Therapy, motivation, and change

I saw an article referencing studies finding that therapy may have a desired effect for only about half of the clients.

The article frames this as a surprisingly low number, although I tend to be surprised it’s that high.

The number will obviously depend on how it is measured, and it also depends on what people wish to work on and what methods they use.

For instance, there are effective methods for phobias, while depression and trauma may be more difficult and take a longer time.

Also, over time, many psychological issues dissolve or lift on their own anyway.

What I have seen is that motivation is key. If we are highly motivated to change, we’ll find a way. A good match with methods and therapists is obviously important, but if the motivation is there we often find a way no matter what. And if we lack motivation, even the best methods, the best therapists, and the best match is not enough for change and transformation.

I have also found that for more general and deeper shifts in how we relate to life, certain daily practices are often more effective than most forms of therapy. For instance using heart-centered practices like tonglen and ho’oponopono, or all-inclusive gratitude practices. A sincere daily practice obviously requires motivation.

So where does the motivation come from? What creates a strong motivation?

The main answer, which is not so satisfying in itself, is that it comes when we are ripe and ready.

How can we become ripe? Often, it’s through life experiences over time and through being sincere and honest with ourselves.

And we can invite some of that ripeness and readiness by investigation.

For instance…

What am I afraid would happen if this changed or I was transformed?

What I am afraid could happen if I explore it?

What am I afraid would happen if I found healing for it?

What’s the effect of living as I do? What are the specifics? How does it show up in the different areas of my life? How does it impact my relationship with others? How do I act and live my life with this issue?

How would it be if it wasn’t here? How may my life be?

As with so much, taking an honest and detailed inventory of what’s happening is often a prerequisite for real change.

When we viscerally get that the pain and discomfort of staying the same is greater than the pain and discomfort of change, we tend to be ready and ripe for change.

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My early longing: a longing to return home to the divine

As a child, and I remember this best at elementary school age, I had a longing. I would wake up in the morning, feel this longing, and not know what it was for. I had my favorite food – cornflakes or bread with strawberry jam, I read my favorite comics (Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories), I read my favorite books (Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Hardy Boys, Famous Five), I spent time with my parents, I played with friends, and nothing did it. Nothing helped alleviate the longing.

When the awakening happened age sixteen, I finally understood what the longing was for. The longing was for coming home – to all as the divine. To recognize all, without exception, as the divine and the play and unfolding and exploration of the divine.

I imagine the longing had a more human element as well. I longed for a deeper and more real relationship with my parents. But a large part of the longing, perhaps fueled by this more human longing, was for coming home.

This longing was fulfilled, and is being fulfilled. It’s a process. Returning home is something we don’t need to since we are always here. And it’s also an ongoing unfolding process and exploration.

There are two ways to talk about this. One is that the longing is to return home to what I am – as capacity for the world as it appears to me, as what all my experiences happen within and as. The other is that this is a longing for a return to the divine, a return to recognizing all – without exceptions – as the divine and the unfolding and play of the divine. The first is what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, and the second the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. The awakening itself is the same, it’s just how we talk about it that’s different.

Engaging in spirituality for very human reasons

For most of us who are into spirituality, very human motivation sometimes play a part.

We may find ourselves using our spirituality to improve our image or for virtue signaling, or to help our self-esteem by feeling better than others, and so on.

It’s very understandable and human, and there is nothing inherently wrong in it (although it’s painful). And it’s good to notice, acknowledge, and even explore.

I am personally noticing this right now since I lost most of my books (an extensive library of books from all spiritual traditions) in a divorce a few years back, and am now making mental and digital notes of which books I would like to get back to rebuild my library. I have also been to bookstores in Berkely the last couple of days browsing the spirituality shelves.

And I find myself asking myself why I want these books back. Is it because I want a certain image for myself? Because I want others to see me a certain way? Do I want some acknowledgment that I am smart and have some knowledge of the different spiritual traditions? Is it because I actually want to read them (again)? Is it because I want to be able to lend my favorites to others? Or that I may write a book myself in the future and would like some of these as references?

For each book, the mix of answers seem a little bit different. Much of the time, it may be more about image. And sometimes it seems it’s about something else. When the former is the case, thinking about buying the book feels like a burden and makes me feel confused and heavy. When something else is there – a deeper affinity for the book or that it may actually be useful in the future  – I feel more light, clear, and alive. So far, the proportion is probably 10 to 1 or even 20 to 1.

