Digging for Your Authentic Self: Navigating Obstacles

The more clearly we see this unwanted result arising from a repeated behavior, the more disenchanted we become, and the less we will be naturally drawn to move toward that behavior. Why?  Because the reward of letting go and simply being feels better than dis-ease.” Judson Brewer

If you prefer to listen

Last time we talked about how all kinds of things can pull us in the wrong direction. We looked at how these obstacles are like knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom. We looked at desire/craving, aversion/anger, restlessness/worry, sloth/torpor, doubt, and delusion. With every obstacle, the steps are to recognize it, acknowledge it, and understand it.


Knowing intellectually what the obstacles are is only the first step in recognizing them. It is easy to see them when they are full-blown. But by that time, our amygdala has overpowered our prefrontal cortex, making it almost impossible for us to act skillfully. We need to learn to recognize the early warning signs. Those are often the sensations in our bodies. Most emotions cause a physical sensation in our bodies.  With fear, it may be a tightening of the chest. With anger, we may have more rapid breathing. With a desire to cling to something good, we may feel a contraction in our chest.

To learn to recognize these early warning signs, we need to slow down and pay attention to what is happening in our bodies in the present moment.  That is a skill we develop through meditation.  When we meditate, we can turn down the volume of our mental chatter.  When thoughts come up, we can see what emotions they elicit and notice the physical sensation that comes up with that emotion. It is much easier to learn this skill when you are at ease than when you are at the height of emotion.

You don’t have to be sitting in formal meditation to practice this skill. You may take a moment throughout the day to pay attention to what you are thinking, discern what emotion that thought elicits, and become aware of the physical sensations that are present. To remember to do this, you may want to set some cues.  For example, take a moment to practice: before you get out of bed in the morning, each time you walk upstairs, or each time you go to the bathroom.


Acknowledging it may be more difficult, at least it is for me.  I would much rather brush anything unpleasant under the carpet. But then it keeps growing until I can no longer ignore it. When I try to resist unpleasant things, I unconsciously expend a lot of energy keeping them hidden.

When people accept difficult experiences (like stress), it allows the experiences to ‘run their course and dissipate,’ while resisting them only makes them stronger. And accepting stress helps people to stop focusing only on what’s wrong and to notice other feelings, sensations, and thoughts occurring at the same time, enabling them to see the ‘bigger picture.'” Emily Lindsay

Acknowledging means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there, without trying to fix or avoid anything.  It is not about acquiescing to your fate. It is about seeing your internal response to external stimuli.


Sometimes when we try to change bad habits, we think all we need is self-control.  But self-control is a myth. What works is understanding how our minds work so that we can work with them.

Understanding requires calling on your desire to know the truth.  It is turning off the light of our thoughts so we can see what is really here, the feeling and sensations in our bodies. You are not looking to understand how or why this happened to you.  You are exploring how what you believe impacts how you relate to yourself and others, your creativity, your ability to experience joy, and your ability to respond instead of react. Then you can see what you long for most right now: Attention? Belonging? Acceptance? Love? Being Seen?

As with my Diet Pepsi habit, my thoughts said I deserved a Diet Pepsi as a treat and tasted delicious. When I paid attention to the sensations, I realized that only the first couple of sips tasted good; after the first couple of drinks, I really didn’t bother to taste it. Looking under for the feeling, I realized that I was associating Diet Pepsi with belonging. And turning off the light of my thoughts, I saw that it did the exact opposite.

With understanding, we step back long enough to reflect on the actual rewards. Thus, we can begin to see what behaviors orient us toward stress and uncover what truly makes us happy. Sometimes our self-righteous thinking or anger feels like a reward, but it actually isn’t and does not serve us well.

The more clearly we see this unwanted result arising from a repeated behavior, the more disenchanted we become, and the less we will be naturally drawn to move toward that behavior. Why?  Because the reward of letting go and simply being feels better than dis-ease.” Judson Brewer

Navigating Around Obstacles

When we meet challenges, our natural reaction is to either hastily retreat or bulldoze ahead. Let’s look at ways we can meet obstacles with kind curiosity instead of resistance. We will look at each of the challenges we discussed in the last session: desire/craving, aversion/anger, restlessness/worry, sloth/torpor, doubt, and delusion. Using three steps: recognize, acknowledge and understand, we can recollect ourselves and be better equipped to make a skillful response.


There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things.  It is when we cling tightly to them that we get rope burn. What we want to recognize is what need the desire is actually fulfilling.  The desire for food when you are hungry can satisfy your hunger. The craving for food, when you are not hungry, is filling another need.  And this need can never be met by food, although it may appear to be in the short run.

