Mental Health, The Mind, Conditioning, Addiction, Awakening

Addiction and the Conditioned Mind

Usually when I tell someone new that I’m sober, they ask if I go to meetings. My answer is no, I do not. This opens up a new line of questioning, or I feel compelled to explain myself further. For many people there is an unspoken understanding that getting sober “on your own” isn’t really possible, and that those who think this is an option are doomed to fail. I’m not here to argue that it should be done alone, and agree that it’s probably easier when there are a lot of other people supporting your choice. But it is possible; all it takes is a bit more consciousness.

“I just use a basic awareness approach,” I explain, “I watch my mind lie to me all day long, and simply do not buy into its lies.” That really is it. It’s that simple—and that hard.

In recovery from anything, we learn to watch the habit-ridden mind spin out its familiar patterns. Here’s the key: We just keep watching it and remaining aware of the crazy things it says without being moved to action. We realize that just because a thought or impulse is arising, that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Craving? So what? We’re cravey for a minute, and then we’re not. This is the nature of the common mind: It pulls us in different directions all the time. It is not a safe place.

Using awareness becomes very difficult with severe addictions because, over time, addiction systematically lowers our ability to exercise choice. Still it is true that if we make the commitment to change a habit that no longer serves us, all we must do is strengthen a new way of being: Every time we stay aware of the mind rather than acting out the entrenched impulse to drink or smoke or use (or do anything), we become a bit more free. This is the basic internal process of all recovery from addiction, no matter what the modality is called.

It feels important to note that nowhere in my line of thinking is this idea that “I can’t drink.” Why remove my agency like that? To say this is inherently disempowering; it carries a subtext of “but I would if I could.” Therein lies immediate suffering. It shows that we view giving up alcohol to be a sad consequence of our mistakes, but this really isn’t true. Stripped of its allure, we can clearly see: Drinking alcohol actually isn’t that awesome. Surprisingly enough, ingesting poison isn’t super beneficial for a happy life. This is true especially when we experience certain levels of freshness and clarity that we just can’t feel while drinking regularly. Experiencing consciousness in its fullness makes getting drunk laughable.

Every day—dozens of times a day, even—we know we actually can drink. We can do and say many things that are harmful. We can… but we don’t. We are humans with some amount of will, and this will becomes stronger the more we use it.

We rewrite the mind’s patterns in this way, transforming ourselves little by little. When we are very near to freedom from the mind, it even begins to feel like a fun game. When it comes down to it, we—being pure, unconditioned consciousness—are just playing with our conditioned human minds. We are entertaining the mind through many lifetimes, and its every move is a requirement for our eventual liberation. We come to see that in the end, the mind was really an opponent we created for ourselves.

And why did we do this? Just for fun, just to do it. It is beautiful and hilarious when we win the game, and necessarily a surprise. It’s kind of like hide and seek, except that instead of opening the closet to find freedom hiding there, freedom appears magically before us when we least expect it.

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I’ve read a lot of popular blogs and stories on addiction, and I see what makes them popular: The drama. We love this juicy notion of “battling addiction,” “me vs. alcoholism,” “how my demons almost won,” etc. We feed on a Hollywoodesque creation of good vs. evil in the storyline of the whole world, unconsciously sustaining a war of cosmic forces that ultimately doesn’t even exist!

We actually energize the mechanisms of evil by giving evil our strongest attention. Similarly, we give addiction power and strength by treating it like an “enemy” we must “defeat.” Psychologically turning oneself (and the world) into a battleground ensures casualties, and we should also watch our propensity to do this. It makes life more difficult than it needs to be, plus we can even become addicted to this kind of drama. The unconscious ego loves drama because it results in an intense story to affix itself to.

But it is not “my addiction” or “my disease” that dresses alcohol up to appear as a fun choice. The simpler fact is that it is really the conditioned mind—the mind I practice observing as often as possible, and the same kind of mind most humans occupy—that does this. This  conditioned mind (and the various ways such minds influence each other in the collective) is the root of all behavioral/mental disorders, as well as many physical diseases. This makes our solution to such problems actually quite easy to see: Get everybody unconditioned!