If anyone is curious, I notice it’s the more essential books that makes me feel more clear and alive, and mostly those by contemporary authors. For instance any book by Adyashanti and Byron Katie, the more central books by Ken Wilber, AH Almaas (Hamed Ali), and Pema Chödrön, and also books by similar authors such as Bonnie Greenwell and Stephan Bodian. And, of course, the old classics for me such as Jung and Jes Bertelsen.

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If there were no other humans

For a long time, I have used a simple test to see where my motivations come from. If I feel embarrased, or that I am missing out, or that I want something or to do something, I sometimes ask myself:

What if there were no other humans? How would I experience this then?

Do I still feel X? Do I still want Y? Do I still want to do Z?

Often, I find that my motivations come from wanting love, approval, or appreciation from others. And when I see that, something shifts. It eases up. I am more free to chose what makes sense to me. It may be something different, or the same but it’s coming from a slightly different place.

I was reminded of this when I watched the documentary Sherpa last night. Why are some westerners drawn to summitting Everest? Is it for social reasons, or something more intrinsic to them?

Coming from glimpse, love or wants

The spiritual path looks quite different depending on where we are coming from.

When there is a glimpse of what we are, the spiritual path becomes a process of clarifying and living from it. It is a process of examining the veils that may cover it up again, make ourselves familiar with the dynamics, and also recognize more clearly that what we are is already independent of veils or clarity, confusion or awakening.

This glimpse can come at any point on the path, including before the path has started, and it can come repeatedly before it stabilizes, or be quite stable right away. No rules here, it seems.

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Comfort as priority

I listened to a CSS talk yesterday and a questioner brought up the topic of comfort. By looking at her own choices and actions in daily life, she could see that her main priority is comfort. (We can find our priorities by looking at our actual choices in daily life and where we spend our time and energy.)

Is it an obstacle? Yes, it can be, in all the obvious ways. By seeking comfort we may engage in mindless entertainment instead of practice, distractions instead of allowing experience and inquiring into beliefs, and so on.

But it can also be a gateway, an invitation for inquiry.

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Zen cooking and desires

The Zen cook takes whatever ingredients are available and works with it. 

So how does that look in terms of desires? For instance, a desire to know, do and die? 

A desire to know can be cooked with in a less helpful way, as a way to accumulate stories for their own sake and taking them as true. And it can be cooked with in a more helpful way, as a desire to know what I am and a more playful exploration of stories as temporary tools. When does any particular story seem useful? When not? 

A desire to do can be cooked into an escape, and be less helpful in the long run. And it can be cooked in a more helpful way, at our human level and also to invite what we are to notice itself. It can be a doing of inquiry and allowing shifts making it easier for what I am to notice itself. 

A desire for something to die is similar. When cooked in confusion, it can be less helpful. When cooked with more clarity, it can be a motivation for change in our human life, and also for allowing identification with stories and a sense of a separate I to fall away. What do I more honestly want to die? When I explore it for myself, I find that it is that identification with a story.  

There are two ways to approach this. 

I can take whatever ingredients are here and cook with them differently, maybe with a little more skill. 

And I can trace desires back, find what they more honestly are about for me. 

And those two are not that different. 

A good cook will naturally be curious about the ingredients. What are they really? 

And when desires are traced back, they naturally are cooked with differently. Initially, it may appear as a desire to know about the history of China, and then it is clarified as a desire to know what I am and explore the infinite ways it plays itself out as form. (Including as the history of China!)

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Actions show what I act on, what is a priority for me

Again, it is quite simple and maybe obvious. And when I explore it in my own life, it can be very juicy.

My actions show what I act on. What I value. What I take as important. What is a priority to me.

Sometimes, it comes from a belief. Fear. Shoulds. Identifications.

And sometimes, it comes from my heart. Intuition. What is fulfilling to me.

When there is a release from the belief, there is freedom to act from my heart.

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Two forms of motivation

When I explore motivations for myself, I find two general types…

One is to avoid suffering and find happiness. When I trace back most of my everyday desires and intentions, I find that they go back to the basic one of avoiding suffering and finding happiness.

This makes sense in an evolutionary perspective. It is how individuals and the species as a whole survices. And it also makes sense from a basic psychological view. As soon as there is an identification with a story, there is a sense of I with an Other, and a desire to take care of this I as best as possible. 

The other is a quiet love for God and truth. This is an impulse towards awakening and can take different flavors. A desire to come home. To find what is really true, no matter what it is. To find what I really am. To know God. To be with God. To serve God fully. 

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Clarifying and channeling motivation


When I look at desires and motivations, I find two main types.

One type of desire comes from our human self. We want to get something. And mainly, we want to avoid suffering and find happiness. 

