Know Yourself First

Today I wanted to share an illustrative metaphor regarding the egoic mind and its relationship to the world we create. Many of us are caught up in attempting to force or manipulate the world into what we think it should look like. As well-intentioned as this may be, it is misguided. I drew this picture to help show why it is essential to know who we are first and foremost:

ink (2)
For whatever reason, I forgot to include violence and war in the branches: Such unconscious acts based are also on the delusion that we are not, in fact, only ever waging war against ourselves.

We are largely in the habit of assuming things about who we are—primarily that the “I” we are focused on is a collection of memories, stories, personality, preferences, history, relationships, etc. This construct is actually a very contracted version of the true You. It is flimsy like a shadow, always changing, and subject to death. The ego-identity, for as important as the world makes it out to be, is actually non-existent.

It doesn’t even matter what the ego dresses itself up as. All are equally unreal in the ultimate sense, and none are more helpful to humanity than those who seek to rid themselves of such falsehood. All egos can become fundamentalist about whatever beliefs they take seriously.

Once this root is pulled, pure being can at last shine through. From here it becomes very clear what to do for our fellow humans, if anything at all. One realized being sitting in supreme peace actually uplifts the world far more than a hundred angry protesters.

This is not laziness, and this is not sitting and thinking. Being is neither of these things.

I was inspired to draw this picture by a Thoreau quote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

This is an appropriate statement for the way most of us attempt to act “morally.” We choose a few good behaviors, perhaps a “cause” or two, and become concerned about them. We then go on to believe—or at least act as if we believe—that the rest of our choices do not matter once we pick said causes and invest some energy into them.

We donate money to charity and yet purchase clothing made by children in factories. We protest war and yet go home to sharply chastise our spouses and children. We claim to love animals, yet we support industrial meat by eating it. We make claims about wanting to experience our Buddha-nature, but go on to loudly judge Christians. We say we love our family members, yet fail to accept them when they deviate slightly from the family culture.

The difference between what we profess to value and how we behave could not be more pronounced. Of course the mind always has clever justifications. I have heard them all and I have made millions of excuses in my own life for my callous thoughts and language.

It is rare to see someone striving to become effective in challenging the culture cumulatively. This is the only way it can really work, because every issue is indivisible from every other. We often settle for “good enough.” It is an act that protects the ego, which gets to continue imagining itself as this great, radical person.

Conversely, it may imagine it is never good enough, again thrown into hyperbole about what a “bad person” it is. Both views are equally delusional. The mind has many tricks to preserve its hold over us… whichever line of thinking works for the mind, it will use.

So what is this incongruity all about? Who does this?

It is not enough to answer that humans are, by nature, contradictory and bad. I find this belief to be weak and unexplored, the result of one’s own belief in themselves as being unworthy.

Throughout history there have been human beings (some are alive even today) who realized who they were and let go of half-measures. They existed in peace, gave themselves up, and become examples for what humanity is capable of.

It is worth mentioning that for these people, no matter how financially poor, there was never even a sense of sacrifice. Once you give yourself over to consciousness it becomes clear how blessed you are, even with limited “real world” accommodations. Ramana Maharshi allowed thieves to “steal” from the ashram where he lived and refused ownership of land given to him, so deep was his experience of his Self as All. He had next to nothing but was immersed in God. He was also vocal that there was indeed nothing special about him. What is called “enlightenment” is available to all, and is the opposite of “special.”

As far as ignoring the whole: The true mind does not do this. One who has awakened to Truth does not do this. The dream of separation and dualism is over for this one, and it is understood how hopelessly entangled we are with one another.

Another step: “entangled” is not even correct. We do not exist as separate entities from God, or anyone else for that matter. To be entangled or connected implies there are separate parts to connect. But this seeming separation—dualism—is playing out within a nondualistic consciousness.

 

And yet, and yet… words fail. Sit and see for yourself.

Our focus is extremely shortsighted. From egoic minds, we criticize the external world without taking the opportunity to turn around and notice our own patterns of hatred. Too, we miss the largest point, which is that we are what makes the external world. All of us. Together. This is a co-creative act no one gets to opt out of. You are creating the world and the culture right now whether you like it or not.

We try to take a chainsaw to capitalism, war, big banks, colonialism, political systems, poverty, racism, on and on. But, just like a tree or shrub, what happens when one limb is cut? It grows back, sometimes even stronger. All kinds of effort goes towards chopping away that which will absolutely grow back. The only permanent solution is to pull the root, which lies in your own mind.

