"Levels", Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Well-being, Yoga

The Relationship Between Growth and Suffering

This week’s picture-heavy post is partially inspired by the theory of Positive Disintegration. A Polish psychiatrist named Kazimierz Dąbrowski developed this theory over the course of his lifetime. I got pretty into it after my awakening moment, because everything started falling apart around me and nothing in my psychology BA could account for my experiences.

I Googled “existential crisis” and the Wikipedia page for Positive Disintegration came into my life. It deeply resonated with me and it still does, not that I agree with it entirely. Put most simply, the point is that if you are maladjusted to this society, that’s great. (This doesn’t apply to anyone who knowingly does harm.) The world is in a low place; so low, in fact, that we’re living in a mass extinction event being willfully carried out mostly by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

If you can’t figure out how to fit into this paradigm without losing your shit, god bless you. You are actually more sane than those who can do it with few worries.

I love this theory because it turns our ideas about suffering and mental health on its head: Neuroses, anxiety, and depression are prerequisites for growth, it says. The message is to stop pushing these feelings away and treating them as problematic. You need them, and in some way, they’re serving you. Learn to love them.

The fact that more and more people are suffering from these emotions all the time (as evidenced by rising rates of mental illness) is proof of the fact that widespread growth is desperately needed. People are feeling the pressure to grow on a larger scale. They always have been; it’s just that, more or less, “hating your life” has been normalized and covered up with various “totally normal” addictions. It’s still normalized today (and still covered up with various “totally normal” addictions), but there are now many of us willing to step up and say “that’s insane; this is all completely insane.”

True growth—as measured by a distinct departure from ego interests—must occur, or we’ll just keep hurting and killing ourselves. I mean that in the short-term, i.e. suicide, as well as the long-term way that we kill ourselves by killing the Earth as well.

Yogic theory agrees: Within all human beings, there is the basic pull towards growth. The growth of an individual tends not to match the conventions of societies who are rigidly egoistic, as most are. I present a quote from one of my all-time most favorite books, Yoga & Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness:

“… In other words, there is social pressure to develop an effective ego. In many societies, experimentation with growth beyond this level is not encouraged. In fact, if it involves an investment of energy that detracts even temporarily from one’s material productivity, it may actually be discouraged. Investing time or energy into developing oneself beyond the ego level may be little understood or appreciated by a society where economic success and material possessions are a major criteria by one which is judged. Experimentation with higher states of consciousness may be regarded with suspicion or considered wasteful nonsense.”

Psst: It’s not wasteful nonsense. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else, even when it looks like “doing nothing.”

There is an element ever-present in humans that wants to see through the false self. There is an element that wants the Truth. There is an element that wants to realize it’s potential, knowing that to do this will necessarily come with difficulty (most likely much more difficulty than the current “you” can imagine).

Obstacles to smooth growth are felt as psychological pain: Like a river being dammed or tree roots pushing up through concrete, there is bound to be pressure when we block ourselves. And why do we resist growth? Because change—especially with no guarantee of immediate, tangible rewards—represents a threat to the ego. The ego will always try to preserve itself, and yet the consciousness beyond the ego knows the illusory ego must be shattered in order for evolution to proceed.

So, part of you wants to grow, and another wants to stay safe. This creates cognitive dissonance (guilt, dissatisfaction, stuckness, dis-ease, etc.), because growth and safety are actually opposites.

Seen this way, we can learn to appreciate when we hurt. We can see how necessary it is for us to burn up, get psychotic, cry, destroy ourselves, lash out, and be fearful. Without all this, there is no movement out of the darkness.

And now, a series of pictures re: suffering and growth. Think of yourself as a seed…

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According to Dąbrowski’s theory, the first picture should be a perfectly happy seed who experiences no pain. They’re just fine in the ground, down there with millions of other seeds. Is the world a bizarre shitshow full of hatred and horror? Who cares! To these people, as long as their needs are met and they’re allowed to continue collecting things, people, and experiences, there are no serious problems. Such a person would be at Level 1. (I reject that this type of person is very common. Almost everyone is made uncomfortable by impermanence and the pain of others, no matter how well they can distract themselves from it.)

What this picture illustrates is the beginning of certain unceasing lines of questioning: “Is this all there is?” We look around for more, but it begins to feel all the same. Pressure is felt. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this world? What can I do? Does it even matter?”

This batshit dialogue will continue on as long as you allow it/as long as you need it. It can be an extremely difficult time, and that’s about the nicest way I can put it. This would correspond to Level 2 in Dąbrowski’s theory: Something needs to change but you can’t tell what it is. No choice seems preferable, and you are left in a limbo of bad habits (this includes bad thought habits by the way), constantly wondering what to do with yourself, and often in pain. This can go on for a very long time.

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The pressure to the seed casing (from inside and out) reaches a critical point. This is the first departure from a long-held ego. This is when you crack open. Because pressure is relieved, it feels very, very good, and you see how wrong you were about what you always thought you were. This whole time you imagined that you were a hardened little thing under the soil, but now you have upward movement, and you can actually feel it in your brain (it’s the best feeling ever.)

This was how my moment of awakening was experienced. It really does feel like light or like you’re being shaken from a nightmare. It’s pure relief and joy. Everything is beyond fine.

Warning: Your mind will quickly cobble together a new ego because you need an ego to survive. You blissfully and naively think, “Actually I’m a green chute coming out of a seed; now I’ve got it all figured out.” And you try to stay right there, because you’re so sick of suffering, and your ego needs you to just be static.

