Consciousness, Spirituality

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. Things 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

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Mania, Medication, Mental Health, Reality, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being

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

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Awakening, Reality, Spirituality, The Mind

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:

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  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.

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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

 

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Awakening, Reality, The Ego, The Mind

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

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Reality, The Ego, The Mind

Enlightenment, Equality, & Egolessness

The fact is that insanity is everywhere. Our very society is held together by this common insanity, and if we were to collectively become sane, this way of doing things would come undone.

We usually think of “falling apart” or “collapsing” as a negative thing. But what about in the case of a fire burning away a dead forest in order to give rise to new, healthier growth? What about a human suffering a breakdown to emerge as a healer or simply as an awake version of his/her prior self? (Also, there is no rise to glory post-enlightenment, though the ego loves this idea.) What about demolishing a diseased, cockroach-infested hotel to install a beautiful park that everyone could enjoy? Such would be the result of all humans waking up to reality, from stepping outside of our constant, delusive streams of thought.

I am not talking about the commonly-thought of cyclical nature of the world. This would imply that we should allow our system to fall and then rebuild a “new,” “better” one. This would only be more delusion. Yes, it would go a long way for us to implement policies such as universal basic income, healthcare for all, paid maternity leave, immigration wherever forever, upheaval of the social order, etc. But even these things will not make us free and sane. They can improve our external situations, but they cannot free us.

The only way we will survive is if we do not construct yet another “system” when this one collapses. Until we are completely awake on our own, the hivemind comes to rule the individual mind. In this way, humans come to serve the machine rather than the other way around, and then, in addition to being enslaved to our minds, we are enslaved to this machine. We depend on it for our very survival even though it’s killing us. All that, and we can’t stop thinking! This is double-enslavement, inner and outer, and each form depends on the other.

The good news is that we can can escape both simultaneously. How do we do this? We realize the Truth; we see what’s right in front of us and always has been; we become actual humans. This realization should not result in an immature rant about other humans as “sheep,” because if we catch ourselves criticizing the way “others” live and think, we are just as delusional as those we find so stupid. On the way to the Truth, we often do this. “Others” are eternally irritating and impossible (see “Hell is other people,” by Jean-Paul Sartre).

But in reality, no thought is less delusional than any other, and no thought is closer to the Truth than any other. Reality is only ever seen completely or laid over with the filmy screen of the thinky mind.

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The way is simple, but not necessarily easy: We must learn to interrupt our patterns of thought and do this over and over until we’re timelessly awake. I am definitely not always 100% awake, and the choices I make (not to mention the way I feel) during my less-than-fully-conscious moments tend to be regrettable at best and clinically insane at worst. Multiply that by 7 billion and we have an idea of why the world looks the way it does.

We are unconscious, even as our minds insist “we are awake.” Wakefulness is not about having the thought “I am awake.” It is not about being aware of worldly problems, forming complex opinions about said problems, and defending these opinions to death. It is about being in a space outside of thought, lucid and alert in this moment now. (Sidebar: It’s amazing how often you can read cliche phrases like this in spiritual literature and still not see what is meant. When you do, you realize that there actually is no better way to put it.) It is knowing thought is there and utilizing it as necessary, but not taking it seriously, not letting it suck you in.

Without seeing the insanity we allow to control us, we are destined to keep repainting our jail cells and calling it “progress.”

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We should not make the mistake of thinking we can eradicate certain parts of our current social mode while holding onto those parts we find personally agreeable. The whole thing leans in on itself like a teepee. If one pole is removed, the others fall, too.

For instance: We cannot realize equality of the sexes if any other part of the social hierarchy is still in place. By this I mean that femininity and masculinity, as principles, would be regarded as equally important to the world. The nurturance, softness, and beauty generally associated with femininity would have to be seen as exactly as vital and respectable as the assertiveness, hardness, and “provider” features of masculinity. (Of course, masculinity and femininity do not always correspond to biological sex, and we all have some amount of both.)

As it stands, our system sees feminine attributes as “fluff.” For women to succeed, they often have to forsake femininity altogether. This is a tragedy borne only out of a deep-seated egoic desire for men to be “more powerful” than women. This desire is a form of madness, and this is known on a deep level. Seeing and fearing that they truly are not more powerful—based on the simple fact that women and men depend on each other to exist—the longstanding, systematic subjugation of women began.