Pulling the root of the ego reveals the truth of who you are. We must do this first, before attempting to change the world. Only then does it become clear where our strengths lie, what uplifting work we are suited to. It may not even be in any “big, grand” way. I know many people harbor dreams of being great spiritual leaders, but even this is often the ego’s sneaky attempt to dress itself up and project an “important” vision of itself into the future.

God has moved me to a town of 130 people with no social media and one backpack. I have about $600 total, and still have student loan debt. There is no long-term “plan.” Surely I am not living any common Westerners’ dream. It bears mentioning that external conditions really are not the point: Money/no money, stuff/no stuff, relationships/no relationships… It is not my lack of belongings that “makes me spiritual.” A simple, uncluttered way of life truly makes most sense to my heart, and we will all be steered in unique directions depending on our constitutions.

Upon realizing the Self, we may find that we are still moved to engage in activism, but it will come from a far more grounded and loving place—not one of divisiveness, revenge, or anger. This charged notion that “those people are doing something evil to me/us” will have dissolved.

In short: Know who you are, and do what you will. If you do not know who you are, drop as many things as you can and seek yourself. It is not a physical journey, and anyone can start taking steps. You really do not need to go anywhere but inside of your own self.

 

Location: En route from Burlington, WA to Mitchell, OR

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

Anger & Ego Triggers

Today I want to talk about ego triggers and the wily, pernicious nature of the ego. The ego is a psychological entity that controls the vast majority of human beings, myself included. Spiritually speaking, the ego is the unique yet illusory identity we buy into as being our true selves. Living within the illusion of a false identity brings most—if not all—of the suffering we endure throughout our lives.

It’s like you’ve been playing Super Mario Brothers for so long that you literally believe you are Mario. Really, you’re a fully developed human playing a game. No matter how many times Mario gets wiped out by a turtle shell or falls off the edge of the Earth, the real you is going to be fine. “Enlightenment” is the sudden and abiding realization that you’re not actually Mario. The metaphor I described is experienced through your own consciousness, not merely understood conceptually. You step outside of all the limitations you were operating under during the many years you held such a delusive belief. It’s freeing and funny and if you want to keep playing you can, but you’re under no obligation, because jeez, it’s just a video game.

As you can imagine, it would create a lot of problems if you kept falsely believing you were Mario. You would be full of neurotic fear, only able to respond in pre-programmed ways, and constantly trying to stave off the inevitable “end of the game.” Now look around you and notice that almost everyone in the world believes they’re the characters they’re playing, too. This is the level of madness we are dealing with. The sincere belief in the ego as being ultimately real is the chief delusion in our species’ many layers of delusion.

Spiritual freedom comes down to becoming free of this illusion, free from the false you.

Usually, just as I’m feeling like “I’m actually kinda somewhat free,” something happens to prove me wrong. At this point, they’re trivial things since I’m no longer actively blowing up my life, but I still feel a sense of smallness and anger when they occur. Feeling small and angry is one of the most common ways we suffer in our culture, and for good reason: We were born into a giant machine of unconsciousness. Throughout our education we were systematically deceived and forced to be complicit in an order of subjugation we had no part in creating. When we become more conscious, the sheer enormity of all this can create a sense of powerlessness, and this is infuriating. What do we even do when the problem is this huge?

Back to the Mario metaphor: If we’re delusional enough to believe we are Mario, we’re definitely delusional enough to believe Mario’s world is real. Therefore, if Mario’s world (our physical world) is a disaster, we will feel acute anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear can be useful—if such emotions push us into growing up and tending to the world. Most of the time, though, we just feel paralyzed because we have to keep playing the game; thus we fall deeper into anxiety as everything falls apart. This is why truly seeing Reality is the long-term solution to suffering, as denoted by Buddhism and other Eastern religions. From this position we can use our characters to improve the state of affairs, but we also keep a peaceful perspective because we know it’s just a video game. We are most effective in this mode, when anger isn’t draining our energy all the time.

Prior to awakening from our egos but after noticing the rampant insanity of the species, we often want to do something good. It’s hard to know what really helps. Sometimes we get caught up in arguing with other people in the misguided belief that pulling someone around to our viewpoint will help. And yet, this so rarely happens: When people engage in arguments, particularly on incendiary issues, both parties usually just dig their heels into their existing positions. The result? Two delusive egos made more rigid, and zero shared humanity.