It may sound simple, but once we start on the path, we see that there’s actually way more unconsciousness we must bring to light than we ever bargained for. No one can make this journey but us, on our own. And like any journey, it has its perils. Usually the mind convinces us to go back to normal mode, because shit just gets too scary. The mind will pull out all the stops to prevent us from escaping it, and fear is one of its most seductive ploys.

And the fact is that most of us are still so unconscious that we don’t even care to look deeply at what’s going on. We feel the process is unnecessary, having zero understanding of what it could mean for the entire world if we were to each take the journey and not turn around on the path.

Something very strange has happened with the concept of mind in the West: We identify with it almost totally, worship it, and live in it, often to our own detriment… and yet we continually diminish its power. “It’s all in your head,” we say, as if that’s no big deal. Psychosomatic illnesses are often treated as “less real” than those we can find an organic basis for, and we say things like “mind over matter.”

But what if we acknowledge that this mind has also created the matter and the very challenges that lie before us?

This is our true situation, though I don’t want anyone to take my word for it.

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We are very often under the mistaken belief that “we use our minds.” In the vast majority of people, this is not the case, for as our minds remain conditioned, they are using us. There really is no reason for happiness to be a struggle. There is no reason to feel bored, stuck, or trapped. There is not even any real reason to seek if you can feel utterly full of peace and joy right where you are (until we are even done experiencing joy and peace, but that’s for another post).

If you were, in fact, using your mind, would you use it to be miserable, negative, addicted, confused? Would you use it to be full of peace or full of discomfort and neuroses? Would you choose to experience life as a strange yet interesting adventure, or a series of difficulties to “get through”?

Everything we are discussing here is at the root of the spiritual path. Buddhism, at its heart, is about discovering the natural mind, the buddha-nature which is everything (as well as an infinite, perfect nothingness which also creates every thing), which we may also refer to as pure consciousness or God. Buddha-nature is always here. Consciousness is always here. Christ is always here. Allah is always here. The Holy Spirit is always here. God is always here. We are always here. There are many ways of saying this same thing, and all prophets have seen this same thing. You can fully experience this thing when your mind becomes completely unconditioned.

Our conditioning goes much deeper than we tend to appreciate in our ordinary dialogues. Often, people on the fringes of the political spectrum are under the impression that they have seen through their conditioning. In reality, questioning the status quo barely scratches the surface. It’s very common to question the easier things and stop looking when we start to feel uncomfortable or frustrated. If we continue to suffer from anger and walk around feeling judgmental, prideful, and caught up in the past, we are still very much under the spell of conditioning. We cannot help our fellow beings if this is our situation.

Things we take for “basic facts” must also be taken into consideration. Our “rational conclusions” should be turned and considered anew. That doesn’t mean we reject everything that has been presented to us, just that we have a genuine willingness to take it all into question. Some of the most seemingly “open-minded” people will never do this because it is so threatening to the identity.

However, if we do this honestly and sincerely—and do it until the bitter, sometimes-terrifying end—we will find that something miraculous awaits us.

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It is not just drinking that my mind tries to lure me in with: All thoughts and feelings which keep my being small are things I watch. For example, in meditation, the mind often says things like “What’s next?” “This is boring.” “I should be writing.” “My heart is beating too fast.” “I don’t need to be doing this.”

All of these are various forms of resistance to being present; they are just ways we cover up simply Being. Please note that there can be no peace within ourselves or in the world until we are at least okay with just being. The glory of consciousness is that we can even become superbly blissful just being. We are contented and joyful and clear-seeing, just sitting still. There is nothing to “entertain” or even “relax” us. We can just be here.

If we see the conditioned mind for what it is—a small game we’re playing within an unlimited consciousness—freedom is soon ours, because we become that unlimited consciousness. That goes for addiction, and for many more psychological afflictions.

