Inner Work, Narratives

How to Start Working on Yourself

Doing conscious self-work is not the same thing as having a full-on spiritual awakening. However, doing this work can lead to a spiritual awakening, or at least make the awakening more bearable when/if it does occur. Conscious self-work is what I’m in favor of for (almost) everyone in the whole world. Unless you’re an enlightened being, you can benefit from becoming more conscious of the stories and defenses that keep you believing you’re something much smaller than you truly are.

Almost every single one of us is holding onto a story to protect our egos (as always: me too). Changing your story—and believing this new narrative—can be deeply empowering. But dropping all your stories and seeing that almost everyone is unconsciously acting out a story? That’s next level stuff. It’s amazing.

Enough practice from this place of awareness and you’ll be able to pick up and set down stories at a whim. You’ll become more dynamic and much more at ease. You’ll know exactly what’s real, but maybe put on masks for various reasons: To make change in the world if you choose, or perhaps just for fun. No one has more fun than someone who is without ego. That’s because there’s no longer any falseness to live up to or placate. There’s no flimsy structure of a “person” to appease, with its ideas of “how things should go” or “what they should be doing.” There’s just fearless being and the present moment.

Anyway, all that stuff happens further down the line. What I’m here to address in this post is self-work, how to get started, and what’s helped me to become sober and cigarette-free and doing the thing I was once most scared of almost every day (writing). Also I’ve managed to come back from a severe breakdown and fill my life with purpose, so that’s pretty neat too. I’m also learning how to be alone with myself, how to listen to myself, and how to say “thanks, but no” to the part of my psyche that’s always trying to get me to go back to sleep.

All inner work is aimed at one thing: Becoming deeply self-aware. The best way to do this is to start noticing the connection between your emotions and their corresponding behaviors. We all know what we’d like to see differently in ourselves, but often balk when it comes to seriously examining the emotional triggers for our “bad” behaviors. That’s because it can get really overwhelming really fast.

The logic goes something like this: If we do “bad” things and have “bad” feelings, we can start to believe we are just bad. Then we act out badness due to sheer self-fulfilling prophecy, and a horrible cycle is born. We have to learn to look at our most feared emotions—despair, rage, loneliness, fear itself—through an objective, loving lens as so not to get trapped like this. And there is a way to do this.

I started writing this post to recommend one book specifically. I ordered it sometime before my 29th birthday when I was steeped in shame, confusion, and self-loathing all day long. Even though it didn’t take me all the way home to spiritual freedom, the more I read the book and did the exercises, the more I understood that it’s all about consciousness.

Here’s a link to the book.

Before I go much further, I want to say one big giant important thing: Stop thinking you are too cool to do inner child work. I know how it makes you feel to think about “your inner child.” It probably feels dumb and touchy-feely. Let’s address that.

First of all, it is extremely tragic that we have been convinced to more or less hate our deepest feelings. As far as The Machine™  goes, feelings are only good when they can be capitalized on, and the best feelings for that are those of constant lack and unworthiness. Feeling joyful and whole deals a radical blow to the ill hivemind that encourages us to constantly crave more in the mistaken hopes of feeling like we actually are more. It’s actually revolutionary to just be naturally joyful, so do it!

I recommend you build up a serious “fuck that noise” attitude to the culture that taught you to ignore all your feelings except the ones that convince you you’re not enough just as you are. That crippling insecurity—”I’m not enough”—has been wired into us so intensively since birth that we can easily go through life as empty vessels aimed at constant consumption, achievement, and other forms of “chasing.” I also recommend you embrace whatever feelings accompany that “not enough” sensation, and pay close attention to how those feelings shape the things you choose to do with your time.

Secondly, the truth about such feelings—that journaling to your inner child is weak, or stupid, or useless, or just for those who have been severely traumatized—is that you don’t want to look at yourself very hard. If it makes you feel particularly eye-rolly to think about addressing your inner child, I contend that you are the person who most needs to address your inner child. Anything that reacts, particularly defensively, is an important place to look.

How do I know this? When I was actively drinking, angry, and totally lost, you couldn’t have gotten me to write to my inner child. Like, at all. I wouldn’t have had anything to do with it, because I was too freaked out. I had steeped myself in enough unconscious behaviors and defenses that I somehow managed to pretend I was an Adult™ for like a year or so, and then that shit collapsed hard. At some point, everything I’d been hiding from was like “oh HEY REMEMBER US?!” And I was like “I THOUGHT I DISAPPEARED YOU WITH CHEAP WINE AND MEANNESS!!!”

I’d like to spare you that terrifying surprise party, if I can.

Yes: Facing your stuff can be difficult. No one said digging through your un- and subconscious junk was going to be a good time. Still, it is the only way to become free of the hurt we’ve incurred, and more importantly, it is the only way we become free from the ways we continue to hurt ourselves by ignoring ourselves.

We all have a voice that tells us what we ought to do with our lives, what we want to do with our lives, and what our highest and most honest life would look like. Most of us are pretty far away from what this voice says. We all know we have potential locked somewhere within us. We all know we can be more virtuous, more genuine, more true.

So how do we do that? It’s this easy, and this hard: Honor that voice over everything else—and I mean everything. This is a lifelong commitment to the soul you’ve been shutting down in favor of “being practical” or “fitting in” or “keeping up your end of the bargain” or otherwise “staying safe.” However, this isn’t about taking great, impulsive risks. It’s about the slow, well-considered movement towards the life that voice pulls you towards.

Rightfully, the book is about self-abandonment. Every single time we choose to numb out, or run away, or maladaptively cope, or deny/suppress that voice, we are telling our souls—our heart’s desire and our greatest potential—I don’t want you and I don’t love you. This hurts even more, but the most ridiculous part about this strategy is that in the end, it is 100% ineffective.

The soul doesn’t go away. By definition, it can’t. It’s going to get louder and louder and louder… until you act. Maybe not this year, maybe not in five years, maybe not even in this lifetime. Still, you will act differently one day, because that’s how undeniable and compelling your freakin’ soul is.

Susan Anderson, the psychologist who wrote the book, takes a brilliant approach to the self-abandonment cycle. Her method prevents us from falling into the black hole of self-hatred by encouraging us to recognize that all the “bad” things we do are not reflections of who we really are. Instead, we attribute them to an entity she calls “Outer Child.” This is the side of you that acts out inappropriately in an attempt to protect/soothe the feelings you’ve been ignoring all your life.

You feel bored or sad? Outer reaches for the beer. You feel rejected and alone? Outer texts your less-than-stellar ex. You feel insecure? Outer brings up someone to talk shit about.

Our uncomfortable feelings are never problems on their own. They provide us with information and are meant to be guideposts for how to live well. It’s the gap between your true self and your hurt feelings—where Outer lives, waiting to maladaptively “help” with ice cream, Netflix, and a bong—that perpetuates these negative tendencies. If we can heal that gap, we can heal our whole selves.

I’m going to cut myself off here, but I really wanted to throw this book into the Interworld and say how personally awesome I found it for myself, and how I wish self-work would become as cool as binge drinking and/or watching sports, and how much I love you for reading this post.

– 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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