Before I began to really investigate my mind, anger was my predominant emotion. Until I was forced to, I didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) face that this anger was related to many more things than the issue at hand… like, really really old things that had nothing to do with the present situation. I would take on any heated discussion, and became disproportionately incensed about a lot of things. This is partly because there was a mess of deeply negative energy that had been pent up in me for years, and it sought to release itself in any way possible.

This is the main concern with carrying around old, unprocessed pain: It leads us to project a lot of bullshit onto every unrelated person and situation. We can easily sabotage relationships of all kinds in this way.

When I say “deeply negative energy,” I’m talking about something very real.

Another one of the helpful books I’ve read in my healing process Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The basic premise of this book is as follows: The traumatic events humans endure do not naturally release themselves the way they do in the rest of the animal kingdom. For instance, a gazelle’s life is threatened regularly on the savanna. Yet after every close call with a cheetah, they manage to return to baseline gazelle functioning without becoming hypervigilant and fearful at all times.

In human beings, the culprit of post-traumatic stress is the highly developed frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that gives us the capacity to reason and think abstractly; we owe our current domination of the world to this structure. Relating to trauma on a personal level, the frontal lobe overrides an instinctual process which discharges traumatic energy in other animals. Until we acknowledge and consciously let go of this energy in the physical body, it remains trapped, subtly pulling the strings in our interactions.

And about this word “trauma:” It’s so heavy, and many people believe it only refers to acts of war or long-term abuse. While these definitely fall under the category, trauma can also be the result of something like surgery, an accident, or emotional neglect. The body certainly perceives surgery as traumatic, and we know by now (or at least I hope we do) that separating body from mind is impossible. I also believe we’re pretty much all subconsciously dealing with trauma because the foundation of our culture is trauma, and our energy is not actually separate.

If you’re coping with latent trauma, I highly recommend the book.

An ego trigger is anything that makes you aware of the fact that you are still clinging to a special, false identity. In this case, I’m mostly talking about anger, which is always felt due to a perceived threat. Truly, the only thing that can be threatened is the ego. Who you really are is invulnerable and immortal. You know these triggers as soon as you feel the need to defend something you did/said, the desire to make someone else wrong, or if you lash out even when nominally challenged. Even enlightened beings have egos—they are just totally conscious of their egos, and these egos are not as fixed as Mario.

On the path, rather than desire the world not to trigger our egos, we understand that having our egos triggered is an opportunity for practice. It lets us know that our delusional self still lurks in the mind, probably driving most of what we do in life. Ego triggers are like a blaring sign that say Keep doing your work. From here we can look at what triggered us and what false self-beliefs are wrapped up in it.

The solution, as always, is to be aware. I can reliably notice that my ego has been triggered when I become physically hot, flushed, and on edge. I start making up all kinds of reasons why it was wrong for someone to do or say whatever they said/did. It’s a dark kind of self-boost that I know makes me less pleasant to be around. I become preoccupied with the (ridiculously small) incident and agonize over it. I believe it is a literal form of temporary insanity to be caught up in this way of thinking and feeling. It creates a blindness to what is really in front of me. Luckily, the more I watch it, the less power it has to get me to continue a fruitless argument or run my mouth.

If someone’s unconsciousness creates an intensely charged trigger within you, it is because you have unconsciousness to dispel within your own being. It’s not “their fault” for “making you” feel mad. In order to be free, we have to look at ourselves instead of placing the blame elsewhere. For as much as we try, we can never change others. The spiritual path is one of great individual responsibility: You hold no one else accountable for your behaviors and feelings, but also learn not to self-blame. It’s a delicate balance, but very rewarding when you finally start to get your house in order.

It is a mistake to try and make the world psychologically comfortable for us. It simply cannot be done. Even if we succeed in doing this once in a while, we miss an opportunity to face our most difficult emotions and tend to them accordingly, thereby becoming more emotionally resilient. Though I would love to live in a vastly more compassionate world, we cannot control what hurtful words people may say. Trying to forcibly control people’s speech results in a sense of suppression and greater anger. I do not want to live in the culture where people use the “right words” yet feel coerced and pissed off inside. To some degree, I already am living in that culture, and it doesn’t seem to be fostering much more peace or dampening our collective anger at all… in fact, it seems to be doing the opposite.