The biggest problem with desire is that the fulfillment feels good for only a short while.  Then your mind starts asking what is next.  As soon as one desire is fulfilled, another pops up. We are always unsatisfied as there is something more that we need.  The practice to counteract this is simply defining what is enough.  But that is much easier said than done. Let’s take a moment to reflect on what is enough.  What would it look like if you had enough money, enough clothes, enough kitchen gadgets, enough recognition, or enough of whatever it is you crave?


Aversion and anger come from disliking our experience. Often, anger is justified, but we make the offense bigger by adding on layers of stories that we take personally. For me, I look at whether I can change the experience.  If not, I have to look inside to see what I can change so that I am not triggered so strongly.  Am I telling myself the story that they did it purposely just to hurt me?  What belief is underneath my anger? Is it fear, shame or sadness?

Remember that if you try to push the unpleasant experience aside, it will persist and color your mood and actions.  If you harbor the anger, you will be at war with yourself. Often the person you are angry at is not impacted by your anger.  But it affects your mood and your actions.  All of a sudden, nothing is right with the world.


When we’re caught up in worry and restlessness, it’s easy to bounce around, often between a place of hope and fear. We hope for something new or better and fear that we won’t get it. Our fear of missing out (FOMO) encourages us to be externally focused, always looking for the next thing. Thus, we fill our lives with more things, more experiences, and more ToDos.  We become so busy that we don’t have time to feel whatever we don’t want to feel.

The antidote to this is to slow down and actually single task.  When we multi-task, our brains’ neurons jump over the pleasure centers that activate when we single-task. Slowing down is not easy to do.  I have been practicing eating meditation at breakfast for months.  While I am not reading, listening, or talking while eating, my mind is still thinking.  But the more I practice, the more my mind stays with the taste and texture of my food.  And the more satisfied I feel after breakfast.  I have to keep reminding myself that I have time and that I deserve to take the time to slow down and simply enjoy my meal.


Sloth and torpor refer to the physical or mental sluggishness we feel when we are bored or have low energy. Sometimes it comes from our exhaustion of trying to repress an aversion. Other times it arises when you lack the constant mental stimulation you are used to. Your mind becomes cloudy and unworkable.

The antidote to sloth and torpor may be to process the aversion you are repressing.  If that is not the case, physical movement will often cure this malady.


Doubt is the state of mind of uncertainty, wavering, and indecision.  It is like coming to a crossroads and not knowing which way to go.  So, the antidote is to take a small step in any direction.  To inform your aim, project six months into the future to see how you will feel.

If it is the wrong direction, you will discover that, and you can always have a do-over.


Delusion is not seeing reality as it is. Sometimes what we see and hear is distorted by our beliefs and biases.  Other times we have selective perception: we see what we want to see and listen to what we want to hear.  We think we can control things that we can’t. We may think pleasant or unpleasant experiences will last forever. When we are delusional, we try to change things from rough or tangled to steady or buoyant.

All you need to do with delusions is see them. To get rid of darkness, flip on the light switch. You don’t have to get rid of darkness.  You will know if it is a delusion because your mind will react with greed or aversion. When we peel off the delusion layers, we find the goodness and love that are always there.

Authentic Self

Being your authentic self means that you are using all your skills, talents, and wisdom. It’s doing things that are uniquely you. Your actions arise from who you are, not what you believe you are supposed to do.

Let’s take a moment to contemplate which obstacle you’d like to focus on.  Please don’t pick the most difficult one; it will be easier to deal with once you have practiced with more manageable challenges. Then we will get in small groups to discuss what you might commit to.

 When we try to live life as our authentic selves, we will fail many times. If we want to be authentic, we need to continually make course corrections, paying attention to both the direction we are going and our speed. By listening to our bodies and slowing down our mental chatter, we will see when we are veering off course. When we encounter obstacles, we will rise to the challenge. The more we practice being in the present moment and seeing below our thoughts to reality, the more resilient and authentic we will become.

There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery by Portia Nelson
 I walk down the street.
 There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
 I fall in.
 I am lost... I am helpless.
 It isn't my fault.
 It takes forever to find a way out.
 I walk down the same street.
 There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
 I pretend I don't see it.
 I fall in again.
 I can't believe I am in the same place.
 But, it isn't my fault.
 It still takes me a long time to get out.
 I walk down the same street.
 There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
 I see it is there.
 I still fall in. It's a habit.
 My eyes are open.
 I know where I am.
 It is my fault. I get out immediately.
 I walk down the same street.
 There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
 I walk around it.
 I walk down another street.