Watching the Egoic Mind

The ego is the most misunderstood and underappreciated concept in the history of human evolution. This word gets thrown about casually all the time. Many people believe they have a hold on this notion, and perhaps they do on an intellectual level. However, intellectual understanding is not what we are after on the path. This is because intellectual understanding will not free you or reintroduce you to the Self.

As I’ve said, I once loved deep philosophical discourseor rather it felt “deep” because the mind was busy tying itself into ever-tightening knots. The depths of ourselves are not actually known until the egoic mind begins to thin. All of my conversations occurred while the core questions, “Who is speaking? Who even are we?” went ignored and/or unanswered. Intellectual conversations carry on like this all the time.

The reason for such misunderstanding is because 99% of what we hear, think, and talk about comes from the ego itself. In this post I am going to refer to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave* and compare it to the experience of living inside the egoic identity versus seeing through it and to the Self.

*The Wikipedia link says that the allegory is about “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.” But the allegory is not about education in terms of mental knowledge or accumulation of worldly facts. One with a Ph.D in theology is no closer to Truth than a farmer who dropped out of high school.

The allegory is about self-knowledge. It is about the way we can come to know true reality as opposed to what most of us accept as “reality” without looking very far inward. The allegory has survived for so long in the collective consciousness precisely because it is about the egoic mind, not “education” in the modern sense.

Most often, when we say we understand ourselves or others, it is ego talking about ego. Here we are still in the cave, theorizing about the light outside rather than just walking out into it. If we once had a spiritual experience, we might be remembering what it was like to be out there for a split second: Spacious, peaceful, open, clear. It is much rarer for one to walk outside the cave and never look back. I would like to see it become much less rare.

And it is almost only the “bad” human qualities we attribute to ego. We think it only means arrogance, greed, hot-headedness, and an inflated sense of importance. And while these traits surely do stem from an unexamined ego, they alone are not an accurate description of what an “ego” is or its effects on the being.

Here is the simplest description of your ego: It’s your false identity. It is a construct (truly just a thought) made up of personal history, belief systems, and group affiliations. It is a collection of labels and stories that have been assigned to you since (or even before) birth. You have taken on these labels and stories unconsciously, and believe they are what “you” are.

This falsenesssomething that is a clever lieis driving nearly all of our thoughts and actions in this world. Do we understand now how the world has gotten into the shape it is in? We live upon it while believing unquestioningly in a huge lie. This lie is so obvious it goes overlooked all the time.

Just for fun, pay close attention to the next new person you meet. Most of the time, if you ask them about themselves, they will launch right into their ego-story: “I am John, I work at a pharmacy, I have a dog, etc.” Or just ask someone “who are you?” Again, it will almost always be about personal history, personal relationships, their profession, interests, etc. Straight away, they are speaking from their ego. It is rare for someone to go “off-script.” The ego is what we are usually talking about when we use the word “I:” It is “ourselves” as particular individuals. These small stories represent the cave we are all living in.

What is the origin of this cave, this ego-identity?

It is conditioning, through and through. Everything you believe about yourself is the result of conditioning. This is easy to unravel: The body you were born with did not come with a name. Your parents gave you one, and slowly conditioned you to respond to this name. We are all conditioned to believe we are smart or stupid, worthy or unworthy. We are conditioned to believe that certain self-expressions are acceptable and others must be suppressed; we are conditioned to believe all kinds of things like “money equals safety,” “nations are real,” and “a partner will make you happy.”

Consciously conditioning another person to believe something is negatively called “brainwashing.” But even if we “reject” all beliefs, we will find that this root constructthis false “I”—will happily latch on to the belief that “it is a person with no beliefs.”

If you take yourself to be any kind of person at all, you are missing the Truth of your Self.

Sometimes we read or hear truthful statements about the ego and dismiss them: “I’ve heard all this already; I understand all that,” etc… Well, what are we trying to defend, then? What is the source of our restlessness and lack of ease? Why do we continue to chase experiences and live in unpleasant life situations? Why do we find it so difficult to sit quietly in peace?

Once this “false one” is unmaskedonce we walk in out into the sun from the cave—the struggles naturally come to an end. Because we are not separate from one another, it is true that the whole world is uplifted when even one being makes it out.

But I don’t want it to seem so hard! There is actually no cave or ego to “get out of.” See this and you will know freedom right now. And you do not have to sacrifice everything in your life to look within. I am of the belief that most realized beings move towards lives of simplicity because silence just becomes preferable to conditioned chatter and noise. However, peace is still an inner experience everywhere they go. Living from the Truth, a sage is also capable of having relationships and jobs and other “normal” life situations, but many don’t. These things are often a kind of energetic drain.

The main difference is that they have seen who they are, truly and doubtlessly, and allow life to unfold before them. There is no fixed “person” within them. They tend to radiate peace and stillness, but are capable of any unabashed expression—yes, even anger and sorrow. They are simply not identified with their emotions.

As far as getting free, it isn’t very helpful to “think about” the ego-identity. When we think about the ego from the ego, it is tantamount to painstakingly wandering around the cave, taking inventory of its nooks and crannies: “Ah yes, here is the water drip; here is the crack in the cave wall; here is the rock where I stubbed my toe…”

We are also fascinated with the projections on the walls, always discussing them and pointing at them. The obsessiveness over worldly “stuff” is truly silly. You are given no aerial view this way, and no idea about how beautiful it is outside.

To see the ego in its entirety, we must start to make steps towards its exit. If we are lucky and our minds are ripe, our efforts will fruit in no time. We will run right to the edge of the cave and into the sunlight to find that none of those projections were real in the first place. From this position, it will seem bizarre how steadfastly most human beings fight to remain inside of it.

However, it seems that most of us prefer to live in the hallway towards the exit of the cave: We want the imagined safety and familiarity of the cave (the cherished personal identity) and an open free life in the sun.

My friends, this is not possible. It is the work of the egoic mind to convince you the cave is safer. The exact opposite is true: In no time at all, the cave is going to collapse and crumble in on you, so why waste another moment inside of it? The desire to have both can easily create many lifetimes of discord for you.