Also, when you’re extremely sensitive (and I am), the entire world becomes an emotional trigger. For me, seeing a 2-year-old stare at an iPad during his lunch can trigger deep anger and sadness. Seeing construction for retail space on the lot I thought would make a nice community garden also triggers anger and sadness. Reading the same tired political arguments on Facebook triggers… you guessed it, anger and sadness.

My ego-identity is furious at seeing humanity in this state, and furious at how rarely people seem to regard their own minds as being just as problematic as anything else. What this highlights is that I still have some delusions to burn down. Fortunately, I do try to be wary of placing the problem elsewhere: These are my emotions to own and navigate; they are part of this life experience and no one else’s responsibility to deal with. They can be a blessing if I use them to fuel my growth and creative endeavors, or a curse if I stew in them, believing they are the fault of someone else.

One thing is for sure: If we wait for the whole world to transform before we can be at peace, we will be imprisoned forever.

– lish

Struggle & Courage

Recently a co-worker said something I found quite beautiful: “You teach me as you struggle.” The statement brought me a sort of begrudging honor. It reminded me why I write, why I’m trying to be open about the ways I have changed and am still changing. If my difficulties and various repeated mistakes on the path can teach anyone anything, I’d rather have them on display than try to keep my problems private.

This privacy, by the way, is largely imagined: All notions of one’s “private inner world” are false. The inner world is real enough, but the belief that it is hidden from others is not. Whatever unconsciousness lurks inside comes through in one way or another, and it is discernible to those who are aware. True intelligence is largely about being able to read situations energetically; it is about gauging the many unseen worlds that surface not only in behavior, but on a much more subtle level. I don’t yet know how to effectively articulate this subtle level, but I do know that having some awareness of it helps keep me safe and draws me to those who are also reuniting with themselves. It is very valuable, and I trust it.

I believe this is where the idea of “spiritual superpowers” comes from. People miss the point when they become overly interested in things such as yogic levitation or mind-reading, for these things are not the Ultimate. Along the path you will deepen your intuition, you will be able to tell if someone is lying to you and/or if their intentions are good, and you will more clearly see the inner worlds of those around you (most importantly, you will become intimately familiar with your own). You may have strong visuals in meditation, and for unknown reasons people may ask you questions they’ve never asked before. All of this means you are tapping into a level of mind that has, until now, been hidden.

Getting stuck in this phase is easy to do: It is filled with magic and synchronicity, and usually this is the point where we become sensitive enough (yet still egotistical) to decide that “people in general” are garbage. It can even create more of an obstacle to freedom from the ego because it doesn’t hurt as bad as the “facing old trauma and pain” part does. The mind is so powerful, it may even reveal its higher abilities as part of an overall strategy to keep you entranced by it. The mind is always seeking to prove its use to us in its current iteration, and does not want to accept its place as secondary to the soul. This egoic mind represents a kind of “adolescence” in our overall evolution: It is rebellious and unwilling to concede that its creator—your soul—is the only one wise enough to call the shots.

In freedom, it isn’t that we “lose our minds” or “become mindless.” It’s that we rely on the mind less and don’t allow it to unconsciously create who we are. You can keep certain higher faculties of the mind while dwelling in freedom, but you won’t hang your hat on these abilities so to speak, nor use them for egotistical reasons. You may develop a powerful inner skillset for navigating life, but these skills won’t be “yours” to feel special about or to wield irresponsibly.

Back to struggle: The path is rife with struggle, so much that I am almost tempted to say that the path is struggle. It is unequivocally true that that this is the most free, most joyful, and most stable I’ve been in my entire life. However, it has been incredibly hard-won, and even so, I still suffer.

We cannot separate struggle in relationships, career, mental/emotional health, etc. from spiritual struggles. The entire life experience, fraught with struggle, is a teacher. We simply begin using the word “spiritual” when we accept that there is much more to reality than can be perceived with the five senses and the thinking mind. Separation and division of this sort is the work of a fractured mind which exists in service to an assumed identity. The soul sees that all is all; everything merely has relationship to everything else. Suffering is suffering is suffering: This has always been the case.

Today we give suffering and its behavioral manifestations diagnostic labels, believing that doing so can teach us something new about suffering. But the truths of suffering have been known for thousands of years, well before the field of psychology or our understanding of brain chemistry, which, to my knowledge, is still rather crude. For me, it was only ever more confusing and limiting to receive medical diagnoses due to suffering: We are all on unique, individual paths that need to be honored if we wish to heal. In spite of this, truth and self-awareness are the unfailing and timeless medicines for all. There is one major caveat: The medicine works unpredictably and sometimes seems to make things worse. It isn’t like you start meditating one day and gradually return to perfect peace in a step-wise fashion.