Warmth and nurturance are things all humans need. Without them, we die in infancy, and yet we treat such qualities as secondary to being financially savvy or competitive. Can we even imagine how different this world would look if we valued femininity in such a way? Nothing of this way of life could be preserved if these things were held in actual, equal importance.

We will have to bravely accept the complete dissolution of our society if we desire equality. Dissolution does not have to mean chaos and destruction, only a clear movement towards harmony and a respect for the Whole. Civilization as we know it has rebuffed these things in order to exist at all.

We can make the necessary changes as easy or as difficult on ourselves as we want. The harder we cling to thought and illusion, the more difficult it will be.

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A favorite Zen quote: “Equality without differentiation is bad equality; differentiation without equality is bad differentiation.”

Right now we sort of have differentiation, but without equality. (Our differentiation is also sub-par because we tend to lump whole groups of people together even though each human is a unique entity.) We see each other’s differences, and then go on to place each other into categories, usually based on their usefulness to our own egos.

We often see ourselves and one another as means to an end: How can this person get me money? How can my partner make me feel loved and special? How can my relationships and conversations inflate my ego? (This kind of thought would actually take a lot of awareness.) How can that guru get me enlightenment? In short, the sad mode we operate in is this: “How can I use everything and everyone to get to something better?”

This kind of thinking is very common and problematic. It’s important that we notice when we’re doing it. It presupposes “more important” people who can get us to “better” things. Any notion of “better/worse,” “higher/lower” is hierarchical and hierarchies are the obvious enemy of true equality. Even thinking, “how can enlightenment get us to equality?” is a reflection of the delusive way of thinking. It sees some concept of “enlightenment” (which is anything but a concept) as a stepping stone to something else, when there is nowhere else but here.

The very notion of “equality” is not based on “equal opportunity.” This is a nice-sounding phrase that does nothing because it’s all wrapped up in capitalism. It assumes we want to take part in these competitive, soulless systems. (I, for one, do not.) It assumes we believe that the right arrangement (job, benefits, vacations, and stuff) can bring us happiness, and that we are all excited and willing to spend our lives chasing such an arrangement. This notion of “equal opportunity” implies that we’ve already bought into way more delusions than I could even begin to list.

Equality is actually based on recognizing the literal sameness that lies within you and every other being. Underneath everything, this there is this sameness. There is an animating force, a living, dynamic thing that imbues everyone and everything. Everything else that is not this thing—Reality, Truth, pure consciousness, what-have-you—is a fleeting illusion.

And illusion doesn’t mean bad… unless we make it that way. Many humans, rooted in complete egoic unconsciousness, have made (and continue to make) this thing into something that can be very bad.

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We must keep close in mind that true equality requires egolessness. “Me” and “you” must disappear conceptually so that we can see what it is that’s actually equal underneath these constructs. You look in front of you and see that it’s all still there (your body an another’s), but all you’re doing is seeing these things. You are not placing labels on everyone and everything; you’re only seeing.

In time, we learn to look right in front of us and see that our separation isn’t really there. And there may be times along the path that you feel like you actually do not exist, or that “you” are being destroyed. I’m not going to bullshit you: It’s scary! Death is an experience we instinctively avoid. You can get severely insane trying to preserve this sense of self. This insanity, on a low, background level, is the one we almost all suffer from. It can become acute, however, and this is usually where “psychotic episodes” occur.

And yet, after such an experience, we can come away with something very valuable: The lived understanding that at our very cores, underneath physical appearance, thought, and story, we are not separate or different. At the deepest level, we do not even retain individual souls (the “special individual soul” idea is another thing that the ego delights in). This is what equality means. From this mindset, giving to another is giving to you; liberating yourself is to liberate all of humanity. They are us, we are them, and this is literal. We are all inhaling each other’s exhalations, and separation is neat mental trick we learn to stop taking so seriously.

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The constructs of “me” and “you” fall apart if you start to analyze them psychologically: What exactly makes “you,” you? Your personality, your history, your beliefs? What if you have a brain injury and your personality changes? What if you were to cease believing in your personal history, or if you could no longer remember it? And don’t beliefs change when we’re open-minded people?