– Lish

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Mania, Mental Health, The Mind, Well-being

The Blessing of Mental Illness

We can think of the untranscended mind as a jail cell that we mistake for the entire world. When we see reality (i.e. “wake up”), it results in the equivalent of departing from this cell and into the wide open world. It’s like we march instinctively to the door of the cell—a door we never knew existed before that very moment—and step out into a vast field, experiencing sunlight for the first time. In many cases, we don’t know why we’ve been moved to this action.

Many people take steps towards the door. They become “spiritual” and challenge a few of their old beliefs, yet ultimately remain in the cell. Sometimes they’re right at the door with their hand on the knob, and they turn around to go hang out in jail for a while longer. The person always has a logical explanation for this action: “It’s not the right time,” “I have more important things to do,” “I’m fine the way I am,” “This doesn’t make any sense,” and “I just can’t accept this,” to name a few. When we get really close, the mind becomes even more preposterous, desperately trying to keep us in its grip. It might even say “Stop! I’m dying!” even though our bodies are perfectly healthy.

The cell of the mind can be very compelling. It has many tricks to keep us trapped within it. Nonetheless, it is the destiny of all beings to exit our cells. We will all discover true freedom and know the Absolute; it is only a matter of when.

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While beautiful, this departure from the old mode of thinking can be very overwhelming: A lasting shift means you can’t walk back into the cell. You turn around and the door to your cell is locked, or, more accurately, the entire structure has disappeared.

This is why awakening can feel so chaotic, especially for those of us who do not (consciously) seek to awaken. All our lives, at the encouragement of the world, we sincerely take our minds to be who and what we are. We believe the things the mind says about us, no matter how contradictory. We believe the things it says about others, no matter how cruel or simplistic. We cherish the mind and build it into something that seems strong. We stock it with stories and information and world-based knowledge; we use it to reinforce itself and our egos by finding all the “right” things to think. We become entranced by our personal histories, continuing to regale ourselves and others at every opportunity. And yet, for all this effort, identification with the mind and the past is always a misstep.

On the quest for fulfillment and Truth, we often make this misstep over and over and over again.

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Those of us who experience mental illness can feel like we’ve been born into awful jail cells: They are tight and cold and perhaps the only food we get is stale bread and butter. What I am describing would be the equivalent to a depressive and/or anxious mind; it affords little comfort and is incredibly limiting. (This notion stands apart from one’s intellect, which can still be extremely sharp. A strong intellect isn’t of much use if the mind itself keeps the person in tremendous pain.)

In terms of thought, such a mind can convince us we are worthless, that life is not worth living, and that there is something dramatically wrong with us. It will show us only what is evil and sick in the world; it may even unconsciously invite evil and sickness in order to affirm itself. I remember this mode of life now as a distant memory or an absurd dream.

The most important factor for this jail cell to go unexamined is not that it be an enjoyable place, but that it be stable. Most of us feel perfectly okay with our small cells because they feel consistent enough. We can even observe that many people in this world are not comfortable in their minds at all. We can see on the contorted faces of “important people” that they are miserable, taking everything seriously, constantly having to maintain their egos. They lead ridiculous lives, and the people around them help build their distorted realities. The minds they occupy and identify with are not cozy, but they are reliable, and this reliability is enough to prevent one from seeking true freedom.

Someone who might do well in this world (materially speaking) would be someone with a nice jail cell, a comfortable-enough mind. Here they are given various foods, room to stretch out, and a lot of things to read and look at. They take themselves as “fine”—maybe even “happy.” And as far as their reality goes, this is true. The dream of thought in which they operate is a nice enough dream that waking up is no concern of theirs. Such is their course in life, and you cannot wake up someone who sincerely wants to stay asleep. However, as life on Earth becomes increasingly tense for humans, I expect there will be fewer and fewer of us who have the luxury of remaining unconscious in such a way.

Those who are comfortable and/or stable within their minds have very little motivation to leave. This is the blessing of mental illness: The level of discomfort that the mind can bring is the very factor that compels us to get out of it.  Self-hatred, chronic anxiety, fear, neurosis—these things are like the jail cell shrinking in size, perhaps becoming unlivable. When the mind becomes unlivable for extended periods of time, we might call this severe depression, which our culture explains in various ways. The primary causes of depression are very simple.