As a people, we suffer because we are living so far out of touch with reality, but we desperately want to feel real. On a very deep level we do not want to live the ways we are coerced to live, and I believe that stands even for those who “play the game” well. We do not want to fake our happiness or go through the same routines forever because “that’s what people do.” We don’t want to destroy the planet, because we know we owe our very existence to it. We are compelled by the larger machine (the hivemind and hive-ego) to live in ways that are abhorrent to us, and as we near the dusk of our reign on this planet, we feel more dismal and fearful about everything. Culture as it stands violates the soul’s one and only aspiration, which is to be free. It seeks to express itself freely, to contemplate itself, to dwell in itself, and to shine through our forms as if they were the thinnest of veils.

There is no new variety of suffering we’ve encountered in the past century that we have not been enduring since the dawn of the egoic mind. It is wise to avoid falling into the sneaky trap of believing that our pain is precious and incomprehensible. Your existential dread is everyone else’s existential dread, and feeling otherwise is just one of the ways the mind twists the knife: Perhaps you come into contact with the truth that you actually are alone in your experience of life. Everyone you have ever known has become apparent through your being and your mind; there is, in fact, no way to know life except for through your own lone self. By nature, we are solitary.

Rather than sit with this and perhaps discover the beauty of our inherent solitude or see what lies waiting when we rest in stillness, the conditioned mind jumps in to say “alone = bad.” The result is suffering. Aloneness becomes crippling loneliness in this way.

Our heroes appear to us only after they have failed and stumbled a dozen times. Everyone we admire has walked through the same fire of doubt, fear, and ridicule. Those who have recovered from an addiction of any sort have also walked through the fire of shame, insanity, shame, self-loathing… did I mention shame? When it comes to intense inner pain, the only way out is through. We can spend whole lives denying this, because going through often seems impossible. This is when we begin to steep ourselves in avoidance. It is like being born into a large room full of demons: If they stay far away, we feel all right. Many people seem capable of keeping their demons at bay by engaging in certain culture-prescribed behaviors: Drinking, smoking weed, binge-watching, compulsively dating, chasing new experiences through travel or drugs, “being busy,” etc. As I’m sure some of you are realizing, this kind of  avoidance can only last for so long.

There are those of us whose demons advance quickly and unpredictably; in time, they back us into a corner. No matter what we do to try and ignore them, they keep getting bigger and meaner. Much to our horror, trying to avoid them actually makes them stronger. There is nowhere to go, but we must gain control over our rooms again because cowering in the corner is no way to live. This is how the cultivation of courage arises: Not out of a desire to be valiant or even a sense of honor, but because it just becomes life or death. You are either going to let your demons keep you in the corner, or start negotiating with them. You will likely find that your demons can be your best friends if you listen to what it is they need, which is pretty much always love and kindness. Externally, the love and kindness will take on many different behavioral forms.

It takes courage to transform yourself and seriously challenge the state of humanity, and this courage is summoned when the realization hits that there is no other choice. We would not say it’s courageous for someone to bandage their own bleeding finger, and in fact would question why if they didn’t do so. This is precisely how the whole world looks to one who is self-aware: The world is our bleeding finger, and it seems preposterous not to start bandaging it. In this way we see that there is actually nothing virtuous in self-work; it is only logical.

It also becomes strange how many people seem okay with just walking around as they bleed all over the place. Of course, this is because they have not noticed the blood or the pain, or if they have, they expect that “someone else” will take care of it. The harsh truth is this: They won’t because they can’t. No one is going to jump in and save us from the way we have been living on this planet. The government won’t, religion won’t, industry won’t, and scientists won’t. Even traveling to outer space and finding another Earth would not save us. If we can’t learn to be at peace here, in our native land, we certainly won’t learn it by exporting the egoic illness to another planet.

In any case, is that how we wish to see humanity unfold? As a leech-like species traversing the galaxy, destroying all life while we remain semi-robotic and unhappy?

Our potential is so much greater, it is entirely within, and we are the ones who have to access it.