The true way to live is in complete freedom from the egoic mind. This is also the way our culture goes about transforming into one that is actually healthy and responsible in the long run. Our way of life in the egoic hivemind is much like a snake eating its own tail. It may seem tasty and interesting until we see, with horror, what is happening. Only then will we say, with shock, “my God, what have I been doing?!”

Perhaps the Self is realized right then.

The question is, will we realize these things?

The Problem is in Our Own Minds

The problem is in our own minds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Life Throws Pies

I’d like to start this post with a Mooji quote I only remember loosely: “As soon as you think you have life ‘figured out,’ life will throw a pie in your face.”

This is hilariously true. Every time I think I’ve “got it,” or even that I know what my “next step” is, something strange happens. The universe corrects me: You know nothing, lish. Stop trying to make things happen and dissolve yourself. At least now these lessons tend to be gentle as opposed to the ego-obliterating experience of having a public mental breakdown. At that time, God was hitting me hard, showing me all the secrets of the universe while simultaneously humiliating the small, egoic me.

In case you’re new to this blog, what I’m talking about is the “manic episode” I had about 2 and a half years ago. I put “manic episode” in quotes because I no longer buy into conventional stories of mental illness. If anything, I believe there is an illness that afflicts the vast majority of humanity, and it is the illness of conditioning. And I surely don’t see myself as illhell, I don’t even regard that time in my life as “bad” anymore. Don’t get me wrong: It was totally chaotic, unstable, and exhausting, but it went the way it went and I learned a lot from it. I now regard the episode as a blown-out expansion of consciousness that I was unprepared for. It occurred about a year after a spontaneous click of soul realization, a moment that changed everything forever. As Emerson might say, I was “blasted with an excess of light.”

Sometimes life is rough with us and grinds us down with a heavy hand. We have a choice to either be humbled and take the time to look into ourselves, or to feel angry and resentful by “what life/the world has done to us.” Often, we fluctuate between these two perspectives until the former becomes the only tenable position to take. I am now accepting of every life experience that has pummeled me into whatever I am now. In my heart I say to consciousness, Truth, God, whatever: Make me dust and nothingness, because I know You are there.

So there are your manic episode/forcible hospitalization-sized pies, and there are your “oh you think you’re going to be single, really?”-sized pies. I’m dealing with that second pie now. Life is catching me, yet again, but I am also being reminded that even my best-laid plans can be upended at any moment. I have no control; you have no control. Control is illusory. This has been made real in my experience over and over again.

Here’s my most recent example: Yesterday I planned to fly from Austin, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana. Why? Cheap tickets and a dear friend.

When I got to the gate, I learned that my flight would actually be departing from the other side of the airport. At that gate, I ended up in conversation with a man who was also planning to fly from Austin to New Orleans. We chatted while listening for more announcements regarding our flight, but didn’t hear anything about the departure gate getting switched back. When our flight time rolled around we decided to go back to the original gate. We weren’t allowed on the plane since it had already boarded. They gave us the “you’re supposed to be here 10 minutes before take-off” spiel, and our tickets were refunded. This is the first flight I’ve ever missed, by the way, and it didn’t happen because I was late.

At that point, I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing—like, at all. I didn’t really have any official business in New Orleans, and to be honest, I hadn’t even made solid plans with the friend who lives there. If I’d been alone I would’ve just gone back to Austin. But the man I’d been talking to offered to take me to his place in Georgetown, Texas, and I took him up on it. We had a delicious dinner followed by several mineral waters and then I stayed at his place. I informed him early in the evening of my intention not to date anyone on account of my fucked up man issues. He was chill with it; I slept alone.

So here’s the pie: The universe hands me this person three days after I decide not to date anyone for three months. I wonder, is this a trap set by my mind to see how committed I am to my true self? Or is this life handing me something I didn’t think I wanted but that is actually really beautiful, and to push it away would be foolish? Are both of these questions pointless? Should I quit overthinking every unforeseen twist in my life?

My answer for now is to just bask in gratitude, to sit on the deck in the Texan humidity drinking Topo-Chico as my heart beats out of my chest. It is to listen very closely to my inner wisdom, be honest, and enjoy the hell out of my life.

Anyway. He had to go to Los Angeles for work tonight so now I’m staying at his (beautiful) apartment until he returns. The last thing I said to him before he left was “I have literally nothing to offer you.”

Of course I don’t know how this happened. If you’d asked me 28 hours ago, “lish, where will you be tomorrow?” I would have said something like “drinking espresso and eating beignets while writing.” To be fair, that also sounds dope, but I’m pretty sure this is better. I am alone and at peace. I have a very comfy bed. There is a lot of healthy food here. I like this guy. All is well.

So I have no idea about life, you guys. I just have no idea. I continue to drop into myself and take chances and the universe/God/whatever continues to provide in all of these unexpected ways. This is what I mean by “divine flow:” Trusting that you can fall into yourself and your path, leap into the great unknown, and that you will land somewhere soft.

To be sure: I do not mean you should expect to meet only kind people who will take you in. But you might. You might also end up sleeping on the street. It might be pretty bad in physical reality, say, if you are shivering with cold and unable to secure food. I recommend doing some light planning before you drop out of your whole life, but simultaneously, I’m like, shrug. Wake up to Reality and do what you will. Simplify and find happiness there. If you experience a deep spiritual realization, you may be moved to do any number of seemingly stupid things, and my blog is not going to change that one bit.

Besides, this is the gamble we take when we decide we want to go further on the path. The “somewhere soft” place you land is a field of awareness inside, not anywhere in physical space-time.

I want to say that there is a deep, powerful knowing inside of you that you really can trust. Your ultimate destination is your true Self, which is also where the thought of “you” began. “You” are also just a thought, subject to the fleeting nature of the phenomenal world. What you really are is not a thought or a feeling or even a collection of these things. Every time you say something like “Yes but I’m just so…” you are falsely identifying with a temporal mental construct.