This is when I started writing. “Now I’m a writer,” I thought. I started building a whole new self out of this, like, immediately. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve just luxuriated in that new feeling for much much longer; maybe read some spiritual books to understand what had happened. This would’ve saved me a lot of spent energy and embarrassment, but alas, it’s not the way it went. (Also, I did desperately miss writing and needed it to navigate my experiences.)

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Every day, your ego tries to make sense of what it is now, and now, and now… but if you’re always growing, this doesn’t work. Every day you see more of what you are, which is ultimately limitless. Here your consciousness is expanding so fast that your ego can’t catch up. Delusions of grandeur are common. Hello, bipolar mania. (Again, this is just my personal experience. I’m sure others don’t have as many dysfunctions of the ego, depending on their upbringing and particular brain chemistry.)

Here, we’re between Levels 2 and 3. You’re growing, but the speed of it might be scary. You know what’s “higher” and what’s “lower” to you, but you do not always act accordingly. There hasn’t been a full commitment to growth or an understanding of what it all means. The ego is checked again and again and again. There may be one or several larger breaks, but the work of burning up the ego is actually very gradual.

At this point, you either make the choice to stay the course, or drop back into the safety of the seed casing. (I’m a big fan of Plato’s cave, though: Once you see the light, you can’t unsee it.)

The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is huge, and there are no guidelines as to how long the process lasts. Cognitive dissonance can no longer be ignored. You’re clearly on the path of growth with the understanding that your emotions are the most reliable guide for how to live in this world. If you do or say something and it hurts, you actually stop.

This is how bad habits are relinquished and all forms of self-abuse begin to fall away. Your awareness of life (“the way it all works”) deepens, and “lower” actions become less and less tempting.

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Level 4 is an even more conscious and directed version of Level 3: You take charge of your development and there becomes little memory of the seed casing and the factors that once bound you to such a form. One of my teachers might refer to this as “the coming into your light” phase.

Level 5 (I’m not there, but I hope to be someday) is when things mellow out, and life no longer feels awful, confusing, and dangerous all the time. In fact, fear tends to significantly diminish, and you sleep soundly knowing you’ve done right by yourself.

I am a believer in complete freedom from suffering—but only if you’ve gone all the way. Stopping after you sprout or bud will immediately result in more suffering, because you haven’t reached your natural height. (I forget this almost every day, and halt my own growth with habitual actions. Don’t judge; I’m always working on it.)

Imagine if an oak tree decided to just quit growing once it became a sapling, and fought against the natural forces moving it upward. In this metaphor, the tree is fighting it because all of the other trees have decided to stop at sapling-status. This tree doesn’t want to stand out or risk going too far away from the other trees. So everyone’s holding themselves and one another back, not to mention fighting nature. This is what our culture does.

This is also essentially what we do when we decide we’re “good enough” because we don’t want to do all of the (highly inconvenient and somewhat terrifying) work of dismantling our false beliefs. In this case, boredom, doubt, and self-loathing will always return.

Once fully bloomed, the climate and the geography, no matter how harsh, are felt in a completely different way.

Furthermore, once you start losing your petals and drying out, so to speak, you do not resist it any more than an actual flower would: You’ve become what nature intended for you, and you accept that part of what nature intends is the end of individual forms, including yours.

– Lish

Conditioning, Mental Health, Spirituality, Well-being

The Deeper Why

There are several key differences between yoga psychology and psychiatry. Understanding these differences was The Thing that helped to integrate my experiences, from psychosis/extreme mania all the way to garden-variety depression. This knowledge is what allowed me to reject the idea that I was permanently ill, that I would most likely be on and off of medication for the rest of my life, and that bipolar was a thing “I’d always be”an immutable descriptor, and not a good one at that. It has led to healing in a way I couldn’t have previously imagined. It has led to true growth and, although I’m not without all attachments and darkness, a far more stable emotional baseline.

Regardless of how revolutionary these concepts are, they remain misunderstood in our discussions of mental health. We have vague intentions of “reaching out to those with depression,” and of “eliminating stigma.” These statements are of little value without a comprehensive view of the deeper why of mental illness, an ever-worsening phenomenon, predominantly in the most materially comfortable of cultures. The deeper why goes beyond neurotransmitters and genetic predispositions. It considers all of human and universal evolution.

Existence Occurs From Inside-Out

Let’s go back to that first part for a second: In countries where the majority of people have comfortable lives (big houses, good cars, non-life-threatening jobs, regular access to nutritious foods), depression, anxiety, and suicide are rampant. Some are quick to point out that it is our lack of connection to one another that creates these feelings, but this doesn’t quite get to the root of it either. What is the deeper why of this isolation? Why do we suck at making connections, even when we know everyone around us is dealing with the same bullshit we are?

There are plenty of us with dozens of friends and family members we see daily—maybe even share a bed with—yet still, we’re mostly just alone together. If we don’t feel comfortable sharing our honest emotions with the people in our lives (I sure don’t, because apparently my emotions are Not Normal and that feels even worse to know), then we are each living in secrecy, behind various masks. It is only in solitude that we feel at all okay, for at least then our inner isolation matches our environment.

(This is a where a picture of a family staring at their phones while out at dinner would go. I don’t blame technology, but the phones do make it painfully clear how totally resigned we are to each existing in our own small digital worlds.)

At the very least, this should teach us that our external circumstances don’t matter a whole lot with regards to what’s happening inside of us. This is an enormous false belief within our culture, and yet it is still lived out and passed on: You can arrange your outside life in such a way that your inner world will become happy.