This makes sense in an evolutionary perspective. It is how the human individual and species takes care of itself. 

And it is also what happens when we identify with any story. There is a sense of an I with an Other. And we want to take care of that I. 

Another type of motivation is a quiet love for God or truth. This seems to be more of a remembrance of what we are, and a quiet longing back. 

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Clarifying intention

When I explore intention, I find that it helps in daily life and also in growing and waking up.

And although it may seem to help to change or form intentions, all I really need is to clarify the ones already here. I can work with what is here, instead of against it.

I notice an existing intention in whatever form it takes. Desire. Wish. Want. Attraction. Aversion. Seeking.

I trace it back. What do I hope to get out of it? And what do I hope to get out of that? What am I really looking for? What would be the most satisfying? (This is an inquiry Adyashanti suggests.)

By doing this, I find – for myself and for now – that any initial intention comes back to seeking to avoid suffering and to find happiness. No matter how mundane or crude the surface expression of the intention seems, when I trace it back I find that it is really innocent.

In daily life, clarifying intentions helps me prioritize, focus, stay receptive to opportunities and so on.

In terms of growing up, it helps me experience myself in a more unified way and as a whole. And it also helps me see that we are all in the same boat here. We all seek to avoid suffering and to find happiness, no matter how that is filtered and expressed. (Often through a bit of confusion.)

In in the context of waking up, it helps me recognize that all my intentions already are in the direction of waking up. I just need to notice.

And one way to notice is to trace my intentions back, over and over, so I get to see and feel its essence, the way it is expressed in my life right now (often filtered through confusion), and what happens when it is filtered in a confused way and when there is more clarity around it. And through that, there is a genuine appreciation and love for it all, as it is.

This is a topic that is endless. For instance, an aspect of many spiritual practices is to clarify intention. To helps us see that our one wish – appearing in all the different ways desire and intention appears in our life – is to wake up.

And it is also helpful to recognize the validity of intentions as they appear at different places in the chain back to their essence.

The surface desire may be for a hearty soup, which may be entirely appropriate to fulfill at the human level. Looking a little closer, I find a desire for something nurturing which I can also find through relationships, in nature, through Breema, and more. And when I trace it even further back, I find a desire for avoiding suffering and finding happiness, which is a desire for growing up and – if I take it that way – for waking up.

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Love as content and not

The word love can refer to many different things.

It can mean romantic love, which is really attraction. 

It can mean an open heart and a feeling of love and compassion. A warm feeling of connection. 

It can refer to what happens when a human self functions within the context of what we are awake to itself.

(And probably a lot more that doesn’t come to mind right now.) 

In the first two cases, it happens within content of experience. It is an attraction. Or a warm feeling of compassion and connection. 

And in the third case, it is not content of experience. It is just what happens when Big Mind is awake to itself and functions through a human being. It is independent of any feeling. It is expressed in action in ways that often looks like love and compassion. And it can certainly generate a feeling of love, although it may not, and it doesn’t really matter. 

Specifically, anything this human self experiences – including other beings – is all recognized as awakeness itself, as the play of awake emptiness. So here, acting from love and compassion is as natural as the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It happens without hesitation. And independent of – and flavored by – states. 

So say I pass two guys at a street corner, holding a sign asking for food money. I can act out of a “should” and give them money, maybe feeling a little guilty. I can act out of a warm feeling in my heart, an experience of warmth and compassion for them. Or I can just act, independent of any particular experience of state, from a recognition that the Reality in them is what I am. It is all there is.

Reasons for doing inquiry

There are many reasons for doing The Work, and common to all of them is that they themselves can be taken to inquiry. I can notice what happens when I hold onto either one of these stories as true, and what happens if there is more clarity around it.

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What everybody and nobody wants, and clarifying

What I find is that what I really want is awakening. No matter what the surface intention or want is, when I look at it and peel back the layers, I find that it always goes back to a desire for awakening. For coming home, truth, freedom from suffering, a quiet joy, of all awakening to itself as Ground.

And I also find that many sides of my don’t want awakening. Instead, I want all the surface wants. The shorter term things that enhance this separate I. Yet, these are false – insubstantial – wants. Mirages that appear when I take a story as true.

So as long as I am not clear on my real motivations, there is a mix of the two. I sincerely want to awaken. But I also want to enhance this separate I in different ways. Which is why it is so helpful to clarify motivation. It helps see through the surface motivations, see that they each are mirages created from taking stories as true, and that each of them lead back to the essential desire for awakening.

There are so many practices that are complete – or sufficient – in themselves. And this seems to be one of them. The process itself takes us right to awakening.

