Awakening, Consciousness, Reality, Spirituality

Releasing the Need to be “Understood”

I have begun the slow process of emptying my apartment of its things. My last day of waiting tables will be Dec. 31st, which feels fitting and practical. I’m getting really excited, and I really don’t feel as anxious or harried as I thought I would. As soon as the choice was clear in my mind, I just started dropping a bunch of lingering hangups and fears. Soon I will be in the place I need to be, following my heart in order to deepen my awareness of consciousness, which is really All There Is.

Of course I’m aware that moving to an ashram to potentially pursue monkhood is not a decision everyone will understand, and being “understood” once felt really important to me. I had this deep, unquenchable desire to “connect,” largely because I almost never felt connected to other people. It was a kind of Hell to feel so far away and unable to be “gotten” by others. However, when we are deeply assured of what we know and who we are—when all doubt has been removed about our truths—being understood is no longer a concern. We even see that it’s a significant obstacle to desire intellectual understanding of the path and for others to understand you.

Here’s why: They won’t. This is not true of everyone, and this is not meant to be any kind of condescending “my spirituality’s deep/they don’t get it” statement. Spirituality is actually very simple. Everyone gets it, mentally anyway. But I speak from experience in saying that if you wake up to ultimate Reality, if you change too fast, if you lose your mind, if you try to share with others what really happened when you lost your mind, if you become really open and unafraid and unstable… there are likely to be only a few precious individuals who really see what you’re going through. Very few will allow your process without judgment, and this is not their fault. People will judge (while saying to your face that they’re not judging); they will question and demand explanations and tell you to take more time and think and slow down and say that they are worried. This really does come from a caring place, and remember: You’ve been judgmental, too; it is a mental pattern that takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome.

Your job is to be okay with others’ lack of understanding, to carry the disapproval and concern wisely. (FYI: I did not do this.) Your job is to be decisive about what you need to do—it really is the waffling that creates problems. This waffling is what we call “resistance to the soul:” When we go back and forth about how we’re living now, it creates an unnecessary battle within. Higher consciousness (your heart and soul) is like a surge of water trying to burst through a dam. Your mind, with all its fears and rationalizations, is the dam. The pressure and cognitive dissonance arises only because you are resisting growth, albeit unconsciously. And I know this isn’t fun to hear, but when you feel stuck, the answer is almost always to give up the thing you think you can’t give up and to do the things you think you can’t do. All the while there must be a very sure, unshakable decision: I’m doing what my soul needs to do. Then you should try to not go back on your choices, even though a lot of well-meaning people may suggest that you do.

Being human, you probably will go back on your soul choice a few (or a million) times. I’ve done it more times than I can count. The conditioned mind is stubborn and it is used to being in charge; it does not want to relinquish its “control.” To truly follow your heart is to march through a field of intense fear, all by yourself, perhaps for a very long time. It is not glamorous and almost no one will reward you for it. Most of us do not follow our hearts. We follow others and we follow our conditioned minds, no matter how much trouble they get us into. Fear will try to goad you back into doing something conventional and safe, but your soul will always to try and pull you back into the unknown. Yes, it is scary. We are all afraid of what we don’t know, but the unknown is where our true selves dwell, so we have to take that leap. We cannot allow the threat of discomfort to make our life decisions.

Eventually, if you’re having an awakening, this struggle will subside. If you calmly (and resolutely) do what is needed, it will become clear that whatever happened during the most intense phases of awakening weren’t merely due to a “fluke” or a “hard time.” They were part of a transition—even if a turbulent one—into a new way of being.

Also, if you keep saying “yes” to your soul, the conditioned mind will start to back off as well. Once it gets the message that fear tactics won’t work because you’re going to keep surrendering, it will become quieter and begin to defer to you.

I think I’ve (finally) shed the expectation/desire to be “understood,” but I still want to write about my choice, because in it there are a lot of greater implications:

From the outside, the life of a monk probably looks suppressive or austere or regimented or any other number of words that means “restrictive.” The funniest thing about this is that the spiritual life feels like the exact opposite: You’re just totally free and happy. You laugh easily and nothing is mean-spirited. There’s nothing to worry about because you know you can’t die and that this world is but a divine play created by the mind. You have basic trust in others and in the universe. Also: Living in this freedom is the best thing for the rest of the world, even if you appear to be “doing nothing.” You move freely, think freely, and speak freely and without fear. You aren’t censoring or restricting yourself, but you’re not “out of control” either. I actually avoid spiritual traditions that are restrictive or commanding, and I always have. This is indicative of fear—”God won’t love us unless…”—and lack of trust in our ability to conduct ourselves reasonably. Also, the “goal” of the path is liberation, through and through. Rules can’t get you there, though self-discipline can. These are completely different things.