This is never true. It must always go the other way around. Barring extreme situations, your circumstances are not the reasons for your unhappiness; the situations and people that “make” you unhappy are more of a reflection of the unhappiness within. To me this is obvious, as I sometimes fluctuate in emotion from day to day. Small things make me want to go into a fit of rage on bad days, and on good days (or even later that day!  I can still be capricious AF!), seemingly big things can’t even touch me. It is with this knowledge that I proceed, knowing that it is my state of consciousness which determines everything about how I feel.

Inner changes always come first, then they are reflected on the outside.

Choosing to Choose

This is not meant to be a trite “just choose to be happy” post. Choosing happiness in a culture that has programmed you to be miserable is, as it stands, a lifelong journey. Also, choosing happiness is only made possible when one’s survival needs are met; this ensures that they can actually focus their energy on inner work. Summoning all of our strength to go act like we’re okay (at jobs we don’t always feel impassioned about, and I’m putting that in the nicest way possible) when we are totally not okay prolongs the healing process. Being disingenuous is exhausting. It makes us hide. It prevents us from accessing the higher parts of ourselves, a requirement for true stability and joy as well as the continued survival of our species.

This is why every human being should be guaranteed healthy food, a safe bed, and healthcare—unconditionally. No questions asked and no judgments. This is not a radical notion to me, but it is to a lot of people: Because people are all fucked up about money (as a result of being conditioned to feel that things are scarce and that they should be afraid), not everyone is on board with universal basic income, even though it would benefit, um, everyone.

I don’t talk a lot about “how society should be restructured,” because restructuring alone does not help raise consciousness. Trying to make a “goal” out of evolution is human arrogance at its finest. This explains why communism alone doesn’t lead to liberation or the heights of human potential: Without transformation of the inner self, external restructuring doesn’t accomplish much. Spiritual revolution is the only way now, and unlike other revolutions, this one is quiet, unassuming, and has actually been building since forever. Pay attention and you will see it, even if unconscious spiritual egos are still common.

However, I will say this: Universal basic income is literally the least we could do in order to ensure a better quality of life for all future generations. It just is.

Any argument against universal basic income is rooted in ignorance. There is plenty to go around. Every day, we throw food away even though we’ve got hungry people in our towns. The dairy industry dumps millions of gallons of milk into the ocean every year. There are spacious, fancy-ass apartment complexes and housing developments just sitting around vacant while hurt and scared individuals try to find bridges to sleep under. This is complete insanity. Guaranteed basic security for every human would immediately raise the total level of world consciousness and pave the way for a truly beautiful way of life for all.

Until then, it seems, we’re going to have to strive doubly hard to transform. We have to walk our paths of Truth while living in the shadow of the apocalypse and making money just to eat and sleep soundly. These are strange and dangerous times.

Still, I promise promise promise, this is the only work that is truly worth it.



Conditioning, Narratives, Reality, The Ego, Well-being

Happy 4th!

Nations Are Illusory

There has never been a need to cut the world up into nations. There is land. There are climates. There are variances in topography and coordinates which correspond to unique geographic locations. But there is no such thing as a nation once you have become unconditioned.

What we refer to as “our country’s history” is a collection of stories passed down from one generation to the next.  Stories can be twisted to fit any agenda; they are the most manipulative device known to man. I could tell you stories about myself that would make me look awful, and I could tell you some that would make me look great. I expect the same is true of you. Neither one would be based in reality because reality only exists here and now; also, everything is so much bigger than any single story can touch. 

Stories are the things your mind holds onto in order to keep your ego intact, or in this case, the ego of the nation. And so, from moment to moment, I am a woman without a story unless I choose to make one up. I do this often—and we all do. The only question is whether or not we’re aware that that’s what we’re doing.

According the story that is perpetuated in American culture, today is Independence Day. Here’s that story as I see it: A few hundred years ago, some people freed themselves from the tyranny of one guy and went on to oppress a bunch of other people. In the following years, some people ended up way better off; others ended up way worse off. Today, the remaining people are among the richest, saddest humans in the world. Regardless of their comforts and rights, they remain neurotic. Many are outright miserable.

I know there are more poignant aspects I could focus on, and that with the right intonation and rhetoric of glory, I could say something  patriotic: “The founding fathers emancipated themselves from an oppressive, greedy monarch and went on to build a country based on the ideals of liberty and individual pursuit of happiness.” See?  I can do it; it’s just so obviously one-sided.

Anyway, if the goal was for us to be very materially wealthy and very psychologically ill, I’d say this thing is a great success.  But of course it wasn’t.  The goal was freedom, and we are still so far from it.

Freedom is a State of Being

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the US or against Independence Day; it’s meant to be a post discussing actual freedom.  I’m so totally pro-freedom that I want us to be free of nations.  I want us to be free of limiting beliefs.  I want us to be free of borders and security agents with guns and hostility towards one another.  I want us to be free of fearing our fellow humans and free of fearing death.  I especially want us to be free of fearing life. I want us to be free of suspicion. I want us to be free of fearing that at any moment, freedom can be taken away, so we best militarize and lock up.

True freedom can never be taken way, nor can it be granted by another.  It is an individual’s personal work to get and remain free of his/her limiting mentalities (and, of course, to understand what that “self” actually is). Someone who is retired with millions of dollars can easily be mentally enslaved. Someone who is in jail can live outside of the confines of the body and mind and dwell in a kind of peace that eludes everyone else.

It is the work of the collective to create functional communities wherein we don’t treat each other like equipment, constantly assigning value to one another. In this made-up lala-land I inhabit in my imagination and envision as a real possibility, we would give of ourselves as we could and accept when needed. No one would fear for their survival, thereby becoming free to devote energy to inner development. This is the place I want to live, and it is one I know can exist because I can think of it. It is also clear to me that creating such a culture is a requirement for allowing the Earth to heal itself from years of abuse.