If we follow this line of thinking down, we will say there’s just an “essence” about us and others, some type of energetic signature we can detect that is unique to every individual. Fair enough. I very much enjoy my friends and family members’ unique energies, but we should not fool ourselves into believing even these essences are unchanging, eternal, and separate. One day we’ll all die, and where will those “essences” be? What happens when there are no humans left to hold in memory the energetic qualities of those they loved? This is similar to the “individual soul” idea, which, while ego-pleasing, is actually groundless in the end.

The physical body (ultimately held together by who-knows-what) is the only thing holding this “you” in place. And yet, on an atomic level, if we were to hold hands, we would not be able to tell where my hand ended and yours began. (Any sciencey people, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) If “me” and “you” have no grounding psychologically and no grounding on the furthest physical level, where exactly do “we” exist?

The answer is nowhere at all.

– Lish

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"Levels", Mental Health, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego

The “Unplanned” Awakening

An uncontrollable pull towards higher consciousness is the defining feature of a spiritual awakening. (Actually, the defining moment is the “click,” the actual “moment of waking up” that occurs for reasons I can’t explain. There isn’t much more I have to say about the “click,” at least not right now.)

I’d like to address why I have chosen to use the phrase “higher consciousness.” I’m not a huge fan of a hierarchical concept of consciousness because it immediately invites the ego to compare “its level” to that of those around us. We often want to know where we are on the scale, affirming that we are above some, like our parents and/or annoying co-workers maybe, but below others, like saints and realized mystics. Unless we remain vigilant, visualizing a hierarchy of consciousness tends to reinforce the mindset that we are better or worse than others. The conditioning that goes into imagining ourselves as better/worse than others is very deep-seated, and requires diligence to overcome. There is a lot of habit energy bound up in this way of thinking, so it takes a lot of fresh awareness to alter.

And when we get down to it, pure consciousness is not rooted in ideas of “higher” and “lower;” it cannot be “thought to,” and it cannot be defined. It simply is. All attempts to define consciousness fail immediately and always will, because definitions serve to create something static, and consciousness is not static… except it is, in a way, but also always moving. This thing is beyond both chaos and order; beyond movement and stillness. The experience of it does feel supremely still compared to the frequent inner chatter that often reigns in the mind, but it is also ever-flowing, not inert.

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From Basic Teachings of the Buddha, by Glenn Wallis.

And yet it still feels important to say that awakening pulls one towards “higher” consciousness, simply because that is my lived experience of awakening. When I am really here, I feel unquestionably higher than when I am bound up in habits (higher than before, not “superior to others.”). It feels undeniably better to rise each morning without a hangover, sit down, light some incense, and come back to the home in my heart than to repeatedly harm myself. Speaking of higher/lower in this way is not a moral judgment call, but a statement on how differently we can feel and live. It is about the experience of life becoming richer, more free, and more joyful, versus more trapped, more isolated, and more cravey.

There is suffering and not suffering. There is the feeling of being mired in past events, allowing old events/interactions to haunt us, and there is having personal power right now. If you try both of these experiences on, it becomes very clear which is more preferable, AKA “higher.”

Additionally: without the understanding that expanding our consciousness can result in a better direct experience of life, what would our motivation to do it be? This thing will not get us money. It will not get us fame, power, popularity, or any other tangible reward. It will not even “save the world.” In the beginning, we trust our intuition that there’s something greater than these things to attain to (or else we would never let go of our desires for such things), and there is.

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Awakening can happen whether the unconscious ego likes it or not, and whether or not we went looking for it. The unconscious ego may really, really not like it. The difficulties that can arise when the ego is resistant to its illusory nature, of course, may all be part of what you need to grow, but man, they can also be really rough. You can make things easier on yourself by not denying or resisting that you’ve woken up. This can only happen if we are aware that it has happened to us.

This was one of the main reasons why “my” awakening (which I put in quotes because it is not really “mine” to take credit for) was so incredibly fraught with chaos, confusion, and humiliation. At the time of the “click,” I didn’t even know things like ego deaths were possible. Throughout my education, I don’t believe we ever discussed the possibility of psychosis being thought of as a “spiritual emergency.” The message here is loud and clear: Smart, educated people understand that brain chemicals and genetics are “real,” and all that spiritual stuff is “not real,” or, at best, it’s still “less real” than science. (One of the most amazing and frustrating things about waking up is that you find literally the exact opposite to be true, but, I digress.)