There is a belief in a lot of people that without a bunch of laws and mental checks and balances, we’d all be behaving savagely. This is an insult to humanity, again going back to how small and limited and weak we imagine ourselves to be. We—like the rest of the animal kingdom—know innately how to live if given an appropriate, natural environment. It is only because we have so far removed ourselves from a nurturing environment that we’re collectively ridden with such extreme problems. When people are raised safely and with unconditional acceptance, they do not tend to become abusive or greedy or miserly or power-hungry. One goal of spiritual revolution is to create a world where everyone treats everyone like loving family. This isn’t a moralistic, fuzzy thing we’re talking about; it is only practical.

So, even though there are “rules” at this ashram—chiefly sobriety, vegetarianism, and celibacy—abiding by these rules doesn’t require the exertion of willpower (for me anyway). I didn’t get the sense that anybody was suffering through their meatless meals or trying super hard not to sleep with one another. It’s just like with sobriety now—it almost never crosses my mind to drink anymore. It’s just the way it is and I am pleased with it. Life at the ashram all felt very natural and in-flow; it felt better than what we call “normal” life, which is very much not-free and often pretty mechanical-feeling. I knew I was there to work and grow spiritually, and everyone just seemed to value a simple, healthy way of life.

There are a lot more reasons for why I’ve chosen to take this step, but for now I think I’ll just say that it’s about freedom, plain and simple, and the awareness that freedom is necessarily an internal state.

– Lish

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The Mind, Spirituality, Conditioning, Culture

Karma, Awareness, & Cultural Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Culture, Transformation

Addiction, Society, & Transformation

Getting sober is a long-term transformative process that cannot be boiled down to the sole act of not using. For instance: In the last year I drank, I felt more “sober” than I did as a precious young “totally normal” binge-drinking 23-year-old. Even though I got drunk regularly in 2016, I was becoming aware of the effects alcohol was having on my consciousness and how that translated to the rest of my life.

Before, it was more like “okay this seems like it’s becoming a problem,” but simply eliminating alcohol never felt appealing. What would ever be the point of cutting out this great numbing agent if we’re otherwise going to be living the same life? If we want to stop numbing, we must also begin to rid ourselves of the aspects of our lives that feel numb-worthy. There is much more to this thing than giving up our drugs. And unless we begin to develop long-term vision for our lives—who we are and what we’re about—addiction has the very fertile ground of ambivalence to sprout in.

The most compelling factor for maintaining my sobriety is that I know it is foundational to everything else I will create in this life. If I did not believe this, I would drink, and I would not care, and I suspect this lack of long-term life vision is one of the many factors that keeps addiction steadfast within us. 

Not that it is anyone’s fault. I do not believe in fault or blame, and find that these are only hurtful concepts. They ignore the truth, which is that there are many millions of unconscious factors hatching in every single moment of our lives. I will say though that the hivemind greatly discourages us from developing deep vision for our lives. We are rewarded only for a very restricted type of intelligence in school, and these limitations create wastelands within our minds and souls. No one can say how much potential has been lost due to the way our children are currently brought up.

People do not usually stay sober for those they love. This has never been the case, and addicts should not be faulted for this. One’s journey towards wellness (or not) is not about their families and cannot be about their families. It is about their individual thread of consciousness and what its evolutionary aim is this time around—indeed that is all life is ever really about. We can never know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the people who present themselves to us, though if we look closely, we may have some idea. Beneath outward appearances, there is a galaxy of things sorting themselves out, working and gestating and becoming. Sometimes people have to destroy themselves for a very long time, maybe even until they die, and this destruction is really never about you.

When threatened, the addict very often chooses drugs over his/her family, because the drug at least provides them with comfort unconditionally. Some amount of this battle lies in the fact many of us have never truly felt loved unconditionally, even if it was professed. We live in a culture of transactional acceptance, and this often bleeds into our family lives.

The reliability of the drug to provide us with temporary comfort is therefore revolutionary; it makes us, in a way, fall deeply in love with our chosen substances/activities. We know nothing and no one else like it: It never rejects us, is always there, not afraid of us, and accepting forever and ever. That’s the thing: Our loved ones (and we ourselves) are generally sometimes understanding. Alcohol and drugs always are.

Along these lines, society is quick to withdraw love when we do not follow its rules, as if doing so will get us to shape up. This isn’t how it works. It would be a much healthier world if our policies and treatment of addicts reflected this truth. Furthermore, “love” that is doled out and/or taken away is not actually love; it is merely conditioned approval. We know this and are wise enough not to desire this knockoff. Or maybe we do do desire it, but usually find that it never does the trick for very long.

It is entirely possible to get high off of our mental states whether or not there are drugs involved. We get a little high off of fantasies, projections, and delusions alone. We escape reality in our daydreams and imagined lives, rarely taking the risk to bring them to fruition. If we do, the result is almost always less than what the mind has blown it up into. The thing about the mind is that it exaggerates and distorts, making the mind itself seem more appealing than Ultimate Reality, which is an entirely different thing than the “reality” our conditioned minds allow us to see. This is one of its tactics for keeping us in its grips: Living in it feels nicer than seeing the truth.

