Know Yourself First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

From El Paso to Vegas

I write this from a car on the way from El Paso to Vegas. I have no idea why I am still traveling in physical space. All I desire is a place to Be, but energetically nothing has felt quite right. From Vegas I will go to Reno to see my teacher, Jim, have a talk, and feel where to go next.

I should say that even though I referred to Jim as “my teacher” in my last post—and he certainly is one of them—I consider all human beings (and life circumstances) to be teachers and students of one another. The question is whether or not we are conscious of it: Do we know that everything we are going through is an opportunity for practice? That we need every experience, no matter how bad, to point us to Truth?

Many of the situations I’ve been on throughout this journey have been teachers of patience. Before I was very invested in self-work and thrust into the shitstorm that was my awakening, I was an impatient person and saw no problem with that. In my view, the problem was not my impatience or lack of acceptance, it was that others were too slow and stupid. It was all very judgmental, and I own that. That is the work of the egoic mind: It imagines separate “others” and blames them for our suffering, which is really the result of our own existing unconsciousness.

Today I find myself spending time with people I would have never hung out with before. I shudder to think of all those I have shut out of my life by virtue of once having such a closed heart. Today, even if I don’t feel a deep connection, I know that we are each playing a role on one another’s paths. Most of these people do not consciously see me as a teacher. At some point, though, we come to see that the entire play of consciousness—what we tend to consider “the life experience” and/or “the world”—is, in innumerable ways, pointing right back into our divine self-knowledge. At this point, there is no escaping the lessons that begin to unfold around us. Sometimes it is so heavy-handed, it feels like too much: How was I so blind before?

Then, we begin to gently direct others back inwards. As I move more intuitively into the role of a teacher, I do this. It is challenging when people have not consciously accepted me as a teacher, because I know that is what I am called to do in this body/mind/form. It is becoming less and less possible to avoid doing this work, but not everyone has signed up for it on purpose. This is just another thing I’m learning navigate so that I can continue to be a light in the world. It is very important that I don’t build up an air of conceit over spiritual matters, and continue to accept everyone wherever they are at. 

When light is bright it hurts the eyes of those who are in darkness. As always, I say this firsthand: The light of God (which is ultimately Me and You) terrified and burned me greatly, such is its power. Not everyone wants to see their light—and in fact, when we are exposed to it for the first time, we often reflexively turn away. I turned away many many times before embracing what had actually occurred. Sometimes I still backslide into my old programming, but at the very least, I am aware that this can happen.

Until we are really ready, expanded consciousness can seem like terror, boredom, weakness, maybe even evil depending on the ego-identity of the one who is looking. These are all simply negative labels the mind places on Truth to avoid being blown away by it.

About my time in Georgetown: It was a pretty nourishing environment and a lovely little town. But I felt acutely my heart’s need to be in delving further into itself rather than building new relationships. I am still coming into my light, and feel a strong need to be alone, and/or near a teacher.

What good teachers really represent is pockets of powerful energy. I am reminded of a couple times Jim has mentioned on his blog this situation we get into after awakening: We have been broken and hurt for so long, and part of the awakening process is to heal. You can heal without awakening, but you probably are not going to go through an awakening without a significant period of healing.

Surely it is possible to have the ego surrender and dissolve completely, all at once, but this seems relatively rare, for reasons I am not going to guess at other than to say that the ego-identity is deeply entrenched. Usually it takes a bit of digging at rather than being pulled out at once on the first go.

Anyway, most of us will need several reparative surgeries as we integrate our awakening. We’re all walking around full of broken bones and open wounds, but we’ve been taking pain killers for generations and generations. Awakening says, “it’s time to heal now,” and takes all of our painkillers away so we can actually see and feel what needs to be dealt with. The things that used to work excellently for avoidance—watching television, drinking, Tindering, binge-eating—don’t numb us out in the way they used to.

It is very unsettling when you try to “go back” to your old habits for comfort, only to have them feel hollow and useless. I’m convinced this can even happen with habits such as yoga or meditation, even though they are considered spiritual. If we’re used to getting a certain sense of stability or comfort from them and spontaneously wake up, these things can also feel “off.” A fundamental inner change is taking place, and yep, it really hurts and it’s super weird.

Depending on your own personal lineage and history, you may need dozens of surgeries to “reset your bones,” so to speak, or even re-break them if they’ve healed up improperly at a previous time. What this amounts to in real day-to-day life is you needing a fuckton of rest as you undergo a complete energetic overhaul. Each time you come back in a little better shape; then you try to do something new and discover you still have some broken bones. You have to keep going back to the surgeon—in this case, divine intelligence and awakened energy—until your body is back in the condition it was meant to be in.

Some procedures, like having a cut on your knee stitched up, can take place anywhere, and almost any doctor can handle it. Other, deeper wounds may require a higher level of skill, and a super hygienic operating room. Good teachers are essential here. Our deepest wounds probably require a super-clean operating room and a surgeon who really knows wtf he/she is doing. It feels really important to say that this is not about “other people” being unconscious or having “bad energy.” It’s about honoring the healing process, doing what we know is best for ourselves, and choosing to be in places that are suited for the “energetic surgery” we require.