When it comes to the evolution of consciousness, the first step is the last and the last step is the first. There is no first or last and truly no sequential events, because there is no time. Consciousness is all there ever was and all there ever will be.

All of this is in you to remember, and when you do have a click of realization about who you are and what life  is, everything changes. I mean everything, including those things you might think you don’t want to change. If you seek to awaken, there is probably an intense ride ahead of you. There is also no other choice, because awakening to Reality is the destiny of all beings.

To quote one of my favorite Smiths songs, there is a light that never goes out.

– lish

location: Georgetown, TX

 

Less Mind, More Heart

In Austin, I responded to a craigslist ad seeking vegetarian housemates who were interested in self-awareness. The price was good, the location looked awesome, and I loved the idea of forming a small community of individuals who’d live together consciously. The man who owned the house was incredibly kind and offered to pick me up and show me the space. But when I stepped out of my friend’s apartment to go check it out, I got a very clear and obvious “no, don’t,” from inside. The signal was strong: Getting a place, no matter how beautiful, meant dropping several hundred dollars. It probably meant locking down a job. It meant “building a life,” to some extent.

I don’t really know how to explain my need to not do this, but that’s how I feel. Never has it felt so right to have nothing and be nothing. The soul compels me to stay open, to not move into a routine of predictability and consistency—not yet anyway. I respond to the soul and do not question it, because I’ve learned that obeying the soul is the only way to freedom and deep peace. The mind, of course, does not like this. It watches my bank account get a little lower and says “you need to get a job now,” “you need to know for sure where you’re sleeping tomorrow,” and all kinds of other totally practical concerns. My heart-based response is “I hear you, mind, but you take a backseat to my heart now.”

Even so, I do not advocate a head-in-the-clouds kind of attitude towards spirituality wherein we assume that “God will just take care of us.” Sometimes everything can feel so magical on the path that you’ve got stars in your eyes and it seems as if nothing can go wrong. On the level of Ultimate Reality, this is true. Everything is perfect. Nothing can go wrong. I hear these kinds of sentiments often, and yet when something actually happens in the world (death, loss of money, theft), very few people retain their equanimity. I’m not sure I would either, and I’m not trying to make the claim that any reaction is “wrong” or “unspiritual.” If anything, though, this fact does highlight the rarity and beauty of one who is grounded in the Self at all times. No outer situation troubles their peace. All events, including emotions and thoughts, are accepted immediately and then released. They do not allow others to determine their state of being. For them, the illusion of control in this world has fallen entirely, and surrender is the permanent state.

It also bears noting that if we get too confident in the magic of living spiritually, often something humbling occurs just so we’re reminded of how not special we are. We ought to never think of ourselves as more important or worthy of care than any other person in the world. The divine plays no favorites and takes no sides. It is true that consciousness and trust in the universe can carry us very far and lead to beautiful experiences, but remember: On the path, the ultimate goal is the dissolution of the ego-identity. And in Reality, no experience gets you closer to this goal than any other. Experiences and life situations happen on the level of the mind, but on the soul-level, none of these things feel particularly different. The status of the soul remains unchanging and yet always new, even as the outward configurations change rapidly and unpredictably. Soul is boundlessly complete and shining; mind fluctuates and chases the things that mimic the light of the soul.

Even as much as I’m in love with this nomadic way of living for now, I know that travel isn’t necessary for self-awareness. I have ended up in this conversation with many people who are convinced that travel is a prerequisite for developing a universal perspective. This is simply untrue. One whose sole possession is a cardboard box in a small village who traverses their consciousness easily understands more about the human condition than someone who has traveled the world collecting experiences. Once you know the root and the source of your own being, there is nothing that “exploring other cultures” can really teach you. Everything we need to know about ourselves and the state of humanity is right inside of us and requires no physical relocation.

As my heart said “don’t settle in Austin,” it simultaneously said, “go to New Mexico.”

It’s kind of jarring how abrupt and obvious my intuition can be. One minute I was thinking “Oh, I’m going to check out this nice house near Barton Springs,” and in the next it was like “Nope; I’m done here.” My intuition has, on its own, become more developed the longer I stay sober, meditate, and otherwise listen to it. I know well the risks of denying my intuition. Suppressing the heart’s movements and wanton passions is a recipe for misery every time. The heart wants what it wants and points directly to those things and people you need to become self-aware. Listen to it. Your mind will protest, but maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll just lose your mind someday.

In order to responsibly follow the heart, some maturity is needed. For example: If I went wayfaring like this five years ago, I would’ve been drunk all the time and could’ve easily ended up in some less-than-ideal situations. Fortunately, I’m older and grounded now, and was in the awesome situation of having musician friends in town to play South by Southwest. I ended up watching music with them all day long, and the next day they graciously let me get come along with them to Albuquerque. Unceremoniously I grabbed my things (two bags and two boxes) and got into the car. We hung out at a house show for a while, the guys drove through Texas until 4 in the morning, and then we crashed at a Days Inn. I dropped off the boxes at a local post office in order to jettison more stuff. Now it’s just me and two stuffed bags. Driving around with the band was really amazing and hilarious; I basically laughed for 24 hours straight and felt great even while totally sleep-deprived.

Today I sit at a coffee shop in Albuquerque, waiting for the train to Santa Fe to arrive.

When I went to the ashram I did not know I’d go to Austin or how; when I got to Austin I did not know I’d go to Albuquerque or how. I have the delightful sensation of leap-frogging through the unknown and being pleasantly surprised at every turn.

One day I feel I may need to write a series of posts about developing intuition and staying grounded, but for now I’ll just say that heartfulness is the most needed quality in this world. We need more people grounded in heart, people who are willing to let their presence and energy do the talking for them. An untrained mind will always try to convince you otherwise. It thinks people need to be “told” about what is right, what needs to be done, how to be spiritual, and on and on. It’s obvious that this is ultimately ineffective and a tactic of the “spiritual” ego-identity. One who silently radiates Truth teaches more powerfully than the most verbose intellectual does.