The story I want to be able to say regarding the transformation of consciousness goes like this: “Humans freed themselves from their own oppressive minds, ceased to identify with illusions, and came together to clean up the mess they’d unconsciously made.”

What I am Free From

I get that this has all been very pie-in-the-sky: Nations dissolving, people treating each other with love, blah blah blah.  I know it seems like there are a million steps we have to take before we get there, but the truth is that awakening happens in just one moment. One click of light and it’s all over. The self that thinks of the self falls away. The self that is separate from others is revealed as a facade. It all seems so idealistic until you get a taste for it and begin to feel the changes within yourself.

Suddenly, it’s feasible: We really don’t have to keep waging war on this planet or on one another if only we could drop every single lie that stands between us. The war within us is the war without. The things that leave us feeling like we’re 50 different people all the time are the same things that divide us on the whole. Total system overhaul is dependent on us transforming ourselves and  moving forward consciously.

To round this little post out in a much more normal and personal note: Today is my 100th day alcohol-free! I didn’t plan it, and if I had, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. I’ll be spending the day playing outside, being with loved ones, watching fireworks, and drinking a bunch of nonalcoholic ginger beer and grapefruit soda. I choose to see today as a celebration of my freedom from alcohol addiction.

I’m working on a big post on alcohol right now: Why I don’t drink (it isn’t because I’m an alcoholic) and how I’ve practically spring-boarded from poor decisions, constant shame, and self-recrimination into positivity and actions that are more in accordance to who I know I really am just by giving it up.

The post will go up when it does, and until then, I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful summer. May you celebrate real freedom, as well—whatever that means to you.



Depression, Medication, Mental Health, Narratives, Podcast, Well-being

A Personal Note on Depression

Before I start this thing, I want to make sure to say that Episode 1 of The Free Fall podcast is now up on Soundcloud! 

The episode features our personal backstories as well as our intention to take part in a new conversation surrounding mental health in America.

On Wednesday we sat down to record episode 2, where we touched on the issue of depression as we see it. As you know, this is a big topic with no easy answers and no quick-fixes.

For whatever reason, the following post came out super personal. This is something I’ve largely avoided, because dwelling in stories isn’t really my way (anymore). Or maybe it is. Maybe we’re never all one thing or another, and I shouldn’t not post things just because they violate some rule about whatever I thought I’d post before a whole new day (and a whole new me) existed.

I take issue with depression being labeled a disease, even though I fully understand the neuroscientific basis of it. My BA is in psychology, and I received the MDD diagnosis at age 25.

From my place in life now, I understand the truth of that situation: I was living deeply out of alignment with my values and I had no idea who (or what) I was. This is why I was depressed. Never once did I have a medical condition.

At that time, I was drinking a lot to cover-up a mess of old pain I never dealt with. FYI: Suppressed feelings, particularly those of fear and shame, don’t just vanish into thin air. They actually get buried in our sub- and unconscious minds where they incubate. When one becomes fully conscious—as in during an awakening—that old pain can surface in some pretty harsh ways.

In addition to that whole thing, I was in a field of work I had no business in (mental health), because I was very much hurt and apparently on the brink of going insane myself. Driving to work felt like the most inauthentic, self-loathey, “wtf is this my life?” thing ever. I did not talk about this often. It’s a hard pill to swallow when the thing you worked for and thought you wanted feels even more ridiculous and wrong than every other step you’ve taken in your life.

Furthermore—and this is the biggest thing—I had unwittingly shut myself off from the inner dimension in order to protect my ego. The only real, abiding piece of me went ignored in favor of my half-baked plans. My soul was unexplored but I was very thinky, and this is a deadly combination.

For as fucked up as I felt, I was societally on track: The college degree was in the bag and I had a job with a salary. Holy shit, adulthood! I was doing it!

I didn’t even know how unbalanced and unhealthy I was. I just kept thinking hey, if I get the external conditions just right, some feeling of love and solidity will arrive. Millions of young people think this right now, and even more adults endlessly configure their external conditions, still chasing such feelings.

Shockingly, because this is a completely backwards way to live, I was pretty bummed. Almost always. These sad feelings took shape in misdirected anger, apathy, and isolation. They took shape in shameful behaviors I’m not going to talk about right now. And yet, because of the world we live in and the fact that the majority of people are living in this backwards way, it never dawned on me: Oh, I might be looking at this picture upside down. Maybe that’s why I’m so confused and frustrated with it.

Instead I got a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, a prescription for fluoxetine, and anorgasmia. Thanks, Western medicine. (I’m actually okay with Western medicine; it’s just the “you’re diseased, take this pill” message that’s limited and harmful and utterly Wrong.)

Essentially, I ended up depressed because I’d bought into the story that I was supposed to live a certain way; that I was supposed to use my intelligence and energy to do things I didn’t entirely understand or agree with, and that the best life available to me would be found in this One Way.  

I will write, again and again, that it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the college-and-career track. It’s that we all sell it to each other as The Only Way. We do this because if we don’t take that route, we can easily end up homeless and have no insurance and die prematurely. This is not a supportive way for human life to flourish. I also can’t imagine that anyone with an unconditioned mind would choose the life that billions of people are currently living.

With all the trappings of a decently good middle-class life, I still managed to hate myself. And that hate was 100% irrational. I knew it was irrational, and yet it was still there.  It was gnawing and punching me in the head day in and day out. Constantly. I poured booze on it and it was chill. On my way to work, I’d sob, and I wouldn’t know the reason for it, but I’d get a breakfast wrap and a humongous iced coffee and it was chill.