To be sure, it really does just feel as though God is pulling me along by a string. And when I say god I mean consciousness. And when I say consciousness I mean a state of Being beyond words, thought, or imagination. I also mean the most mundane, ordinary things, including stuff we don’t like. None of it is separate.

– lish

Location: En route to Vegas from El Paso

Facing Fears

It feels appropriate to follow up my last post with something about fear. This blog is now private, but I’ll probably make it un-private some point soon.

All of this is on par with the way I tend to deactivate/reactivate/install/uninstall my social media. I want to be seen and heard when I feel open, light, and truthful—then I want to retreat and become invisible when I acknowledge how much work I’m still doing. Yes, it feels neurotic. As far as the blog goes, I often have a sense of being “unqualified” to write about the spiritual process, the ego, or collective transformation just because I am not perfectly enlightened, whatever I think that means.

This is a pretty crazy illusion/false belief I carry: That “until” I am at some (imagined, delusional) standard of perfect beingness, I have no business writing what I know is true. Some part of me is convinced that I should just drop everything, go sit in a park and be a transient beggar until, until… something. And that word—“until”—reveals the part of my mind that wants kick my fate further and further down the road.

By hiding, I reveal that think I must protect something. I reveal that I am afraid of vulnerability on some level. I seem to have deemed some part of myself and my work as “not good enough yet” or “not ready yet.” From a greater space of awareness, I see that this is my ego talking itself out of speaking the truths it’s been exposed to, because: fear. It’s also an avoidance of responsibility. I could just hop around the country going on dates and meditating on benches, you know? And yet, as fun as this is (for my unconscious ego), that is not what I am ultimately moved to do.

Also: Something happens to me at airports, especially when I’m flying one-way. Without any return plans, it feels unsafe, even though in reality it’s just me sitting at a gate with a piece of paper we call a boarding pass. Like most people, I overreact when I feel threatened. Next thing I know I’m sending text messages to people I haven’t talked to in a while—of course they’re men. That is my go-to method of ensuring a sense of safety: Make sure a man is willing to pay attention to me. 

I am aware this is at least partially rooted in the fact that my father was a volatile and neglectful figure all throughout my life. I am aware that I carry the emotional wounds of his behavior towards me in a program known as my unconscious ego. As I write this, I am living proof that all the mental “understanding” of your pain and its origins won’t erase it. We place so much emphasis on the mind in our culture, and it really is a poor tool when it comes to deep healing.

At this point, I do a lot of sitting and watching of the blockages in my heart (and in my throat a lot lately, which signifies that I do need to speak more truth). I exist with these blockages rather than labeling them “bad.” Sometimes they are there, and I accept them. I also see these “blockages”—which is really just another way of saying unconsciousness or darkness—as communicative. They are teaching me what needs to be done, which is continued heart-healing and more expressing of Truth.

I’ve also made a commitment to myself to avoid dating and all other ill-defined date-type scenarios for three months. The reason I’m doing this is simple: Since I was a teenager, I’ve been pretty screwed up about men. At present, I’m not even able to discern if I want a relationship and if so, why. The only way I am going to get clear on this is to put some distance between myself and all that tangled up nonsense. Then I will know if partnership is even something I’m truly suited for. If it is, I’ll be more likely to be in a deeply open and honest relationship if that is what arrives.

I have never had this. I don’t know very many people who have.

So, even though I don’t prefer to energize my own stories by writing about them ad nauseum (dad stuff, man stuff, nervous breakdown, alcohol alcohol alcohol), it would be a lie to act as if I am not impacted by my ego story anymore.

Again, all of this comes down to fear. I know I’m called to do this work, no matter what. I know I’m called to write about mental health and its relationship to consciousness and the spiritual process. I know I’m called to write about the ego-identity as the root of all external structures we profess to loathe (if you complain about late capitalism but do not at least strive for a meditation practice/other practice of inner work, I really don’t know what to tell you).

And yet I get scared of all the things we get scared of: Being misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and believed to be simplistic or platitudinous. As someone who was once mired in anger over the state of the world, I am aware of how “the spiritual answer” sounds to people who are at the level of intense frustration and outward blame. (This is the level most of us are at—if we even care at all.) I don’t want to be thought of as stupid or be disliked if I refuse to buy the ego-stories around me. I feel tired already at the thought of arguments I may have to face. I am saddened at the thought of “losing” those relationships and situations that are not fully nourishing to me on an energetic level, even though it isn’t really a loss.

Basically, sometimes I’m still a human who gives a shit what people think of me. The need for validation is a very deep egoic need that I haven’t let go of. Sometimes I hear people casually (and somewhat immaturely) say they “don’t care what other people think.” Usually, if ever the approval of our friends/family are pulled, we’re quick to readjust and fall back in line.

