The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.


There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.


When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.


The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…


…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.


I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.


  • comparing with others
    • universal dynamic
      • to compare ourselves with others
    • can be used in two ways
      • to feel better or worse about ourselves
      • practical reasons – check own path, course adjustment etc.
      • often a combination, and good to be honest about the better/worse dynamic and see where in us it’s coming from (sense of lack?) and if it’s aligned with what’s more honest for us
    • inner vs outside view
      • know our own messiness, inside information, worts and all
      • see others from the outside, what they present to the world, the information they chose to share, the image they want others to see etc.
    • traditionally
      • often presented in a simplified way
        • clear phases, trajectory, a little up and down but generally straight forward
        • often omit the messiness, confusion, struggle
          • to not scare people away?
          • although some do include it
      • can also contribute to make the common trajectory appear relatively straight and simple
    • the reality
      • messy for just about everyone, becomes part of the path
        • fodder for healing & awakening & exploring how to live from it
      • awakening and healing is about unwinding old patterns, and these knots & entanglements are different for each of us and need to unwind differently for each of us (to some extent)
      • we don’t know the path of others is since we don’t have an inside view, and they may not even know
      • we don’t know if someone else’s path is “better” than ours
      • any idea of “better” is a human made idea, not inherent in life or reality
    • these days and in our culture
      • makes more sense to be open about the messiness, more transparent
      • so people know what they are getting into + don’t feel they are doing something “wrong” just because they experience their own path as sometimes messy and confusing
    • …..

Without indulging in the pain and messiness. Make use of it. Pragmatic approach.

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