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Facing death, and growing & waking up

Facing death squarely can have a few different effects…

In terms of growing up (healing/maturing as who I am, this human self in the world), facing death invites in a motivation to grow up. I have limited time here, and want to make the most of it. Similarly, facing death helps me clarify my priorities. I am invited to clarify what is most important for me, and align my life with that.

Facing death at this level happens mostly within the dynamics of stories. I realize that everyone and everything I love and know, incluing myself, will die. I see it. Feel into it. Find genuine appreciation for it. (After all, death at all levels of the holarchy of the universe is what makes life possible. We are made up of stars that died a few billion years ago. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the whole process of life and death that went before us, at the levels of stars, species and individuals. Also, life is dynamic, dynamic=flux, flux=death.) Make it alive for myself. Allow it to work on me and reorganize me as who I am.

In terms of waking up (noticing what I am), facing death may invite in a motivation to wake up. This human self is around for only a limited time, and I want to make use of this opportunity to invite what I am to wake up to itself.

Equally important, I can explore death – or rather, impermanence – here and now, through the sense fields. I can notice how anything happening within each sense field is flux, guests living their own life, coming and going on their own schedule. There are no stable anchors within content of awareness that I can place an “I” on. But still, there is a sense of what I really am not coming and going. What is it that is not coming and going?

Reasons for growing and waking up

When I look at the importance of growing and waking up, I find a few simple things.

Growing up invites in healing and maturing, and that takes care of most of what we seek in our human life, and also what we seek when we are identified with this human life. This includes living a life that is nurturing for ourselves and the larger social/ecological whole and even future generations. (So the universe and God can explore and experience itself through the myriad of life forms on this planet, including humans, a little longer.

Waking up gives the final release from any sense of I with an Other, it makes it possible for reports from this noticing, and it invites our human self to reorganize and explore itself and its life in the world within this new context.

So it is easy to notice the importance of growing up. In short, it is good for ourselves and those around us, and future generations as well. We live a little more responsibly. We are less caught up in blind projections and blindly seeking things from the wider world. We tend to be easier to get along with. We may make choices within a slightly larger perspective – even a global and long-time one.

It may be less easy to notice the importance of waking up. It doesn’t really bring that much more into the picture, beyond the growing up part. There is the final shift of identification out of our human self, and stories in general. There is a noticing of what we already and always are. There is the noticing of all as the play of awareness. But not much more.

So why even aim at waking up? It doesn’t seem to make much sense, from most perspectives.

Yet, for some of us, there is that yearning. Something that is not satisfied by the growing up process, of healing and maturing, as much as that in itself is rewarding and meaningful. There is something else going on for us. We just can’t help it.

Maybe that is why so many teachers – at least in Zen which I am most familiar with – say that if you can help it, don’t engage in a waking up process. Just live your life. Enjoy yourself! Only do it if you can’t help it.

And the can’t help it part doesn’t seem to have so much with the typical reasons people give for working on the waking up part. For me, at least, there is that quiet love for truth and existence. Something that can’t be helped. A very quiet and unyielding pull.

Motivations, and growing & waking up


  • I can clarify what I seek, and then funnel these motivations into either growing up or waking up.
  • I find that this sorting has to do with the effects of growing up and waking up, and also the effects of aiming at either.
  • The effects of growing up: Healing and maturing in my human life. Finding the wholeness and richness of my human self. A sense of self-reliance. Less caught up in blind projections. A relatively stable sense of quiet joy in life, no matter how it shows up.
  • The effects of waking up: What I am notices itself, already free from an I with an Other. This releases identification with whatever patterns were created from taking this human self as a separate I, and these patterns also wear off over time.
  • The effects of aiming at growing up: Gradual healing and maturing. Typically see good results. Relatively easy to find guidance and support from the culture.
  • The effects of aiming at waking up: May not happen at all, or only in glimpses. Can be discouraging, especially if the only goal is to wake up.
  • Split strategy: Clarify and funnel motivations into either growing and waking up, and use different strategies for each. If someone can only find interest in one or the other, this one works fine. But if they find both, it can be slightly inefficient.
  • All eggs in one basket strategy: Telling people that their motivation for getting something/anything will be satisfied by aiming at waking up. It may work well if people use tools and strategies that invite in both growing and waking up, and they don’t get discouraged if awakening doesn’t happen. But it may not work so well if people get discouraged in spite of progress in growing up, or it they use strategies and tools only aimed at waking up and not growing up. This strategy is quite common in the different traditions, but can also be risky.
  • Consolidated strategy: Clarify and funnel motivations into growing or waking up, and use strategies and tools that invite in both. (This may also work for those who can only find motivations for one or the other.)