The harsh news is that unless we’re capable of sitting in one place with ourselves and knowing peace, we can’t spread peace throughout the world. Miraculously, once we’re straightened out, we find that the rest of the world starts to follow suit, and all of life becomes infinitely more beautiful. Even a world that is as unconscious as ours can be viewed through calm, divine eyes; these eyes do not judge or hold anything against the world for not being what the mind might call “perfect.” These are the eyes that know perfection is already here. They are the eyes of the heart.

– Lish

 Location: Albuquerque, NM

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

Notes on the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lish

Rethinking God

I returned from the retreat at Siddhayatan on Wednesday. I don’t want to write too much about it, but suffice it to say that it was an awesome experience. I could feel a radiance emerging within me while I was there, and Acharya Shree—the founder and spiritual master at Siddhayatan—has a definite energy about his being. He spoke the Truth and felt like the Truth, and that is the most important thing in a teacher.

We are living in an era where anyone can call themselves a spiritual teacher, and the Internet allows us all to say whatever we want. Especially when we’re starting out, it can be really hard to discern who has shed their ego (there aren’t many) and who hasn’t. It matters: When egos talk to other egos, not much wisdom is shared. When consciousness talks to consciousness, we enter a whole new realm of growth. Whoever you read/follow/listen to should clearly understand the difference (and overlap) in these terms.

Point is: Be skeptical. If you learn how to follow your intuition, you will know who is genuine in their teachings.

I want to talk about the word “God,” particularly how funny it is that I have a blog that makes use of this word even though I spent many years identifying as an atheist. I’m actually glad that I considered myself an atheist for so long: There was a certain strength and resolve to it. I stubbornly refused to accept anything I hadn’t experienced for my own self. It was like this: I’d never seen a unicorn, so I didn’t believe in unicorns—why should it be any different with God? I felt like the only way I would ever believe is if God arrived right in front of me and made itself known, which is exactly what happened, except not in the way my old mind thought it would.

The fact is that I didn’t believe in God because my idea of God was too small. Also, I saw lots of people who claimed to believe in this apparently all-loving, all-knowing being, but they were doing really awful things. Basically I saw no practical function for believing in God and no evidence of God’s existence. This brings me to an important point: Any useful God should be both experiential and practical: It should not require that we take anything on some other person’s word, and its presence should create peace, compassion, and the removal of all hierarchies. In this way we see the futility (and danger) of religious belief systems: They fail in both regards.

When one human becomes highly conscious while the rest of their society is unconscious, the result tends to be dogma. The fluidity and dynamism of a conscious being is so powerful that others seek to trap and emulate these qualities, ignoring that this light is actually within them all the time. Complex myths and rituals crop up in an attempt to “get” whatever this prophet had (psst: it can’t be “gotten.”), and these traditions get handed down, largely by social coercion and the threat of Hell. A collection of ideas and rituals make up a “religion,” the nucleus of which was someone who simply realized the Truth of their being. Of course, all this usually occurs after said conscious being is either cast our or killed by said society. The luckier ones tend to live very poor and very happy and everyone just thinks they’re eccentric.

If Christ were to rise and appear in any of the megachurches today, it is almost a guarantee that He would be denigrated and/or arrested, especially if He tried to speak. The majority of Christ’s followers would not accept Him—they would call Him crazy instead. I don’t say any of this to be insulting, but to point out how unconsciousness makes us blind to the Truth even though it is right in front of us at all times.

Until I was about 26, I was all science-science-science, mind-mind-mind. I clung to this conditioning because I was Smart and culture says it is good to be Smart (in this one way). Despite my seeming smartness, it never occurred to me that biology could be God and evolution could also be God and every other thing I thought “refuted” God—including suffering—could be God, too. There was always this silly “debate” going on, as if these two things were in opposition. When we aren’t under the spell of delusion, it’s obvious that there is actually no friction between God and science.

This is what becomes clear as you expand in consciousness: God is everything. Still, even saying that confines God to a limitation, because immediately the mind rushes in with an idea for what “everything” means. And even if we define God as “limitless,” we remain contracted in our minds. God does not have limits but the conditioned mind does, and when you hit them, frustration and/or confusion will occur. If you imagine the nature of a thing that it limitless, it will be limited to your concept of what “limitless” is like. Limitlessness must be known just like the sun and wind must be known: Through direct experience, not concepts.

For the believer and the nonbeliever, the imagined God is too small. God is not actually something to believe or disbelieve in. God is something you know, or something you are seeking to know. Most people are in the latter category—not that this is a bad thing—and many of them are seeking unconsciously, meaning they don’t even know they’re on the path (but they are because the spiritual path isn’t really optional). No matter what we do or don’t do, we are all destined to know, to see, to reach this realization. There’s no way to avoid it.

I find neither atheists nor theists to be “more right.” If we apply any label to ourselves, we are missing it.

The Self, Reality, the Absolute, pure consciousness (or simply consciousness, depending on the context): These are all synonyms for the word “God.” God is still oddly thought of as a being, a thing, an entity outside of our own lives and selves. In this belief, we see how powerless humans imagine they are, and this is very unfortunate. I think Catholics even teach children that they are born sinners, and this is just sad and Not Right. Why set a child up for a life of shame and fear if God is supposedly all-loving? The Truth is the opposite: We are all already pure and perfect in the eyes of God, and this is always true. We’ve just been taught in so many ways to forget, forget, forget.

And even though we treat higher states of consciousness as maybe being different or special, that’s not quite accurate. This “ultimate” consciousness is the underlying substance of all things and it is all things, both seen and unseen. Nothing is excluded. I will say this again and again: It’s already there; it only matters how aware you are of it.

God is inescapable, and I mean that in a good way, because the sooner we realize there is nowhere to run and no point to resisting ourselves, the sooner we relax into the Truth. This is a wonderful place to be: We become unselfconscious, awake, joyful, decisive, and clear. Life is simple and beautiful. Everything lines up on its own, and we live in a near constant state of flow.

– Lish

Reflections on the Mental Hospital

It’s been two years since I was involuntarily hospitalized, and I finally feel strong enough to say this outright: I am not ill. During that time I was undergoing an ego death, or a complete loss of personal identity. Here’s the thing: Personal identity actually is an illusion, and it’s the greatest illusion of all. Jesus Christ and the Buddha knew this; thousands of others have known it as well.

