Compulsively seeking awakening?

Sometimes, people compulsively seek awakening.

How does it look? One end of the spectrum is a rash “I need awakening now!” urge. The other end may be people who are a bit more mature, skilled in how they go about it, and are in it for the long haul.

What’s the upside of this? It may actually work. It may bring about healing, awakening, and needed disillusionment (not necessarily in that order). A strong effort – especially combined with some insight, skill, and persistence – can, ultimately, lead to healing and awakening, often through a series of disillusionments.

What’s the downside? If we are compulsively seeking anything, it often means we are chasing an image or a state, and that we are compulsively trying to escape or avoid something. We may overlook what it’s actually about for ourselves. And we may successfully avoid, for a while, what we wish to avoid, which is something in us that needs attention and healing.

What’s a good way to make use of this urge?

Be smart about it. Find an experienced guide or coach that seems sane, mature, and grounded. Learn the skills and apply them. Explore different approaches. Combine the ones that work best. Stay with what works.

Explore the urge itself. Investigate the beliefs behind it and find what’s more true for you. Investigate your ideas about awakening and what it gives you (for instance, through how these ideas appear in the sense fields). Find healing for the parts of you creating the urge for awakening. (The pain you may want to avoid, the reactions to the pain saying awakening is the way).

Use approaches that invite in healing and awakening. Most likely, an urge for awakening is a combination of a genuine pull towards awakening and a reaction against our own pain. A genuine pull towards awakening is, in itself, quiet and persistent. (At least, in my experience.) And a compulsion that comes from our reaction to our own pain can be more loud, stressful, and more of a drama queen. Most of the approaches I write about here, in these articles, do both.

Explore approaches that give a first hand taste of what awakening is about. This will give a guideline and also some grounding to your exploration, and it’s part of the disillusionment mentioned above. (The Big Mind process and Headless experiments work well for some people.)

It does seem that compulsively seeking awakening is a phase of the process for many people, whether it’s more rash or seasoned, or more fanciful or skilled.

In any case, it’s the divine wishing to wake up to itself. It has temporarily experienced itself as what it inherently isn’t – separate, isolated, prone to believing thoughts and so on – and wishing for awakening is another phase in its ongoing exploration of itself. The awakening itself – with its ongoing clarification, maturing, and learning to live from it – is yet another phase.

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Using healing to avoid meeting discomfort

I see how I sometimes use healing modalities as a way to avoid meeting something in me.

I experience distress. It feels unbearable. So I wish to do Living Inquiries, Vortex Healing, or something else to make it go away.

There is nothing wrong with these modalities, and they can help me work through and resolve the issues deeply in me. They may even help me meet and be with what’s here. And yet, it’s good to notice.

It’s good to notice when I reach for something, whatever it is, to avoid meeting discomfort in myself.

What I wish is to be able to meet and rest with the discomfort, and then continue and deepen the process through inquiry, VH, and whatever else is helpful for me to do that. And sometimes grace allows me to do just that, even when it’s intense and initially feels unberable.

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How I escape meeting what’s here

When I experience discomfort, and especially if it’s strong, here are some ways I sometimes avoid meeting it:

Connecting with friends and family.

Talking about what’s happening with someone.

Internet. Videos. News. Reading.

Nature. Walking. Photography.

Inquiry. Vortex Healing. Other forms of healing modalities that I hope will reduce the suffering.

If it’s especially strong: Readings, I Ching. (To feel I know about the future.)

And longer term:

Relationships. Education. Work. Stable situation.

There is nothing wrong with any of these. Many of them are very helpful and just part of a human life. But they can be used in a compulsive way to avoid being with what’s here, to avoid feeling the uncomfortable sensations. A good way to do it is to (a) notice what’s happening. (Uncomfortable feelings/thoughts + wish to avoid.) (b) Take time to rest with and feel the uncomfortable sensations. (For a while, for instance until how I relate to it shifts and then a little longer.) And (c) then do any of these other things if the wish is still there.

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Quote: Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.

– attributed to CG Jung on the internet

This may or may not be an actual quote from Jung. My guess is that it isn’t a quote by him since it doesn’t quite sound like something he would say. It sounds too judgmental!

I would rather say that familiarity is what dissolved judgment. When I understand and am familiar with another person’s history and situation, it’s difficult to judge. For instance, after working with several people with trauma and addictions, judgment doesn’t really come up. It just seems very understandable why they are struggling the way they do. And the same for me, with the ways I struggle. And the same for other people I know. We are all in the same boat here.

