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  • Writer's pictureNancy Willbern, PhD

The Obstacle is the Way: Part Two

The obstacle is the way.

Marcus Aurelius

There are so many ways that we, as humans experience roadblocks in our lives – being laid off from a job, a physical disability, a disagreeable boss, a child who continues to act out. The list could go on and on. I’m sure you are already coming up with a list of your own, but to take you into the inner workings of how an obstacle in life could possibly be the way to freedom, I will use an example from my own life.

Many years ago, when I was married the first time, I truly believed that the primary obstacle in my life was 6’2” tall and weighed 175 pounds. I genuinely thought he was the problem. After all, I could give you a bulleted list of all the ways he was standing in the way of my personal peace of mind and the potential for tranquility in our relationship – his drinking, his obsession with money, his use of intimidation with me and the kids, and his flirtation with other women. I am fully aware that he would have his own interpretation of these traits that would differ from mine – and, his own list of grievances about me. It always works that way. But doesn’t it seem reasonable that I would find these character traits of his as standing in the way of my inner peace? I certainly thought so at the time. And, of course on the surface of things they did. I didn’t make any of that up. From my perspective, he was doing all of those things. And because of that obvious fact, I kept believing that those traits were the problem. All I had to do was to get him to see them as I did. So, of course I tried to talk to him about them – talk, accuse, nag, scream at him about them. You can imagine how well that went over.

At the same time that I was determined to get him to understand and agree with my perspective, I tried harder and harder to be a more perfect, loving, patient, responsible wife. Not that I ever actualized any of that, but I couldn’t have tried any harder at either of those pursuits. And neither of them got me anywhere. If anything, they kept us both in a destructive, shall I say, a wrenchingly frustrating feedback loop that took us to replay after replay. I cringe thinking back on it now. I stayed there for such a long time. My heart goes out to both of us. We just didn’t know any better.

It was only after my exhaustion from trying so hard and clearly getting nowhere, that I stopped and asked a pivotal question, “Is there some other way to see this?” I moved into curiosity, “What is really going on here?! What am I missing?” And of course, those questions took me back into therapy, but this time from a position of genuine humility. I was truly all out of answers. And I was open to being shown something new.

Of course, explaining what happens in therapy is too convoluted to go into, but the gist of it is that I got to know the part of me that was holding myself in those destructive patterns that had nothing to do with my husband. I discovered that the real obstacle in my life was a part of me whose identity was crafted out of a mistaken set of assumptions from my childhood, that I unconsciously held as irrevocably true. Those assumptions had to do with what I thought love was (self-sacrifice), what I believed about what my own unique value (not much), what I believed about who has the right to power and who doesn’t (As a male and first-born, he did. As the youngest daughter and a female raised in a fundamentalist church, I didn’t.)

You get the idea. All of those assumptions got exposed when I got to know the part of me that was so stuck. When I opened my heart to her and validated her experience and then listened to a deeper Reservoir of Truth inside of myself, I was set free. The obstacle went poof.

P.S. This does not mean that your boss isn’t hard to deal with or that your child isn’t doing drugs or that you don’t have cancer. It just means that underneath whatever outward form our obstacle is taking, more often than not will be some unconscious, limiting assumptions on our part that are making the obstacle more solid than it actually is. Bringing those assumptions up into consciousness, goes a long way in dissolving the obstacle.

PP.S. There’s so much more to say about this. But I will stop here.


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