I was locked up for nine days and diagnosed as bipolar, type 1, with psychotic features. It was a bad time for everyone involved, but I no longer identify with this diagnosis.

That experience—and the time I’ve spent researching and recovering—have formed the basis of my understanding of mental illness. On the other side, I am dedicated to writing about mental health, consciousness, and society in a way that was never presented to me as a psychology student or as a patient.

The main points could (and will) be expanded on and turned into posts all on their own, but can be summed up as follows:

  1. All mental illnesses are the result of conflicts between the unconscious ego (who we think we are) and a greater emerging consciousness (what we really are). This is also true of our “average” neuroses, including the collective mindset that propels us to knowingly destroy ourselves and our planet.
  2. The solution for this is to raise consciousness. This is work that cannot be brought about by all the diet fads, medications, social justice movements, or religious practices in the world. Raising consciousness is done by way of individuals fearlessly questioning their assumed identities and refusing to settle for the answers of the conditioned mind. I do not mean to imply this will be an easy or immediate solution, but that it is the only way.

I’m not the first person to say these kinds of things.

One of my all-time favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness was written over 40 years ago. It asserts much of what I’ve said, and still it hasn’t seemed to make much of a dent in the machine of psychopharmaceuticals or the “chemical imbalance” theory. In every regard, humanity’s mental health (particularly those humans in the West) has continued to decline.

Why don’t ideas like this gain traction? If understanding consciousness and the unconscious ego holds “all the answers” regarding mental illness, why do almost no mainstream psychiatrists pay attention to these things? The answer is simple: Because they have not experienced the shattering of the personal ego or the reality of pure consciousness themselves. Transcending the ego—even temporarily, and not under the influence of drugs might I add—is still a pretty rare occurrence.

For one to see that higher consciousness literally solves every problem, they have to know it for themselves. The average psychiatrist doesn’t know much of higher consciousness, nor are they interested. This is true for most of us. However, I pick on this field simply because these are people who have decided to make a career out of tending to the mental health crises of others. They ought to have a clearer understanding of what they’re dealing with.

A psychiatrist—whose livelihood and identity are at least partially wrapped up in seeing people through a limited, illness-oriented lens—cannot psychologically afford to seriously consider these matters in a new light. This is because the very nature of such ideas threatens who they think they are (their egos). The unconscious ego fights very hard to maintain that it is real. Therefore, such professionals will not likely take up a dedicated meditation practice or thoroughly investigate their own minds. They will not likely consider the seemingly “far out” works of other doctors who have had spiritual experiences. And until they find out for themselves, these theories will get dismissed as superstition, even as our rates of mental illness continue to climb.

They do take notice when mindfulness and meditation are proven to act as beneficial treatment modalities. Of course, this is only because the science points to it, and not because they have direct experience with its usefulness. That attitude—“I believe in things only when research shows evidence”—is detrimental and weird and (presumably) Western.

The “show me the data” mindset turns us away from our inner wisdom. It makes us feel like we need someone else to prove what’s right in front of our faces. If we just took a moment to tune into ourselves, we would know everything about how backwards our current way of life is. We would see the toll it is taking on us spiritually, mentally, and physically. Even better, we would know exactly what to do about it.

This is even truer when it comes to things like psychology and sociology. Every time I read a headline about how “research shows” something negative about guilt, isolation, or the effects of social media, all I can think is, “No shit. Why did some researcher spend his/her energy ‘proving’ something that anyone can verify just by being human?” We do not need to have our basic emotions and healthiest ways for living confirmed for us by experts.

Now I’ve gotten a bit off track, as is common. The main points of this section are as follows:

  1. Psychiatry is largely blind to the truth of mental illness because so few professionals have transcended their egos.
  2. Studying the external world has some amazing benefits, but it cannot lead us to the truth. It can also distract us from the things we know innately just by being humans in this world.

If this post has an air of judgment and/or resentment, I own that. I do not pretend to be 100% free of ego. Hospitalization still has a charge for me, in part due to the shame I harbor about that period of my life (I’m working on it.). Also, being hospitalized was straight-up traumatizing. When I listen to my body, there’s still a churning in my stomach and a tightening of my jaw around this subject.

I definitely needed help—that’s why I took myself to the hospital. I will, however, always dispute that I was a grave danger to myself or others, and I will always resent that such a judgment got to be made by a bald jerk DMHP who talked to me for all of an hour. And while I’m sure I met his criteria, his criteria is what I’m here to question.

This brings me to another very important point: Locking someone up who is experiencing an ego death actually worsens their prognosis. After an episode like this, some people retreat entirely from spirituality out of fear. The whole thing scares the hell out of them because they don’t want to lose their minds again. Others latch onto their diagnoses and spend their lives chasing a modicum of “stability” because that’s what they’ve been told to expect, when really there can be so much more beauty and peace in life. Still others spend time in a long limbo of confusion only to dismiss the experience as a “breakdown” rather than a catalyst for growth.

We desperately need more conscious people in the psychiatric field. (Really, we just need more conscious people in the world.) What exactly do I mean by “conscious”? Those who have seen through their false selves and directly experienced who they really are—consciousness.

I don’t know how to make this happen. Consciousness can’t be forced on anyone, but I do know this is the only way our collective illness will be healed.

– Lish

Understanding Reality

Just so we’re clear, reality cannot be understood by reading a blog post, or even by reading every book that’s been written on the subject.

While I’ve gained a deeper understanding about this stuff through books, the concepts are peanuts compared to the lived experience of seeing. It’s like knowing the textbook definition of love versus actually falling in love. It’s like studying all the facts about the moon landing versus standing on the moon. Reality, as we’re considering it now, is something we must directly see.

It really is amazing that we manage to walk around feeling like we’re aware of reality when we’ve probably never taken the time to deeply examine ourselves and/or the world. When cornered, we may come up with many sophisticated reasons for avoiding such examination. Underneath these reasons there is a basic fear of discovering that everything we think we know is false, or an “unreadiness” for waking up. We are all at different places on this path, even those who call themselves atheists. If we don’t feel ready for this realization we’ll cleverly avoid it by any means necessary.