Even those who are “anti-” society in some way have their social circles they seek to appease. Sometimes, these kinds of circles demonize others. If we express the view that the “worst” people in the world are filled with unconsciousness and that there is nothing to be gained from hating them, there can be some push-back. I have found that people can be quick to defend why their hatred, their judgment, and their derision are acceptable, but other kinds aren’t. The blindness is staggering. I have also met a great deal of spiritual people who are still very much stuck at an “us vs. them” level, as I was for a long time.

In short: Living in a way that truly embraces humanity means you don’t really have a clique. The thought of losing a “group” or those people I consider “especially kindred” stokes fear in me.

But, in the end, it is not a service to me or anyone else to stay quiet when there are things I need to express. So I’m here, posting this thing, even amidst my fears and with the awareness that I am still working through issues. I am not free of desire. And even though I have seen enough to understand Truth conceptually, I am not always in peace. I’m still doing this thing. Sometimes it sucks, and at least I’ve released the fantasy that there will be a magical moment when it all “comes together.”

Unlike some of those involved in spirituality, I don’t believe we are “endlessly growing” or “always healing” or anything like that. There comes a time when we drop into divine flow and learn how to keep surrendering our small selves. It is no longer about healing at that point; it is about giving yourself up to the timeless, all-powerful stream of consciousness over and over, and trusting in it fully. Surrender and healing may happen simultaneously or one after the other, because there is no singular path. I seem to drop into flow, and then hit a karmic issue again. Then I heal, understand myself better, and begin to flow more.

Hitting the same karmic issue (have I mentioned yet that I’m kind of fucked up about men?) is annoying, but then again, it just is.

The very essence of spirituality is that it is triggering and bothersome. It is ultimately unhelpful to constantly chase mystical experiences, or to seek comfort in any New Age practice du jour. These types of things make us feel temporarily good and may seem to help us “make sense” when our lives fall apart or when unimaginably awful things happen in this world. However, just like when we use drugs or alcohol or any other form of avoidance, this reassurance always fades. We are left alone to face ourselves, time and time again.

Many times we go seeking solace and peace in our preconceived ideas about spirituality. Usually, we have very little appreciation for what lasting peace requires of us. What it requires is intensive inner digging, and a commitment to keep digging even when you feel totally exhausted of healing, self-analysis, and inner looking. It requires that you take all external authority with a grain of salt, and turn away from those who do not line up with the truth of your heart—including turning away from close friends, family members, and spiritual teachers. It may require you to live a strange and distant life for a while. It requires that when you see something in yourself you don’t like, you don’t recoil or deny its existence, but see it honestly. It requires that when it is time, you’re willing to disidentify from victim stories and statements about how other people/the world “make” you feel.

What we are after is complete responsibility for our state of being. With the exception of the severely ill or those who are fighting for survival (probably not you), we can learn to work with our minds. We can get our emotions in order and become vessels for peace rather than people who continually create enemies with our illusions. We can stop overreacting to the pain that exists in the world and learn to see it from a place of true, solid compassion.

We are all capable of these things with inner work and commitment to the Truth. What I have in this life is that commitment. I am still working to renew my commitment to myself and to this world every day, even when I feel fearful of walking further through my own fire and sharing the things I just did with you.

– lish

 

location: Austin, TX

A Quick Note

I’m at SeaTac airport, on my way to Austin, Texas. I am seeing very clearly what I need to do right now, which is the following:

  1. Deactivate my social media, and
  2. Make this blog private in about a week and not think about it anymore.

I am not completely free. I continue to slip into the dream that I am my ego-identity and from this hypnosis I reenact old patterns. I am a vastly better and healthier person than in years past, but I am not free. The ultimate aim of the spiritual path is liberation from the belief in false personhood/ego-identity, and that is not where I’m at.

It is not wise for me to write about freedom until this is no longer the case.

That’s all I am going to say for now ❤

In love and Truth,

lish

location: Seattle, WA

Three Spiritual Truths

A few days ago, someone asked me to share three things with them about spirituality. Just three? I thought. Given the opportunity, I’ll go on about this shit forever, which is exactly while I have this blog. It took me a minute to generate an answer, but when I did, I wrote back fervently and had to cut myself off because I knew he was probably getting a lot more than he bargained for. My response turned into this post.

This conversation actually occurred in a Tinder chat window. I’m sharing this piece of information a) for the sake of openness, b) to illustrate that opportunities to share truth can come in unexpected places, and c) to point out that really, no activity is more or less “spiritual” than any other.

I’ve actually made some very nice connections through this medium, even though for a long time it was something I was completely closed to. Being closed has probably protected me at times, but it’s also shut me off from a lot of really awesome people, including those I wouldn’t normally consider “my type.” We all have people in our lives who like to categorize and mock “other kinds” of people. This is, quite frankly, super ignorant. I have yet to meet someone who is incapable of showing me some depth if I ask the right questions. I have let go of thinking I have “a type” and of meeting people any particular way: The divine leaves nothing out and holds no thing or person in higher regard than another. It is only our minds that do this.