I had meditated only a handful of times, and then stopped, because I wasn’t ready. There were times when I felt heavily bombarded with the reality of death as an abstract idea sometime in “the future,” and this bombardment gave me intense hits of anxiety, usually when I was trying to get to sleep. Still, I somehow always managed to sidestep this thought, get out of bed in the morning, and continue on in life as usual (“as usual” was with great suffering and anger, btw.) Part of this, again, occurred because that’s what I chose for myself, albeit unconsciously: This was what I needed to end up in this exact place right now.

But on a worldly level, it’s been difficult because spiritual/existential matters are are pushed very var away from the collective mind. We don’t sincerely talk about these things. We tend to dismiss them as unimportant and/or avoid them completely. These are uncomfortable conversations most of us shy away from, the result of being repeatedly conditioned to believe that engaging with such thoughts is “heavy,” “morbid,” or simply unnecessary. This is because a lot of us do not understand our own existences, and it feels more important that we take care of our material needs (for many, this is a real concern), and/or more pleasurable to remain caught up in whatever-else we talk and think about. I definitely still fall prey to this temptation, just like I do to the temptation of pumpkin cupcakes.

However, in many parts of the world, material needs are not really a concern anymore. Humans are so far beyond needing to worry about their survival needs, and therefore it follows that our energy should be expended to consider other matters. Why do we not turn towards life’s ultimate concerns once shelter, food, and safety are obtained?

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Silence.

The answer lies in that conditioned discomfort with matters of life and death, along with a persistent feeling that there must be “more” we have to get and achieve before we’re ready to pursue things of the existential nature. Our culture is very good at engendering this kind of insecurity and providing us with distractions even if we do feel “secure enough.” It can feel as if we are living in one tremendous practice ground, trying to stave off mindless entertainment and other indulgences left and right.

Many of us do not really feel safe, even if we have plenty of material comforts. We are often on guard about losing our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our money. The truth is that losing these things is certainly possible, and that nothing is guaranteed to us in life. Rather than face this fact and find solid ground within, we usually try to just keep everything on the outside “under control.” On some level, we’re  aware of the futility of these attempts to control life. “We” will not always exist, our jobs may become obsolete, we may get in a terrible accident or contract an irreversible illness, our relationships may become strained and distant, and there really isn’t anything we can do about these things.

And still, because these can be very uncomfortable realities to think about, we avoid them. Or, if we do acknowledge these truths, it’s fleeting and panicky. I’m not suggesting we sit around and ruminate on how we could lose everything anytime, nor that we sit around wishfully imagining how everything could “get better” in life. Both lines of thinking are out of touch with reality, even if the latter temporarily makes us feel better.

We must simply accept the impermanence of everything “out there.” Doing so makes a huge step towards inner stability, which is the only lasting stability we’ll ever find.

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If you (like me) have/had an ego that was/is bound up in being overly-thinky, judgmental, and somewhat damaged, the process of awakening will probably be extremely intense. You’re trying to heal, make intellectual sense of the whole thing (you can’t), and perform daily obligations that suddenly feel ludicrous. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but that is the nature of an unplanned awakening.

And it should be mentioned that all awakenings are “unplanned.” You cannot sit down with a calendar, plan on meditating for two years and then say “and then, on September 21st, 2019, I wake up.” The mind likes these kinds of “plans,” because then it feels like it’s “doing” something. It is much more unsettling (and exciting) to know that you could awaken at any moment, triggered by almost anything. We may not even experience it in this life, and that’s okay too, because we can still ameliorate our suffering by taking up certain practices. Turning awakening into a planned goal is understandable; the potential for it often gets us “on the path” in the first place. And yet, it is never something we can guarantee.

At best, we can prepare for it, so that the resulting changes are handled with skill and deep awareness.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind

Remaining Conscious in Times of Hate

One of the main challenges on the spiritual path is this: Finding a way to dwell in integrity without contributing to the aggression existing in the world. This requires a more subtle approach to life than announcing our feelings on various issues at every given opportunity. Believe me, I’ve done this. It didn’t work (the world’s still falling apart!), nor did it bring me joy.

I wouldn’t feel like I’m living with integrity if I were to stay silent as displays of hatred rise in Western culture. And yet it feels difficult to write about things like racism and hate without contributing to already-existing aggression and division: Whatever we read, we hope it agrees with us, or at least that it is easy enough to tear apart so that we can maintain our senses of “rightness.” Regardless of what you believe, you likely do this. (Or rather, your ego does this to prevent you from growing out of it.)