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Hoping to get something out of it

I have been curious lately about people who seem bitter about spiritual practice. First, I found some sites talking about Byron Katie as a cult leader (!) and then the email from someone with a bone to pick in regards to nondual traditions.

So this is a good opportunity to come up with some projections to explore for myself.

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is always some truth to whatever folks are saying, so it is good to find it.

Then, why the bitterness? Well, if we go into anything thinking that we will actually get something out of it, we set ourselves up for disappointment. This may be especially true for spiritual practices, which are not at all aimed at getting us anything, quite the opposite.

I guess this goes back to the recent post on motivations for practice: If what we need and are looking for is to feel better about ourselves, it is more than sufficient to practice with the aim of maturing and finding more of our wholeness as a human being, and find practices aimed at that. But if we are drawn by a quiet love for truth or existence itself, then spiritual practice – with the aim of waking up – may be appropriate.

Also, whatever practice we do – whether aimed at feeling better about ourselves or waking up – it is helpful to also work with beliefs and projections directly. And these include any beliefs and projections we may have about teachers, teachings or whatever we think we may get out of it.

Can I find what I see out there also in here? If I hope to get something out of it, is it true that it is not already here? What are the truths in the reversals of the stories I go to as true?

Growing and waking up, and reasons for practice

Just to summarize the previous post…

To me, right now at least, it seems helpful to differentiate practice aimed at growing up (healing/maturing) and waking up (to what we are).

If my motivation and intention is to reduce suffering and find happiness – to get/compensate for/escape from something – it seems appropriate to emphasize a practice aimed at healing and maturing, finding my wholeness as who I am, this human self.

And if my motivation is truth and love –  a quiet curiosity or love of existence – it makes more sense to aim at waking up, inviting what I am to notice itself. (And also working at maturing which aids awakening, and helps it be expressed in a more fluid way.)

It can be helpful to sincerely investigate and clarify our real motivation. Although in real life, it doesn’t necessarily make that much difference, especially if we use tools that work simultaneously at both levels. The ones that help us grow up, and invite in a waking up as well.

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Reasons for practice at the levels of who & what we are

Somewhat convoluted…

I find different reasons for practice at the levels of who I am (this human self) and what I am (that which experience happens within, to and as).

At the level of who I am, the reasons for practice are healing and maturing. And at the level of what I am, inviting what I am to notice itself, the motivations are truth and love.

Right now, it seems helpful to differentiate the two.

At the level of who I am, I practice to heal and mature, and this reduces suffering and sets the stage for happiness. It invites in both, in a genuine way and to an extent that is sufficient for most of us.

The world is a mirror for me, so I find in my own human self what I see in the wider world. There is a sense of wholeness, embracing the (evolving) fullness of who I am, of self-reliance. I am not looking for people or situations for happiness, but carry it with me in my own wholeness.

So this alone is a pretty good reason for practice, and – as mentioned – quite enough for many of us.

But for some of us, finding this approximate wholeness as who we are, is still not quite enough. We see that it is an approximate wholeness, no matter how much we work on it, and there is still a sense of I-Other, of a subtle separation, of something not quite right, of something missing, of not quite being home yet.

So then there is the practice at the level of what we are, inviting what we are to notice itself more clearly. The motivation here is truth and love, finding the truth of what we are, and acting on our inherent love for existence itself. (Said in a glib way, there is the love of truth, and also the truth of love.)

I am not practicing to get, compensate for, attain, or escape from anything. I am just practicing to find what is really true, and to act on and deepen my love for existence itself. (Aka God, Brahman, Tao, etc.)

The good news here is of course that the practices – the tools – we use in either case often are the same.

The Work, the Big Mind process, allowing/being with experience, exploring the sense fields, choiceless awareness practice, and many more practices, all work on the levels of who we are (inviting in healing and maturing) and what we are (inviting what we are to notice itself more clearly). The relative emphasis of the two depends somewhat on how we do the practice and our intention.

And even if we start with motivations at the who level (healing, maturing, release from suffering, fining happiness), it may shift (or not) into the motivations at the what level (truth and love).

So for myself, when I see motivations relating to healing and maturing – and reducing suffering and finding happiness, I know they are motivations at the who level. And when I find motivations of truth and love, I see that they belong to the what level.

This is quite different from what I see in most spiritual groups and traditions I am familiar with, and I am not sure if it is just a matter of preference or if I am missing something here.

