The sobering effect of working on ourselves

Many of us are probably familiar with both of these. At times, we may take pride in knowing a bit about spiritual dynamics and pointers. And when we actually apply them and work on ourselves, it’s sobering.

It’s sobering in a very good way.

We are focused on actually applying it and allowing it to work on ourselves, instead of displaying anything to ourselves and others. At least, in the moment when we apply it.

We get to see that reality is far more complex, messy, and unpredictable than any idea or theory. A map is often simple and clear. The terrain is often messy, confusing, and complex.

We get to see that it requires far more from us when we apply it and invite it to work on us and transform us. Understanding a map is simple, applying it demands a lot – and eventually everything – from us.

We get to see that we can only apply it imperfectly.

We may discover how much there is to work on in ourselves. For most of us, there is an apparently endless amount of hangups, emotional issues, identifications, wounds, and so on. And each of these inevitably color our perception and life.

We may find that there are some areas of us, triggered by some situations and areas of life, we are unable to deal with very well. We may be unable to effectively work with deep trauma and fear in ourselves, at least consistently and whenever it comes up.

We may discover that our familiar tools and approaches don’t always work, or don’t work as they did, especially when deeper layers of hangups and wounds come to the surface. It brings us back to being a beginner.

We may realize that we don’t know what’s left to discover in ourselves, including when it comes to wounds, hangups, and trauma.

We may keep noticing that others, who may have far less knowledge than us about these things, may be far ahead of us in certain areas of life. They may live more from their heart. They may have everyday wisdom that goes beyond our own. They may live in a more straightforward and kind way. They may be more genuinely realistic about themselves. They may live in a way that seems to more directly benefit the larger whole. And so on.

We get to see that we are in the same boat as everyone else, in several different ways. Whatever story we have about anyone or anything in the world, we can turn it around it to ourselves and find where and how it applies – as much or more. We may discover that the world, to us, happens within our sense fields and literally within and as what we are.

We may find there is always further to go in all areas of healing and awakening. In that sense, we are always beginning.

Awakening and healing is sobering

Along with any of the other ways we can describe healing and awakening, it also has a sobering quality.

When a part of us is caught up in a painful belief (AKA identification with the viewpoint of a story, an emotional issue, a hangup, trauma), it’s caught up in its own frightening fantasies about the world. Seeing through this is sobering.

We examine the painful stories and find what’s more true for us. We welcome, allow, and get to know this part of us. We see its innocence and that it’s here to protect us. We find genuine love for it. We recognize that its nature is the same as everything else in our world.

All of this is, along with any other way we want to describe it, sobering. This part of us wakes up from its scary dream.

This process is the same for psychological healing as a human self and noticing what we more fundamentally are. In both cases, we heal out of a painful fantasy.

And it is really just about healing parts of us. When there is an identification with these parts, it feels like we are healing as a whole.

And the healing involves recognizing that it is a part of us, not even close to the whole of who and what we are.

The sobering quality of the small interpretation of awakening

What are we in our own first-person experience? Are we most fundamentally this human self? Or are we more fundamentally, in our own experience and to ourselves, something else?

What I find is that my nature is capacity for whatever is in my experience – this human self, the wider world, etc., and I am what my experiences happen within and as. My nature is capacity, oneness, and – from there – love and stillness & silence. (And using the words “I” and “my” is a convention and inherently misleading since any “I” and “me” happens within and as this.)

Since the world, to me, happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear as if the world is what I am…. consciousness, a seamless whole, love, and so on. Whether it actually is or not, is not something I easily can say something about.

This is independent of any worldviews or ideologies. It’s just a noticing. And it’s compatible with a range of worldviews.

This is also what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. The essence of what we discover – and what we live from if we chose to – is the essence of what mystics from all the main spiritual traditions have reported, and also those outside of spiritual traditions. And we are cautious about assuming that our own nature is the nature of all of existence.

I like this way of looking at awakening since it’s intellectually honest, and it may make awakening more accessible to those who don’t have a spiritual worldview or inclination.

Already, it’s sobering. We are honest about what we find for ourselves, and hold back from drawing any big conclusions beyond what we can easily say something about.

It’s also sobering in another way.

My life is still the same. I still have a life to live, as best I can. I still have the same challenging situations in life to deal with. I still have to be a good steward for my life. I cannot so easily tell myself otherwise, based on some religious or spiritual idea about karma, fate, that all will be good after I die, that it’s all guided by the divine, and so on. I have to rely on myself and live my life the best I can.

I prefer to have some fluidity and shift between the small (psychological) and big (spiritual) views on awakening. The small keeps me more sober and grounded, and the big opens things up and can be more inspiring.

Read More

Fire & Brimstone

Life has some sobering aspects to it, and so does spiritual practice, and absence of spiritual practice.


Everything that can be lost will be lost.

This experience is gone as soon as it’s here, whether I like it or not, whether I try to hold onto it or not.

We inevitably get what we think we don’t want, don’t get what we think we want, and lose what we have that we think we want.

Everyone and everything I cherish will be gone. My loved ones will die. I will die.

Earth will end. Humanity will end. The Universe will end.