Mainstream psychiatry overcomplicates this simplicity and misses the point that human beings don’t really exist in a vacuum separate from the rest of the world. We only act like we do, and this great pretending act is actually one of the main causes of widespread depression. All through life we bullshit ourselves about who we are, usually without the luxury of even knowing we’re doing it.

Sometimes we see suicide as a way out of this unlivable jail cell. Here, we see just how hopelessly entangled we are with our minds: We believe that only way to escape the mind is to escape life itself. It doesn’t need to be this way. You can be free of a choking mind without ending your physical life—so free, in fact, that you will regard your depression as strange in retrospect. You do not have to live in your mind. You do not have to allow your thoughts to dictate your entire existence.

What you are is so much more vast and perfect than your jail cell. Discovering this vast perfection is only a matter of distancing yourself from those thoughts that pull you in, inviting you to live in them. It is in this way that we find who and what we really are. In this discovery, our prior suffering is small and faraway. It cannot touch the Truth.

We must learn to reject the mind’s tricks over and over and over again, to simply stay right here.

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The mind I took myself to be—the mind that was called “bipolar”—was like a shifting jail cell. There were times when this cell was filled with many beautiful things. It was enormous. It had a cozy bed and art on the walls and all the books I ever wanted. It had music and jewels and Indian food and gelato. Then, immediately and without warning, this cell would transform into a stark, tiny dungeon with nothing in it but the dirty floor. The height of my cell’s ever-changing nature occurred during a major manic episode and in the year that followed it.

What was once called “an illness” has revealed itself to be a great teacher. The whole time, as a deeper consciousness was germinating within my being, I experienced this mind as a terrible burden. It felt dense and heavy, like I just couldn’t go on within it (and I didn’t.).

Today, I couldn’t be more grateful for the levels of instability my mind has reached. What these experiences have taught me is that the personal mind simply cannot be a stable place, even for those who externally seem very stable. Its desires change from day to day, hour to hour. It will claim it wants one thing and then compel us to do the complete opposite. It can convince us to harm our bodies and environments in various ways. It will cling to events that occurred many many years ago. Being powered by the mind, these events will hold our beings hostage, destroying our opportunity for joy. The mind is certainly capable of clinging to stable depression rather than accepting the challenge for freedom, which would require that it lose its power. It will judge. It will make Heaven and Hell for us, perhaps in the same day.

Its instability is ultimately revealed in death: The personal mind will end when the physical body is no longer sustained. Only in our discovery of the timeless Self (that which is outside of the personal self) do we know life in its fullness. The jail cell of a conditioned mind represents both impermanence and smallness, both of which create suffering. 

Getting out of the cell and coming to know your true mind—this is where everything is.

– 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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"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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Mania, Medication, Mental Health, Reality, Well-being

The Nature of Bipolar Mania

I’ve said before (here and here) that mania, in my experience, can occur during rapid, unplanned expansions in consciousness. Such expansions can happen if the ego takes enough hits to temporarily collapse, or when we do something like quit drinking after years of substance abuse (or both!). 

In response, the ego tries to keep up, resulting in delusions, and the pain attempting to be healed during this expansion sometimes expresses itself in rage and violence, especially if our movement/freedom is restricted. We desperately need to discharge this energy somehow, and being locked up in confined spaces is not helpful. The way to navigate life after a manic episode is to train in traversing these variations in consciousness skillfully, rather than allowing them to control you. If these pieces alone were to be understood by mainstream psychiatry, it would be revolutionary for all those suffering from mental illness.

The structure of the ego and the underlying consciousness must be incorporated into our psychological theories, or else we will do nothing but put a Band-Aid on the issue. We will fall prey to the mistaken belief that long-term medication is what’s necessary for these people, when truly, at some point, medication actually blocks the individual from further healing for the simple fact that it blunts emotion. (There are those whose instability is so debilitating and chronic that I understand the need for this, but in the majority of cases—especially for depression and anxiety—long-term meds are ultimately unhelpful.)