But until we follow through with self-examination, everything in life goes assumed, down to the most essential thing: Who we are. When “who we are” goes tacitly assumed but never realized, we’re in deep trouble. Walking around in mistaken identities creates all of our problems in life. When almost everyone walks around assuming they’re something they’re not, it amounts to a world filled with the wide-scale insanity we’re exposed to every day.

With uncompromising self-inquiry, we can see what we really are, and with this seeing comes a whole new reality. This experience can be mind-blowing, and that’s no joke: As your conditioned mind gets blown to bits by the power of pure consciousness, you might temporarily experience a different reality (or a series of different realities) than those around you. Sometimes people will call you psychotic, forcibly keep you in a hospital, and/or tell you that you have a chronic mental illness. It’s up to you to decide if this is true. (Some very forward-thinking psychiatrists have also referred to these episodes as “spiritual emergencies,” a term worth looking into if you’ve ever been called psychotic and don’t know what to make of the experience.)

Having said all that, I’ve drawn a diagram to conceptualize what’s going on here:

ink (33)

  1. Self, pure consciousness, Being, Reality, God… there are dozens of different words for this same thing. This is a supreme state of consciousness to which you ultimately belong. It’s always been here, never isn’t here, and never won’t be here. It is boundless and never changes. This is the thing that you are underneath all of your mental content and conditioning. How do I know this is true? Because I have seen my Self fully, and I am it still. My evidence is my experience. I was never willing to take someone’s word on it, because the whole idea of “God” didn’t make sense to my mind (and it still doesn’t.). You can also experience this at any moment, because you also are it. Just as we can shift our attention away from a TV show and notice the warmth of our bodies, we can shift our attention away from the external world and notice the deep stillness and awareness of our true selves.

    This is the difference between theology actually knowing consciousness: One relies on thought, history, “facts,” dialogues, teachings, and various interpretations that can get really screwed up over time. The other—the thing I am talking about—is as simple as looking up to verify that the sky is blue. You don’t have to read books or debate anyone about it. You don’t have to study or follow a series of steps or abide by someone else’s rules. You can just look up: Yep, still blue. Still here.

    A belief in God on its own isn’t of much use. 85% of the population believing in God does not prevent us from continuing to kill, destroy, and consume. Unless we go live in a monastery, we are all complicit in this great life-denying system, even if we abhor it, and even if our participation feels indirect. 

    And yet, psychologically divorcing oneself from all notions of spirituality doesn’t make a person any better. This is because belief or disbelief in these matters has nothing to do with how sanely we actually behave. The true identity of every human must be experienced if we are to put an end the illness that pushes us to act in such ways.

    This is to say that finding your way back to who you really are is the greatest work you can do in this world.

  2. You come from this vast, ever-present state and take on the form of a human. It is in this way that you experience dualism*: The world is basically full of things that are you and things that are not-you. This is the world of relationships and objects, all of which can only be defined because you exist separately from every other thing.

    As a human, you quickly learn to identify with the body. Our culture encourages this by assigning enormous meaning to biological sex (this doesn’t always correspond to male and female energies which have become known as the crude gender roles). It’s also made worse when we apply great meaning, particularly about self-worth, to our bodily appearances. Our culture also encourages this, because it turns out there’s a lot of money to be made off of our insecurities.

    Young children are often still immersed in the knowledge of their true Being. This is why they tend to be much happier than adults. They don’t know yet that looking a certain way or having some amount of money supposedly “means something about them.” They know better than to get caught up in such details, so their joy is just present and accessible. This isn’t something we can say about most adults in our society, and it’s because we’ve been conditioned so heavily to believe we are these small, little things.
  3. You develop a more complex (conditioned) mind: You get enculturated and turned into a Christian/Muslim/atheist/anarchist/American what-have-you. You use your given strengths, turn them into a career, and identify with the label of “entrepreneur” or “craftsman.” You believe that these labels are very important, because you seriously think these things make up who you are… except you’re not these things. You’re actually pure consciousness, remember?
    This mistaken identity can be thought of as the

    unconscious ego, and it’s the one most humans have been operating as for quite some time. As long as you’re in human form, you will have an ego. If you realize yourself and live from your true identity, you will have a conscious ego. For example: I know I’m not really a writer. I am aware of the fact that the form that sits here writing is not what I truly am. This ego may be a writer for now, but my true self is just the Self. 

    And again, it isn’t enough to just accept this stuff mentally. Each of us has to look inward and find out if it’s true for ourselves. 

  4. Through this body and mind, with a modicum of consciousness, you have a human life. Throughout this thing you will know pleasure and pain, fear and hope, ecstasy and agony, and everything in between. It can be a pretty fun ride… for a while. But as long as you sincerely believe you are the ego more often and with more conviction than knowing you are pure consciousness, suffering is inevitable.

    This is because the ego (body-mind) has a definite shelf-life, as does every single thing around you. If we do not live with the constant awareness that the play we live in is inherently unstable, changes can feel unwelcome and frightening. Furthermore, the normal mode of life and thought can just get stagnant. Pure consciousness, on the other hand, is timeless and yet it always feels brand new.

The advantage of being human is that we can, while in our bodies, learn to consciously erase the caricatures we typically regard as “ourselves.” This allows us to shift back to that inimitable, original state of the Self while retaining our knowledge and working memory (if we like).

Doing this is the aim of all genuine spiritual seeking.

*Like the word “ego,” “dualism” also gets a bad rap when it comes to the spiritual lexicon. But dualism is not bad, just like the conditioned mind and the ego are not “bad”—they’re just parts of a play on the omnipresent stage of pure consciousness. When the play is seen through, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, it’s even better because you know you don’t have to take the whole thing so seriously anymore.