Similarly, inasmuch as we become addicted to substances themselves, we become addicted to the entire thought process behind using. There is an inner battle we become fixated on: Will I or won’t I? And the energy we expend on these internal discussions is enormous. During these times, we often also relish our seedy secrecy. Our shadows are delicious even though we feel terrible about them, and there becomes a horrendous thrill about self-destruction.

This is romanticized in popular culture, in part because we like seeing people do the things we know better than to do (but kinda want to do.). And there is some truth behind the romanticism of addiction: Until we break free, there is no greater feeling than the mounting tension of desire for that which we are addicted—followed, of course, by the breaking of the tension and the surge of some very yummy brain chemicals. The drama is delectable. The ego adores it.

The part of us which cannot stand living in this machine (the biggest and truest part) often resorts to addiction, and that is why addiction is so much more than an “issue” for “some people.” We know that we are out of touch, and are all at least a little distraught by our current status as a species. In this culture, we are all addicts trying not to feel the pain of being very far from home. We struggle to sit with ourselves and often avoid silence and solitude at all costs. There must always be “background noise.”

When I say “home,” I mean our true home in consciousness, but also an actual physical place which would be much nearer to the rest of creation: In the trees, breathing fresh air, drinking clean water, and freely enjoying the abundance that the Earth churns out generously and joyously. Somewhere in history we thought we could do better, or perhaps we allowed our fears of death to so totally corrupt us that we tried to manipulate this already-perfect system. We have failed miserably.

In this equation, the only question is whether our addictions are “acceptable” or not, and what is “acceptable” is defined by whether or not it keeps the machine running. This entire civilization functions as an addictive process, after all: Destroy, grow, consume; then it’s onto the next. We must only stay in the “normal” parameters of addiction (“binge-watching” comes to mind), and no one bothers us. When we go too far—usually beyond our capacity to contribute to said machine—we get the “addict” label. When we don’t go far enough, we become hermits and weirdos and Luddites.

This is all to say that addiction is an intensely divided space to exist in. Clearly, addiction thrives in those who do not feel whole, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even feel whole all the time. (That’s precisely how I know this is true.) This lack of wholeness weaves its way through generations; it is as if we are born with a sense of craving. Culture exacerbates this not-wholeness—or more likely created it in the first place—and provides us with endless Things to feign wholeness with: drugs, food, shopping, porn, gadgets, dating apps, “being busy.” Our friends, equally confused, often encourage our addictions.

This is all unconscious and so I assign no blame to anyone. Nevertheless, it is what we do. We live in a shared sense of not-enoughness and rarely question this sense of scarcity which is, when examined thoroughly, Totally False.

There is no way to be engaged in an addiction while not being lost about who you are and what you’re doing here. They go hand in hand, and that’s why recovery is so much more about the latter than the plain relinquishing of drugs. If you want to be sober and free, there is no greater tool than to begin developing a vision for who it is you want to be. I assume it will be a large vision, and that is beautiful, whether or not it feels actionable or realistic.

Total transformation is what getting sober is all about. I encourage you to get high off your own imagination and delusions to start, because at least these are happy seeds and they don’t put holes in your brain: What is the most incredible thing you could imagine for your life? Does this vision include periodically lowering your consciousness and poisoning your body?

– Lish

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Narratives, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Expectations & Fears

So here’s a thing that’s happening: In less than a week, I will fly from Seattle to Dallas. I will rent a car and drive to an ashram that is located in a (very) small town. I will enjoy a spiritual retreat—my first ever, actually—and speak with the guru about the possibility of becoming a monk (nun?) and living long-term at this ashram as part of their community.

This was an intuitive, gut decision I made over the course of a few days, though the idea of becoming a full-time spiritual aspirant has been with me for many months. I should probably be clear that I do not care for the notion of spending a lifetime “seeking,” and how that is not what I am seeking (hehe) to do here.

There are several reasons why this feels like the right move to me, but I’m trying to keep my expectations to a minimum. Expectations are cruel tricks of the mind. They immediately create an obstacle whereby acceptance of what is becomes impossible. When we find ourselves disappointed, we can always trace this disappointment back to an expectation that things were going to be different, better, easier, more fun, etc. The grim faces we see everyday can be traced back to expectations: I was supposed to have made something of myself; I was supposed to be married by now; I never thought life would go this way…

Nobody’s life goes the way they think it’s going to go—and that only applies to people who have plans in the first place. More often we just semi-consciously fall into some bearable rhythm charted out for us by society at large, and assume it’ll lead to satisfaction. Strangely, we are surprised to find that this non-strategy often leads to malaise of all kinds. We wake up mid-life and feel we are missing something: Life is in its autumn, and we do not feel ready for it.

It is important to remember that the cultural messages we receive lead us astray time and again, and that the confusion this creates ought to be used as a pointer into the heart. It is only the inner compass that is reliable, and this is only true once we have had some practice following it.