Still I admit that Tinder is largely a weird distraction I stumbled into while traveling. Even though it has resulted in some interesting conversations (and a couple I ducked out of pretty quickly), I’ll probably delete it because really, what do I think I’m even doing? Any sort of partner for me (which I guess I’m not so much avoiding as I am trying to navigate with significantly more awareness than I have in past years [also, I’ve been failing at this again]) is not likely to be someone who is swiping through Tinder.

Then again, I’m on Tinder right now, so I guess you never know. I’m becoming less and less convinced that our outward choices (aside from things like, you know, murder and war and abuse) are very indicative of what’s going on inside. People do things for all kinds of reasons—most of them are surely unconscious—and sometimes people do things for no reason at all. In most cases, it’s been my projection to assume I know why anyone does anything, and that’s a projection I’d like to let go of.

Somehow I’m rambling about Tinder at this point and that feels absurd, so I’m gonna stfu and get on with this list:

1: Consciousness/Truth/Self/God/Soul/Reality/Pure awareness are all synonyms. They are also literally the same in all beings. Everyone’s true identity is this ineffable thing, but we routinely mistake ourselves for the body/mind.

We get so hung up on words and their precise definitions, as if knowing them will get us somewhere. Aside from the fact that there really is nowhere to go, it’s important to remember that when it comes to reading spiritual lessons/listening to spiritual teachers, we stop trying so hard to nail down concepts. Truth isn’t conceptual. It is also important to learn how to listen to energy more so than content, because anyone can say these things without having a deep insight. We all know how to read energy to some degree; it is intuitive. If you start to pay attention to this skill, it will sharpen on its own.

From our average conditioning (inaccurate perception), the words generally get defined like this:

Consciousness: Human thought and thinking.
Truth: Different for everyone.
God: An external creator of reality. If one is religious, God is tied to a particular prophet.
Soul: Something special and individual that every human has.
Reality: The world we appear to live in and the events that go on in it.
Awareness: Mental knowledge of something.
Who we Are: An individual with unique traits and life situations.

Waking up turns all this on its head. We see that instead of there being multiple definitions that are super important to understand, there really is just this one thing that is beyond definition. We learn to use words differently according to the situation, but loosely, the above words refer to the same Absolute.

This brings me to # 2…

2: Pure consciousness cannot be understood by the mind. I have said this before. I will say it again. Many teachers say this, and yet the vast majority of us continue to approach spirituality by thinking, and then we end up frustrated. This kind of understanding is a function of the intellect, a part of the mind that is generally overvalued in most of the people I talk to.

This is why meditation has been the recommended practice for so long: In time, it puts distance between you and your mind, allowing you to truly examine your crazy and then get it out. While changing the way you think can be extremely powerful, Truth cannot be talked to or thought to. What can we do then? The answer is always the same; it is never new: Change habits, start sitting with yourself regularly, read some spiritual books, simplify your life, and see what emerges.

Sometimes I get in discussions with those who are entirely in their minds, like Truth is another idea or a piece of trivia to pick up. It is not that. In order to effectively have these conversations, we have to drop into a different kind of energy and be ready to be wrong about everything we think we know. This is problematic for many people, because most egos don’t like to be wrong. As soon as we’re identified with what we already think we understand, we will defend it. I still watch this happen inside of myself sometimes, but it seems to be fading.

Intellectual understanding is a function of the mind, and the mind is couched within pure consciousness. Truth can be known but this knowing is different from intellectual understanding. In the same way that I can only weakly describe what it’s like to get music-tingles or fall in love, I can’t explain this thing to anyone on a mental level.

I end up in a lot of conversations where I can feel, energetically, that we are approaching the discussion from the level of mental understanding. The person I am talking to is looking for evidence, reasoning, and other intellectual functions. These conversations don’t go very far anymore, because I truly have no interest or emotional charge caught up in arguments. This change was pretty hard for my ego to digest at first because my top two favorite things used to be getting drunk and entertaining philosophical discussions.

But, Truth is not a piece of trivia, a set of beliefs, or any other kind of dogma. It simply is.

3: The ultimate truth of existence can be known. Sometimes I run into this maxim when I end up in talks about spirituality: “We can never really know these things for sure.” It feels like I am expected to agree with it, but I don’t.

Actually, we can know. If I had any doubts about Reality, I would have never changed my life. If I went through hell and back only to be wading through the waters of doubt about who I am, what would be the point? The goal is to firmly know, and this is possible. Having the ability to realize the Absolute is the greatest privilege of being human, even though it can come with the experience of egregious suffering as well.

Lots of times people insist that it is impossible to be sure, generally because they are still looking for answers in their minds. Usually they have not started any spiritual practice and are engaged in consciousness-lowering behaviors, and yet they still say it cannot be known. This is always kind of weird to me. It’s like saying we can’t know for sure what color the sky is, but they’ve never even looked up.

In this case, “looking up” would be to give up habits that lower consciousness and commit to a life rooted in pursuit of self-knowledge. This only happened for me after I was graced with a strange and totally unexpected awakening. It can happen in an instant, truly.