One time at work I cried a whole bunch and I explained only that I was tired. That was the tip of the iceberg as far as tears go, and yes, I was tired. I am still tired, but for very different reasons and in a very different way now.

I am tired of living in a world where we don’t take care of one another. I am tired of people who have completely valid feelings being told that they have chronic illnesses that they need to manage, sometimes with medication that creates more problems than it fixes. I am tired of those same people being told, in various ways, to expect the bare minimum out of life. I am tired of the fact that even what we consider “a good life” is still nowhere near what humanity is capable of. Mostly I am tired of people misunderstanding the Truth, which is that we are all each other. Realizing this to the core clears everything up.

Luckily, I am not tired of writing.



Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being

About Stigma

The reduction/elimination of stigma towards mental illness is an admirable goal. However, as with most things related to mental health and society, I often see this issue discussed in a way that feels somewhat surface level.

There’s basically one main reason why stigma exists. Here’s a breakdown of it, and why stigma isn’t an isolated thing we can do away with by espousing more information in the form of statistics and stories (although I fully encourage you to share your stories—bearing in mind that they are just stories, of course).

No problem exists in isolation; all things are interdependent. This piece of knowledge is crucial to understanding ourselves and creating a healthier world.

Our current paradigm measures the worth of a human being directly by their economic output. For real. This is made obvious by the fact that people with less money die of treatable things all the time, even though the power of money is upheld by nothing but widescale delusion.

Stigma is not about people collectively misunderstanding the reality of mental illness. They’re actually seeing it clearly and noticing that those who are mentally ill tend to not to be so good at playing the do-career-get-stuff-climb-ladders game. One’s success or failure at this game determines whether or not they are valuable individuals in the eyes of the machine, and sadly, often in the eyes of the individual as well. This belief in turn compounds depression and anxiety because shame makes everything worse.

Whether or not you personally believe in this form of measurement (and I hope you don’t!), it is a view that gets conditioned into us by the larger culture day in and day out. This valuation of human life is where stigma comes from, and it is this deep-seated mindset about human “worth” that must be overturned before stigma can cease to exist.

Right now, I’m on leave from work because I’ve decided to discontinue my psychiatric medication. I’m feeling out my new brain, taking a lot of baths and naps, meditating, exercising, reading up on yogic psychology, writing, and generally doing whatever it is my body needs at any given moment. This whole process is necessary for me to be the healthiest (and best) me that can exist.  It also feels far more responsible than anything I’ve ever done.

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Common bed scene.

But essentially, I’m “doing nothing.” My current value through the economic lens is quite low, whereas someone who gets a lot done, spends money, and builds businesses is simply considered more important. This type of thinking is based on about a million layers of delusion that I’m not going to try and take down here.

It feels important to note that many “successful” people often have tremendous neuroses they are specifically trying to avoid/compensate for with big busy lives. The truer truth is that those who hoard resources at the expense of others are much sicker than a person who doesn’t want more than they need. They are unaware of their sickness; the lack of awareness is precisely what makes them more sick. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” applies here. Thousands of years later and it’s still simple unconsciousness which drives this system.


I got this picture during Catholic mass when I was traveling through Ireland. I am not a Christian (or an anything -ist), but the guy knew what he was talking about.

I know I’m healing and growing in ways that will ultimately lead to new heights (whatever that means), but those things have no tangible function under this paradigm. Genuine human development (i.e. beyond an ego) is often discouraged and shied away from because of this. It’s like, if healing and growth don’t have an end result of more money (or love or whatever it is you’re lacking), what’s the point?

From the egoic perspective, progress can only be measured egoically, when there’s so much more to learn and gain outside of this construct. You can never know what the result of the path will be, because it requires deliberate steps into unknown territory. It is scary and comes with absolutely no guarantees.

But we can pretty much guarantee that if we remain attached to financial wealth as the defining feature of well-being and security, we will turn our backs on growth time and again. It’s not that money on its own is “good” or “bad” (and if your path brings it to you, awesome), but that many people see losing money as The Worst Thing, even when doing so is necessary to get well or to help others get well.

I have no reason to believe that my (or anyone else’s) highest potential will result in money. The vastness of human potential lies far beyond this little idea of success, and the feeling of having money cannot compare to the richness of touching the infinite inner dimension. Global change is dependent on understanding that material wealth always plays a very small role in one’s attainment towards abundant joy.*


Genuine half-lotus smile. I also bought bought decaf today. I don’t even know what I am anymore, guys.

In the end, “worth” in and of itself is a conditioned delusion. We are all simply here, living and breathing and being. We have come with unique traits and talents; some of them lend themselves to financial wealth and others do not. Neither is better or worse. We can learn to appreciate the variations in human ability without measuring each other (and ourselves) in a crude, hierarchical way. And as always, the only way such hierarchies will begin to really fall away is when we individually cease to view each other through the limiting labels we cling to.

If all humans would see through all delusion at once, stigma would disappear along with a lot of things we know are very unhealthy for life on Earth.

*It’s getting a bit old seeing the word “abundance” thrown around as a synonym for “financially wealthy.” Right now, if you’re reading this, you are enough. That’s the whole truth and trick of being abundant.

Secondly, mental illness really can be quite scary and uncomfortable. I have a lot less to write on this matter, because that’s basically it. People who are in psychotic episodes can be totally unpredictable. Unless you’ve been there and/or had extensive training on compassionate care for fragmented human consciousness, witnessing these experiences can be unsettling. I say this as someone who has been acutely psychotic.