At another level, I would say that feeling is difficult, that’s why we judge. When I want to escape an uncomfortable feeling, one of the ways I do that is by judging myself, others, and life. And when I notice, meet, and feel that feeling, and open to it, the need to escape it tends to soften and dissolve, as does the impulse to judge.

Why is it difficult to feel certain feelings? It’s not due to the feeling itself. That’s just a sensation. It’s because of the images and words the mind associated with these feelings, and the mind taking these are scary and real. That’s what makes a sensation or feeling scary, and something we want to avoid at almost any cost. And one of the ways we avoid feeling is by going into thought, and sometimes into judgment of ourselves, others, or the world.


When we get into spirituality, it can be from love for reality and love and life.

It can also be to escape something. And that compulsion to escape can take different forms and be more or less strong.

I was reminded of this when I heard of someone who was interested in breatharians. (People who apparently live on sunlight and breath alone, and no food.) The first that comes up for me around that is:

What do you hope to get out of it?

What do you want to escape? Which feeling here and now? What in your life? Where is the threat?

With the breatharian fascination, it’s relatively easy to spot since it’s unusual and a bit extreme. It’s often pretty clear that he or she is trying to escape something, including their body and the feelings (and perhaps trauma) found there.

And this may be there in any spiritual seeking. There is often a component of wanting to escape something. And that can be very helpful to look at.

With breatharians, I assume some – perhaps quite a few – are scam artists. For all I know, it’s possible that it’s genuine in some cases, and that would be an interesting topic for science. And for me, it’s not really that interesting either way.

My fascination is more around finding love for myself and life, inquire into sticky and painful stories, live in a way that supports life, and be as good steward of my life as I can. And there too, there may be something I wish to escape (I know there is), which in turn creates a slight compulsion. It’s good to look at.

What do the breatharian fans mirror back about me?

(a) I am better than them. More evolved. More clear. More down to earth. More practical. More going to the essence.

(b) I am no different from them. I too use spirituality – my own form of spirituality – to escape something. To escape discomfort. Trauma.

Resting as awareness as a way to not feel what’s here

It’s interesting how we can have an idea of awareness as somehow separate from its content, so we can imagine – and feel and experience – that we are resting as awareness, split off from or distant from its content, and use that as a way to avoid feeling what’s here. We don’t recognize that we attach to an idea. We also may not recognize that awareness is its content. Whatever is here – feelings and all – is awareness.

More subtly, we may genuinely rest with and as what’s here, although with the intention of using it to not feel whatever uncomfortable feelings are here. We may bring attention away from the uncomfortable feelings, and do it in a slightly compulsive way.

Again, nothing is wrong here. It’s perhaps even natural to have a phase like this, or to dip into it now and then. And it’s good to notice. And perhaps inquire into.

Can I find…. Awareness. A boundary between awareness and this uncomfortable feeling? The threat in feeling this feeling? The feeling itself? Someone afraid to feel it? How do these appear in images, words, and sensations? Can I find any of them outside of these images, words, and sensations? Are these images, words, and sensations “it”, what I am looking for?

This can lead to a more relaxed resting. A resting with what’s here as it is, including any (initially uncomfortable) feelings. I can rest with it. Feel. Allow.

No Self as an escape

One of the dynamics in the nondual and Advaita world is to use the idea of no self as an escape. As a way to not have to feel what’s here.

This can happen in a few different ways:

The idea and wish for no self can be an escape.

The idea of how it will be to realize no self can be an escape.

The idea that no self is realized can be an escape.

The idea that no self is already here can be an escape.

Resting as awareness, as opposed to its content, can be an escape.

We may think that if there is no self, and we realize it, then there is no painful self. We are free from this painful self, and free from having to feel what’s here. Free from having to feel the pain.

I am not saying that there is or isn’t no self. Either is true in it’s own way.

I am just saying that clinging to any idea – including ideas about no self – is a way for the mind to try to find safety, and avoid feeling what’s here – the discomfort, the unease, perhaps pain.

There is nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. It’s innocent. We all do it, at least sometimes and to some extent. And it’s good to be aware of.

Here are some way to explore or soften this:

What would I have to feel if….? (If there isn’t no self. If there is no escape.)

Rest with it. Rest with the fear of feeling what’s here.

Inquire into the beliefs. What do I fear would happen if there isn’t “no self”? If I can’t realize it?