Many of us are not consciously seeking Truth, and that is also fine. Know that it is always in your power to walk the path, but it’s serious work, even with the huge energetic boost of an awakening. At first it is deeply uncomfortable to see how wrong and ignorant you are about life and your identity. Now I find it to be generally fun, and have a little laugh at my mind when I notice it’s got me caught up in all the same bullshit as always (Oh hi Tinder/preoccupations with dudez).

In any case, we all arrive here in due time. It’s all happening just as it should, and it’s always an individual’s choice if they’d like to put in more effort towards reaching ultimate freedom. I highly recommend it, but also have no desire to convince anyone of anything.

– lish

location: Burlington, WA

Keep Looking Inward

I’m sitting upstairs at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. The sun and spring air are coming through an open window and I’ve got an iced Americano at my side. I’ve been listening to enough Beyoncé for her voice to be on frequent repeat in my mind, which is cool with me. All of this is to say that things are still bright and lovely on this strange part of my journey. In a couple hours I’ll take a night train over to L.A., which I can only assume is going to be romantic as all get out.

I could’ve easily gone out to the Grand Canyon, but all I really felt doing was walking around town in the sun and listening to music. It’s all I want most of the time. Often I stop to sit down for no reason but to feel the sun. The need to “do” is dissolving, which my ego-identity occasionally meets with worry: What happens when I don’t feel that ongoing push to do things? How will I survive? What would it be like if I really could just sit quietly in one place forever and be happier than I ever imagined possible?

The answer is I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

I also seem to be losing the need to have “reasons” for any of the things I do. The heart has no reason or aim but to lead you to Truth and yourself (which are the same thing), so I trust it. This makes for strange conversations: “What are you doing here in Flagstaff?” people ask. And rather than go through the whole story about moving to the ashram and all that, I just say I’m traveling. I have no reason for being here or anywhere at all. It just happened, the same way all of life is just happening for no reason whatsoever.

People also ask often “where I’m from,” being that this is a hostel. Honestly, having such conversations already feels old and I don’t enjoy doing it. I get the feeling that it really doesn’t matter, that we are only talking based on what we have been conditioned to talk about. It’s more fun to make it weird and say I’m from Mars or something, or jump straight into jokes because hey we’re all human and where we’re from means nothing about who we are.

I feel like writing something basic (and perhaps a little challenging) about consciousness and the spiritual path. There seems to be an upswell in certain personalities who are getting famous while using the word “consciousness.” They go on and on about archetypes and mythology and their audiences are, for some reason, impressed.

On the level of the rational mind, what they say checks out, and I understand why they’ve gained such a following. But when I tune into their energy it is obvious that they are operating from a bloviating ego-identity, and this is hard for me to watch. They have mighty minds but they are filled with ignorance, which is the state of humanity at large. This is why we really need to take a step back here. We absolutely do not need more bloviating egos; we need heartful presence and the energy of pure awareness.

The trouble seems to be that a lot (see: the vast vast majority) of people mix up the word “consciousness” with the word “mind.” In reality, these are two completely different things. Consciousness is actually an all-encompassing thing; there is a reason why light is the most oft-used metaphor for it. It is both within and apart from the mind, but here’s the kicker: Consciousness created the mind, and the mind is a temporal feature within it. The mind ultimately does not exist, but consciousness will always abide. Remove the mind and consciousness will be there, but until we have practice detangling these things, we find ourselves totally mixed up and making messes.

When we go looking for answers from the level of the mind, we’re starting from an inherently flimsy place. The mind has a beginning and an end, but consciousness does not. We must look at the mind from this place of stability if we are to understand anything about humanity at all.

Another concern is the generally unquestioned assumption of who we are. This is what the path is all about: Who are you, really, underneath all that blah-blah-blahing your mind does day in and day out? Who are you, really, underneath the character you play on a day to day basis? This character is not really who you are, but you have been playing it for so long that you forgot it was an act.

I know that some of you may be reading this and feeling like you “understand” what I mean. And so I implore you to check in and see: Where do you live your life from? Your heart; your self-knowledge as consciousness? If this is so, there should be an abiding peace with you always, and a life that is generally untroubled. There should be an awake stillness to your being and a mind that does not rule your movements or behaviors. There should be no more nagging questions about existence or confusion about what you’re doing here. There should be no need to defend yourself or what you see, nor to make others “get” what you think you’ve “gotten.”

Or, perhaps more likely, do you live from the belief that you are [insert name, job, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.]?

My goal with these questions and statements is not to pass judgment, but to continue to encourage anyone who reads this to just keep. looking. inward. The ego is so so happy to latch onto theories. The ego is so so happy to keep feeding itself with mental concepts of what Truth is, to think that it “knows.” But, since the mind lives on the borrowed light of the heart, it does not know things about itself until the underlying consciousness is expanded responsibly and gradually. It is only from this vantage point that we have any real perspective at all. The best metaphor here is that the moon only shines because the sun throws light upon it. Most of us are stuck believing we’re the moon, and arguing as the moon that we know a lot about the sun. The silly part is that without the sun, the moon is nothing but a cold rock, and we are all the same sun.