There’s a lot more to dig into about the fear of losing one’s mind, which a lot of people (particularly those who undergo major spiritual shifts) harbor. When the mind is “everything,” the loss of it is naturally interpreted as horrific. I’m not going to extrapolate on all that here, because it isn’t as directly related to stigma as the other stuff. Still, it feels relevant to mention that our fears of extreme madness are generally the result of us all being a little mad.

Given the complex and deeply-rooted nature of stigma, it can feel like “okay, so, what do we do?”

I feel this way about all the suffering in the world, and my answer is always the same: Cultivate a life based on eliminating the delusive ways you view yourself and others. Delusional beliefs are innumerable; there is always work to do. Most of us have dozens and dozens of them that go unexamined because the loss of a belief often results in external changes that the ego interprets as inconvenient or undesirable. (Plus it feels like we are “less,” and the ego never likes that.)

At the “end,” when you have at least a sliver of awareness about the nonsense you’ve been telling yourself, live from what you know with love and intensity. (I really am trying my best to do this.) Make the process the goal and there can be no such thing as failure. Commit to this path and remember that you’re always on it, even when you “fail” by judging and/or abusing yourself.

We’re not talking about quick-fixes anymore, friends, and we’re not talking about the “little I” that wants the path to result in ego-based success. We’ve gotten smarter than that. “Getting rid of stigma” will require a fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves, just like all other true change. We can do it.



Reality, Spirituality, The Mind, Well-being

What Consciousness Is

A lot of people think they understand what is meant by the word “consciousness,” and this is paradoxical because the mind cannot understand it. It’s like trying to explain water to a fish: It just is. It’s here; it’s everywhere. It is either experienced directly or not at all.


You’re in it, you breathe it, and it moves you.

And yet here I am.

There has never been a more crucial time for humans to collectively realize the Truth. It has been crucial for a long time, but this whole Internet/globalization thing could actually be the key to getting us over the threshold. I don’t know how it’s all going to go, but I do know that the continued existence of human beings on this planet depends on raising our overall consciousness. This is the most important work we can do, for consciousness is the thing that gives rise to all beliefs and viewpoints (and the actions which stem from these things), for better or for worse.

Head’s up to any super-rational readers: Often, this stuff seems cool to talk about until suddenly it sounds like nonsense, and at some point it kinda does. I’m confident in my nonsense, but ask no one to accept it without consulting themselves first. 

Regarding the human mechanism, consciousness is:

  • The higher faculties which lead to behavioral changes, emotional regulation, and increased well-being: Higher human consciousness is where free will lives. It is where non-transactional, unattached (true) love abides. It is where the logic of forgiveness is made clear. Without it, we’d be stuck in our same cycles forever, continually holding grudges and living in fear. This is why mindfulness meditation is so beneficial for patterns of addiction as well as other forms of personal growth.
  • Woven into your very body, not just your brain: It’s the thing in you that knows how to make food into skin cells and to contract your heart muscle every few seconds. You have no control over these processes, and with a deadened view of life, they seem rote and unimportant. If we grasp the enormous sophistication of this instrument, we see how intelligent our bodies really are. Further along, we wonder what might happen if we could tap into the level of intelligence our unconscious bodily workings depend on. (I personally have no idea, but it is very exciting to consider.)
  • The quality of being awake: This is the most standard definition, but what do we actually mean by that? Millions of people walk around with their eyes open all day, utterly unconscious. It is easy to see when you pay attention. Those who are not sleeping often have no idea how much more intensely awake they could feel. But to be sure, it’s also that simple: Being conscious is to be alert, awake, and present, not just existing with eyes physically open.

The machine beneath your ribs. Incredible.

Universally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The principle phenomenon underlying all that we can perceive: Emotions and thoughts, too. There are also many things floating around that we cannot perceive, such as invisible forms of energy (radio frequencies, infrared light, etc.). Deepening our awareness increases the subtleties we are capable of taking in. This can be awesome, but also feel like a burden in a world where such subtleties are not also perceived by those around you. Those of you who are sensitive will feel me on that.
  • A formless intelligence making all potential possibilities manifest. Nothing to extrapolate on here.
  • The one true reality: All that you see before you is an illusion held together by your mind*. What you think is “real” is based on the workings of the mind, and if it gets stretched beyond its capacities, your reality will also necessarily change (hello, psychosis). Thus there is no stable reality to be found externally. True reality lives in the inner dimension that can be uncovered with the uncompromising light of conscious attention.


*This is in line with the popular “we live in a simulation” stuff that’s going around. The idea of it being a simulation is accurate enough, but for me, that word removes our role in its co-creation. It’s like, “So what? I still hate my job and my marriage/body/state of mind within this simulation.”

Video game characters are pre-programmed to behave a certain way within their simulation; there can be no deviation from this. But as a human being, you can alter your programming by tapping into your higher faculties. If we want to call it a “simulation,” it is important to recognize that we are the junior programmers of this thing.

Rather than a simulation, I like to think of it like a lucid dream. We operate in a collective lucid dream, all too often acting like it’s soooo serious and totally missing the point that it’s a dream we can change—and quickly.