Inquire into the velcro. Look at the images, words, sensations. Ask simple questions to see more clearly what’s there. See if you can find “no self”, or realization, or a threat if there isn’t either, or a command to not suffer, or not feel discomfort, or escape.

Find kindness for it. Hold it in kind presence.

Note: I just overheard a conversation on a similar topic where two people identified with stories about awakening, and defended that position. As soon as that’s happening – and I do that sometimes too, at least in my own mind – it’s a sign that the mind is trying to find safety in an idea, a conclusion about how things are. Again, nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. And it’s good to notice, and perhaps rest with it, find kindness to it, and explore what’s there through inquiry.

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Ways to avoid feeling what I don’t want to feel

There is really just one way to avoid feeling what’s here.

And that’s to bring attention out of feeling sensations and into thoughts.

The only reason I would do that is because I believe thoughts saying that feeling the sensations, and perhaps being exposed to the associated images and words, is uncomfortable, dangerous, a threat, bad, or undesirable.

This avoidance can take a large number of forms, probably many more than I am going to list here.

And the remedy is simple. Feel the sensations. Ask myself what would I have to feel if I didn’t [the avoiding behavior], and then feel that. Take time feeling the sensations. Perhaps look at associated images and words, and ask simple questions about them to see more clearly what’s there.

So here is a very incomplete list of behaviors most or all (?) of us sometimes engage in to avoid feeling what’s here.

Going into thought, independent of the content of these thoughts. Go into thinking instead of feeling and noticing.

Blame someone else, life, the world, God, for what seems wrong. And, really, blaming something “out there” for the uncomfortable feeling. (Although that’s usually not part of the blaming story.)

Going into (otherwise) constructive activities, such as writing (as I do here), working, being with family and friends, playing with kids or pets, going for a walk, read something interesting, listen to a podcast. (This one is very familiar to me.) These are all fine activities, and when I do them to avoid feeling something, there is a sense of compulsion there.

Analyze or comment on what’s going on. Trying to understand it. Make up stories about it. (Not that this is always inappropriate, but it can be habitual or a bit compulsive.)

Distractions of any type, including any form of thoughts or any activity.

Doing something enjoyable. Eat, sleep, go for a walk, cuddle, have sex, watch a movie, be in nature, do art, photography, make music. All of these can be done to avoid feeling what’s here, and when that happens, these activities can feel slightly compulsive. They become something I am compelled to do so I can avoid feeling what’s here.

Going into drama, getting caught in the drama. It may seem we are feeling here, since it can seem quite intense, but we are actually avoiding really feeling and resting with the sensations.

Putting it off into the future. Telling myself I can do it tomorrow, perhaps when I am in the right mood, or have more time, or am in a better state of mind.

Going into “awareness” or the “witness”. Which is really going into an idea of awareness somehow different from and split off from feeling the sensations that’s here.

Spacing out. Going into daydreams.

Numbing out. And not feeling this as sensations.

Getting sleepy, drowsy. Getting bogged down by sleepiness. This can often seem like sleepiness from lack of sleep or hard work, and a thought will often tell us it is. It usually comes up at just before or at the beginning of feeling something apparently uncomfortable, and it can disappear quite quickly if rested with and inquired into. (Sometimes, it is actually physical tiredness, of course, but perhaps not as often as you would think.)

Telling myself that I don’t need to feel it, or don’t have to, and having an apparently good reason for it.

Going into an ideology saying I don’t need to or have to, or that it’s bad, or “low frequency”, or that I should seek only “good” states and feelings and avoid the “bad” or “low” ones. (This rests on a lot of unquestioned assumptions.)

Going into spiritual ideologies, for instance saying it’s all a dream, or nothing really exists, or that all is perfect as is. Which I then take as meaning that I don’t need to feel what’s here. (I don’t necessarily disagree with any of these, but they can be made into an ideology and used to avoid feeling what’s here.)

There are many other ways to use spiritual ideologies to avoid feeling what’s here. I can get fascinated by it. Get into wishful or magical thinking. Assume I will be magically “saved” in the future, so I don’t need to do much now. Imagining light and bliss and feeling that instead of the discomfort that’s here.

While feeling sensations, immediately going to images or words instead of feeling and resting with the sensations for a while. (During inquiry.)

Some of these are subsets or variations of other ones on the list. I thought I would just put them all up here.

When these come up, I can use them as a reminder to ask myself what would I have to feel if I didn’t [….], and then feel and rest with that.