#

Pure consciousness is the page upon which all of life is drawn. It is the only true reality, and yet it infuses all that we experience. Sometimes I hear people discuss things like “alternate realities,” and for a time I was fascinated by such imaginations as well. But this doesn’t actually make sense: By definition, there can only be one reality. If there are “multiple realities,” which is actually real? For something to be real and true, it must be real and true all the time.

This brings me to a difficult to understand yet important point: Relative reality vs. Absolute reality. Absolute reality is the state I have already discussed—pure consciousness. I would like us all to see it, be it, and watch life unfold miraculously. Relative reality is the play you’re experiencing now, within the Absolute. Relative reality is the realm where your dog, your lover, your job, and your philosophies play out. Absolute reality is the stage that is both apart from and within these things.

Yes it’s paradoxical, but this is only problematic to the mind which believes everything should be tidy, digestible, and supportive of the false identity.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, life doesn’t actually work like this.

– Lish

 

Five (more) Barriers to Enlightenment

Here’s follow-up post regarding the way we many of us think about enlightenment, and how this line of thinking also keeps us trapped. Here are some more common beliefs:

1. Enlightenment is “good,” “blissful,” “more evolved,” etc. Yes, liberation results in a profoundly positive mode of life as compared to being ruled by conditioned impulses and moods. If this were not true, there would be little motivation to seek.

But the point is that any conceptual understanding of enlightenment is mistaken. We can talk around Truth, but we cannot explain it, and whenever we’re busy thinking about “how it is,” we’re pushing it away. The mind is happy to do this, for it allows it to remain comfortably in charge.

Many people describe a bliss state that follows their awakening moment, but such feelings are not everlasting. All emotions are transient; this is a rule that does not change after we awaken. So if you’re hoping that awakening will get you into some state of perma-bliss, you’re in for a surprise.

Depending on what you’ve read/heard/seen about enlightenment, the click itself may actually may result in extreme confusion and nihilism. After all, your entire reality has flip-flopped, and you feel like you can’t go back. Maybe you didn’t even go looking to awaken. Suddenly, all the rugs that held you together are pulled out from under you. There’s nothing to stand on, nowhere to get to for comfort, no illusion of safety to be found anywhere in the world.

What does the ego like to do with this? Go on and on about how awakening is badass and gritty and hard (to the ego, it is certainly all of these things!). Then, at some point, because we feel we understand so much without trying (indeed because this thing cannot be tried for), we go on and say that the whole spiritual journey results in being “more evolved.” (In reality, there actually is no difference between one who is “enlightened” and one who isn’t.)

Being a human and having an ego, I have certainly fallen into the trap of believing this. A threatened ego will grab ahold of anything—even its own dissolution—to try and build itself up. But whenever we tell ourselves such stories, that’s really all we’re doing: Telling ourselves stories. None is more or less story than another, and neither is more or less “right” than another. There are words that point to the Truth, but ultimately everything that exists on the level of the thinking mind is equal. We only mistake some content for being “better” because it appeals to our egos, our sense of being “more” of something (evolved, right, compassionate, wise, intelligent, etc.) than others.

This whole “more evolved” thing is becoming a very popular idea, but we must remember: The state we dwell in when we are awake is one that it is timeless and changeless. It is the source of evolution itself we learn to move with. The source does not evolve; it simply is. Therefore we do not merely become “more evolved” versions of the people we once were. In fact, we eventually must drop the idea of ourselves as “a person” at all, because this sense of being “a particular person” in and of itself sets the stage for suffering.

The ego thrives on fancying itself as better than others, and it is even happier to wrap this inflation up in a new “oh this is spiritual therefore it is humble” packaging. But how can we be humble if we believe we are “more evolved”?

We must be mindful of sneaky, ego-appealing words if we yearn for Truth and freedom. Calling ourselves spiritual does not make us “more evolved.” It only makes our minds as grasping and falsely identified as anyone else’s, though perhaps in the know about chakra alignment.

However, there are individual paths that are growth-oriented (changing harmful habits, treating ourselves better, dwelling in presence, etc.) and there are paths that ensure stagnation. An individual can evolve and notice these positive changes, but what we’re ultimately getting at is moving beyond this construct of “me.” Enlightenment is not about our little selfhoods. Self-improvement may be a side effect of this work, but it is not the goal. For no matter how much improvement is done to the ego, the ego remains small and limited. This ensures ongoing confusion and pain. So, while “you” can certainly evolve, this “you” must ultimately be seen for the illusory construct that it is.

2. You are not enlightened. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves: Deep down, we all know if we are free or if the mind has us in its grip.

But really, “enlightenment” is just your most basic state of existence. To be and experience life 
without constant thought is your natural way of being. In this state, the mind is a tool no different from the fingertips I’m using to type up this blog post. When we need it, it is there and used without difficulty. When we don’t, we don’t pay much attention to it. Just as we do not allow our idle fingertips to pinch our own skin or other people’s, we do not allow our minds to abuse us and/or others through constant judgment. And we certainly don’t get caught up defining ourselves as our fingertips, no matter how useful they are.

What I am describing is not the average mode of operating. Even when our thoughts are killing us, we usually do not question them. The mind can be so seductive, and if we pay attention, we notice the way it is constantly luring us. All thoughts are like a passing mist we become fascinated with and attach ourselves to. Ever more troubling, some of the most seductive thoughts we have are those we think can make us free of this never-ending, unwelcome seduction!

This is all a trick, and the mind must be seen for the trickster it is. I witness my mind taking over innumerable times a day, and even then my mind sometimes manages to fool me into false beliefs. There is a phase, perhaps a long one, that we go through where the mind tries to jump in and tell us how we’re doing everything wrong with our lives, or “wasting our time” with this inquiry, thereby discouraging us from freeing ourselves.

The mess we’re in is as follows: We inherit many stories from our families, nations, and cultures. When we unconsciously build these stories into ego-identities, they become very uncomfortable to question or let go of, because losing one’s identity feels like death. We glom onto the popular belief that endless thinking is necessary, or even worse, that it is “the only way to be.” We fall into the trap of believing that thinking can solve all problems, even though it very often does the opposite. For a very long time, humans have collectively sought to solve each new problem the mind creates with a new mind-created solution. Do we see the insanity in this? We are trying to use the thing that made the mess to also clean it up.