Existentially speaking, consciousness in pure form is…

  • A formless, timeless thing from where we come and to where we go: I really don’t want anyone to take my word on this. You’re the brainiest creature on the face of the Earth and you know how to think for yourself. This kind of spirituality does not dole out beliefs for people to attach themselves to for some kind of false comfort. Nonetheless, this is a truth I realized that one time I sort-of died, and so I am sharing it.
  • Not a thing you “have” but your truest identity: The ego loves to make consciousness into a “humans only” thing. It is treated as a unique tool for the ego to wield, and when thought of in this crude way, the world becomes a mess. Perhaps some of us extend this property down to our pets, and maybe some to insects, but that’s where the line generally ends. This limited view allows us to continue feeling special in comparison to the rest of Nature, and the ego indulges in specialness. If we place our attention in the aliveness that is inherent in Nature, we realize that all of it is conscious, albeit in a different way than us. You are Nature, too, and so you are it; you have simply come in a form hardwired with the ability to know this.
  • Life and death: The two are not separate or different and always exist in equal measure.

Yin and Yang. For as cliche as this symbol has become, its implications and meaning are still entirely missed under our current paradigm.

Intellectually speaking, consciousness is…

  • Paradoxical: Getting comfortable with paradoxes is key. The mind won’t like it because the mind is much much smaller than this thing, and the ego wants “you” to remain small and identified with it. At some point, intellectualization has to take a backseat to the living world. If we cannot distance ourselves from rationality (which we often falsely equate with intelligence and as necessary for morality), we can never “get it.”
  • Frustrating: Pure consciousness cannot be proven to you by anyone else. It requires deliberate self-exploration of spaces that aren’t entirely comfortable. 

Globally speaking, consciousness is:

  • The thing that determines what is done with our cleverness: For physically modest mammals, we’ve done quite a number on this Earth, and it is all due to our cleverness. Cleverness split the atom; a low level of consciousness is what resulted in the bombs being dropped. Cleverness makes enormous scientific advances; low consciousness results in the fact that people are still dying of hunger when there is plenty of food in this world. Cleverness without consciousness is essentially what’s killing us. It is the combination of the two that has the power to lift this world into a holistically better place.
  • Still evolving: I almost said “rising,” but that implies progress from a human perspective. Some people ask, “If it’s rising, why does everything look more messed up than ever?” And the answer is that the ego has a death grip on those who cannot accept evolution and change; i.e. those who are exceptionally delusional and still in power. Just as a highly ego-identified person lashes out when the big reveal arrives, a highly ego-identified culture tries to close itself off just as things are starting to open up. Here we have your Brexits, your rigid borders (and proposed walls), and anger towards immigration and refugees. It’s just an unconscious preservation of the false self on a worldwide stage.

Big shifts are occurring.

So there you have it. 1400 words that get you no closer to experiencing the heights of consciousness, but hopefully illumine why this thing is The Thing.

To any eyes that fall on this post, I send you love and light.

– Lish


"Levels", Relationships, The Ego

Transformation & Relationships

Head’s up: I don’t always have time to make pictures. I like to do it, and sometimes I find illustrations helpful for my own conceptualization. But writing’s my real thing. Waitressing’s my money thing. Time is limited, and being in nature on sunny days will always win out over drawing weird stuff on my Chromebook. Words only today.

Also, the word “relationship” is too often used in reference to “romantic partnership.” That’s not how I’m using it. Every one of us is in relationship with everything in the universe, whether directly or indirectly, and that’s how it’s meant in this post.

When we fight the evolutionary process, the effect is like damming a powerful river. While this can force a desired result, it creates all kinds of problems in the total system. And now we’re back in metaphorland: By clinging to false identifications and limitations, we put dams in the rivers of our selves. Soon, we end up miserable, stalling joy and feeling totally paralyzed.

Of course this is unconscious: The dams, we think, keep us  safe and “productive.” What might happen if we allowed ourselves to move more freely? Such freedom might not guarantee our (maybe miserable) security. And on a global scale, we resist the emergence of consciousness because it doesn’t always fit into our parameters of what the world “should” be like, what we “should” be like.

If a dam comes down, nature rights itself with no anger. No one can predict exactly what will happen to the river, but we do know that life will be restored where it was once deprived. In time it will take its own shape, effortlessly moving with the rest of the planet. It will be beautiful no matter what.

But alas, we’re not rivers. We have these tricky little minds and egos. We get torn. We want the function of the dam and the complete power of the river: Full consciousness and an ego that keeps us superior to others. We know innately that these two things are at odds, and we know innately that the river is going to win out. This is the kind of pressure that’s building, in individuals (as evidenced by growing rates of illness, mental and otherwise) and collectively (as evidenced by—well, check the news.).

It all feels really scary, and that’s why we need each other.

Since making The Upward Mind public, I’ve connected with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. I find this incredible and life-affirming and all the other good feelings. In a time where socializing is often kept rather surface-level, it can be hard to remember that there are a whole lot of people yearning for human-ness.

Of course we all need deep connection, and of course not all connection needs to be deep.  But there are always those who are grasping for depth more urgently than others: They’ve begun to navigate their own complexity, ready or not. Going inward, facing crises, hitting the “wait, this is my life?” moment—such intensity is only made bearable by seeing that other humans have stood on the precipice and survived. (I promise you, many people have!)

What I am talking about here is a transformational, existential kind of pain. To me, death is the root of all fear: Knowledge of mortality without understanding existence necessarily makes one a little crazy. It’s like having a housefly buzzing around as you’re trying to meditate. Sure, you can do it—or can you?

In blundering ways, I desperately sought people to help me through (not that I mean to imply that I’m, like, “done” or anything). I never fully found what it was I imagined I needed in another person*, but I did find it in books. And I found it in a million Google searches: “Alternative explanations for bipolar disorder,” “Existential crisis how long to resolve,” and my favorite: “What is happening?!”

