Handling blocks to any inner practice—meditation, yoga, gratitude, mindfulness

When you try to change your life for better, sometimes you bump into a block, such as distracting thoughts. Blocks are common. They’re not bad or wrong—but they do get in the way. What works is to explore them with self-acceptance, and see what you can learn about yourself. One valuable aspect of taking in the good is that it often reveals other issues, such as an underlying reluctance to let yourself feel good. Then you can address these issues with the suggestions below. With practice and time, blocks usually fade away.

Blocks to Any Inner Practice

• Distractibility—Focus on the stimulating aspects of positive experiences, which will keep your attention engaged with them.

• Just not in touch with your body or your feelings—Explore and get used to simple pleasant sensations, such as the taste of pancakes with syrup, the feeling of warm water on your hands, or the ease in exhaling.

• Uncomfortable tuning into your own experience—Put yourself in a safe setting, and remind yourself that you don’t have to be externally vigilant. Look around for objects or people that give you comfort and a sense of protection. Bring to mind what it feels like to be with someone who cares about you. Remember that you can shift your attention away from your experience at any time you want. Be aware of something pleasant in your experience, such as a pretty sight or enjoyable sound, and notice again and again that continuing to be aware of it is all right for you, that nothing bad is happening to you. Overanalyzing, pulling out of the experience—Bring attention back into your body and emotions. For example, follow one breath from beginning to end, or gently name what you’re feeling to yourself (e.g., revved up . . . exasperated . . . calming . . . feeling better).

Blocks Specific to Taking In the Good

• It’s hard to receive, including a good experience—Inhale and sense that it’s okay to let something in. Pick a simple positive emotion such as relief or gladness, open to it and let it come into your mind, and recognize that you’re still fine.

• Concern that you’ll lose your edge in business or life if you no longer feel “hungry”—Realize that building up in- ner resources such as confidence and happiness can only aid your success. On a foundation of well-being, you can still be very determined and ambitious. Additionally, taking in the good trains your mind to see the whole picture, which could help you spot more opportunities.

• Fear that you’ll lower your guard if you feel better, and that’s when people get whacked—Remind yourself that you can still be watchful while also feeling good. Focus on building up inner strengths such as determination, resilience, confidence, and feeling cared about so you can become less worried about lowering your guard.

• Belief that seeking to feel good is selfish, vain, or sinful, or that it’s disloyal or unfair to those who suffer, or that you don’t deserve it—It’s moral to seek the welfare of all beings, and “all beings” includes the one wearing your name tag. You matter, too. Increasing your happiness will not increase the suffering of others, nor will increasing your suffering make them happier. In fact, developing your inner strengths, including peace, contentment, and love, will provide you with more to offer others. Taking in praise or a sense of accomplishment won’t make you conceited; as people feel fuller inside, they’re less likely to get puffed up or arrogant.

• Fear that if you let yourself feel good, you’ll want more but be disappointed—Recognize that if you feel good today, there’s a good chance you will also feel good tomorrow, and thus not get disappointed. Even if you do become dis- appointed, know that this will be unpleasant but not over- whelming. Put the risks of disappointment in perspective: What’s greater, the cost of occasional disappointment or the benefit of feeling good and building up strengths in- side?

• As a woman, you’ve been socialized to make others happy, not yourself—Your needs and wants have the same standing as theirs. And if you want to care for others, you have to nurture yourself.

• As a man, you’ve been socialized to be stoic and not care about your experience—You need to refuel or you’ll run out of gas. Also, building up your inner “muscles” makes you stronger, not weaker.

• Positive experiences activate negative ones—This is counterintuitive, but it’s actually common. For example, feeling cared about could stir up feelings of not being loved by the right person. If something like this happens for you, know that whatever is negative does not change the truth of what is positive. Then refocus on the positive experience, particularly its enjoyable aspects (which will help keep your attention in it). There are payoffs in not feeling good—Sometimes, let’s face it, there can be a certain gratification in being out- raged, aggrieved, hurt, resentful, righteously indignant, or even blue. But, at the end of the day, what’s better for you: these payoffs . . . or actually feeling good?