The hivemind never overtly says “you’re going to get the shit beat out of you by life before you even have an inkling of what fulfillment is like.” Instead it says, “you really can escape pain by achieving and acquiring and doing!” Then we get busy without much investigation of the premise. Before we know it, we’re in a trap. This is all very mechanically done, handed down from one generation to the next. We unconsciously teach one another this lie by continuing to buy into it all the time.

I do not mean that life must be endless hardship, but hardship is necessarily a part of this thing, and trying to avoid hardship—or expecting that it should not be there—only worsens our predicament as humans.

So I’m keeping an eye on my projections and expectations about this whole Texas-ashram-guru adventure. I am also keeping an eye on my fears, which are just as life-denying as expectations, though usually more insidious because we tend to keep fears buried deep.

We are all pretty open about our hopes and expectations, but usually stay very quiet around fear. This illustrates the (imagined) power of fear: It silences and suppresses and squishes us into contracted people incapable of authenticity. We don’t like to look at these things, so we just don’t. Instead, we tend to move through life simply avoiding those things that have the potential to strike a fear chord, and this is to our deep detriment. I am happy to see that “challenging fear stories” is now a common thing within personal growth circles. Less fear can only be a positive thing overall, especially because there isn’t anything to be afraid of in reality.

I will tell you my fears, because I think that bringing fear to the surface helps to show how ridiculous and small it is: I’m afraid I will be found deeply defective by the residents of this ashram, that I will be told my ego is so whacked-out and absurd and unconscious that it’s not even worth trying. I think my greatest fear has to do with being too defective even for God: That I will stand before the Ultimate and present my latent darkness (which is inexorably a part of me) and the Ultimate will reject me because of these itchy tendencies, cravings, and judgments. I know this is not even really a Thing because God is that darkness, too. All of my fears are a bunch of nonsense the mind uses because it works on my ego.

I am afraid of coming home with no idea about what to do. I am afraid of stagnating creatively, relationally, and spiritually. I am afraid of not finishing what I started. I am afraid of not living my potential full-time. Then I think, hey, maybe I’m onto something here because fear is one of the mind’s favorite weapons for keeping us in its grips. And I also think, worst case scenario: I get to take four days off of work and go deeply into myself in a place specifically designed to help me go deeply into myself. And I think, get a grip, Lish, you’ve been through it all already, and somehow you are still not only living but generally quite content.

Fear, like everything else, is just something to watch from a place of awareness. What I am describing in the above paragraph is still an illustration of egoic defenses. I am trying to soothe the ego with stories the mind finds more comforting. Ideally we can learn to just see how fear is a big lie our egos use to keep us believing we are these little powerless unhappy and uncreative things. 

The trick with awareness is not to “spin” a fear story into new, different, happier-sounding story. When we do this, we are just covering sad delusion with happy delusion, and the whole point is to be free of all delusion. Perhaps this is why I’ve always had more than a little bit of disdain for “affirmations.” Give me a little credit, Louise Hay: I know when I’m lying to myself.

I’m not trying to put stories on top of stories or to cover negative with positive or even replace fear with love, even though these themes are super popular and even though I’ve probably written and/or will write something to the contrary in the future. The Truth is not a story; it is just the Truth. Truth is not love, or light, or positivity, or anything else. These metaphors may help us on certain parts of our journey, but ultimately, Truth just is what it is.

Having said that, I can keep this all very neutral and to-the-point: I’m headed to an ashram in Texas soon, and I have no idea what is going to happen there.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Uncategorized

How the Ego-Identity Perpetuates Addiction

After my last post, I felt compelled to write more re: the ego, the mind, and addiction. It is my steadfast belief that transcending the unconscious ego (also know as the “assumed identity”) holds the key for solving every mental health issue that plagues humanity, and truly every issue that plagues humanity. That includes addiction.

I’m going to make my standard disclaimer that “understanding” the ego and consciousness occurs on different level than the conceptual mind. You might wonder, “how else can something be understood if not with the mind?” And the answer is that there is another part of you, an infinite dimension within that has always and will always be there. It is your ultimate destiny to experience this limitless nature eternally. This “limitless true nature” is not something fuzzy or conceptual. It is not an idea or a belief. It is as real and enduring as the blue sky or your beating heart—more real, even.

If you’re lost and don’t know what to do with your life—a common ailment in our society, particularly for young people—take heart. There is really only one thing to do: Find that limitless dimension and dwell in it. Put this at the top of your “to do” list, and let life take care of itself.

The Disease that is Conditioning

Addiction is not a disease on its own, but a particularly noticeable symptom of a greater disease. Words like “disease” and “illness” mean very different things to me than how they seem to be used colloquially. All conditioned minds are, in their own ways, diseased, and probably 99% of minds in the world are conditioned. Conditioning is the single, overarching illness of mankind. Its symptoms are myriad: fixation, neuroses, depression, anxiety, fear stories, preoccupation, worry, rumination, confusion, delusion, projections, chronic unprovoked anger, all the way up to psychosis and extreme attachment.

