Sabotaging Ourselves

burn the ladder

In psychological parlance, the term “cognitive dissonance” refers to the mental stress and consequent dysfunction experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or who holds a belief and nevertheless performs a contradictory action or reaction. For example, an individual is likely to experience dissonance if he or she is addicted to a destructive habit (such as drugs or alcohol) and continues to indulge that addiction, despite the fact that they know it is seriously harming them and their relations.

In her remarkably insightful book “Application of Impossible Things”, Natalie Sudman employs the term “Contraries” to describe that same process in which we sabotage ourselves by holding simultaneous contradictory beliefs. To illustrate how that happens, she uses the example of someone who desires to attain wealth, but also carries a hold-over belief from their early Christian indoctrination regarding how difficult it would be for a rich man to get into heaven — a challenge comparable to a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. As a result, their belief undermines their intent, and they fail to achieve the financial success they desire.

The point here is that our thoughts are energetic phenomena that create effects. All that we experience is the result of attention combined with intention. If there is some kind of internal conflict in that regard, we will invariably reap confusion and suffering. Indeed, this condition of internal discord is at the source of much of our frustration with life, wherein we are prevented by our own conflicted thoughts from accomplishing our goals and fulfilling our purpose.

monkey mind

In my essays “As We Think” and “How To Change”, I investigate the power of thought in the creation of our life and environs, but in this consideration I am exploring how we specifically sabotage ourselves in our life and relations by clinging (either consciously or unconsciously) to contradictory thought forms.

In his monumental opus “I Am That”, Nisargadatta Maharaj made a keen observation on this subject when he said:

“The real world is beyond the mind’s ken; we see it through the net of our desires, divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes. Look to the net and its many contradictions. You do and undo at every step. You want peace, love, happiness and work hard to create pain, hatred and war. You want longevity and overeat, you want friendship and exploit. See your net as made of such contradictions and remove them – your very seeing them will make them go.”

In other words, if we wish to align harmoniously with our heart’s deepest yearning, we must first inspect our motives to the point of recognizing where the contradictions lie. For those of us who have visited the many shops in the spiritual marketplace, we might notice that as a result of these visits we are now carrying around a big stew of conflicting messages. For example, we are attracted to the concept that we are already free, that everything is perfect, and that there is nothing to do, and yet we have to strive for liberation and practice as if our hair is on fire; or that there is a true and immortal Self, and yet it is all a dependently arising mental projection; or that we must become detached and aloof, but also compassionately engaged; or that there is only consciousness, and yet the truth is beyond consciousness, and so forth and so on.

Furthermore, merely becoming cognizant of the contradictions, though a good first step, is going to be rather ineffectual in terms of real transformation, unless we follow up by thoroughly rooting them out. In other words, clear seeing requires a component of actualization in the way we live and act. That is the art of life, and calls for a mature and balanced vigilance. By combining unswerving attention plus intention, there is nothing that we cannot do, but that demands a purity that does not come easily to the human animal. However, by resorting to the expanded awareness available to us as immortal spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting these human bio-vehicles, we can tap into the resources we need to release our cognitive and emotional knots and fulfill our purpose for incarnating here.

heart bu

In any application of that conscious process of recognition and liberation, we will eventually have to confront and acknowledge the limitations inherent in any self-image we hold about ourselves. Indeed, it is only our self-centered story (the narrative of me & mine) which we are always trying to assert and defend that stands in our own way. Certainly, even our most positive self-images ultimately need to be relinquished, if we are to truly awaken to who and what we really are. Nevertheless, in regard to cognitive dissonance, it is our negative self-image which obstructs many of us on our journey. As the American spiritual teacher Adyashanti points out:

“When most people begin to come into contact with the true nature of their own self, they have such a hard time accepting that they could naturally be something positive and beautiful. In the West, many people struggle with negative self-image. I have seen that negative identity held onto even in the midst of profound revelation. It so easily contracts back into, ‘It couldn’t be me. It couldn’t be who I am; it’s just too good.’ [There is] an unwillingness to admit that all the avenues that we try to pursue to make us happy don’t ultimately end in happiness. Yet, we continue to insist that they do in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”


Once we understand where the dis-connect originates, we can begin the process of clarifying our intent. Otherwise, we will forever be at the mercy of uninspected elements of the psyche, aspects of our being that clash and generate stress and dissatisfaction. In any case, there are no victims. By our choices we created the conditions for dissonance, even if it involved something as seemingly unavoidable as buying into the fear and guilt-based religious stories we were told as innocent and receptive young children. Since the disturbance is ultimately our own creation, it is also our responsibility to both recognize it at its root, and then to let go of it, as part of the conscious process.