• You’ve been punished for being energized or happy— Really recognize that you spend time with different people today than those in your childhood. Notice the people who are fine with you feeling good. Wouldn’t you have liked it if someone had stood up for you when you were young and lively and joyful? Well, you can be that person for yourself today.
• Belief that there is nothing good inside you—The good that others see in you is not a delusion of theirs. It is real, as real as your hands. Hold on to the knowing of the reality of your helpful actions, good intentions, and caring feelings. If people put you down or shamed you in the past, recog-nizing the realness of your goodness is a way to be fair and kind toward yourself today. (For more, see the section on recognizing the good in yourself in chapter 6, and the practice “Feeling Like a Good Person” on page 213.)

• Belief that there’s no point in feeling good since some things are still bad—Know that the bad things that exist do not remove the good ones; the hole does not get rid of the donut. Plus, one way to deal with the bad is to grow the good. I love this proverb: Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

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“I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts.”

tara-brachOur mindfulness practice is not about vanquishing our thoughts. It’s about becoming aware of the process of thinking so that we are not in a trance—lost inside our thoughts. That’s the big difference. To train in becoming mindful of thoughts can help us to notice when your mind is actively thinking, either using the label “thinking, thinking,” or identifying the kind of thought—“worrying, worrying,” “planning, planning.” Then, becoming interested in what’s really happening right here. Coming home to the sensations in your body, your breath, the sounds around you, the life of the moment.

As our mindfulness practice deepens we become more aware of our thoughts. This offers us the opportunity to assess them and notice that much of the time our thoughts are not really serving us. Many thoughts are driven by fear and lock us into insecurity. During our residential meditation retreats, one of the biggest breakthroughs people share with us is:

“I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts.”

Training in mindfulness allows our minds to have a choice. At the moment in which you pause and realize that these thoughts are not really serving me, you have the option to come back to presence. This process of choosing becomes more powerful as you realize how thoughts can create suffering and separation. They create an “us” and a “them.” They create judgment and end up making us feel bad about ourselves.

In those moments when you’re lost in thought, what if you could pause and say, “OK, it is just a thought” That is revolutionary. That can change your life!

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at and

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at and

Now, the key is that we approach this with a gentleness and kindness. Each time we recognize thinking and come back into the present moment with gentleness and kindness, we are planting a seed of mindfulness. We are creating a new habit—a new way of being in the world. We quiet down the incessant buzz of thoughts in our mind. We take refuge in what is true—the aliveness and tenderness and mystery of the present moment—rather than in the story line of our thoughts.

“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.”— Wu Men

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)

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Eleven steps to inner clarity

diamondHow well can our views and convictions withstand the spotlight of awareness? Dhammavijaya show us how we can scrutinize our beliefs, and outlines the benefits of increased clarity.

What is a belief? Where do our beliefs come from? Are beliefs important and if so, why? Are all beliefs of equal value? If not, why not? How can we tell if our beliefs reflect the way things really are?

When I have put these questions to people in Buddhist centers recently the discussion they have provoked has been remarkably lively. Perhaps it is refreshing to be asked about our beliefs because so often we are simply told what to believe. This started early in life when, in order to survive, we needed to be accepted by those who were telling us how the world was. But we may have had to win that acceptance at the expense of a deeper sense of the truth. A further threat to the survival of our individuality comes as we begin to drive a wedge between the head and the heart.

Often we profess to believe one thing while placing our real trust in something else. Telling ourselves we hold a certain belief while deep down believing another creates a split within us. We open up a distance between the act of trusting – which is what believing is all about and our thoughts about what we trust.

What we believe determines the way our life turns out. If our beliefs are contradictory, unthought-out and untrue then our lives will be full of contradictions, directionless and hollow. Becoming clearer about what we really believe can pave the way to turning our lives around. I have found the following exercises useful in uncovering what we truly believe and fostering a greater authenticity.


List as many topics that you can think of about which you hold beliefs. It is good to include here all the big life and death questions. A typical such list could include: the Meaning of Life, Death, Sex, Money, Friendship, Myself, Other People, Morality, the Emotions, Intuition, Love, Thinking, the Family, Spiritual Community …


Select from this list a smaller selection of beliefs you would like to understand better. Your list now, for example, might be reduced to: Money, Death, Friendship, Morality, Sex, Intuition, Emotions.