For me, if I saw someone wanting healing/maturing, I would recommend finding increasing wholeness as who they are. That in itself gives a quite deep release from suffering, and invites in a stable happiness. It may not be “complete” but it is really quite good.

And if I saw someone with truth and love as their main motivation, I would point them in the direction of inviting what they are to notice itself. Of course also including the who level, since working on that level makes it easier for what we are to notice itself, it makes it easier for our human self to function in the world, and when what we are notices itself, it makes it easier for it to express itself more fluidly through our human self.

I would not promote a practice with the intention of what we are to notice itself, if what the person seeks is release from suffering, and happiness. It wouldn’t be honest, since a practice aimed at wholeness at the who level is more than sufficient for this.

Come to think about it, that may be why most Buddhist groups – although their “mission statement” is at what level awakening – often emphasize healing/maturing at the who level. Most people come from the motivation of seeking healing/maturing, and that is exactly what most groups and teachers emphasize.

For the few suckers (like me, it seems) who can’t help it and really want to find the truth and act on their love, there is always the additional teachings, and the additional work that invites what we are into noticing itself.

There are the few more steps beyond the healing/maturing at the who level.

Doing it for ourselves

It is sometimes helpful to notice that whatever I am doing, I am doing it for myself. It brings me back into my own business, as Byron Katie would say.

A simple way of exploring this is to follow the chain of what do I hope to get out of it? For me, this usually leads back to something very simple such as happiness, and avoiding suffering.

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Doing it for myself

One of the guidelines in Breema is to do it for yourself. And as with so much else, it can be understood in many different ways.

Most immediately, it means doing it for myself when I give someone a Breema session. I make sure I move towards being more comfortable, and finding nourishment for myself in whatever I do.

Then, I can explore how I can find nourishment for myself in whatever I am doing in daily life. How can I do this so I am a little more comfortable? With mutual support? With no extra?

I can also explore how all I do already is for myself. I may tell myself I am doing something for others, but if I look, I see that it is already and always for myself.  I pay taxes, and really do it to avoid getting in trouble, and also because it benefits this society that I am part of, which in turn benefits me. If I do something to benefit what is inside my circle of “us”, I do it for myself. Even if I see it as helping others in different ways, it makes me feel good, so that too is for myself.

Seeing my motivations more clearly in this way has several outcomes. If I see that I really want to do something, my ambivalence may fall away. If I see that the motivation is not quite doing it, I can stop what I am doing or change it to make it more meaningful for me.

Is war neccesary to get things done?

There is an often unquestioned, and unnoticed, assumption that war is necessary to get things done. Not the type of wars we find in Iraq and other places, but the war within each of us, the war with reality.

There is a difference between our stories of what is and what should be, and the tension between these is what drives action. If this is all we know, or have noticed, then it can be difficult to image actions and engagement coming out of anything else.

Yet, when our attachment to even a single story is released, we come to see how life unfolds without war. An impulse comes up, and if there isn’t a good reason not to engage in it, we do it. All within a sense of ease, clarity, simplicity, intimacy with life.

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Reasons for practice, including becoming more fully human

There is a large number of reasons for practice and seeking awakening, and for each of us, which ones are in the foreground change over time, including over the very short and the longer time scales.

The typical ones are probably to escape the suffering of knots and exclusive identification with this human self, and the one on other side of the coin, which is to find a sense of coming home and quiet bliss.

And there are many other ones, such as getting another badge (sense of achievement, impressing someone, status), living up to shoulds (being a good person, doing what the traditions and teachers tells us to do), fears (escape from suffering, now and in the future), hopes (finding release, finding home), and also curiosity (what is really true, how is it all put together, who am I really), and finally, to be more fully who and what we (already) are.

At any stage in our process, it is probably helpful to explore what our current motivations are, and be honest with ourselves about it. Whatever they are is OK. Being familiar with what is here now is an important part of the process, so noticing our motivations is just a part of that.

For me, I find each of these motivations surfacing at different times, and probably many I can’t think of right now.

Sometimes, I practice to escape something. There is suffering or stress, and I know it comes from holding onto fixed views (beliefs) and resistance to experience, so I may do inquiry or be with what I am experiencing in a more heartfelt way.

More often, it is curiosity. What is really here? Who or what am I really? What is going on, how is this body-mind put together, how does it function, how does it relate to the wider world?

And if I am honest, it is even more about becoming more fully human. I have often felt like an outsider, so spiritual practice helps me allow and embrace my humanity more fully and more wholeheartedly, with all its quirks and oddities.

Practice for me is about inviting knots to untie themselves (belief-emotion-behavior conglomerates), examining beliefs to see what is already more true for me, allowing exclusive identifications to fall away, and being with experience as it is, even if it would never change.