Because these areas of dissonance are typically buried at the core of our assumptions about life, we must delve deeply into that core to root them out. The practice of True Inquiry can address them systematically, but to activate such a process requires both persistence and consistence – it cannot be accomplished half-heartedly. If we are truly interested in freedom, we need to tap into our natural devotion. In other words, sincerity and determination cannot be faked. Earnestness is not a superimposed artifice, but must arise from a core impulse to awaken to our true nature, which also includes recognizing all of our forms of avoidance.

head in sand

Fortunately, we are each and every one of us endowed with just such an impulse, or else we would not have put ourselves into such challenging and potentially rewarding circumstances as these human incarnations. Although enlightenment is indeed our prior condition, we have set that aside to enter into these human births, with all the amnesia that entails, just for the enjoyment and thrill of expanding our self-awareness to the point of re-cognizing our true nature, again and again. From our human perspective, we might scratch our heads at such a proposition, but what we are is much greater than the human mind could ever hope to comprehend.

When we hear the phrase “God works in mysterious ways”, we can understand that the “God” referred to is actually who and what we are. It is only accumulated knots of contraction such as cognitive dissonance which impede and obscure that recognition. Thus, as part of the conscious process of re-discovering ourselves – our true nature and bliss — we are called by our Whole Being to see through and release all such limiting and contradictory beliefs, ideas, and assumptions.

balloon head

Nor need it be some grim slog through layers of psychological muck. Rather, it can be a deeply enjoyable process, if we approach it with humor and humility. That means to not take ourselves so seriously. Someday, we may come to the happy recognition that it is all good, all of it. As Ramana Maharshi smilingly noted: “A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.”

In the meantime, it helps to remember that whatever appears is mind. Moreover, whatever stories or thoughts are arising in our mind right now, we can also recognize that there is an awareness of them. If there is an awareness of them, then it follows that we are not the thought, not the story, but rather that spaciousness in which the whole drama is appearing. In other words, we can take one step back, in a manner of speaking, to a purely witnessing position. I say “in a manner of speaking”, because ultimately awareness is inseparable from experience, just as the ocean and the wave are indivisible. However, by assuming the temporary witness position, we can provide a fresh perspective and also give ourselves some space from the clinging and fixating activity of our conflicted consciousness, and its troubling case of mistaken identity with all that is impermanent, or non-self.

Now, we have often heard the suggestion from meditation teachers to “look at that which is looking”. Of course, this suggestion will stimulate the mind to try and turn back on itself, like the eye trying to see itself. However, can the mind ever make an object of itself? If the perceived cannot perceive, then any motion on the part of the mind to grasp itself instantly creates a false duality. After all, the mind cannot be used to grasp mind, nor can awareness make an object of itself in order to realize itself. All of the various so-called “spiritual” efforts to do so are in effect mental strategies that only serve to prolong one’s sense of dilemma, contributing to more cognitive dissonance and frustration.

Interestingly, when that fact is directly seen, then there can follow a spontaneous letting go, and paradoxically, in that surrender of the struggle, our true nature – what we truly are — emerges from the background to shine as the presence of awareness itself. That is also the moment when all past efforts are seen for what they were, provoking the humorous response that Ramana alluded to in the quote above. Indeed, in that timeless moment, we have finally ceased to sabotage ourselves, and now can get on with the adventure of this life, freed from self-conflicted programs of the search to become what we already are.



About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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22 Responses to Sabotaging Ourselves

  1. January Springs says:

    Thank you. The tears come to the surface but do not flow yet freely.

    ‘By combining unswerving attention..’ Could this be true?


    So much hit home, it is where I am. Deeply realised with insights and as helpless and unhappy as a fish on the shore.


    • Bob OHearn says:

      Thank you for your kind appreciation, January!

      Closing the gap between our recognition and our functioning is an art and life-long practice. This life is a wonderful opportunity in that regard, and we are all very brave and inspiring to just show up!


      • January Springs says:

        Are you serious? lol Bob, you said that this place is a kindergarten for naughty kids. How could that be brave and it sounds like most people didn’t even have a choice.

        I am reading your other two posts. Thank you. Thank you so much. You really do know your words, old buddy.

        Bow and blessings in return.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        Yes, it is a kindergarten for some, a prison for others, and even a tourist destination for a few, but for anyone who does take form here, and for whatever reason, they are still worthy of admiration. This may seem like a paradox to our human logic, but I assure you, it makes perfect sense from the point of view of expanded awareness. For example, once you experience yourself as pure energy, out of the body, you can appreciate what an admirable feat it is to have to get around in the cumbersome human body, but everyone does it, so congratulations to us all!

