Difficulties, Distractions & Obstacles

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

What I’m actually doing when I meditate…

What I like to think I’m doing when I meditate…

What I like to think I am doing when I meditate…
What I’m actually doing when I meditate…

The 4 Dimensions of our being

I probably don’t need to tell you how difficult it can be to stay mindful sometimes…. if you are here, you already know that the mind seems to have a life of its own, and sometimes we are simply along for the ride. This is in part due to the mind thinking it is in charge for so long. Until we realize we have an option, we are the apparent victim of its narratives, whims, outburst. And as long as we are obedient to the mind, we will never truly find peace.

The good news is, as we’ve discovered through both research and personal experience, is that we have the power to intervene and reorganize our inner power structure to more accurately and effectively reflect the four dimensions of our being. You might think of it this way…. Spirit is the highest intelligence within us, therefore it is ultimately responsible for the mind, emotions and body. Mind works for spirit. Mind can never replace, nor become more important than spirit… it is always subservient to Spirit. Mind then reflects downward through our emotions and body….. and of course, emotions reflects downward into the body.

All of these dimension of our being are important and function harmoniously when in balance. Through practicing mindfulness and meditation, we begin to cultivate a hospitable and receptive environment in our lower dimensions (body, emotions, mind), so that we can perceive and experience Spirit with less and less distortion…. we begin to experience a greater sense of peace.

The Mind of the Aspirant

Based on the teaching of Swami Sivananda in his book, Sadhana

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

People who sincerely take to the spiritual path and begin to do systematic sadhana (mindfulness/meditation) find themselves face to face with certain peculiar difficulties and disappointing experiences. This may dismay and discourage the beginner. But these problems and obstacles are common to many aspirants. Therefore it is important to know abot them, to have a proper understanding of the methods of overcoming them.

  1. Preconceived ideas: the conflict between what is imagined, and what is real

    • Beginners often are disappointed by what they thought spiritual life was supposed to be… smiling and peace all the time. But the truth is, it is meant to be a challenge. And the friction from these challenges is what helps us to grow. Not only is it not all love and peace, but our teachers are human too. And the mind, ever quick to discount pointing towards anything other than itself, will be quick to discredit the validity of the teacher and their teachings.

    • The ego/mind will also constantly trying to generate an identity for itself, because in truth it is a non-identity. What is real does not have to prove its own existence. No striving is actually necessary. It takes persistence to overcome the mental tendencies of the mind that support the false identity. Consider this… what is known, we cannot be.

    • Sometimes aspirants also enter the path thinking that someone other than themselves will do the work for them… will save them. This thinking tends to paralyze us on our path. The reality is, we must do Sadhana (mindfulness/meditation) CONSTANTLY to move beyond the mind, or we will easily be caught up in the reality of its making. The truth of the path is that it is a very scientific path that when followed, purifies the mind.

  2. Miscellaneous thoughts and ideas of duty: the mind de-prioritizes practice

    • Curiously enough, as long as we are not doing any sadhana, or thinking of pursuing the spiritual path, no such idea of duty tends to bother us. More likely, we are indifferent or even negligent toward duties to work and kin. But when questions of sadhana and spiritual life come, the mind with say, ‘you have duties towards your family’.

    • Sadhana is absolutely essential for us to progress on the path, and further, without practice we will lose what we have already attained. We must make time for our practice and honour it at any cost. i.e., do not miss a morning practice because of travel.

  3. Resistance from friends and loved ones: pressure from others derails practice

    • When beginning on the spiritual path, friends and loved ones with attachment to you remaining the same, may provide opposition to all things spiritual. Even a simple meditation practice can generate a fear of change in others, and cause small or large acts of resistance to our path. This has the tendency to want to snuff our the little bit of aspiration we have when we start.

    • Remember not to push or preach to loved ones, instead practice acceptance and compassion for where they are on their own path. Stay strong, do not waver in your practice and if the time eventually arrives when they too are draw towards the spiritual path, they will know they can come to you for guidance.