This is what addiction is at its most basic: An extreme attachment to a person, activity, or substance. We can study biochemistry, genetic predispositions, and environmental factors, but when it comes down to it, addiction is nothing more than a strong psychological attachment rooted in the false identity.  Attachments can be broken—we have all done this with ex-lovers, toys we outgrew, and friends we’ve lost touch with. Overcoming the addiction largely depends on how much damage has been done to the body while engaging in the habit and how severely one’s identity is wrapped up in said person, activity, or substance.

This second part brings me back to the ego-identity: For one to transcend their ego, the ego must fully accept its nature, which is not ultimately real. This “great revealing” is often referred to as an ego death or a psychic death or any other number of depressing phrases, usually ending in the word “death.”

Although I have experienced this annihilation and can attest that it does feel that way, I find these phrasings to be unnecessarily frightening. There can be no death for something that never existed in the first place, and the “imagined you” never really did. “You”—as a particular person—have always been a thought or a dream; it’s just that you take the dream Very Seriously up until the moment you wake up. This is why the waking up is glorious and beautiful and hilarious… until it isn’t anymore, because the ego almost always resists its death (which is not actually a death.).

Why Your Ego Uses Your Mind Against You

Just as any animal fights with everything it’s got to avoid dying, such is true with the unconscious ego. So, when our attachments (addictions) become a large part of who we think we are, the ego fights to keep them. This is because you threaten it when you take away the things it imagines it is: A gambler, a drinker, a smoker, a pothead, the partner of someone who isn’t nourishing to you, an over-shopper, a bulimic, an anorexic, a depressive, etc. It doesn’t want you to give these things up, because losing part of the identity is still felt as a loss, even if the “losing” is of something that’s hurting your body and mind.

The ego’s response is to resist. This is the crux and hook of addiction, and why addiction seems so hard to overcome. We identify with the activities we do regularly, so when we stop doing these activities, our identities feel that they are dying. The ego responds by weaponizing the mind, which will sporadically come to throw some seemingly unbearable cravings at you, usually when you’re right at the cusp of leveling up into a more free state. This will go on for some time, and I will write more about how conscious awareness is the only long-term solution for this. In this way we see that eliminating the false identity altogether holds the key to a full recovery, not only from addiction but from everything else we find so troubling about our lives.

I do not know how many treatment modalities specifically address the ego-identity (and/or fully acknowledge that this construct is always illusory), or the way giving up addictions threatens it. I’m sure there are some, and there are probably books that include this kind of language, and that is all very wonderful.

My wish is to see these things well-enough incorporated into mainstream discussions on addiction that people don’t have to suffer through dozens of ineffective treatment programs and do all their own research to find this stuff out. I want to also say that this isn’t even spiritual “woo” stuff we’re talking about: We’re talking about who you think you are, whether that image is rooted in reality, and how your mind maintains this supposed identity for better or worse.

What it Means to be Recovered

Just as I believe almost everyone has the illness of conditioning, I find that very few people are “recovered” and “sane.” To me, this means we have completely overcome the psychological illness that is conditioning, and that we abide in our true selves at all times. It sounds impossible, but this is partially because we treat ultimate liberation like an impossible myth. It is not that.

It is very sad to me that so many people seem to believe “you’re always in recovery,”  or “never really free from addiction.” My genuine advice here is to constantly remind yourself that can be fully liberated from your demons. Whenever a therapist/doctor/friend says something along the lines of “well you’ll always be recovering,” internally tune that shit out and listen to your inner self, which is always seeking to abide in everlasting freedom. You will not seek all your life, nor will you be recovering all your life. It may be a long, dedicated process, but to call it “endless” strikes me as a lowly way to view humanity and we are not meant to be lowly creatures, even if we often act like it (out of ignorance.).

I generally reserve words like “sane” and “well” strictly for the unconditioned mind, i.e., the one that does not falsely imagine itself to be a particular person in this particular world. (I do not claim to have this mind, though I have glimpsed its reality.). This mind is very, very different from the one we normally operate in:

It is still, clear, unattached, unconcerned with time outside of practical matters, free of suffering, and utterly impersonal. In this mind there is no psychological “drag” which brings the past into the present. It is alert but not anxious. It does not identify with anything in the world. Its sense of self is universal, meaning that it sees that it is literally the same as everything and everyone else. This mind—the mind of Christ, the mind of the Buddha—wants nothing for itself. All notions of the “small me” vanish, and we become pure consciousness in human form. This is a person who enters the stream of the universal energy rather than fighting it, like we so often do no matter how this harms us. This mind leads to harmony and peace within the individual, and often moves them through the world encouraging others to that end. This is what your mind has the potential to become, if you just take your chance to look.

And these are the key differences between “recovery” as it is understood through the common lens and the kind of recovery I am talking about: One desires a functional member for society; the other desires total human potential and nothing less. One does not presuppose a true end to all suffering; the other does. One does not help the individual fully understand his/her existence but rather helps them “maintain” in a very base way; the other understands that until we know our true nature unshakably, we are impoverished. One puts limits on how beautiful, expansive, and equanimous life can feel; the other discourages all limitations because it knows all limits are false.