I can also explore the dynamic of the avoidance. Slow it down. Feel and rest with the sensations of the avoidance. Look at the associated images and words, one at a time. Ask simple question about these, to see more clearly what’s really here.

There is nothing inherently wrong with avoiding feeling what’s here. It’s very human. We all (?) do it now and then. And we can’t all go around and intentionally feel sensations all the time. We wouldn’t get much else done.

At the same time, it’s uncomfortable to avoid, and be trapped in the mindset of avoiding feeling what’s here. It can also lead to (compulsive) life decisions we wouldn’t have made if we were more clear and allowing of the sensations.

It’s good to notice when I avoid feeling what’s here, perhaps notice how I do it, and sometimes intentionally rest with the sensations and feel them, and inquire into what makes it look scary to do so. It can become more and more of a habit, and it can seem less and less threatening to do so. It can even become enjoyable. An expression of kindness.

Spirituality as escape, and coming home

Spirituality can be an escape, and it can be a way home. Often, and for a while, it may be both.

Spirituality can be an escape. The stories of spirituality may be held as true, in a attempt to find a sense of safety. Spirituality can be an attempt to protect who we take ourselves to be. Mind innocently identifies as a being, there is fear, and this brings us to try to hold onto spiritual ideas to find safety for this being. There is also a sense of lack, we try to hold onto spiritual ideas to fill up the hole in us. It’s all innocent, it all comes from love, and it’s all slightly misguided.

Spirituality can also be our way “home“. It can be our way home as who we are, in the sense of finding healing and a sense of wholeness as a human being in the world. And it can be our way home as what we are, in the sense of what we are noticing itself and becoming a more conscious context for our human life. This coming home often happens through finding and living from love, clarity and authenticity.

I see both of these in myself, and I also see that the way through is to be as authentic as possible, meet the fear with love, and inquire into my stories creating fear and a sense of having to find safety through spirituality or anything else. Also, what do I fear about living from love, clarity and authenticity, and what do I find when I look into this?

Some spiritual ideas it can be helpful to look at:

Awareness. Consciousness. Love. God. Spirit. Christ. Enlightenment. A future stable state. (Can I find any of these, outside of words, images, sensations?)

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Anything can be used as an escape

I keep seeing how I use sometimes use whatever is closest at hand in an attempt to avoid feeling certain emotions, or being reminded of certain images or thoughts:

(a) Friends, going for walks, food, internet, movies, podcasts, news, listening to spiritual interviews/talks.

(b) Day dreams, going into stressful images and thoughts.

(c) Inquiry, certain forms of meditation, any technique used with the aim of changing content of experience.

It’s all innocent. It’s all from love. It’s all from an attempt to be kind to myself. It’s from worried love.

And it’s all from an innocent mistake. It all comes from holding certain images and thoughts as if they were true.

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Two dynamics: avoiding vs opening

When intense emotions and stressful thoughts surface, I can avoid or open to them.

And each one has self-reinforcing dynamics, they each tend to set up a loop.

Why do I avoid opening to the emotion/thoughts? It’s because of a set of beliefs, and they may seem quite deep seated at first.

It will get worse. Something terrible will happen. (If I open to the emotion, inquire into the thought.)

It’s better to avoid. It’s more comfortable to avoid. It’s easier to avoid. It’s possible to avoid.

The thought is true. The stressful thought reflects reality. It’s pointless to inquire into it.

So when I avoid, I do it because of these beliefs, and it means I don’t get a chance to question them. I avoid opening to the emotions, so I don’t get to see what will happen if I do. I avoid questioning the stressful beliefs, so I don’t get to see what’s more true for me.

Of course, we cannot avoid all the time, so we do get glimpses of how it so to do the 180 degree turn and opening to the emotion, and inquire into the stressful thoughts. It happens in ordinary life, perhaps through a conversation with a loving friend. And it may happen through a book, a teacher, or a workshop.

As I open to an intense emotion, it’s a form of inquiry. What happens if I open to it? Allow it? Welcome it? Notice it’s already allowed?

And inquiring into a stressful thought is a double inquiry. It’s an inquiry into the thought, and an inquiry into what happens if I inquire into this thought.

In both of these ways, I get to see that my assumptions may not be entirely accurate. I thought something terrible would happen, I thought it would get worse (which it may, in the very short term), and it didn’t. Something else happened. So I get more curious. I am drawn to trying it again. Next time an intense emotion surfaces, along with stressful thoughts, I may remember. Something in me nudges me to try it again. How is it to open to this emotion, inquire into this thought? And as I do this more regularly, it becomes a new habit. Now, opening to emotions and inquiring into thoughts becomes what’s more attractive, more familiar.