  4. The mind is unwilling to follow the discipline: mind tries to resist & undermine value of practice

    • Discipline is a central focus of spiritual practice. It is like a ‘bitter pill’ that only later on will we fully understand just how good it is for us. It is a long process, like an archeological dig, of purifying all the many layers in the mind.

    • When we go into meditation, the mind beings to externalize or go outside to think, as the mind is sure that happiness lies in the objects outside itself. It is restless in its constant search for happiness and jumps from one thing to the next. We must go within to the subtler and subtler levels of the mind, tuning like a radio. The subtler we move with the mind, the closer we get to the core of our being. Bringing the mind in, is discipline.


4 Common Types of Self Talk

adapted from MBSR Every Day, Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by Elisha Goldstein PhD, Bob Stahl PhD


The Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California says that a person has about seventy thousand thoughts per day. Whether that is true or not, one thing you can be certain of is that the mind never stops thinking, analyzing, and trying to figure things out. It doesn’t matter whether you’re awake or asleep; the wheels keep turning. Our minds work just like a movie—in both images and words. Some of us think more often in images, while others experience more talking, and for some it’s a good mix of both. The interesting thing is that most of the time, we’re not even aware of what’s going on in our minds.

When you begin to bring mindfulness to thoughts, one thing you notice is some kind of “self-talk” going on—you’re talking to yourself. As we bring a beginner’s mind to it, we can’t help but notice how unbelievably hard we are on ourselves so much of the time. We say things that we would never say to a friend: What is wrong with me? or I’m such an idiot or I’ll never get this right. Over time, we notice how mood distorts the thoughts in one direction or another. When we’re in a good mood, the frequency and intensity of the negative thoughts lighten. Maybe we even notice ourselves thinking, I’m brilliant! And when there is more emotional distress, the negative thoughts become more intense and frequent.

Just intentionally being curious about how your mind works and even labeling certain categories of thoughts widens the space between awareness and the thoughts themselves. In that space is where your choice and freedom live.

But like all things, these mental formations have a life span, appearing and disappearing. Bringing mindfulness to our thoughts not only helps us become more familiar with the way our minds automatically operate but also frees us from having these thoughts dictate who we are and what we believe. You are not your thoughts—not even the ones that tell you that you are.

Image by Tristen Lewis

Image by Tristen Lewis


What’s on your mind?

From time to time today, ask yourself the simple question, What is on my mind? Do you notice that you are thinking mostly in images, words, or both? After being aware of one thought, ask yourself: I wonder what thought will come up next? Be curious about how your mind is so quick to judge yourself and other people. Do you notice how these various mind states—thoughts and images—are constantly changing?

Here are a few categories of thoughts that you may find your mind drifting into:

  • Catastrophizing—This is the mind’s “what if” game. It snowballs the worst-case scenario of the future with worried thoughts: What if this happens? What if that happens? These thoughts amplify anxiety and depression.

  • Blaming—This is a mind trap in which some uncomfortable feeling is expelled by holding ourselves responsible for another’s pain or holding others responsible for our pain. The problem here is that when you perceive the 
issue as lying outside of you, you give your power away to effect change.

  • Rehashing—This is when our thoughts reflect on past circumstances, going over them again and again, often in an effort to figure something out.

  • Rehearsing—This is the mind practicing some future event, playing through, again and again, the possible ways it may unfold.

Just intentionally being curious about how your mind works and even labeling certain categories of thoughts widens the space between awareness and the thoughts themselves. In that space is where your choice and freedom live.


Discovering Your Symbology

* Recommended in order to be prepared for week 4 painting


Symbols have been used to tell stories throughout human history. However at this point in our collective evolution we do not share one set of symbols with universal meaning. Some symbols may have wider appeal, like stars, hearts, birds, and moons. While other symbols are more personal, as we touch in to the deepest parts of our own hearts and discover the unique stories, energies, purpose and meaning within each of us. 