We really all desire to be free; to know Truth with no doubt whatsoever. If you feel the need to defend, that’s actually an insecurity; it’s something I see all the time. There is a pull from the heart to become more free and totally light all the time, and this pull (or rather, the ego’s resistance to the pull) is what creates all the difficulties in our lives.

If we are interested in our minds, all we must do is learn to sit back and watch our minds. It is very simple, and yet this sentence alone carries a lot of information that goes assumed: What is the “you” and what is the “mind”? The mind cannot free itself from itself, so, what is the “you” that is going to go about doing this work?

The general false assumption is that you are your mind, but this is actually false. We go around saying this word all day long: “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” and yet very few people have, since the time they (unconsciously) formed their egos in toddlerhood, sat down to examine what exactly this thing is. It is all an assumption. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk my entire life experience on such an assumption.

Obviously there’s a lot more to unpack here, but of course there’s the paradox that there really isn’t anything else to unpack. My recommendation is, as always, to go sit quietly with your mind for awhile and see what you uncover. Resist the urge to defend where you’re at on the path; why what you’re already doing is totally compatible with [insert spiritual teaching here]. I also see that all the the time.

Many people do not have such a practice, and yet they insist on discussing Truth and spirituality anyway. This would be like going to a quantum physics course and arguing with the professor when you haven’t even gone through Physics 101. Start a practice, commit to finding your true self, and things will start becoming clear on their own.

Anyway, next time I write, I’ll probably be in Los Angeles.

Love to you all,

lish

Location: Flagstaff, AZ

Less Mind, More Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– lish

 location: Albuquerque, NM

Happiness and the Heart

I keep trying to write the best “oh hey I’m back in the world” post, but I’ve accepted that it isn’t gonna happen. The truth is that I have very little to say. I am happy and free; I am so happy that I didn’t even know happiness could exist in this way. The coffee shop I’m sitting at is playing “Shadowplay” by Joy Division, I am caffeinated, I am fed, and in my backpack I have Don Quixote and Leaves of Grass to read. I admittedly feel like a bit of a cliche as a spiritual wanderer; I’m also totally okay with this. My phone is charged up and yesterday I downloaded a playlist of rap from the early 2000s. I cannot imagine what else I could need at this moment.

I feel somewhat wary that if I say too much about the joy that surges through me on a daily basis, it’ll come across as braggy or disingenuous. There is even sometimes a sense of embarrassment for how freaking happy I am. And yet, at the same time, we’re living in this world where there is such a dearth of true joy that I  feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops: I’m healthy, free, happy, stable, and grounded, and this is possible for everyone on Earth. I am calm and often feel naturally meditative… all this, even though I’m not clear at all on what my next move in life will be. I have no job, no car, no permanent living space, no plan, and yet it feels completely fine to be falling in this way. There is a sense of having nothing yet having everything. There is no fear and I feel safe and taken care of. I am confident in what I’m rooted in: It is a safe space within that has no end, but no longer feels so big that I’m afraid of it.

It is very beautiful indeed, and that is a tremendous understatement.

This is not to say every moment is bliss. Two days ago I hardly felt real. I sat in the Texas State cemetery and cried a little for no particular reason, wondering when I’d finally be the “fully whole and integrated” person I expected to be by then. There was a wash of nothingness in my being, and even though I wrote quite a bit, the words felt hollow and empty. My energy was low, but from where I sit now I see that the low energy wasn’t even a problem. The problem was that I started the day from the wrong mind which said I “should” be busy “accomplishing” things (write a short story, write a blog post, read 30 pages, go for a run).

Quite simply, that’s crazy. I know this is what we do in our culture—make goals and attack them—but achieving worldly goals really isn’t what I’m going for here. I’m going for inner freedom, full stop. How free can we be if we’re beholden to the mind that forces us to go-go-go, even when what we really need to do is sit in a cemetery and cry for no reason? Being in tune with our energy and allowing it to move us (rather than forcing an action due to our conditioning) is the only way to live. Furthermore, when I allow in this way, I actually get things done while dwelling in a space of deep peace and aliveness. When we are not living in a state of surrender to the way things are, including our ever-changing energies, we make ourselves miserable.

This platitude, this thing we hear over and over again with regards to spirituality—surrender—makes more and more sense the further you go: Stop trying to be somebody; stop clinging to the memories and beliefs about what your life should look like. Applying “shoulds” to life negates our ability to accept what is and reveals an attitude of thanklessness. We deny our very lives by insisting that they “should be” going any other way than they are, and grasping onto the ego identity when the soul is ready to wake up only brings suffering. The answer is to just keep letting go of all the things you think you know; jettison as many thoughts and beliefs as you can while maintaining stability. Just trust and breathe: If your life is not in immediate danger, you can access profound peace. The more I do this, the better and better I feel.