The shift may take time, and yet it’s inevitable that it happens, as long as I am sincere in questioning whatever thoughts I have that may prevent me from opening to the emotion, and questioning the thought.

Avoiding vs opening to emotions and stressful thoughts

When emotions and stressful thoughts surface, I can avoid or open to them.

Avoiding really means avoiding opening to them, and I can do this in two ways: Engage in and fuel the emotions/thoughts surfacing (complain), or try to escape from them (distract). Either way, I avoid opening to the emotion and the stressful thoughts.

And opening to the emotion and thoughts means two things: Welcoming, allowing and being with the emotion (perhaps noticing it’s already allowed). And noticing and inquiring into the stressful thought to see what’s more true for me.

For instance, I may have the belief I made a mistake, and it comes with emotions of regret, grief and perhaps despair. I can avoid opening to it through fueling these thoughts and emotions. I complain about it to myself and others. I tell myself I made a mistake over and over. I imagine how my life would have been if I had made another choice. And so on. I also avoid opening to it by trying to escape from it. I cover it up with food. Distract myself by going to the internet or watching a movie. And so on.

The other option is to do a 180 degree turn and see how it is to open to the emotions. Shift into welcoming them, be with they, stay with them. Allow them their life. Notice they are already allowed. Notice how they shift, how new layers emerge. How – when they are seen, felt and loved – the energy behind them seem to dissipate. How it eventually shifts into the void. I may also notice that these emotions were only created from a belief, a thought taken as true. They are doing their job. They are innocent. They don’t necessarily reflect reality or what’s true.

I can also see how it is to do a 180 degree turn in how I relate to my stressful thoughts, and open to them. What are my stressful thoughts? What do I complain about? I made a mistake, because…. I made a mistake, and that means…. What do I find when I take these beliefs to inquiry? What’s more true for me than these thoughts? How is it to take it in, feel it, live from this new insight?

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Behind the impulse to avoid an experience or thought

Some beliefs I notice behind an impulse to avoid

(a) the experience that’s here, for instance pain, discomfort, anger or sadness, or

(b) the thought that’s here, for instance images of the past or the future with beliefs attached to them.

– 0 –

Reality is unkind. Reality is unloving. 

Something terrible will happen if I open to this experience (this fear, discomfort, pain).

Something terrible will happen if I investigate this thought.

It’s easier to escape. It’s possible to escape.

I shouldn’t escape. I am a bad person if I escape.

– 0 –

It’s dangerous to open to this fear.

It’s dangerous to investigate the thoughts behind this fear.

– 0 –

What I am most afraid would happen if I open to this fear is….

It will be overwhelming. It won’t stop. I can’t handle it. It’s too uncomfortable.

What I am most afraid would happen if I investigate this thought (image, memory) is….

It will be overwhelming. It will be uncomfortable. I will see the thought is true. It will be worse than avoiding it.

– 0 –

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The impulse to escape experience

Elaboration on an earlier inquiry:

– o –

Basic dynamics

(a) When I believe I need to escape experience, I may be able to do so partially and for a while.

I may distract myself.

I may find tools and techniques that change my state and experience for a while.

But I cannot control experience. Experiences come and go. They live their own life.

I cannot control what I will experience when I wake up tomorrow, or next week, or even the next minute or second.

The specific experiences I try to avoid may still be there in the background, and they may surface again and be triggered again.

When I try to escape experience, I can only do so partially and temporarily.

(b) Also, believing that I need to change my experience is uncomfortable in itself.

I get myself into escape mode. I keep trying to run from what’s here.

And that is inherently uncomfortable.

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Inquiry as escape

Any mental or physical activity can be an escape. An escape from allowing experience, inquire into certain beliefs, or acting on inner knowing or what needs to be done in a relative sense.

Even inquiry can be an escape when I use it as a distraction from what’s really bothering me, whether it is a distraction from allowing experience,  taking a closer look at a certain belief, or doing what I need to do.

Here too, a sense of unease is my pointer. The impulse to escape is in itself innocent and natural, sometimes a safety valve, and often a welcome vacation.

And I can also inquire into the beliefs that stop me from doing what I need to do.

What does the fear say? What am I afraid would happen if I allow, inquire, do? Which stories do I tell myself?

What do I get from escaping from this? How would it be to actually do it? What first step can I take here and now?

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