Take some time to think of and to write out all the beliefs you have under each of these headings. Be governed by honesty and a reluctance to censor yourself. It doesn’t matter here if your beliefs seem daft or contradictory. We are only trying to uncover what we really do believe. Here are some examples of beliefs uncovered in this way:

Actions have consequences. Everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. In this they are just like us. Basic principles are more important than the gray areas. You can’t legislate for the gray areas — it’s a matter of conscience. You have to take responsibility for your actions. Morality often amounts to a choice of evils.

You should be careful of expressing emotions as they might hurt people. It is scary to express emotions. You should always have your emotions out in the open. If you ‘wear your heart on your sleeve for the daws to peck at’, they will. You should express the positive emotions. You should not give vent to the negative emotions. These should be confessed and left behind.


Under each heading assess whether your beliefs represent a clear and consistent set or whether they are confused and contradictory. Write down your thoughts and conclusions.


Ask yourself where each belief comes from. Try to remember from whom you first heard it. If you thought of it yourself, note this also. Next to each belief write down the names of the people you got your beliefs from. Note any patterns you see emerging as to where your beliefs come from. What do you make of this? Consider afresh your response to each belief. Is it really true? Note comprehensively any reflections to emerge from this process.


In meditation, arriving at an experience of as much calm and absorption as you can, bring one of your beliefs to mind. Drop it in lightly, in the manner of a leaf falling upon a still pool of water. Consider your intuitive response to this belief. Does it give rise to a sense of freedom and expansiveness? Or do you feel stifled, constricted and held back by this belief? Make a note of your responses.

Repeat the exercise with other beliefs.


How do you know if your responses to Exercise Six provide reliable information as to the validity of your beliefs? Write down your thoughts about this question.


Think about each belief. Does it make logical sense? Is it borne out in your actual experience? What are the consequences of your holding it? What happens in the lives of other people who believe it?


Assess your discoveries from the above exercises. Derive from your assessment beliefs that you feel are more appropriate to your new understanding.


Endeavor to live your life on the basis of these beliefs. Consider the consequences.


Repeat the process indefinitely.

In doing these exercises myself I made a number of discoveries. Firstly it was evident that the topics about which my beliefs were most confused and contradictory tied in with those areas of my life that can be messy. I found that my beliefs about more philosophical topics, say morality and intuition, tended to be quite clear and consistent. By contrast, more ‘homely’ topics concerning emotional and physical matters tended to evince beliefs that were more contradictory. This pointed to the desirability of clarifying my beliefs about those more intimate matters that are for me closer to the bone.

Deriving the sources of my beliefs was valuable in that it brought to mind the people whose beliefs have influenced my own. I could see that I had inherited a cluster of beliefs which, while le consistent, presented a somewhat dismal outlook on life that was neither accurate nor helpful. One such cluster, for example, under the heading of ‘self-esteem’ seemed to hold that this was a quality almost impossible to develop. Seeing these beliefs before me on the page made it seem easier to tear them up.

Assessing my intuitive response to beliefs yielded the most interesting results. While I might assent intellectually to a belief, sometimes I discovered that my heart wanted nothing to do with it. Did this mean that my heart was wiser than my head or vice-versa? The gulf between the different levels of belief was most apparent here. I found I couldn’t bridge the gulf by negating either the rational or the intuitive response; however, wrestling with the discrepancy could, I realized, give rise to a subtler and stronger belief that could gain the confidence of both head and heart.

The belief that ‘practicing within a single tradition promotes spiritual depth’ may, for example. meet with intellectual assent, yet the intuition may feel confined and hindered by it. The ensuing struggle could produce the more refined and stronger belief that, say: ‘Allegiance to one tradition promotes depth, but a fear of learning anything new from others may hinder it.’

It may appear threatening to examine what we truly believe, but I have found it has made me stronger, clearer and more confident. Only when we have made our beliefs conscious can we consider whether they are true. When we have seen for ourselves their truth or falsity we can base our lives on those that convince us in our depths.

Dhammavijaya Dhammavijaya discovered the Dharma in 1987 and has been inspired by it ever since.

Dhammavijaya was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1989. He formerly worked in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Croydon, and as a teacher of meditation and Buddhism at both the Croydon Buddhist Centre and in Mexico City.

He now teaches at the Croydon Buddhist Centre, to the south of London.

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