I no longer suffer.

Here, to the best of my memory, are the eight things that genuinely changed my life. I tried to list them in the general order they happened, not their importance.

  1. Admit when I’m wrong.
  2. Freedom is working together with equals.
  3. I sing, dance, laugh (very loudly), play music, hug, tell stories and listen.
  4. Financial stability.
  5. Admit that when I’m resentful, I’m the one being abusive. When I’m making excuses for someone, that’s the person who is abusing me.
  6. Clarity. I am 100% responsible for my relationship to anyone else. I am 0% responsible for anyone’s relationship to anyone else.
  7. I stopped eating processed food entirely.
  8. I healed inter-generational family sickness. I became a part of many healthy families that are all independent of one another.

I took that first step when I was 16 or so. I remember reading a quote that went something like this, “The only thing I admit when I say I was wrong is that I’m more intelligent today than I was yesterday.” I did not get through step number eight until very recently.

Most of this is not “self-help”. Steps one, six and seven you can do on your own. The others? It’s not so simple. For each step, here is some further explanation:

  1. Most people are miserable because they are trying to win unwinnable battles, trying to prove themselves to others, trying to salvage lost arguments. Admitting when you’re wrong seems to be the hardest step psychologically for most people.
  2. Forget about finding your passion or your purpose. Find your equals. And show up for the people you find. There is a specific kind of joy, of emotional energy, of public happiness that occurs only when you are working with equals. It’s better than passion, better than purpose, and better than success.
  3. This is all the basic human stuff we just forget about. We all make decisions with our emotions, emotions are more contagious than any virus, and emotional energy is ritualistic. Singing, dancing, playing music, giving hugs–this is more than just exercise or therapy. These small rituals are how you create day-to-day emotional energy.
  4. More than just a lack of stress, financial stability means you are contributing more to the tribe than you are taking. It’s on par with basic stuff like exercise, going outside and feeling the sun, wind and rain on your skin, and getting enough sleep (preferably without using an alarm clock.) All of these things tell your brain and body that you matter to the tribe, to the family.
  5. This one is tough for people but resentment, narcissism and the inability to deal with conflict are worse than isolation. Most people’s anxiety happens because they are being abusive or channeling someone else’s abuse. Most people’s depression results from isolation caused, at the root, by unresolved conflict.
  6. Clarity also applies to values, ideas and problems. You are 100% responsible for your relationship to your own values, ideas and problems. (Which means you have to know your own values.) You are 0% responsible for anyone else’s relationship to their own values, ideas or problems. Zero means ZERO.
  7. Not eating processed food–this one’s easy. I wish I hadn’t taken so long to do it. The food you eat affects you on a cellular level.
  8. OK, this one’s hard to explain, and it’s what I need to write a book about.

This next part isn’t that book. It’s just some free-form rambling, which is rare for me. But maybe the following comments will help point people in the direction of understanding what inter-generational sickness is, by pointing out how some of our most cherished cultural ideas are so unhelpful.

There is no self. The self is an illusion. In fact, even consciousness is an illusion.

You know how you have desktop icons on your computer, right? But you really don’t see what the computer is actually doing. You just click the icon. In other words, the icon is an illusion that simplifies reality, and allows you to get things done.

Your “self” is one of many icons on the desktop that is your mind. In fact, even consciousness itself is just an icon. (You can figure this out for yourself by perceiving how your consciousness dissolves as you go into and out of sleep.) What’s really going on is so much more complex and you don’t see any of it, just like you don’t see the actual electricity traversing the circuits in your computer. And that’s fine as long as you don’t need to fix your computer. It’s fine as long as the computer keeps working properly.

The self is an illusion that usually works properly. Usually.

Taking responsibility led me to stop taking sides in other people’s conflicts. Then, one day, I realized I should not even take my own past self’s side in conflicts. Clinging to your past self is sickness.

So when you are still trying to win battles or arguments from the past, that is sickness. The symptoms will be anxiety, resentment, teeth-grinding, stomach aches, etc. But those are just symptoms. In some cases, just signals.