And yet, surrender is not the kind of thing we can be taught “how” to do in the same way we are taught to do other things. It is very subtle, and consists of bringing yourself back into this moment over and over and over. It requires a gentle vigilance with the undisciplined mind, which can often take us away and convince us to be very worried and stressed and sad. We must be gentle because if we try to “force” the mind, it will always rebel; we must be vigilant because we’re working on many lifetimes of conditioning here. When we slack, the egoic mind easily gains a foothold.

Still, no matter how we overcomplicate it, life is really very simple if you seek to know Truth: Drop into your heart. Take care of your body and purify yourself in this way (I’m generally talking total sobriety and veggies, guys; sorry not sorry). Sit with yourself in silence. Be grateful and stop blaming others for your state of being. One day, an unending fountain of peace will appear, and whatever happens after that is fine.

This peace is necessarily found outside of the mind and inside of the heart. A lot of people get caught up in arguments and discussions about Truth, but once it is found, these things become less and less interesting. Truth is not something to be right or wrong about; it is not something to defend. The mind cannot make sense of this peace, and this peace cannot be thought to. All the books and theories on consciousness are not important, and I say that as someone who was once totally identified with “writing about consciousness.” Reading and writing are nothing in comparison to simply dwelling in the presence of God, which is also You in your purest form.

The main difference between egoic happiness and true happiness is that the former can be taken away.

It arises alongside things like possessions, titles, money, fame, status, and other kinds of external validation. This temporary happiness is the result of the ego’s constant need to be inflated. Egoic happiness is fleeting and ephemeral, which (and I feel I must always make this part clear) doesn’t mean it is bad. It just means that it’s unstable: Wherever an ego identity derives its validation—be it from our relationships, our jobs, our skills, or our Tinder matches—these things will one day disappear.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy when a new lover comes into our lives or we get the perfect job, but that if there is not an underlying foundation of immovable peace in God, they are worthless. It’s important to keep everything in perspective: Life situations are subject to falling apart (or ending entirely) at any moment, and the only true safety is in the timeless perfection of the Self.

Deep gratitude naturally unfolds in this way: Not only am I free and alive in God, but I’m drinking an Americano and eating a banana with peanut butter? Holy shit! How glorious! All of life’s external configurations really are just icing on the cake of the Self. Somewhat paradoxically, we often have to give up all that icing in order to realize the cake. Even so, if we don’t renounce the icing voluntarily, it will be taken from us either way. This is the beauty of the fiction that is death: The lesson is built into the entire experience.

We are all bound for realization, true happiness, and peace that passes all understanding; the only question is how long it takes. It also requires the very unpredictable element of divine grace, an unimaginably powerful force I cannot explain, and so I won’t try. As human beings, we have the opportunity to put effort into our spiritual paths, and that’s the only way to up your odds of self-realization. With effort, we’re more likely to experience deep realizations, but they can happen either way, so it’s best to be prepared.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track, so I’m going to end this post. I hope to write again soon, but, as always, I don’t know—not because I’ve lost my love of writing (if anything, I love it more), but, again, because I honestly feel like I have nothing to say. There’s about 10 gazillion spiritual books that will say this stuff better than I will, though I’m sure I’ll improve. I’m personally reading through Talks with Ramana Maharshi and feeling like shutting the hell up. Perhaps I am just in a particularly still internal phase right now, but I can’t be sure. In the end there is nothing but immortality; there is nothing but this now here; there is nothing but perfect, awake emptiness.

The only plan I have in life is to go forth and carry this peace with me wherever I go, and if it feels right, I’ll update this thing.

Thinking of everyone lovingly,

– lish

Truth Takes No Sides

Writing about truth can feel repetitive. We chase our tails in a great circle trying to tidy truth into a package, yet find ourselves met with an impossible task: The closing of one circle immediately generates another circle within and/or outside, and this occurs until words like “inside” and “outside” lose all meaning. Here we must again bow our heads to the Unspeakable. We can revel in it, allow it to pulse through and brighten our cells, but we cannot replicate it without at first compromising it. Every definitive statement on God births a new God to explain; any smart 8-year-old knows this when they ask who God’s mother is. The logical mind finds its edges very quickly in this way.

Truly we neither contract or expand, though we may use such words for practical reasons. We are always going as much as inward as we are going outward; a Mandelbrot set illustrates this principle in a beautiful way. Mathematical models fail where computers hit their limitations, but nature knows not these limits, or any limits whatsoever. We are living in (and as) an endless fractal and bear witness to divine math every day. The structures of our blood vessels mirror naked tree branches which mirror systems of rivers. The trees have eyes; the eyes are held in place with spidery veins and sinews. In winter we see that our breath makes fog and fog is when clouds kiss the Earth. All that is natural has the mark of repetition, but no two things are exactly alike: In external expression, God is never the same twice.

