apart or when unimaginably awful things happen in this world. However, just like when we use drugs or alcohol or any other form of avoidance, this reassurance always fades. We are left alone to face ourselves, time and time again.

Many times we go seeking solace and peace in our preconceived ideas about spirituality. Usually, we have very little appreciation for what lasting peace requires of us. What it requires is intensive inner digging, and a commitment to keep digging even when you feel totally exhausted of healing, self-analysis, and inner looking. It requires that you take all external authority with a grain of salt, and turn away from those who do not line up with the truth of your heart—including turning away from close friends, family members, and spiritual teachers. It may require you to live a strange and distant life for a while. It requires that when you see something in yourself you don’t like, you don’t recoil or deny its existence, but see it honestly. It requires that when it is time, you’re willing to disidentify from victim stories and statements about how other people/the world “make” you feel.

What we are after is complete responsibility for our state of being. With the exception of the severely ill or those who are fighting for survival (probably not you), we can learn to work with our minds. We can get our emotions in order and become vessels for peace rather than people who continually create enemies with our illusions. We can stop overreacting to the pain that exists in the world and learn to see it from a place of true, solid compassion.

We are all capable of these things with inner work and commitment to the Truth. What I have in this life is that commitment. I am still working to renew my commitment to myself and to this world every day, even when I feel fearful of walking further through my own fire and sharing the things I just did with you.

– lish

 

location: Austin, TX

The Glory of Sobriety

You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.

Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.

However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.

I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.

But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.

The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.

For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.

*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.

I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.

And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.

I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.

Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).

In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.

I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.

From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.

The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.

Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.

Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.

Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.

Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.

It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.

– Lish

Location: Burlington, WA

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

Empaths & Addiction

Tomorrow would’ve been my father’s 65th birthday, but he fatally overdosed on methadone when I was 17. He passed along his addictions and disposition to me, and I feel that in some way I atone for his life by living mine in this way now. If I do not follow in his footsteps and instead run in the opposite direction, his life was not a waste—though of course it is true that no life is ever “a waste.” That very notion is heavy with judgment, and I do not judge him or anyone else for the times they have fallen. I dedicate this post to him.

I said in this post that addiction is not a disease on its own, and I want to clarify that statement.

Obviously addiction is a serious condition that requires intervention as soon as possible. As far as I’m concerned, anyone struggling with any addiction (even if it’s just a “small” problem) would serve the world best by dropping everything and prioritizing their recovery now. Of course that would require us to live in a society where we took care of one another, one where people could unashamedly take a much-needed break from money-work and focus on their wellness. That is not where we live. Why is this? Unconsciousness, particularly the belief that we as “certain individuals” are “more deserving” of services and a happy life than other human beings. Also, we’d need effective treatment modalities that meet people where they’re at rather than trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction, but that’s another topic.

Why do the richest people not share more of their money? Ego and unconsciousness. Why does our society not have sane healthcare and rehabilitation policies? Ego and unconsciousness. This is always the root of that which we call greed, selfishness, and evil: The spell of the ego, the hypnosis that convinces us to act like we are not all of the same exact fabric. The only long-term strategy to lift ourselves out of this haze is to become like “carriers” for consciousness, to dispel darkness in this way. It is out of this internal process that external changes are born. The egoic human mind is what requires overturning first and foremost: Without pulling this ignorance up at its root, we are still doomed to self-destruction, no matter how democratically it is carried out.

Those that get labeled “addicts” are often intelligent, sensitive people. Not long ago, I told a friend that sometimes I feel like “the dials on me are cranked all the way up”: I mean the dials for absorbing emotions, noticing others’ needs, frustration, and impatience, as well as picking up on their underlying anxiety. These things strike a chord because they also live in me, but they are heightened in group settings. I’m sure that many of you understand this: Some people call it being a Highly Sensitive Person, or just being an empath. As an empath, daily life means taking a lot in on an energetic level, and that’s just one piece of it. Being an empath is a strength, not a weakness, but it can make life more painful.