Where it gets weird? You can be still trying to win battles from your parents’ past. Or your favorite teacher. Or your grandparents. Or your favorite teacher’s grandparents. Or your favorite teacher’s grandparent’s king.

And all of this is what people call the “unconscious.” But there is no unconscious, because consciousness itself is an illusion. (Or, to put it a different way–it’s ALL the unconscious.) So it’s not surprising that so many people talk about how “powerful” the unconscious is.

The Buddha had it easy. People in his age believed in reincarnation. Given what we know about genetics on the one hand and given what I know about how sickness gets passed down through generations on the other, reincarnation was certainly a much better illusion than the modern American illusion of individualism.

And speaking of the Buddha, let’s end a translation problem. He never said suffering is caused by desire. That translation is too simplistic. Suffering is not caused by desire. It’s caused by craving and aversion. It is a symptom of a sick family.

I’m not averse to negative experiences. They just are what they are. There is no need to re-frame the past, and there is no need to pretend that something bad was somehow good. What’s bad didn’t last forever, just like what’s good won’t last forever either.

An emotion is just an emotion.

Am I happy? Not always. I have very high well-being. Being in lots of different stable families leads to well-being. I am happy when I work or play with equals. When I’m not working or playing with equals I am just relaxed. Oh and yes, when I’m with equals, working and playing feels like the same thing.

Did I get here by understanding all this intellectual stuff? No. I got here by trying to solve very concrete problems. Abuse, financial uncertainty, depression, and mental illness. But I do think that understanding that even your consciousness is just an illusion, just an icon on the desktop, makes it easier to make the decisions, say no to the people you need to say no to, and change the habits that keep you stuck.

Because what I think happens is that people become protective of their identity.

What does clarity feel like?

Clarity is like when the plane is landing and you pop your ears. Suddenly you realize that your hearing was clouded, but you hadn’t noticed.

Clarity is better than happiness, better than success, better than joy. Believe it or not, clarity comes precisely from setting boundaries. Maybe that’s because our desktop icons haven’t adapted to the modern world yet. Maybe our desktop icons are still stuck in the past, 10,000 years ago.

Even sight itself is a desktop icon. You don’t actually see photons or whatever. You see color, which has no objective reality. A bird “sees” something totally different. So does a dog.

The world is quite real. Your body is quite real. Emotions are quite real. But everything that you perceive is, to some extent, an illusion.

Our brains exist in emotional fields the way objects exist in gravitational fields.

Clarity comes from setting boundaries because it’s the emotional field that needs to be clarified, not the world itself. The world itself is just fine as it is. And our perception is good enough at representing the world to keep us from getting killed or eaten. It’s our emotional fields that are muddled.

Do I feel any different? Not exactly. Except that when I feel happy, I just feel happy. And then it’s over. When I feel anger, I just feel anger. And then it’s gone. When a mirror reflects a spider walking by, it just reflects the spider. And then when the spider has walked by, the mirror no longer reflects it.

How do you get clear?

You need many families with competing viewpoints so that you get emotionally attached to different sides of various arguments and ideas. Then the sides battle in your head. Eventually you can be free of those attachments, but first you must see enough battles to get bored of them. The boredom is what leads to the non-attachment.

At first those arguments, inside your head and outside of it, create confusion. So the families themselves need to be stable, or else you won’t make much progress.

This is the only way to not get stuck in past arguments, is to constantly get into new arguments. And to get progressively better at listening, negotiating and setting boundaries.

In other words, I did not become clear by trying to become clear. I had to keep forming attachments, in new families. I let those new attachments crowd out the old ones. Eventually I just sort of started to realize that everything would eventually get replaced, crowded out, die, or become boring. Then I stopped getting attached at all.

That’s the extent to which I can explain clarity with words.

One last thought.

The end of suffering is not magic. It’s not an “ability”. You don’t level up, or do so many quests to reach enlightenment. Suffering is a symptom of a sick family, or it is the result of clinging to a sick family in your head. I’ve stopped clinging. But.

If my families all get sick, I will suffer again.