It may sound like a high bar I have in mind when I write about recovery and/or human potential, but to suggest anything less would be deceitful. We should not settle for anything less than what we truly are.

– Lish

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Addiction, Inner Work, Mental Health, Sobriety, The Mind

Getting Sober Without AA

Full disclosure: As of this writing, I’m “only” 8 months sober. I put that in quotes because—if you’re like I was—8 months might sound like an unfathomably long period of time without alcohol. When you’re regularly drinking, going 3 days feels like a stretch. So, to many sober veterans, 8 months ain’t nothin, and maybe they’d think I should shut my mouth because I’m so new to this thing. But to a drinker who is trying to quit drinking, 8 months feels like forever away. (Also, I know I’m not going to drink again.)

In 2015, when I first googled “Getting sober without AA,” this article by Mishka Shubaly popped up. It’s a great article, the heart of which is this: No one gets to define sobriety for you but you, and there’s no “one right way” to get there. If you give up booze but take mushrooms one weekend, you can still hold yourself in high regard, knowing you aren’t about to fall off the rails. Also: People have really whacked out ideas about what addiction is. I loved the article. I wrote to Mishka about my struggles with alcohol, he wrote back, then I got sober… and two months later I was in the mental hospital experiencing a full-on ego death. (I did not write to Mishka about that.)

Even though I thought (and still think) Mishka is a stunning human/writer/recovery story, the answer to my googled question never really appeared. I knew there had to be people who gave up drinking without Alcoholics Anonymous. Where were they? What did they do? How’d they subvert the demon of alcohol addiction without the meetings?

Basically, I’m writing the post I wish had existed for me when I’d gone looking for it a little over 2 years ago.

Also: The first thing that came to my mind when I asked myself How *have* I managed to stay sober for 8 months? was this: I have no clue.

It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned, but that’s kinda how I feel about life in general. Then I got to thinking and realized that there have been all these things I’ve done; they’ve just so fully become parts of my regular life that they hardly feel worth mentioning anymore.

  1. Start paying attention to how drinking really makes you feel. With rare exceptions, you are not going to quit drinking the first time you try to quit drinking. Or the second. Or the 20th. And that’s fine! You’re still cultivating awareness about this thing (I think AA calls it “gathering information”), and part of that means you’re still going to drink. However, you know now that you don’t want to do it forever. You can use these times of drinking to consciously notice a) How the body tends to physically reject things like hard alcohol, b) How much harder it is for you to hold your train of thought and maintain an intelligent conversation when you’ve had a few, c) How dull and sleepy your mind feels after even one, d) How your head/stomach/soul feel after a big night out. Bringing awareness to the total lack of awesomeness here did a lot for me. Most beautifully, alcohol genuinely ceased to be enjoyable.

  2. Start paying attention to the ten million stories you (consciously or unconsciously) tell yourself about alcohol. Things like, “it’s fun,” “I need it to socialize,” “I just like it,” and/or “it’s relaxing.” Underneath every single one of these justifications there’s an accordion of self-investigation just waiting to unravel, i.e., Why does the mind interpret becoming less conscious as “fun”? There’s a whole lot of stuff to look into just by questioning the basic premises of your “whys” for drinking.

  3. Journal about all of this. Go to an art supply store and get yourself a rad journal you’re going to want to write in. Pick something that feels new and hopeful, and just get to writing. I’m willing to say it doesn’t even matter what you write, except that you do it. Writing relieves pressure from the mind and allows you to see your own “logic” on paper. It’s you talking to yourself about yourself in the privacy of You. There are highly therapeutic opportunities here, provided you’re able to be honest with yourself.

  4. Check out Hip Sobriety. I’ve never taken one of Holly’s courses, but I follow her on Instagram and I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything on her blog. Holly’s is an amazing story about a woman who once appeared to “have it all,” except that she was semi-secretly crumbling beneath the weight of several addictions. I have more than a suspicion that a lot of us (see: many millions) fall into this category: We’re normal, busy, hardworking people… who kinda just have to poison ourselves into unconsciousness to make it through the stress/confusion/Groundhog’s Day vibe of our daily lives. (Does this ring a “that’s really messed up” bell to you? It does to me.) Holly’s all about getting sober because being sober equals freedom, and about challenging the stigma of addiction so that we can actually be given the chance to survive this totally preventable and totally curable disease. Even though I’ve never met her, I love her, and her work has been incredibly inspiring to me. Along these lines, it doesn’t hurt to just stock up on addiction memoirs, binge on addiction blog posts, etc. This just helps to remind you you are not the only one working on this thing! Not even close.