Emotions must be fully felt and released (mentally, physically, and energetically) for us to move forward on our paths. This is a process that, as of today, is generally only assisted by shamans, spiritual teachers, yogis, and/or other “alternative practitioners.” These healers can be hugely beneficial, but they’re not the ones we’re turned over to in the midst of extreme crisis. Instead, we’re locked up in hospitals and then shuffled around amongst people who, in all likelihood, have very little understanding of the relationship between consciousness and mental illness. When you’re extremely fragile (as one tends to be fresh out of the mental hospital), nothing feels worse than a blank, “yeah, right” stare from a caseworker when you say you’re not really ill. This needs to change.

One of the most concerning aspects of psychiatry is that the people who have written descriptions of the various psychological maladies have generally not suffered a psychotic break/spiritual emergency for themselves. In psychiatric interviews/assessments, what this amounts to is a game of telephone wherein the patient tries to describe what they are feeling (these experiences are beyond words and thought). The doctor, with his/her intellectual faculties, chops the whole thing up into that which they and their colleagues can digest. Usually, they are also looking for specific illness features, thereby ruling out and/or ignoring the parts that don’t fit.

All they can do is take notes from the outside and compile a list of symptoms they are capable of discerning. Most psychiatrists have no idea how real these experiences are, and I mean that literally: Whatever we perceive is what “makes” our individual realities. What one may call “a hallucination” is just as real as everything you can currently sense. And, just as the Buddha (and many other spiritual teachers have alluded to), dreams are just as “real” as waking life… but now I’m getting off track.

This is not meant as a slight against such professionals; it is simple human nature. The problem arises when the patient’s experience is extremely different than what the practitioner is capable of understanding, and then the practitioner goes on to believe they know what’s best. While hospitalized, I was acutely aware that none of the doctors or nurses had any true knowledge of where I was at or what I was going through. It was infuriating and wrong to have such people in control of my care at a time when I needed something very different.

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I’ve set out to explain a bit more about what the experience of mania like is from inside of it. It is my hope that this description might illuminate why a full-blown manic episode can be something far greater than a lapse into illness. Instead, when viewed through the right lens, it can be a catalyst towards growth, healing, and total potential.

The transition from a psychotic break/spiritual emergency to a balanced, higher state of consciousness can occur in two ways: 1. The patient is regarded with proper compassion towards their state of being, and gently guided to understand how a new path in life may be walked. This is not how the mentally ill are treated. As well-meaning as mental health practitioners are, they tend to be overworked, undercompensated, burnt out on empathy, and lacking the fundamental tools to care for their patients in the way they need. 2. After our episodes, we are thrust back into the “real world,” struggling to incorporate wtf just happened to us and left to fend for ourselves by way of research and alternative therapies (none of which are free or even covered by insurance in most cases.) I’m on route 2, because that’s the only route there is outside of the mainstream narrative.

What I’d like to see is all of our psychiatrists and psychologists sitting down at mandatory classes on consciousness so that we—the freshly released and deeply confused—at the very least come away with a modicum of hope for our futures. Instead we’re presented with statistics on what our “conditions” mean, encouraged to take medication we may not want to take, and surrounded by the fresh Hell we unconsciously created while in the throes of mania. This is at least part of why the fall back into depression occurs, and it’s so weird to me that this point tends to go ignored in the medical explanations of bipolar disorder.

If you lost control of your mind and behavior, making a fool of yourself and hurting people you loved, wouldn’t you get depressed? Wouldn’t you feel ashamed and lost? The depression that follows mania has much more to do with these factors than with a change in brain chemicals, or rather, the two accompany one another rather than the “misfiring brain” being the primary cause of suffering. Depression is a perfectly understandable emotion to follow such an episode, especially if the episode is seen as nothing but a sign of long-term illness. Labeling this depression another facet of the disease is straight-up dishonest.