So I’ve spent a whole lot of time digesting the display of hatred in Charlottesville and watching the reactions online. I spent about a week deciding if I would even bring up the name of the town at all, mostly because discussing particular “events” has felt pretty unimportant to me since I started this blog.

Here’s why: Due to our average state of consciousness, we tend to all take part in a giant killing machine. My very existence (and yours, and this computer’s) are founded upon more suffering than we can even conceptualize. I’m talking about all of it: Slavery, genocide, misogyny, animal enslavement, and environmental abuse. These things are not separate issues; they are woven together with the same roots of ignorance and insanity. Unless we go full-monk, we can easily die if we try to opt out of this way of life—that is, after all, the only reason most of us take part in it at all.

If we don’t work together to change this trajectory, we will all die. That’s it. Furthermore, looking beyond social issues and into the core of your own being is what truly begins to heal social stratification. The evolution of the soul is the only reason we’ve moved at all closer to “equality,” although many of us don’t yet understand what that word would look like in practice. So that’s why I don’t focus on single “events” very often. Still, that weird, torch-carrying mob sparked enough outrage to inspire me to write a post about the social realm and the inner structures that underlie it. Our inner worlds create the outer world, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind.

I’ve taken some time to write this post because I’m really coming to understand how powerful words can be. We can be so quick to fire off that status update, argue our points, make others wrong, and (perhaps most harmfully, because it occurs within) judge each other. When words are used in this manner—to reinforce our egos and create reactions of anger—we hurt the whole world, no matter how right we are. As someone who once talked a lot more (and not always thoughtfully), this is an important practice to me: Cultivating awareness of the energy behind my words.

Having said allllll that, I finally just decided to do the radical thing of writing what’s true to me, and releasing my fears of being misunderstood. For me, this has been no small task.

Pure consciousness is ultimately a thing that lies beyond notions of “right” and “wrong.”

When we realize the limits and errors of moralistic judgment, we fall into a different mindset than apathy: Apathy doesn’t get me sitting here, pouring over my words, trying to be careful not to contribute to the anger on the internet. Apathy doesn’t get me journaling every day about my shame, which I know I must heal from in order to give positive energy to the world. Apathy doesn’t get me to quit drinking or to examine all of my interactions, cultivating feelings of openness and acceptance whenever I look someone in the eye. I do these things. I do them because it is abundantly clear that these behaviors, over the course of a lifetime, create more change than all the indignant opinions ever could.

I don’t bring this up in order to sound superior, because I really don’t feel that way. First of all, healing kinda sucks. You get dragged down into your own personal trauma, time and time again, trying to relax into and embrace it even when every part of you is burning up. There is no sense of triumph here. Secondly, at this point on the path, I mostly just feel conflicted because I’m still growing into my spirit. All day my mind constructs reasons why people far and wide are wrong for the things they do and say, and all day the more evolved part of me watches, gently bringing me back to reality.

I write (and live my life) with the hope of contributing to a workable, healthy way of life for all beings on this planet. Simplifying the world into “good” and “evil” and then creating a battlefield out of these extremes isn’t workable. The attitude, while understandable, is not based in reality, and I won’t contribute to it. When we try to force one another to “take sides,” we participate in the creation of war.

Honestly, part of me wants to say: Sure, yeah, take down all the statues. All they are is replicas of deeply delusional individuals who created an entire myth about “freedom” while eradicating already-existing cultures and enslaving another one. The founders of the United States were seriously deluded about their place in the universe, as were the rulers they fled, as are most of us today.

And on another level, I notice this: If our minds don’t constantly assign labels to these objects (an “acceptable” statue vs. an “offensive” one), they actually are all equivalent. Take them down or leave them up; either way, it is our responsibility to pay attention to what our minds are doing when our eyes fall upon the things we’ve been conditioned to see as “symbols.” Nothing has meaning unless we let it. That’s true power, and it exists whether or not other people do/display the things we find acceptable. We can carry this power with us anywhere we go. I get to practice this every day in my small town, which sometimes feels loaded with triggers.