This other thing—”presence,” “being,” “spiritual liberation,” “moksha,” “nirvana,” “enlightenment,” etc.—is with you at all times, ready to be rediscovered. It never left. It is just being covered with thoughts we stitch into grandiose stories about who we are and what we “must do.” These stories breed fear and keep us largely unconscious of what exactly is going on here.

Enlightenment is here with you, and you are already it. We only need to uncover it instead of constantly piling delusion on top. This uncovering it is not something you have to work endlessly at. You do not need to jump through anyone else’s spiritual hoops, meditating for years and years, to become what you already are. Just see what’s in front of you (not what you think about what’s in front of you) and take it from there.

3. Someone or something can “enlighten you.” Freedom is not something that can be granted to us by another individual. This very premise—that others can “make us” free, or “make us” anything—is the very essence of enslavement. It means that on a psychological and spiritual level we are beholden to others, that we allow the external world to dictate our feelings.

Freedom is not about being able to do what you want at any given moment. If this were your situation, you would still be in bondage to your own desires. Liberation is an internal experience that is always with you. If it could be given or taken by someone or something outside yourself, it would not be ultimate freedom. This thing can never be given, never be taken, and never goes away.

4. That people who are enlightened don’t experience anger, sorrow, fear, or [insert “bad” emotion here.] Often we imagine some kind of cross between a psychopath—utterly detached from their emotions and those of others—and a loving prophet. Here you designate a lofty, unreachable category of human for yourself, not to mention a type of person you may not even enjoy being. See what you’re doing? Creating yet another elaborate story about what “enlightened people” are like, and even more painfully, comparing yourself to them.

Humans are humans, and yet again, we place “enlightened” ones in a separate, higher category from “ordinary” humans. Paradoxically this is true, as the lived experience of being awake results in freedom rather than bondage, and we know which of these is the true form of existence.

However, we do not become emotionless. Anger rises, we are aware of this anger, but we do not become this anger. Thoughts arise, we are aware of these thoughts, but we do not buy into our thoughts. Heartbreak, loneliness, and despair may come upon us, but we learn to notice their fleeting nature. We then resume with awareness. Emotions simply lose the power to suck us in and convince us we really are them. The various stories these feelings compel us to roll around in fall away easily.

Delusion is like this: Every little thought has the power suck you in, get you to fixate on it, and become increasingly small. (Whether the thought pleases or displeases you, it is still going to be very small.) Enlightenment is like this: You know what and who you are at every moment, and the thoughts and emotions roll off of the presiding, pure awareness that you are.

The other concern with this line of thinking is that, in striving to be awake, we inevitably begin to feel bad about our very human feelings. The logic goes like this: We know we want to be enlightened, and apparently enlightened beings don’t get mad. So, when we do get mad (and we will), not only do we suffer from the pain of anger itself, we suffer because we think we are “unenlightened” for feeling this anger.

Comparing yourself to a “perfect enlightened being” is really just a wonderful way to tumble into neurosis. Perfection is a human construct, and even Christ Jesus and the Buddha did things their followers can explain away because they are blinded by this notion of their “perfection.” There was that time Jesus cursed a fig tree for no apparent reason, and that time he got all pissed and violent with those money-traders in the temple (understandably so). The Buddha—before he was “the Buddha”—abandoned his family to pursue enlightenment.

We should be clear on this: These were people who realized the Truth, and their radical acceptance of all beings is what sets them apart from those who dwell in delusion. However, they were not “perfect” if we judge them by any kind of normal human moral standard. Perfection and God are both beyond morality, because morality is a nothing but a mass of ideas. This is to say that yes, of course realized beings are “perfect,” but in reality, everything is already perfect, including you. This may offend our common way of seeing the world, where problems seem to be everywhere. But when we see reality we know this is true, and that it is only the mind that says otherwise.

5. Life’s problems will cease to exist once we’re enlightened. Let us examine what makes something a “problem.”

At any given moment, it’s actually our choice to see something as a problem or not. Do not misunderstand what I’m saying here: There are many situations in life that require action. If we regarded our whole planet as a piece of ourselves (this is our actual situation, by the way) everything would be effortlessly attended to or left to be. But, with pure awareness, you don’t have to label so many things “problems.” We don’t have to believe it’s a problem that we don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have to believe it’s a problem if we’re single. We don’t even have to believe it’s a problem if we’re starving to death. (Again, it feels important that these words not be mistaken: It is unnecessary for anyone on this planet to starve to death, and poverty and hunger in the modern world are created by collective delusion we each have the power to see through.)

But do you see? Every situation is absent of quality until the mind assigns it one. So it isn’t that all of the “problems” go away, but that it gradually (or suddenly) becomes up to us to decide what’s actually problematic, rather than immediately assuming that everything mildly (or even tremendously) troubling is a problem.

Because everything can feel weird post-awakening, you’re likely to face more problems before you face less of them. If you don’t know you’ve awakened, you may try to create new suffering for yourself because suffering is just so much more familiar. You might act in ways you don’t understand. You may need to change a lot of things about your life, and explaining your need to change these things might be impossible. (You are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone, by the way. It is enough to say “I just have to do this.”)

And your loved ones may surprise you with now non-loving they can be when you cease to behave according to their desires and expectations. Those around you may get upset if you realize that your job, marriage, friendships—or even your entire way of living—are way more dishonest and/or unhealthy than you were able to see before. Not everyone will support or accept these changes. It triggers something in us to see people change their lives, and this trigger does not always feel so good. In response to the stirring of discomfort, they may lash out at you, or, more commonly, quietly judge you.

In time this will settle. But certainly (and especially not at first) you will not become free of “problems.” You will gain the power to decide what’s a problem and what isn’t. Nothing about the external world changes, but your orientation to it does.

 

There are many more false beliefs about enlightenment, and I may write about them in the future. For now, we just need to remember that enlightenment is never a state we “reach” or even “attain.” There’s nothing to do or strive for. Just be.

– Lish