My hope is that maybe one day, someone who is losing it will come across these words and take a tiny bit of comfort: Everything you are experiencing, from the most crushing despair to the highest of expansive messiah complexes, is simply part of the evolutionary process. I know that’s not immediately relieving, but it is the most valid excuse for madness ever: We were bat-shit crazy, now we’re healing, and healing has good days and bad. It moves in waves.

You may be told there is something wrong with you; there is not. You may be told to get it together; don’t even try. You may want to escape it and numb out with drugs and alcohol and television and food; it won’t work.

Also, perhaps magically, I think that anyone reading this is doing so because they’re meant to. The world is changing. The collective dams are coming down. Some amount of us  have become exhausted with fighting ourselves and the rest of nature; we want to be rivers, even if our power feels overwhelming. Sure, the dam’s generating a whole lot of jobs and electricity, but the cost is our health and happiness (not to mention screwing up the whole “natural system” thing), in which case: What is the point of jobs and electricity?**

All such awareness occurs on the rational level. In the far vaster internal/emotional realm, it feels way heavier.

*Of course I found (and continue to find) solace and healing in others, but my intellectual understanding of this stuff was only made possible by people I will probably never meet in person.

**Jobs and electricity are not necessarily at odds with a beautiful world, contrary to what certain fringe movements may say.

When we bare our truths, we draw people to us who are aligned with (or drawn to) our levels. That’s why I think if you’re reading this, you’re supposed to be. I don’t know what “my” “level” is and I don’t particularly care. I still haven’t figured out a better way to write about this than with the “levels” concept, perhaps because our language is inseparable from its egocentric cultural history. I dislike it because the ego’s competitive nature often just uses the whole “spirituality” thing as another way to elevate itself. How very wily! (On that note: I, too, am already sick of the word “consciousness.”)

In any case, I do know that as we grow, we move towards things and people that facilitate the process. We become literally like water following the path of least resistance to the ocean—except we don’t know yet that we are the ocean. So, we go out looking for conduits to “it:” Is it here? Is it there? Is it in this lover? Is it in that group? Is it in this job? Of course it is never in any of those things. We hit dead ends, over and over and over.

Whether consciously or not, we “use” each other and our circumstances to grow. Every relationship, every work environment, every addiction—it is all for the purpose* of evolution, even if the “how” is not apparent to our logical minds. The universe doesn’t care how we think life “should” go.

We also “hover” around the levels of those who are seeking in the same way we are. If we’re seeking wholeness in drink, our friends are also heavy drinkers. If we’re seeking it in “that one perfect love,” our activities are built around this chase. If we’re seeking it by “solving all of our personal problems,” we’re always in therapy and obsessed with self-improvement.

I constantly feel the need to say that no behavior or substance is, in and of itself, indicative of being “lost.” I have sought myself in all of the above, and you know what? Some of it was super fun at least, and sometimes it was growthful. No one but the individual can determine why they do the things they do. All I know is that many of my old behaviors existed for numbing and ego inflation.  Therefore, I can only imagine this is true with a whole lot of other people.

So our immediate relationships reflect where we’re at on the path. Near the “end,” you may not align with anyone at all. You’re busy in your chrysalis, where no caterpillar or butterfly can help. At best, you may peek out and see that others have made it. Then you take a look at your hideous insides and you cannot fathom how you’ll get where they are. But really, you will— unless of course you choose to stop yourself. You can always try to go back caterpillar life, but it requires focused, concentrated unconsciousness to do this.

If we’re not aware of what’s happening, it can feel very lonely. Even if we are, it may still feel lonely, but at least it’s understood. You can say with confidence: “I’m alone because I’m undergoing radical transformation.” This is much more empowering than believing that you just have no friends and no one likes you and you’re a defective individual.

Being around others during this time can get a little awkward, because it’ll feel like there’s nothing to talk about except how seriously insane you feel: “How are you?” they will say, and you will be thinking “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS HOW ARE YOU.” And since all forms of inauthenticity are going out the window, maybe you’ll say exactly that. Before you know it, you’ve got a reputation for being weird or off-putting or crazy. (To be fair, you could very well be all of those things for a time, and that’s fine.)

At this point, you tend to start staying home. A lot.

*I use the word “purpose” loosely, because evolution defies conventional human notions of good/bad, as well as linear progress.

This notion of “alignment” simplifies why certain people fade in and out of our lives. What you need in in order to grow might be different from what everyone else in your life needs. There is nothing “right” or “wrong” about being unaligned with someone else; it just happens. It only becomes a problem when we remain attached to those we’re no longer aligned with. This occurs because (surprise!) we’re not secure in our own wholeness. This insatiable insecurity is the Great Modern Disease, and I won’t pretend that I’m beyond it.

In this case, we prolong relationships that need to be changed (or let go of), often trying to force the other one to be where we’re at, to “see things our way.” This makes for very unhappy friendships and partnerships. The anxiety we feel over letting go of a “15-year-friendship” or a “30-year-marriage” is nothing but simple attachment to an idea of a person (or a life) rather than sober acceptance of the way it feels in the now. Such stagnation is obvious when you see it, even if it is “the norm.”

Yes, we can continue to love all those we have ever loved, but when actual relationships become forced, it is a disservice to all parties.

Through this blog I’m learning that when we bare ourselves—dark parts and all—there are almost always positive results because we all have our dark parts. Wading through them can be truly horrifying and isolating. But when we come to discover firsthand how similar we are, the common complaint of “struggling to connect” disappears: There have been people waiting for us all along; all we ever had to do was be really real.

I certainly don’t mean to imply this is an easy task.  For most of us, there are about 10,000 demolition days that occur before the authentic human springs forth.

– Lish