And each of these allows me to more fully be who I am, as this human being, allowing it all, as it is. It helps me to own disowned parts. It is a way to become more familiar with more of the terrain of being a human being, alive today.

And these practices also invites what I really am to notice itself more clearly, it prepares the ground for Big Mind to notice itself, on its own time.

Embracing and discovering who I am, as this human being, and what I am, as the unmanifest inseparable from the manifest, are two sides of the same coin. Each allows for the other, and each allows a deepening into the other.

Attention going to knots

Another revisited theme: attention going to knots.

Knots are made up of beliefs and their corresponding emotions and habitual patterns, including behavioral ones. There is a belief in a story, a friction between the story of what is (or was, or may be) and this story, corresponding emotions, and certain behaviors.

And attention tends to go to these knots, which makes it more difficult for awareness to notice itself, and its content as awareness too. We notice it in everyday life, and also during sitting practice.

Why does attention go to knots?

There may be several ways of talking about it…

First, there is discomfort in several ways.

  • Whenever there is a belief, there is a discrepancy between what we are (awake void and form) and what we take ourselves to be (as defined by the belief and its corresponding identity), which brings a sense of uneasiness.
  • Whenever there is friction between our stories of what is and what should be, there is discomfort.
  • Whenever there is a belief, there is resistance to experience, which gives discomfort.

Then, an impulse to change the situation to relieve the discomfort.

  • We can narrow the gap between the story of what is and what should be, by changing what is or what should be.
  • We can change our relationship to the stories themselves, for instance by inquiring into them allowing a release of identification from them.
  • Or we can ignore the discomfort and the impulse to change one or both of the above, in which case the misery is likely to deepen. Also, if we only work on the first one, we are caught in the ongoing drama of what is and what should be, which is fine but also somewhat stressful.

And to change it, attention needs to go there.

Right here now, I can see these patterns play themselves out.

In one sense, it is all an invitation for awakening, for beliefs to be examined and unravel and Ground to notice itself. It is how Big Mind first “loses itself” by identifying with just an aspect of itself, how it gives itself an impulse and motivation for awakening, and also guides itself to awakening – back to noticing itself as Big Mind. These dynamics are three in one: forgetting, motivation for change, and a guide for awakening.

And in anther sense, it is an evolutionary mechanism which increases the chances of survival for the individual and the species. There is a discrepancy between what is (circumstances) and what should be (health and well-being of this individual and its group, so then an impulse to reduce this discrepancy, which in many cases – and appropriately so – means to change things in the world to create more favorable circumstances for this human self and its group.

So this simple dynamic has a beautiful complexity to it all around. Here and now, there is an infinite number of aspects and processes to explore. And in the bigger picture, we see how it is Big Mind forgetting about itself, seeking itself, and guiding itself to notice itself again. And also how it is a mechanism that increases the chances of survival for the individual and the species.

And exploring the two last ones, we also see that the survival aspect has (mostly) to do with changing circumstances, and the awakening aspect has to do with examining these dynamics themselves and also beliefs.

Both are essential in their own way, also in our own life.

Changing content or not?

This is a topic that has come up in conversation a few times recently… usually when I describe a pattern I notice in own experience, and the other saying something along the lines of “don’t try to change the content of experience”. It is good advice, but also a little too general and simplistic.

When I notice what is already more true for me about what is experienced, the content of experience does change… almost as an unintended side-effect.

An emotion of sadness comes up. I bring attention to it in an heartfelt way, and the character of the experience changes to a tender sweetness. (I see that the initial experience of sadness came from resistance to the experience, when when there was a more wholehearted allowing of it, the content of the experience reveals itself as different flavors of bliss.)

An emotion of irritability comes up. I bring attention to what is really there, and see that all there is is a sensation and a story about the sensation, which together make up the gestalt of irritability. By seeing this, in real time, the gestalt falls into its components, and there is simply a sensation recognized as sensation, and a story recognized as just a story. Again, the content of experience inevitably changes due to a more clear and differentiated seeing of what was already there.

An emotion of anger comes up. I identify the story behind it (she should be more careful), inquire into it (is it true, what happens when I believe it?, what happens without the story?, what are the truths in its turnarounds?), and again see in a more clear and differentiated way what is already more true for me. This invites the attachment to the story to fall away, and along with it the pattern of reactivity giving rise to the emotion. Again, the content inevitably changes simply from seeing what is already more true.