Then there’s the intellectual part, which looks around and recognizes that the jig is just about up on civilization as we know it. We see the swarms of desperate human beings, the thirsty, the hungry, and those who will be cooked by the heat of the sun due to our current mode of living. We see the last of the snow leopards, the toxic air, the end of rainforests. I confess that I’ve sobbed at the thought of a caterpillar being run over by a car (it was a rough day). Even if it is not in direct view, we can intuit what is coming, and it’s not great, to put it mildly.

If you really see what may very well happen—what is happening—it is not an option to “spin” these images. Also, this isn’t merely a negative view I am taking: These things are just as much a part of our world as beauty is, and to turn a blind eye to either is to live in delusion. In those moments when I’ve been crippled by the sheer magnitude of suffering we’ve created, said beauty is cold comfort. We are doing our damndest to stamp beauty and biodiversity out as fast as possible for no reason other than collective insanity.

When you feel these things as part of your own being—not to mention whatever personal history you’re trying to renegotiate—it is natural to want to deaden these feelings. (It doesn’t help that booze is fashionable and totally normal in our culture.) We have no escape from a world that is infuriating and saddening—unless we choose suicide, which also occurs at a higher rate for addicts. The second-best option is to escape from the mind. We are not encouraged to speak out, to discover our light, or call bullshit on all of these systems. If we do, it tends to feel ineffective and slow, like we are still missing something (indeed because we are.). Growth is an uphill battle. On top of all this, we still have to eat food and make rent, and the things we have to do to survive can be emotionally taxing in their own right. In such a bind, what else is there to do but get wasted?

Non-addicts look at addiction and think it is irrational. But to an addict, engaging in addiction makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how billions of people manage to not get drunk or high most nights of the week. I also don’t understand how billions of people aren’t losing their minds. What world are they living in that feels at all tolerable? How do they not rush to become numb as the apocalypse unfolds? (In any case, they do numb, only in a much less life-disrupting way.)

As Glennon Doyle says, what we call “the mentally ill” are like the canaries of the world. We are the ones trying to warn others of what is going on here, but we don’t yet know how to do it. All we represent is an exaggerated version of what lives in others, and that is also why mental illness is often regarded with such extreme fear. And here is something I have said and will continue to say: If some individuals are mentally ill, it is because we are collectively mentally ill. The statistic for “mental illness” in the US stands at 20%. What does this say about our culture at large? To make mental illness and addiction “some people’s” problem—to assume that there is something unique about “our” constitution that is problematic, ignoring the larger mechanisms in this stage of human existence—is shortsighted and honestly ridiculous.

The human species is like one organism that is itself ill. The most perceptive cells simply take on this illness at a higher, more obvious rate. Paradoxically, I also believe those who get labeled “ill” in this way are closer to health and sanity than those who aren’t as energetically privy to what’s happening on Earth: If you notice the presence of poison before it actually kills you, you’re one step ahead of those who don’t notice it at all.

There is also a predictable progression of the illness of conditioning that strangely involves going deeper into it before you recover. In this sense I am talking about the spiritual process, which we are all undergoing, though to varying degrees: All of your neuroses, attachments, and fears will be intensified for some time. The mind and ego pitch an intense fit at seeing their numbered days. But then, at last, one day you’re finally in the clear. I also suspect that this temporary intensification is what’s to come on a much more widespread human scale, though I hope to be wrong about this.

Back to what I mean when I say “addiction is not a disease on its own:” The precise definition of words like “disease” doesn’t concern me; everyone is always using these kinds of words differently anyway. However, there is one condition—one kind of mindset—that makes us susceptible to all other disorders and afflictions: It is the one that dreams our lowercase-s selves to be ultimately real. In this state, we feel powerless and threatened regularly. We actually mistake ourselves for the substances which temporarily stop the pain. When the mind is ignorant of the Self, it attaches strongly to anything that soothes it. Freeing ourselves from this dream is the greatest thing we can do to heal, and it is the only way to dwell in deep happiness that does not depend on anything else.

Recovery is to reenter that state of purity (the Self) which is always with you. This alone can alleviate suffering; it changes everything in ways that are as-yet inconceivable. There are practices we can take up to abide in this space, but it also goes a long way to simply be reminded that it—you, in your innate perfection—really do exist.  

– Lish