        Thank you for your kind appreciation, January!


  2. Candace says:

    Dear Brother,

    Thank you for this post. The term vigilance pops up again :-).

    Love & Blessings,

  3. Yes!! Thanks for this Bob. I’ve shared at Tao & Zen…

  4. marcel says:

    Thank you Brother!

  5. January Springs says:

    Bob, would you speak a bit about the heart’s deepest desires – could this be a desire for happiness, joy, a useful life?

    Thank you!

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Hi January!

      Doesn’t it make sense that, before one embarks on some lifetime adventure, one takes the time to examine what they really want? That would seem obvious, eh, but yet many folks enter into a spiritual life practice or commitment based on something they heard or read that caught their fancy, without really inquiring into their own core desires and motives.

      On the other hand, once we are able to gain some clarity on what we really want, then it is much easier to direct the power of our consolidated intention plus attention, without distraction or detour.

      Again, in order to gain such clarity, it will typically take some earnest investigation, which can be greatly aided by the discipline of silence.

      Additionally, since it is a human trait to fantasize, we need to be able to be totally honest with ourselves, and cut through our own idealism as well as the borrowed certainties of others, no matter how authoritative they may appear.

      Begin by asking yourself what you really want, and don’t accept the easy conceptual answers your mind might initially propose. Go deeper, and when you hit the mark, you will know it.


  6. January Springs says:

    Blessings, Bob and thank you so much again !

    Hmm regarding the spiritual beginnings, mine was quite by “chance”. There was a time I wanted to commit suicide and as I became overwhelmed that day, I decided to try some musings I had read by a Buddhist follower. That led me to a moment when I saw the whole world light up..and a little more. Well a few more of these things and I was hooked. (laughs)

    But to the rest of what you say. .. Yes I live my life without questioning it or maybe not daring to – hoping the winds will take me the right way. I still do, to be honest.

    Thank you and deep bows.

    Blessings to you and yours, hrtbeat7, Bob! And a virtual hug!


  7. January Springs says:

    Thank you again.



  8. marcel says:

    Deep bows to the You the Nameless, I appreciate the endless journey with no place to start from, I’m blessed by your guidance.

    “Salutations to all drowned
    and drowning ones, my Dears”

    “And all men will be sailors then, until the sea shall free them” 🙂

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “Overcoming your low self-esteem is really a matter of examining the thoughts that you have and learning to change them, or attune them to the resonance of a different attitude. These thoughts create the value system through which you build your entire human experience upon. These consciousness value systems functions like energy currents which resonate sound frequencies throughout your biological and etherical systems. If you are not sustaining healthy thoughts and perceptions of your own self-worth, the energy systems will circulate frequencies and vibrations within you which harbour gravitational attractions of imaginary fears. Understand fear is a by-product of imagination; it is a feature of human consciousness produced by memory fragments which are attached to specific negative values. This is to say, your thoughts have attached specific values to specific memory images (imaginations) and retained them within your consciousness makeup. These value attachments you then carry around with you in your life journey and often haunt you with phobias and other paralysing reactions. As you go about your daily life, the outside environment with which you interact sometimes stimulates such memory images and value attachments in your consciousness, which then invoke sudden panic attacks or other states of fear.

    What you must learn to do to dissolve these adopted fear responses is to examine your own value systems which you are attaching to your own thoughts, and those of past events you retain in memory. This means you may find it beneficial to examine past memory events and dissect the value structures you attach to those experiences. If when examining these past memory events you discover negative or fear-based values attached to them, you will want to understand where those values have come from. As you examine the memory, perceive in this examination that you have the capacity to apply other values and interpretations to those images in mind, those experiences, and recognise you are able to juggle a whole spectrum of thoughts and attitudes to not only heal, but to redefine and reintegrate that memory back into your consciousness on a whole new level of understanding and acceptance.

    Learn of your innate ability as a bundle of consciousness that you are, to reaffirm different thoughts, different attitudes and different values to activity which occurs in mind. Within this process your emotional well-being will become far more stable and supportive with your internal value structure and state of self-worth.”


  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now—otherwise you would not be here. Hence the infinite Tao is something which you can neither escape by flight nor catch by pursuit; there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So become what you are.”

    ~Alan Watts

  11. Simply SPLENDID dear Bob – tough love, compassionate clarity. Thank you!

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “To know that you are a prisoner of your mind, that you live in an imaginary world of your own creation is the dawn of wisdom. To want nothing of it, to be ready to abandon it entirely, is earnestness.”

    “Until you are free of the drug of self-identification, all of your religions and sciences, prayers and yogas, are of no use to you, for based on a mistake, they strengthen it.”

    ~Sri Nisargadatta

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