A paradigm shift within psychiatry and psychology is the only way to improve this situation. It must take universal consciousness into account. Currently, we’re stuck at the levels of the brain (physiology and neurotransmitters, the science of which is not fully understood) and the mind (the thinking machine that only constitutes a small part of who we are.) Complete healing can only occur when deeper levels are included, including old energies that are frozen in the body, and particularly that timeless, limitless dimension we all have within us—the one I call “pure consciousness.”

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Without further ado, here are the symptoms of bipolar mania as listed in the DSM-V (the handbook of mental disorders):

  1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  2. Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
  3. More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  4. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  5. Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
  6. Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
  7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments

This relatively short list does not even touch what it’s like for the person inside of it. Again, this is because the people who wrote the list are probably pretty underdeveloped spiritually (as our culture is overall), not to mention “illness-oriented.” In the West we do not view wellness and balance as a ladder we can climb to an incredible, all-seeing state. The best we can do is to lack any obvious illness and construct an effective ego. This is such a limited way to experience life. I wish I could share with you how much more amazing we could feel (and how this state would translate to the creation of a beautiful world), but alas, it’s a journey that must be walked by you and you alone.

Here are some of the additional components of mania that I experienced:

  • Beauty everywhere: Things are not simply beautiful; they are beauty itself. Every act, from shaking cinnamon into my coffee to seeing two deer playing in a graveyard, was meaningful and glorious. You become attuned to the miraculous nature of life itself.
  • Fresh, awake, alive: Think of the most refreshing sleep you’ve ever woken up from in your life. Multiply that by a thousand, and you have a faint idea of how clean and clear we can feel when manic. Life feels deeply fresh and new and fun. Each moment is a joy. Every cup of coffee felt like my first. These elements particularly line up with states of mind that are often discussed in high spiritual states.
  • Extreme, near-crippling empathy: Everyone becomes transparent. Their emotions are obvious and clear, and most of them are suffering, even if they’re unaware of/in denial of said suffering.
  • Heightened senses: There becomes a strange ability to tune into and become conscious of things you weren’t before. In the hospital, I watched and listened to two doctors talking about me behind the glass enclosure where the staff sit (which, by the way, wtf? It makes you feel like a zoo animal.). They were unaware that I was listening. Smells seemed to hang around a lot longer than usual, music contained riffs and melodies I’d never heard before, and every color became more vibrant.
  • Faster metabolism and other bodily processes: My toenails and hair grew faster. I was always hungry. I felt like I could run for miles and miles. It feels almost like the body is receiving some kind of “upgrade.”
  • Oscillations of burning and coolness: I’m not going to pretend I understand the way all of the energy involved in this process works, but I know it’s intense, and that it gets expressed in these kinds of sensations. I read, I believe in The Untethered Soul, something about “the yogic burn:” Old, negative energies are burning away as we heal un- and subconscious energies trapped in the body.
  • Tingling sensations: Along the same lines as above, I often felt tingles on my skin, particularly when I felt I was conversing with “god.” This “god” was, of course, me trying to cope with other parts of me, yet still the tingling during these times was significant.
  • Moving through the Universe: I felt certain that a version of me was going into a black hole. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the widely celebrated memoir on bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind, describes the sensation of traversing out to Saturn.
  • An urgent desire to help: This feature is rarely mentioned, but it’s so important. Issues that we can easily shutter away on a day to day basis—poverty, environmental degradation, and abuse of all kinds everywhere—spring forth as deeply troubling. We feel like the only people concerned with these issues. It feels desperate and immediate, like we can’t handle the fact that everyone else is just walking around “fine” while so many people are dying and in pain. It is maddening, and we just want to do something.
  • Extreme frustration with the state of the world/the lower levels of consciousness: It all just felt like it was happening too slow. I was ready for everyone to just drop their bullshit—all the stories they tell themselves about why we cannot live peaceably amongst one another and with the rest of nature, every lie they live that keeps them unwittingly enslaved. I wanted everyone to just “get it:” Life is beautiful and we are all each other! It felt like absolutely no one else really understood.
  • Complete understanding: You can’t explain it, because it’s beyond words. So you try, and you sound insane. For example, I told the designated mental health practitioner at the hospital that “I knew all the secrets of the Universe.”