– Lish

Revolution and the Soul

I have been sober for nine months. Choosing sobriety has been an invaluable piece of my growth and healing, however it still feels secondary: My real problem was never an addiction to alcohol, though many online quizzes over the course of my life would say otherwise. My problem was that I had no idea who I was, but the substitutions I accepted for this knowledge always felt, to some degree, counterfeit.

I have been on a frantic search for myself all my life, and have attempted to dowse my wounds in anything that seemed to resemble this discovery. It bears noticing that our addictions do resemble the discovery: There is comfort and assuredness in them, to a lesser degree than the soul offers, but far greater than anything else we can find. They bear a hardness, a consistency: If alcohol only got me drunk some of the time, I would not have come to love it so dearly. One secret of addiction lies in its reliability. Nothing in life is so guaranteed as the sensations granted to us when we indulge in our addictions. They do not fail us, and in the end, that is what addicts are chasing: Something that will not fail them.

When we do not know ourselves, we are automatically in danger. In this state we can become whatever the world tells us to be. The trouble with this way of operating is that the world cannot properly instill someone with a sense of self; it can only instill them with the proper beliefs and actions to further the state of the world as it already exists. If the world is steeped in war and exploitation, it turns humans into warriors and exploiters. The human being, without knowledge of itself, can be molded in any way that the zeitgeist demands: It can become a salesman or a politician or a hipster or a businessperson, depending on skills and circumstance, but it does not become who it is. Along the same lines: When one knows firmly who they are, they cannot be made them into something else. It seems that one function of the world as it stands is to rob us of our divine self-awareness in youth and turn us into automatons that further its current program. If a person truly knows who they are, this kind of conditioning cannot be done.

Most often we become decent, tangentially involved in the wider machine, doing our best yet still in many ways feeding this machine. It is not my aim to cast judgment on any specific way of life, but to highlight the way it so happens that we act together to destroy the wildness and purity that once shone gloriously on this planet. This destruction happens in spite of our best intentions, no matter how good we try to be. The question, as always, is why?

In response to this question, individuals blame industry, and industry blames individuals. Each one ignores that the individual is the micro, the industry is the macro, and that they are parasitic upon one another. If either one were to completely transform, the other would follow suit very quickly. Upon such a revelation, it only matters who has the firmest resolve.

If you are not sure how to defect from the aforementioned worldly mechanisms, the answer is always to go within, to hunker in the heart until the steps reveal themselves. Do not seek with the mind. In all likelihood, the mind does not work in service to the real you yet. If it did, this mind would not create suffering in your being.

The difference between a soul-based aspiration and a mind-based desire often lies in its specificity: As I’ve stated, the soul does not crave objects or people, but the mind absolutely does. The soul does not have itself set on any rigid outcome such as fame or even a “better world,” but the mind does. The soul is not disturbed by setbacks, insults, criticism, or judgment; the mind hates every one of these fervently. Once we are unified in ourselves, words like “heart” and “mind” come to mean roughly the same thing; they work in tandem as perfect complements. The mind and heart form a sacred marriage within the overall human being, and together their offspring is unstoppable.

When we want to know the truth and drop away from collective illness, we must dwell in the heart and wait. Little by little (or perhaps all at once) the soul will become less shy in what it asks of us. Being the source of all wisdom, the soul is what guides us to become the culture-challenging yet loving individuals we often seek to become. When I say “loving,” I mean a state of acceptance that necessarily includes every last one of us. (This acceptance also does not mean “approval.”) Love does not chop us into categories and then judge who is worthy of It. Conditional love is not love; it is attachment. Seeing this, it becomes clear how severely love-starved we are as a species.

I feel confident that to be truly loving and revolutionary is a common aspiration, but striking a balance presents a challenge. Whether consciously or not, we all desire a free society where none are deemed invalid or insignificant. We do not wish to see each other as beggars, or even ourselves as “better off.” We also wish to be gentle towards one another, because inside of everyone and everything, the same soul lives. The soul always knows this, even as the hivemind creates its separations and various class divisions. Human beings desire to be loved and to be free; all other desires are merely disguises of these two primary aims.

Peace and freedom can only ever co-exist; engagement in one furthers the other. If a free society is sought after by violent means, it will fail. Over the course of history, understandably angry people have tried to bypass this truth. And yet, for every violent revolution that calls itself social progress, humankind still stands at the precipice of complete annihilation. For all of the supposed freedoms we enjoy, our misery is unprecedented. I ask honestly: Did the suffragettes march so that I could sit in an apartment and think of suicide? Was the revolutionary war fought so that we could stare at screens all day, fall into poor health, and take life for granted? Do we, as a whole, feel proud to have a timeline that consists of little more than trading one form of enslavement for another? It bears noting that those who seek greater freedoms are not usually the ones calling for violence; rather it is brought to them by those defending structures they threaten. But the point stands: How far have we truly come? How do we bring about the sorely needed internal revolution?