It is clear that the physicist or mathematician loves God as much as any nun. They only happen to find their satisfaction with the Universe in numbers rather than in heart, song, or tradition. Neither is “better” or “closer” to what is true, and I find that numbers can be as elegant as music or art. Still, there is no way to judge by title who is most soulful: A preacher who finds himself becoming rote in his sermons is less in God than a passionate gas station attendant. An artist who creates for social praise is less in God than a child playing alone in her bedroom. The soul has no interest in the realm of labels and rankings; it strikes us equally no matter what others are watching, and bestows wealth in spades to those who appear poor and unknown.

This is not a hard rule either: One can be destitute in all ways (spirit and finance), rich in all ways, or rich in one yet poor in the other. There are more permutations for consciousness than we are able to dream up. We can say confidently, however, that a gold soul trumps all, and chasing money beyond one’s needs is both a symptom and cause of spiritual poverty. When we seek to “use” spiritual laws to enrich who we dream ourselves up to be, we are headed for disaster. It seems there is a growing trend to believe we can be made happy by using visualization and meditation to become materially well-off. Much of this discussion is couched in spiritual jargon, but its root is still the unconscious ego, which seeks to maintain that it is real at all costs. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t ultimately real, and until this fact is made experientially permanent, we live as hungry ghosts.

If it is the assumed identity we are appeasing and not the soul, our prize will forever be dissatisfaction.

Is the human body one organism, or is it an aggregate of trillions of cells working in unison? Is this body-mind its own cell within the greater organism of the human species, or does it stand alone and apart? Common sense points us to answer “both,” and as usual, this simple response is correct. Living life fully comes down to this common sense, of sharpening the mundane yet irreplaceable capacity to hold two different—even seemingly opposite—views within one encompassing awareness. We see all “sides” and we see, too, uncompromising Reality, which has no sides and takes no sides and laughs at the very idea of “sides.” One who dwells in truth knows this well and can be full of contradictions.

And when we catch ourselves mired in questions of “or” when it comes to God, we know we are overthinking: Is God within, or is God outside of us? Is God in Heaven, or is God on Earth? Is God accessible here, or at a temple? Again, we know the answer is “both,” but it is not often that we live from this answer. In awakening, we see that the answer is always both and are magnetized to a way of being that integrates us into a life of said “bothness:” Can I be both serious and playful? Can I be both intense and soft? Can I be both lazy and prolific? Can I see the sickness in the world and belong to it with love? The answer to all of these is yes; you can be all these things and more at once. One who is dynamic represents the fluid ideal of humankind. The only “both” we cannot have is ego—the sincere belief in the individual “me” with its petty wants—and enlightenment.

When I first started listening to spiritual teachers and reading spiritual books, I got confused because I was still trying to use logic: If this thing isn’t a sensation, a concept, or a feeling, and I am not a writer, a woman, or a person… what the hell is it and who the hell am I? That really is the question. It’s like you immaturely fall back to Philosophy 101: Who am I? What is the point of all this? Is there a meaning? What is it? Why? Most adults have learned to find sufficient mental answers and continue on as normal. But when the ego begins to die, none of these answers work; herein lies the crux of an existential crisis. You find that even in a previous “exploratory” phase of life, you did not uncover any real answers. Truth is the seed of philosophy but it is not a philosophy, and seeing it requires a complete renunciation of all former philosophies.

So, who are you? The intellectual answer is easy, but that’s not what it’s about. If knowing the “right” intellectual answer solved it, we would already be living in a Heaven on Earth.

Those who listen to spiritual teachers often look for the “category” in which to put them so that they can affirm their existing mode of thought: Does the guru agree with my politics? Is the wise person of the same views as I am? But those who know truth will not line up with your cherished opinions. They will often refuse to bolster the beliefs you align yourself with because beliefs are illusory things the ego affixes itself to in order to feel more real.

They do not take seriously the ways we cut ourselves off from one another: You may call yourself a Republican or a Democrat or an anarchist or a capitalist or any other “kind of person.” But one who is true sees you primarily as human and knows the vast potential locked inside of you, beneath all -isms and -ists. To them you are a God-in-process; they are constantly on the lookout for your innermost light, which shines through even the deepest ignorance. If we aspire to be more conscious people, we must accept that our responsibility is to do exactly this. When we engage with those who seem ignorant, egotistical, or even harmful, we are at our most powerful when we attend only to their glimmers of light. It is not my assertion that this is easy—it humbles and challenges our own egos, which is also why it is a great practice. Truth cannot be argued to and consciousness can never be forced. At best, it can be drawn out when we see it emerging. Our goal in interactions is to find these kernels of true self, which is always pure and perfect, and focus on them. If this feels impossible, it is best to leave.

Even if one’s light is buried under too many layers of delusion to make an immediate change, this strategy still works. Bringing awareness into daily life is like adding a few drops of clean water to a polluted lake: Little by little, even if it is not noticeable, this clean water dilutes the pollution until the water is purified. We seek to be pure awareness in the poisoned collective mind, knowing that this is the best we can do to affect change in the world. There is an unbelievable amount of poison out there. This makes it that much more urgent to stabilize in purity and take it wherever you go, whenever it is possible.

– lish

Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– Lish