Of course, it does matter what the motivation behind it is… Do I explore experiences to see what is more true for me, or to change it? If I do it out of curiosity, to see what is revealed when I explore it, then a change of content is just a side-effect, and not really that important apart from something else to notice. If I do it to change content, I have an image of the outcome, and possibly also of how the process itself should look, which makes it a less sincere, genuine and open-ended investigation.

In that sense, the advice is a good one. But it is also important to allow the content itself to change on its own, as a consequence of whatever investigation we engage in.

Drives and motivations

There is a common perception, probably with roots in different romantic views, that trouble drives creativity.

Driven by beliefs and the shadow

It seems true in a limited way. If there are strong attachments to certain beliefs, and a correspondingly strong shadow, then these beliefs and shadows can certainly be a strong drive in our lives. Neurotic drives, often coming from fear.

I believe I am not lovable, and spend my life trying to find acceptance through creating a certain persona and achievements. I believe the world needs my insights and ideas, and spend my life developing and sharing them with the world.

There can be wonderful gifts here, but also a good deal of stress.

Motivated by wholeness, enjoyment and empathy

As we work with examining beliefs and recognizing projections, these belief- and shadow-driven motivations weaken and have less force. The go more into the background, and some may erode away completely.

Here, the motivations that come into the foreground may include curiosity, interest, enjoyment in exploration and manifestation, compassion, empathy, and the enjoyable surprise in discovering what comes out of me in the different ways I engage in the world.

This may correspond roughly to the centaur level in KW’s framework, where we find ourselves as the larger whole of body and psyche. It may also correspond to the green and second tier level, characterized by less of the fear driven motivations.

Spirit flowering

Then, as we find ourselves as soul and the witness, and even more so if there is an awakening to realized selflessness, there is a sense of personal motivations eroding allowing clear space for Spirit flowering through and as our human life.

In realized selflessness, seeing and seen arises with no I anywhere, allowing Spirit a more free and full manifestation in our human life (although there may still be traces of old identities and beliefs that limits this flow somewhat).


At each of these transitions, our old and familiar drives and motivations are less potent and convincing, they go into the background and may erode completely. At the same time, the new motivations may not yet have emerged clearly. It may take a while to reorient, allow these new motivations to come to the foreground, and become familiar with them and how they function in our life.


I notice a hesitancy in posting these days, as it all seems a little too obvious – and too general and too much of a repetition – to mention. But as it still comes up, I guess I need to hear it.

In doing the Byron Katie inquiries – and probably any other forms of inquiry – there can be several different agendas behind it.

There can be an intention to…

  • Hold onto the belief
    It seems too true, or too valuable, for me to question it. Or the implications of questioning it seem too wide-reaching. This seems to be a problem in the very beginning of inquiry, before we see – over and over – the release and clarity that comes out of it.

  • Get rid of the belief
    We either want a particular belief to go away, or – as in my case – any and all beliefs to go away. I notice that I sometimes inquire partly to uncover the dynamics around the belief, but also partly with the intention to have it go away.

  • Change the situation…
    miraculously, through inquiry. For instance, I may have an addiction I hope will clear up through inquiry, or money problems, health problems, relationship problems and so on.

I notice that when these are present for me there is also a discomfort throughout the inquiry. And this discomfort is a sign that there are underlying beliefs about inquiry waiting to be explored through inquiry.

These underlying beliefs about inquiry…

  • Prevents me from staying with the inquiry
    A part of me keeps the intention in mind, compares whatever comes up with this desired outcome, analyzes whatever comes up in the light of this desired outcome, and so on. There is a whole level of filtering and processing going on which clouds over the simplicity of it.

  • Filter the content of inquiry
    They filter what comes up, possibly leaving out that which appears to not fit with the desired outcome. They also cloud over the simple seeing of what comes up.

  • Clouds it over
    In general, it clouds over the simplicity of the inquiry, and the clear seeing of what comes up.

It seems that these intentions are typically more strongly present early on in doing inquiry.

As we become more familiar with inquiry, we start trusting the process and the clarity and wisdom that comes out of it. There is no need to add anything to the inherent simplicity of the process. And as we inquire into these underlying beliefs about inquiry, they tend to clear up as well.

Over and over, I see the effects of the process – and that it is simple. There is no need to add anything to it. I find a simple statement, I ask four questions and turn the statement around, and I do this with sincerity, a curiosity about the dynamics of this particular belief, a curiosity about what comes up as really true for me, and an interest in allowing it all to sink in – allowing it all to be simply seen.

And in this, I find – over and over – that the natural and inherent wisdom, clarity and compassion of mind takes over, allowing it all to reorganize, unfold, untie, unravel, in whatever way it needs to.