  5. Do anything else. You heard me: Anything. Else. Okay, maybe not harder drugs, but I mean all those other little things you avoid out of guilt. Things like eating a whole box of macaroni and cheese and a pint of ice cream for dinner? Go ahead and do that. I am not encouraging you to transfer addictions, but to let yourself off the hook completely for every other thing you chastise yourself for. For instance, I ate a lot of cake. I bought an unnecessary amount of tea. I smoked cigarettes. I got Indian takeout (appetizer/entree/naan) and ate all of it in the span of several episodes of Arrested Development. Give yourself a fuckload of credit for dropping the sinister drug out of your life, and take it one step at a time. Giving up too much at once is a recipe for disaster, so just try to be gentle with yourself.


There are a lot more, and when they feel timely, I will of course post them here.

It feels important to say that navigating life sober is still nowhere near easy or comfortable for me. I’m pretty sure I only ever liked large groups of people because in our society, they usually come standard with alcohol. No, I don’t know what to do with my hands except be awkward, and there is no magic pill to snap you into being totally at peace in your sober skin after years of ingesting a dependency-causing neurotoxin. I’m sorry, but discomfort is the name of the game for a while. Luckily, discomfort doesn’t kill—addiction does.

Oh, and guess how much time I spend alone? Almost all of it when I’m not at work. I know this is best for me, being that I’m still in the “spiritual cocoon,” but it does get pretty lonesome. I have always appreciated solitude, but sometimes I step over the line into that bad word, “isolation.” Still, I’d rather risk isolation than try to force conversations I don’t know how to have naturally anymore in situations I don’t feel like myself in anymore.

My point here is this: Don’t be surprised if something bigger starts to shift in you when you give up huge, identity-bolstering habits. “Being a drinker” is probably something you’ve built into who you think you are. Letting that go means your assumed identity will take a hit, and the assumed identity (ego) really doesn’t like this.

BIG, BLARING WARNING: Your ego will use your mind to retain its solidity, and this is not a maybe. It 100% will happen that your ego uses your mind against you. This is when you start to think things like “oh but such-and-such holiday is coming up; I can’t be sober for that,” or maybe you casually envision yourself on a camping trip with, of course, a beer. These are the sneaky ways the mind lures you back to those behaviors which maintain the old identity you’re (rightfully) trying to outgrow. In this case, your own mind is literally holding you hostage. Don’t let it win.

Very infrequently, my mind still does this. I imagine myself some years in the future, drinking straight from a bottle of red wine, blasting Rihanna and dancing in somebody’s living room. This delusional projection is always  a super fun and sexy time. Pretty quickly, I wise up: I see what you’re doing, mind, and it’s back to reality, which is something like me folding socks alone and listening to Rihanna.

The most important thing I want to instill you with if you’re considering giving up alcohol is this: You can get sober and live an amazing life. It will not be without its difficulties, but you can handle them, because you’re incredible and perfect and strong. I know that’s true.

– Lish

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Depression, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

The Maddening Spiritual “Middle Ground”

I just had one of my worst days in a long time. What’s more, all of my cures for bad days have flown away, because I have made it so: Alcohol’s gone, I was never into weed, food is too short-lived an escape for me, I got rid of the TV (which only played DVDs but even that was tripping me up), I don’t have the Internet in my apartment, and I’m on a spiritual book detox because after a while you just can’t read anymore of that stuff. I deactivated my social media last week, I’m single, and it’s never been in me to sensibly reach out to friends or family. By the time I need to reach out, I’m already neck-deep in emotions I do not feel safe sharing with anyone.

What this means is that when I struggle, there’s not much old ego-stuff to cope (see: numb) with. Guess what? My mind hates this, and therefore punishes me with a host of even uglier feelings: Guilt, shame, loneliness. This thought, always: I feel so alone and misunderstood. Despair, isolation. Check, check, check.

The most frustrating thing about these feelings is that I understand their origin perfectly well: Loneliness survives only in a mind which is conditioned to believe it is separate from others. Loneliness has its root in wanting. Only the ego needs to be “understood;” what we are is beyond understanding. The false identity craves connection, craves intimacy, craves anything at all. In Truth these cravings dissolve before us; we realize we actually have always been (and will always be) alone, but it is not sad, it is beautiful. We are alone, but we are God; we are everyone and everything, and we are peace itself. Persistent negativity of this variety is the result of unconscious stuff that doesn’t want to be seen, and yet it also does. Whatever I still cling to, it’s the death of me. Ambivalence is a killer on this path.

I get all that intellectually, but still I remain riddled with these emotions; clutched by them, suffocated by them. I sob in bed and ask for help and for a long time there is nothing but silence. Usually, whenever I next open my computer or pick up a book, there’s something there for me to read that helps. In this way I know my prayers are actually heard.

And yet I am a person. I’m still highly flawed and irritated with myself, especially with the fact that I’m highly flawed and irritated with myself. This is not about me having an unrealistic expectation about being “perfect,” but about going the whole way into spiritual freedom, all while knowing that my ego is fighting to protect something that will definitely crumble one day anyway.