These additional features of mania may help us understand that it goes much further than what the DSM-V shows. A manic episode—and/or a collapse of the ego—can be seen as an individual’s attempt towards growth and wholeness, not simply a manifestation of latent, underlying “illness.”

From Yoga & Psychotherapy, The Evolution of Consciousness:

“But an acute psychotic episode may represent an attempt—however misguided—to break free of one’s limitations and come to terms with aspects of himself that were repressed. From the point of view of the growth process, such a person should not be considered “sick” if he is actively reorganizing and evolving. This point has been dramatically made by R.D. Laing who has said: ‘… to be mad is not necessarily to be ill. If the ego is broken up or destroyed… then the person may be exposed to other worlds ‘real’ in different ways from the more familiar territory of dreams, imagination, perception…’”

Of course, many psychotic people are not actively “reorganizing and evolving,” and for them, radically different care should be given. It certainly did not appear that way when I was psychotic, and yet, I have since embraced the process of evolution and continue on the path towards higher consciousness today. There are several factors that can help everyone resume with growth, thereby letting go of depression, neuroses, anxiety, etc, and I encourage deep and honest inquiry into these various paths if you wish to be free of suffering.

Short of having a spiritual awakening, which isn’t something “we” can ever guarantee will happen in this life, accepting that our psychological maladies can be part of a much greater and more beautiful process would be an excellent start.

– Lish

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Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

On Healing and Awakening

Healing is a huge part of awakening. There’s just no way around it. And while it’s possible to heal without awakening, it is almost unheard of to awaken without undergoing an intensive healing process.

Living in Western culture, none of us make it to adulthood unscathed. It’s not just that many families unconsciously inflict harm upon one another (though this is true for a whole lot of people), it’s that we are programmed to believe certain things about our worth and our identities that are completely illusory. For lack of a better phrase, this programming really fucks us up. For children it can be as simple as not doing well in school (this is a very narrow definition for intelligence, btw) for them to receive negative messages about their “place” in society. We are also programmed to believe things about ourselves and others regarding skin color, “class,” appearance, nationality, religion—everything. As we grow up, rigid definitions about masculinity (i.e. “show no emotion”) and femininity (i.e. be thin and pleasant at all times) are also instilled.

When we “fail” to be the things our society expects of us, a tremendous amount of suffering can ensue. The need for a culture which allows children to grow and be, just as they are, is enormous. In such a case, we’d find that humans—when loved and supported by mindful adults—can become incredible, strong, and resilient individuals capable of far more than whatever our projected hopes are for them. Without millions of layers of delusion and conditioning, people are all wonderful.

When you wake up, you might find yourself not only healing from whatever you personally suffered, but from the entire dream of hurtful stories that have cut all of us up. Pair all that with the new dimensions of consciousness you’re blindly traversing, and we have a recipe for some really intense shit.

It’s important to realize that healing does not necessarily require that you’ve incurred any “serious” trauma (although that’s hideously common). Collectively we will all need to go through some kind of healing process in order to grow into more conscious beings. We can’t get around the fact that we’ve abused and killed this planet and one another for a very, very long time. The only thing left to do is face it. If you’re an empath, facing the enormity of the pain acted out unconsciously can seem like a bottomless pit of despair. There are things you can do to climb out of this, but it’s work. Lest any of you believe the spiritual path is one of bliss and joy, it is not always that way, especially in the beginning.

Because we’re so interconnected, we may also find ourselves heal from each other’s pain as well. For me, it was never just about me and my personal stories: I felt like I was quite literally having the experience of every human being who has ever been persecuted and tortured.