We are heading straight into an ecological bottleneck of our own making. We are getting the consequences of a worldview and way of life that doesn’t take ecological realities into account.

There is war. Suffering. Illness. Death.

No spiritual practice.

When mind identifies with thought, and takes it as true, we perceive and live as if it’s true. Suffering is inherent in this, and even synonymous with it.

Living from a perception of mainly or exclusively being this human self creates and is suffering.

Spiritual practice.

Awakening includes having to face ones wounds, traumas, and a very primal dread and terror.

Awakening  includes life setting up situations that requires us to live from our realization. If we don’t, we get the consequences and still can’t avoid having to do it at a later point.

Awakening requires us to chose our guidance over our shoulds and fears. Here too, we get the consequences of not doing it, and can’t escape having to more consistently living from our guidance at some point.

Seeing this, we also see that there is “no way out” but to find peace with what’s here. Allow it, and notice it is allowed. Welcome it. Find love for it, and notice it is love. And see through it. See how the mind creates the appearances, and the nature of delusion, and the nature of reality.

Also, each of these ideas are here to be questioned. Can I find the validity in the reversals of these ideas, with concrete and real examples from my own experience? Can I find life, death, suffering, illness, pain – when I examine immediate experience?

Read More

Sobering process

I usually don’t use the word spirituality, and I see that most of what I explore and write about here can be given that label.

Spirituality as an escape. Spirituality – as anything else – can be used to find comfort or as an escape, and I do that sometimes. I find comfort in “spiritual” images of reality or the future. I distract myself from uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and situations through “spiritual” things such as prayer, meditation, inquiry or writing here. And there is nothing wrong there. It’s innocent. It’s confused love. And what I can do is notice my stressful thoughts, inquire into them, and find what’s more true for me.

Spirituality as sobering. Spirituality can also be quite sobering. If I see Spirit as reality, then spirituality is a conscious alignment with reality. It’s an exploration of what’s honest for me in an ordinary human sense, and in my immediate experience.

The Work is often quite sobering. It helps me see how I have lived my life from believing a thought, how may life may be without it, and I find my own practical advice for how to live my life. All of it is sobering.

It’s sobering to meet and open to certain experiences, such as physical pain or uncomfortable emotions. I may have avoided these for most or all of my life, and now there is a 180 degree turn to opening to them. That too is often quite sobering. I get to see my tendency to avoid certain experiences, how I have lived my live by avoiding them, and what’s there to feel and experience.

It’s sobering to find love for my “enemies”, for people, situations and experiences I believe my thoughts about, and wish were not there. I may find love through ho’o, prayer, tonglen, the Big Mind/Heart process, and other approaches, and may also notice it’s all already love. I get to see how I have lived and live from confused love (resentment, anger, frustration, grief). I get to see how it’s to live from a more clear love, and perhaps from recognizing myself and all as already love. And I get to see my fears and beliefs in shifting from the former to the latter, and can take these to inquiry.

It’s sobering that experiences – states, emotions, situations – always change. It brings my fears and thoughts to the surface. I get to see thoughts telling me some things as good and desirable, and other things as bad and undesirable, and the struggle I create for myself when I believe those thoughts.

It’s sobering that people, situations and life itself appears to “require” something of me. Again, I get to see what’s left. I get to see my own wounds, fears and beliefs. I get to see which thoughts I still hold as true, even if it’s mainly at an emotional level.

It’s sobering that reality already allows it all – this situation, these emotions, this pain, these images and thoughts, this identification. Seeing this, I get to see where I am not consciously or emotionally aligned with reality. I get to see what’s left for me. I get to see my wounds, fears and beliefs. The thoughts I hold onto as true, which makes me think that what’s here is wrong, it’s not good, it’s not Spirit.

If spirituality is a more conscious alignment with reality – with all as Spirit – then spirituality is, by definition, sobering.

Read More

Sobering process

I keep coming back to how the process of growing and waking up is a process of sobering up as well.

It is a process of clarifying stories, of finding what is more true for me than beliefs. And in this process, there is a falling away of hopes and fears, of illusions of stories having truths in them other than as practical guidelines, helpful sometimes and not so helpful other times.

It is a process of maturing in the most ordinary ways.

Read More


I am reading Daniel Ingram’s book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, which is a sobering experience for me. At a general level, nothing is new, but the level of detail and practicality is beyond what I have found other places. Also, it reads far more as a manual exclusively for awakening than most other books, which is refreshing.

And when he asks the reader to examine their own attitudes about some of the topics he writes about, I find everything he points to as less than helpful views. How did those get formed? For me, I think it happened because I have looked for teachers and teachings who can address things at this level of specificity, but have not quite found it. (Or maybe I didn’t see it, or wasn’t receptive to it.)

This goes especially for the dark night, which – according to what he writes about it – could run its course much faster with right guidance and practice. I had neither when I went through it, and didn’t even know it was a dark night or that others went through it as well.

It is easy to tell myself stories about how it was necessary and so on, which is true of course. In the inner/outer situation I was in, it couldn’t have been much different, and there are certainly gifts in what happened.

But it is also true that with the right guidance and practice, the process could have unfolded with much greater speed and ease.