As we develop relationships with the symbols we are drawn to, we begin to learn our heart’s unique visual language with us. Soon shapes begin to take on new meaning and importance when they show up time and time again in your life, like markers on your spiritual path urging you forward.

The purpose of this activity is to begin to cultivate your own symbol system... in particular, to begin to reveal the symbols wanting to support and participate in your creative inner journey. In your journal or sketchbook, begin doodling shapes that come to mind. Notice what shapes want to be repeated, played with and developed, allowing yourself to be responsive to your inner impulse without censorship. Don't know how to draw something? Google image it.

Fill 1-2 pages with symbols and simple doodles. Notice themes, like nature, cosmic, things that are red... 

Contemplate what these symbols or themes mean to you. What stories do they tell you? What do they tell you about yourself? Your process? Your future?


Meditation Practice

This week we are aiming for a sitting practice of 20 minutes per day. If sitting for 15 minutes per day was manageable last week, go ahead and try increasing the length of your practice to 20 minutes. If 15 minutes was challenging, stick with this length for now, or simply add one minute to whatever your current practice time is, for the next week.

Again, In this recording I guide you into the practice, setting you up with a good seated position, breathing and focus. Silence. And at the end of 20 minutes I bring you back out of the practice with three OMs.



Writing practice


This week will are exploring that which gets between us and our practice of mindfulness and meditation. Rest assured you are far from alone in experiencing blocks, distractions and difficulty in maintaining a solid practice. Making visible these difficulties can help us more quickly identify when they arise. And further, knowing these tendencies we begin to develop the ability to de-identified with them, and persevere when faced with them.

Take a few moments to reflect and journal on these inquiries…

What are my greatest challenges I am working on within myself currently?

How have I coped with these challenges in the past? Without judgement, what coping mechanisms have you used in the past that did you help? (i.e., tv, sex, substance use, food, etc.)

What practices have worked for you? What are your personal obstacles that interfere with your practice?

What kind of commitment to this practice are you ready to make today? (think very doable commitments to begin and let it grow as you develop in the practice)

Why is committing to this practice important for you? What kind of life are you hoping to move toward?


Yoga Suggestions 

Tree Pose

  • Cultivates a steady body and calm mind

  • Promotes self discipline

  • Helps to motivate us to work towards our goals even if there are many obstacles in our way

  • strengthening & enhances will power

(click here for full instructions)

Fish Pose 


Child's Pose

  • Calms the mind and relieves stress

  • Diffuses anger

  • Invites you inward to find peace

  • Soothes anxiety

(click here for full instructions)


Painting Review

* Begin by choose 3 colours light/medium/dark (colour palette is still not important)

* Using a hog hair brush on the larger size that fits the spaces you will be working in, and with a very small amount of  paint on your brush in a scratchy, circular motion bring light paint into light areas of the face first. (light areas a those which are furthest forward). Bring darks to furthest back areas. Fill in medium spaces, blending into darks and lights.

* Repeat dark/med/light until desired shading and shape structure are achieved (at this point complete at least two layers.... more if desired)

* REMEMBER….. hardly any paint on your brush is key. Load your brush sparingly and then dab more paint of your brush still, on either your apron or floor covering. You should have so little paint that you can still see layers of paint beneath the new layers you are adding. Making this layers too thick will result in a flat appearance to your painting.

* You will notice in the second image that some elements of the original image are gone. Sometimes images come and go, wanting to be visible in some moments, and making space for something new in others. To let something disappear simply mix the appropriate colours you wish to cover it with and repeat the dry brushing step we did in week 2. In my case I mixed a new yellow for the sphere behind her head, and a blue to generally match the background. Yo will likely need to add a little bit of white to your paint colour when you are covering over something, as white is the most opaque colour. No to worry that the image is still slightly visible, as we continue to add new elements and layers to the painting, the imprint of these images past will become more and more faint, instead becoming part of the texture supporting the overall painting.