This isn’t true for everyone. Depending on how much inner work you’ve done prior to awakening, it may not be as lengthy or as deep of a process.  Every single person who awakens experiences it differently, and frustratingly, there’s not even a single path to “get there.” But, in general, you’re going to be having an astonishing amount of emotions you might have never knew existed and that you have no explanation for. Your pain (and every other dimension of consciousness within you) has been like a Jack pushed down in it’s box, and for mysterious reasons, the handle has been cranked just right so that it all pops out.

I don’t want to go so far into talking about the ways of healing and/or the amount of time it takes to heal. This is because I’m not on the other side yet, so for me to speak of complete healing without being completely healed would be sort of like the blind leading the blind. This brings me to a very important point: Not all practitioners of any kind (therapists, counselors, doctors, shamans, spiritual teachers) are healed and whole within themselves. In fact, most aren’t. A lot of people become doctors because it’s what their parents wanted for them, or because of the status doctors hold in society. A lot of people become psychotherapists out of a well-meaning yet naive desire to “help people” without ever going deeply into themselves. Their goals of healing aren’t necessarily motivated by an intuitive understanding of the human condition.

This creates a host of problems. If a healer isn’t aware of where they’re at on their journey, they can easily project issues onto you and/or seek to “fix” themselves by “treating” you. When this happens to you, it can be jarring, maddening, and sad. Even though I’ve seen some great people throughout my journey towards wellness, I can say that maybe only one of them has felt capable of deeply understanding the mechanisms of consciousness and the way the whole thing went down (he’s a spiritual teacher).

But this was also a gift. Each time I saw a professional and came away feeling misunderstood, or as if only the surface layer had been discussed, the message came in strong and clear: There’s nothing “out there.” The answers, wisdom, and understanding exist perfectly whole and indestructibly within.

It is a great gift when you realize that the answers cannot be found in the external world. It is an even greater gift when you become free of trying to answer everything. Questions and answers all exist on an intellectual level, and the sharpest of intellects can get you no closer to the Truth. Our academic intelligence doesn’t get us there. This is also a very hard truth for the Western ego to incorporate, since we are also taught that endless thinking (the kind that is rewarded in our super narrow educational system) can solve everything. Sadly, “being smart” won’t help you as you awaken, and can actually hurt you if you’re always trying to intellectualize the process.

Today, I can see exactly why I was drawn to the field of psychology, and particularly why I wanted to be a substance abuse counselor at first: I had tremendous pain that I hadn’t worked through, and a drinking problem I used to keep it at bay. What better way to deflect and be “okay” than to tirelessly try to help others? Luckily the lights came on before I had a chance to unwittingly harm any clients, and now I wouldn’t dream of considering such a career unless I was confident in my well-being and ability to replenish my energies as needed.

I want to end this post with a link to a series of videos I found extremely helpful. After I got out of the hospital, unwilling to believe my experiences were simply the result of misfiring neurotransmitters, I started looking for alternative explanations for bipolar disorder. These videos (along with dozens of books) gave me a new lens through which to understand my manic episodes, and ultimately, a new lens through which to see all of life:

Important: This isn’t a matter of whether or not mental illness “exists.” Of course it does, even though mental illness is still sorely misunderstood. Though I went through phases of being anti-psychiatry and anti-medication (largely as a reaction from the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized during the most fragile and horrific time of my life), I’ve come to embrace the “keep what works; let go of what doesn’t” mentality. When I was acutely manic and had to try to go to work, I took the medication and accepted the bipolar label. We really do have to let go of our egos when it comes to our health. (This lesson should be embraced by anyone who thinks they’re “too tough” or “fine enough” not to seek treatment for anything.)

Even though you know your experiences are part of something greater than a medical issue, “having a spiritual awakening” still doesn’t buy you a few years off of work to integrate and recalibrate (although I wish it would!). In short: Accept the label when it serves you on the path to wellness; drop it when it doesn’t.

Now, being unmedicated and taking more responsibility for my wellness, I can let go of the label unless I feel the desire to explain to someone (who doesn’t consider themselves “spiritual”) what happened. The point is that, internally, I keep in mind that none of these stories can touch the truth of my being or anyone else’s.

– 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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