And as I’ve said before, I also want to note that none of us are even really “Americans.” I can’t say how many things I’ve read of people asserting exactly what it is that “true Americans” do. This misses the entire point: Just as racial hierarchy is harmful, hierarchical thinking based on nationality is harmful, too. In fact, labels of all kinds hurt us for the simple fact that they keep us separate. When we do this, we contribute as much to the separation of humanity as anything else.

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.” – J. Krishnamurti

We are only as separate as our minds make us. Therefore, if we wish to increase unity in this world, we will turn to to our own minds and investigate what exactly is going on in there.

The mind moves laterally about itself, generally used as a tool of ego inflation, reaffirming our already held beliefs. Self-investigation is not about finding the right beliefs to cling to; it is about dismantling all structures in the mind and seeing what’s left. Contrary to what you might imagine, you do not become mindless or spineless once you find this place, and you certainly do not dwell in hate.

As opposed to moving laterally, growth has a direction: Up or down. At some point, growth requires the humbling of the ego that knows everything about how other people “should” be. In time, we learn that becoming righteously indignant takes us lower. Making space for ourselves, being warm and open, and not reacting automatically takes us up.

This is why we sit in meditation. This is why we tend to ourselves before trying to save the world. Any other way spells disaster, sometimes short-term and sometimes long-term.

To some, a commitment to nonviolence (or daring to say that all beliefs are false and limiting) might be built on the fact that I’ve been so privileged by whiteness that I don’t understand the need for harder, more polarized resistance. I do not deny privilege. Unlike a person of color, I haven’t gone through a life filled with microaggressions, police scrutiny/outright violence or murder, and the general mistrust of my very existence. It would be ignorant of me to compare my life experience in a social context to that. But there’s much more to life than the social context, even though many of us act like (and probably feel like) that’s All There Is.

Here’s the best thing about suffering and the Truth: They are both non-discriminatory. Oppression in the world is clearly a thing that works hierarchically. For a long time, white males have collectively kept themselves at the top of this hierarchy by forcibly keeping everyone else down. (I don’t mean to instill guilt/shame in white males by stating this, as shame and guilt are always counter-productive.) Systemic oppression, genocide, and social privilege are, of course, based on factors like race and gender. I doubt that anyone reading my blog would need to be reminded of this.

Suffering, however, does not discriminate. And the Truth, which resides in everything and everyone, is experienced universally. Prophets from various time periods and social classes have all come back with the same basic messages: All is one, love each other, hatred never ceases by hatred, etc. etc. This is not mushy hippie shit we’re talking about, but fundamental laws of the universe: Hate + Hate = Hate. Violence + Violence = Violence. As much as our egos try, we can’t argue our way out of this math, which is really just about the way energy gets transferred from person to person on an invisible level.

I really didn’t understand this until after I lost my mind. There was a time when I felt ready to see a violent revolution, and now I see how much of that projection was fueled by the battle I was creating within myself. It doesn’t have to be that way, and if you believe that, you are contributing to an unnecessarily violent end.

Because they are universally experienced, Truth and suffering are the things we must explore if we consider ourselves to be compassionate human beings. In this space, life no longer becomes about “our people” and “other people.” Then, seeing how important we are to the way the world looks, we do the exhaustive work of excavating ourselves from the limiting, multi-tiered hell of the conditioned mind.

Yes, this feels like a much longer, much less pleasant, and much more intensive process than punching the right guy, but it is the only way. If enough people had had the understanding and courage to do this kind of work years ago, we would already be living in a far more peaceful society.

It’s looking dangerously possible that we may inflate our egos as all life is extinguished on Earth. We may succumb to fear as huge, necessary changes are made over the next century, trying to “go back” to some imagined time of greatness that never really existed. Or we may succumb to anger, trying to go forward to a goal that is poorly-formed, taking only one chunk of life into consideration. Doing either of these things will have us spinning in circles right into extinction.

Truth lies beyond all of this, and I stand for the Truth, because I know it is the only place where everlasting peace resides.

In summary, here’s we must “do” about the state of the world: Our work. We must look into our pain and ego-stories. I know it’s intense and you don’t want to do it. Most of us carry so much pain that we’d rather lash out at the world (including our own bodies, our lovers, co-workers, friends, etc.) before we really sit down to face it. But until we deal with our own wounds and see through all delusion, we will, in all likelihood, create more harm in the world. The endless journey inward is really all there is.

Oh, and duh: Organize peacefully.

– Lish

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