When action is taken from a mind based in truth, the movement is effective in that it promotes consciousness overall. When action is taken from a mind based in anger or a sense of being wronged, the effect is neutral or worse-than. Therefore, if we have external causes that we fight for, we must be firmly rooted in the truth first and foremost. If we don’t yet know what “truth” means, it must be prioritized over our causes. In coming into contact with it, the cause may change significantly.

Conditioned minds always crave more of the same, even if “the same” is a nightmare. The common mind is but a natural machine running the program for auto-destruct. These minds combine into one big mind, until humanity itself acts upon the planet like a natural disaster so wide in scope that it cannot be fathomed. It is the soul that holds the code to override this program, but you cannot force the soul to speak this code. This is in part because the soul does not respond to force, nor does it make itself known with blunt commands. After being suppressed for so long, you could liken the soul to a frightened kitten hidden in the basement of your house. We must listen closely to hear its cries, and there is much trust to be gained before it will climb purring into your lap.

Here the metaphor breaks down into absurdity, but is as follows: The cat you restore to health and docility transforms into a wizard that burns down your house. Secretly, this wizard also simultaneously builds you another more spacious and beautiful home. You can only move in once you accept that the wizard has always known—even from the time it pretended to be a crying, frightened kitten—that it would burn down and rebuild your house.

Even when the house is rebuilt, the wizard won’t stop coming over. It keeps showing up to fix problems you didn’t know existed, whether or not you like it. One day the wizard will sit with you and ask, “do you understand why I had to pretend I was a frightened kitten?” By this point, in seeing the heights of craftsmanship this wizard is capable of, you will understand, and thank the wizard for his deception. If you’d known beforehand what that scared little kitten would become, you would not have gone looking for it, believing you were doing it some wonderful favor.

Give the soul the tiniest recognition that you are there for it and listening, and it will take you for an entirely transformative ride. It will give you much more than you bargained for, until one day you learn to acquiesce and yield to its movements because the soul knows much more than you do.

Words along these lines—“obey” and “acquiesce”—used to really bother me. In service to worldly institutions and people in uniform, they still do. False authorities ought not be obeyed, and every external authority is false. Such people are unconsciously playing make-believe, and I take their authority no more seriously than I do a little girl who insists she is a princess. When I talk about obedience and acquiescence now, I only ever mean to your own self. All this fighting we do inside is unnecessary: All there is to do is yield to the soul. Let your mind pitch its fits, watch closely how it tries to destroy you, and then resume with the original plan: Yield to the soul.

The soul, using my emotions as a megaphone, has pulled me to act in many different ways. It has moved me to be solitary and honest, and to at least admit when I am acting irrational and childish—ultimately, to relinquish the latter. I admit with pleasure that I am still not rational, though my childishness rears up sometimes and I am temporarily possessed by things like jealousy and hyperbolic nostalgia. I sometimes want things that are not fair to others, but this is fading. I am becoming more me each day.

– 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

Lessons Everywhere

I wake up. I remember I am moving to an ashram/retreat center in Texas, and that this is exactly what I need to do right now. I reflect on some of the events that have led to this moment and this decision. I think of the things I have destroyed and the things I have created, of choices that have unfolded into both beauty and horror. On some choices I am still overwhelmed with remorse and shame; on others I laugh and think yes, that was exactly the right thing to do. Most are just a big question mark, like who am I to decide how this whole thing is supposed to go.

Throughout this whole process, I do know I could’ve created less suffering if I’d better understood what was happening to me. It is for this reason that I write. It is for this reason I do not give up on myself, why I stay sober, and why I encourage others to expand themselves by dropping one habit and belief at a time.

On some days, my moods have covered the whole spectrum within a few hours. I no longer believe that rapidly-changing moods are indicative of illness, at least not in the medical sense. Still, this instability absolutely makes life difficult: When you feel differently about something—everything—every few days, it is exhausting and absurd. You just spin your wheels, overthink, and feel like shit about it. With growth, I am happy to say that the worst is getting further away and quieter. With each breath my mind loses the power to drag me into Hell. This is the power of becoming self-aware.