There’s something gnawing in me that wants to make itself known: This is not bipolar depression, mmkay? (Even if it was, and even if bipolar depression was something different than “normal” terribleness amplified, the above statements would still be true.) It’s just been a rotten day. I know for a fact that my body/mind came standard with emotions that go to 11, but for the love of God, emotions do not always need diagnoses. Just because we’re not actually robots designed to feed the capitalist machine while maintaining that “we’re fine” in every passing conversation doesn’t mean we are sick.

In fact, I’m willing to say right now that emotions never need diagnoses, though they may certainly need healers. If we insist on doing this, the diagnoses should come with a huge note at the bottom, something along the lines of: You, as an individual entity, are just an idea with no grounding in Reality. Seeing this clearly will alleviate every problem you have, including your negative emotions. This may not be an easy task, so here’s a mood disorder diagnosis to have until you’re ready to let it go. If you never are, that’s okay. But we’re just putting it out there, because it’s revolutionary, and it is your final destination as a soul to realize this truth for yourself.

Of course I kid, even though I actually, really, honestly wish someone had taken the time to educate me on the true meanings of the ego and pure consciousness—ideally before I went “insane.” Nobody did, because they just didn’t know how, and also I wasn’t looking.

Hence this blog. Hence my life.

What I’m really getting at is that you can have your mind and ego blown to smithereens by God/Self/Being, and these wily things will manage to cobble themselves back together.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The mental “knowing” of All Things Spiritual really gets us nowhere. I gotta be honest, it often feels dreadfully ineffective to have a blog on consciousness because the whole punchline, after everything I write, is this: “But you really gotta see it for yourself.” It’s like spending your life describing to people the beauty of your favorite place in the world. You could do that, sure, but for the people you love, you really want to just buy plane tickets so they can go there and know the magic of this location firsthand.

Except there’s no ticket you can buy to this thing. Also, very few people seem to want to go. Or they say they do but balk when you get too close to the airport, or think they’ve already been there so what’s the point, or otherwise come up with 10,000 explanations for why they’re just “not interested in Absolute Truth.” They just want to be better people, or just take down the “worse people.” That’s the problem, after all—it’s certainly not their own unconsciousness.

And I get that. Hell, I want to be a better person. But ultimately, it is not “a good person” that I strive to be—in fact, I do not want to be a person at all. I’m not sure that this statement on its own makes sense, so I’m going to explain: “A person,” as defined by the conditioned mind, is always unreliable. One minute a person is happy, the next sad, then angry, maybe compassionate—a person’s entire way of being can be altered drastically just by threatening a few key attachments and/or illusions. It is a volatile construct, the egoic personality (and all personalities are egoic.).

People are inherently contradictory. They claim they’re one thing and then act differently. They say they’ve forgiven, and yet they bring up “the forgiven incident” when angry. They consider themselves loving and nonjudgmental and go on to say something quite hateful. They believe they are “good” and yet they say mean things. They swear they’re going to give this-or-that thing up—only to pick up the habit again in a few days. The flimsiness of the conditioned mind (again, this is the definition of a “person”) is so obvious it’s maddening.

I don’t mean this to be an attack. Nor is it meant to be the oversimplified, negative “People just suck” maxim that almost everyone reaches when they go deeply into conversations about the state of the world. Such a sentiment often serves to absolve us of digging further, of looking at our layers of self-deceit and fear stories. It is not a cynical attitude; it is just the nature of “personhood.” All that thinking and feeling without the stable foundation of Truth revealing that everything is totally fine? Of course we’re freaking wobbly.

And I admit fully: I’m like this, too. I’ve done all those things a thousand times. My mind is a disintegrating carousel I keep trying to get on, somehow believing it’ll be super fun this time. Then the carousel turns into a nightmare à la that creepy ride in the original Willy Wonka movie and I wake up a bit more. Oh, yeah! I remember. That’s why I don’t trust it! My mind lets itself think I’ve won sometimes.

I resolve to abide in my Self, my Truth, my unwavering Knowing… and then of course, I fail. Again. It’s exhausting, this middle ground. I wish I had advice on it, but I just cried and ate a bunch of cheese, so I don’t think I’m the best person for that.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Mooji, says that on the path, we’re moving from “person” to “presence.”

So I’m not saying I don’t want to be human; I just don’t want to be a person. First of all, I suck at it; secondly, it brings a lot of suffering—in part because I suck at it, but also because I see clearly the futility of trying to be better at Playing Person™. Doing so would not bring me to the Truth, and that’s all there is; that’s all we’re here for anyway: To evolve in consciousness until we see who we are, irrefutably, undoubtedly, perfectly, and not personally.

So what good would it really do to become more comfortable in groups? What joy would I find if I felt like “small talk” was a breeze (to be fair, I don’t think anyone really enjoys small talk.)? How much happier would I be if I could act like a person better? The answer: Not very. It is Truth I long for and nothing else, knowing full well that it will cost me my dear illusory “person.”

But whatever. She kinda sucks anyway, so it’s really no loss at all.

– Lish

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