Right now, my day-to-day life feels like little more than treading water. I’m somewhere in between the next thing and yet I feel I’ve (finally) survived the hardest parts of the Big Terrifying Awakening. And I know it would be a mistake to chop this experience up into “phases” and/or a progressive timeline, because life doesn’t work like that. It actually works in no particular way. As soon as we think we’ve got it all figured out, life is sure to dole out a surprise to knock us down a few pegs.

Although I feel a bit like I’m here “just waiting,” I know there are always lessons to be learned. To the true student, every situation and person is a teacher. Life ceases to be split into that which is Buddha and non-Buddha. Therefore I am trying to soak up whatever remaining lessons are in this space where my time is definitely not spent wisely (case in point: Two nights ago I watched 2 hours of Parks & Rec, ate a burrito, and went to sleep at 8PM ). My energy feels pretty depleted overall, and I know it is because my body is not where my soul is moved to be. For practical reasons, I am putting energy into tasks that my soul is resistant to, and this is the arrangement of our entire society. When we do this—fight ourselves—we should expect to feel tired and disenchanted. It makes no sense to believe we can be vibrant if we engage in stagnation.

One thing I keep relearning is how much pain I can create for myself by trying to be both attached and non-attached to people, routines, and things. It’s like standing on an iceberg that is cracked down the middle, my feet slowly drifting apart while freezing water sloshes below. I’m practically doing the splits, hesitating to make a decision about which way to go. If I keep living like this I will be uncomfortable forever.

So often we play this game where we try to bargain with the soul: We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to keep our little selves and their comfortable arrangements while also surrendering to the vastness of life and going where this stream moves us. We cannot have both. If we want it All, we can’t have our precious “personhood.” I say this not only for any readers but also for myself, because it is one of the hardest pills to swallow. It usually has to be hammered in several million times in the forms of confusion, anxiety, and cognitive dissonance before we finally accept it: We cannot have both.

This is not a statement about how spiritual growth requires “sacrifice” because “sacrifice” implies loss. There is no real loss here, except of those things you will one day be glad to be rid of: Ego, false identifications, attachments, and neuroses. Rather, it is about soberly accepting that a bird must jump from the safety of the nest in order to fulfill its destiny, that discomfort and insecurity are an irremovable part of this thing.

We don’t get one without the other, and yet we always try to argue with this. In our immaturity, we want safety and growth, vibrancy and security. We want risks with guarantees. Basically, we want the evolutionary experience to be something other than what it necessarily is.

Occasionally I still think I’d like to be a wife and/or mother, and yet to pursue such a course would negate whatever lies for me when I take a step in an unknown direction. I suppose there is still time to choose such a life if it felt right, but there’s also this undeniable pull to teach, to write, to be, and just not get caught up in arranging my circumstances intentionally. It really feels like it is no longer up to “me” to decide what occurs or what I become. Yes this has always been true, but only recently have I begun to actually give up the illusion of control.

My heart could stop beating any moment, and I’m pretty sure the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a huge earthquake. Any number of illnesses could be incubating inside of my body, and no matter what, death is assured for me and everyone I love. These aren’t meant to be depressing statements: They are just true, and when we get totally clear on this fact, life changes. Suddenly, freedom is not a thing to put off. Love and joy are not things to put off. The excuses we use to get out of becoming ourselves don’t work anymore because death is just right there, daring us to blink. We can often accept our “lack of control” in theory, but to actually surrender to what this means brings about an entirely different way of being.

I also often come back to the way intellectual understanding is small, and how consciousness does not get “understood” in this way. I want to bring it back to teaching: Many people accept the teachings of Christ in theory; they go to church and they are kind, but very few practicing Christians recognize that a true implementation of Christ’s word would ensure a complete breakdown of society as we know it… in the end it would be for the better, but it would a breakdown nonetheless. Hierarchies of all kinds would fall, even those supposedly built around Christ.

This is precisely why so many of His teachings have been edited and shunned and “disallowed” over many centuries: If we commoners were to fully realize our perfection, drop our neediness, and accept that we are alive, how might we spend our lives? Would we work for undeserving masters (and by this I don’t mean specific people, but an overall system which drives us into insanity and ruins our planet)? Would we dull ourselves and live the same unfulfilling way day after day?

I don’t think we would. Not for a moment longer.

– Lish