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Overcoming Obstacles

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A hard fall means a high bounce... if you're made of the right material. ~Unknown

I became freakishly peaceful the summer of 2000.

For a long time, I had been working towards self-acceptance and trying to become more Enlightened, but that summer after my first year of graduate school was entirely different.

  • I was meditating regularly—the silent, lotus-position, old-school way.
  • I took mindful showers and mindful walks, and I mindfully cleaned the toilet.
  • I moved from the more rational and smart “Social Sciences/Psychology” section of my local bookstore to the section they called “New Age”.
  • I was questioning my interpretation of everything and finding real freedom from my thoughts.
  • I was calm. I was happy. All was well in my world.

Then, out of nowhere, I started having severe panic attacks.
By the end of their 2-year duration, I was barely functioning, on constant adrenal overload, and more or less house-bound. For some strange reason, the reachable attainment of my lofty goal sent me hurtling down into a worse-case scenario of the very adverse conditions I was seeking to avoid!

Similarly – and equally bizarre – within a few weeks of quitting a long-time habit of smoking, I developed – not healthier lungs and easier breathing! – but asthma and other respiratory issues.

And after developing a serious green smoothie habit, I started to suffer from acute sinus pain. My throat hurt, my nose was running, and my head ached – all problems that healthy smoothies were supposed to cure, not cause!

Apparently, my body has an intense “cleansing reaction” to purification—physical, spiritual, or mental.

The Analogy

I don’t garden. My mother-in-law gave me a potted broccoli plant once because I love broccoli, and she said it was almost impossible to kill. It lasted 4 days.

What I DO know about gardening is that there are a lot of gardening metaphors in the self-development world: planting seeds, nurturing the soil, needing the rain, pruning to make new growth possible.

And the metaphor for the phenomenon I’m talking about here is “when you plant new seeds you first have to dig up some dirt.”

When you start poking around to make a change in your garden or in your life, you’re probably going to dig up some stuff you’d rather not deal with.

I remember that “stuff” all too well from my own days in traditional therapy. It was almost impossible to make any real progress without lots of soul-searching and memory-seeking and digging around in the darkness in the beginning. When people decide to get honest and aware, it isn’t always pretty at first.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary to work through the darkness you’re just trying to escape. And so it is that deciding to make a life change, or resolving to be more calm and mindful, or striving to be healthier often stirs up “stuff” that needs to be worked through first

What’s fascinating is that the very things that look like rocks in our garden are often useful – and even necessary – stepping stones.

The Good News

For example, if you decide you want to feel more at peace, you might think the path is breathing or Xanax or an oath of silence. But the universe steps in and says, “You want to be calm? I’ll show you calm. You think it’s about looking like a monk, but your path to calm is actually about accepting your imperfections, saying no to situations that don’t serve you, and knowing your courage.”

And since you didn’t know all that on your own, the universe helps you by presenting you with “obstacles”, otherwise known as lessons. You are forced to accept your imperfections by having them shown to you. You get help in saying no to situations that aren’t good for you by encountering them. You realize the true measure of your courage by being forced to use it.

Obstacles make the decision much harder than you originally thought, and that too can be a really good thing. They let you see how badly you want it, how committed you are, what you’re willing to do. They can cement your desire for change. They force you to reaffirm, “You know what? I DO want this change and I AM willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

Maybe one function of the darkness is that it forces you to look for sources of light in places you might not have otherwise looked. And, having conquered it, maybe you’ll appreciate the victory more than you otherwise would have.

Maybe I got asthma when I quit smoking to test my perseverance even further. Maybe kicking the habit wasn’t enough…I needed to prove to myself that it was important enough to do it despite the added obstacles.

Maybe I got sick when I started drinking green smoothies so I could remember why I was doing it in the first place – so I could remember just how great it felt to be healthy.

What have your obstacles done for you, lately?

Did they bolster your determination? Did they teach you a useful lesson you need in order meet your goals? Did they help you identify a piece of the puzzle you’re trying to solve? Did they shine a light a light on anything useful or interesting or important that you have might have missed otherwise?

Try looking at obstacles as stepping stones. They may be there to help you along the path.

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About the author

Dr. Amy Johnson is a psychologist, master certified life and relationship coach, author, and public speaker. Her book, Modern Enlightenment: Psychological, Spiritual, and Practical Ideas for a Better Life gives readers new perspectives and ways of thinking that allow them to change old patterns and see the world in a more Enlightened way. Amy works with clients worldwide in individual and group coaching programs. To find out more about her coaching services or to inquire about booking Amy for a speaking.

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6 thoughts on Overcoming Obstacles

  1. Great post- I myself have definitely discovered that I could do as much of the spiritual “stuff” as I wanted, but the real lessons came in the darkness. In the time of needing to “do it”. It’s at that point that we can either turn back to our books and “keep reading” or dive in, and face our demons, no matter how scary.

  2. Obstacles are, as you say, “great stepping stones.” However, when obstacles are in your path, you may not see them as stepping stones. They’re probably more of a nuisance. :)

    The best way to embrace obstacles is to accept them. If you can accept whatever is in front of you, you’ll move around and/or through (fill in the blank) quicker.

    I know that obstacles can be painful; however, if you relax and accept them, you’ll can move past them. It took me a long, long, time to come to this conclusion. But once I viewed my obstacles through a different lens, I could see that I still had to learn lessons. So… I learn them and move forward with my life.

  3. Ama

    Oh I can surely remember one big obstacle it took me three years to get rid of. It was a too-long no-man’s-land after the painful end of a relationship. I got to become everything I had sworn I’d never become… Rejecting my nature just to become like “everyone else”… become someone “he” would be proud of.
    I went into a job I didn’t like, slept with men who didn’t love me, tried to be friends with the wrong people. Happiness wasn’t here, though I was trying everything to be happy – this involved to stop thinking too much for anything (isn’t it this way people are supposed to be happy?).

    All the way, life was shouting at me “Just be yourself. You’re just fine. Being another woman won’t make you happy.” And I was like “for what? nobody love me the way I am.”
    Actually, I was the one who didn’t love me the way I am, and who could not forgive my own failures.

    Since I accepted that I am unique, I got to find more peace. This comes with not only freeing the mind, but freeing the body too, and (in my case) strengthening the connection to Nature.

    I believe that there is a way for each and everyone of us. There always is. Often it is just not what people show you as “remedies”. Don’t hesitate to step out of the way and look for something that really SUITS you – no harm is undoneable.

  4. Bernard Berry

    I thought that my obstacle was the stubborn wife I have. But it isn’t. My obsession with cars and engines is the reason.

  5. Overcoming obstacles can be quite challenging. It will test you and you will have to be prepared.

    Very well written article.

  6. Thankyou Dr. Amy Johnson,

    I could feel the intensity in the article.

    The lines – And the metaphor for the phenomenon I’m talking about here is “when you plant new seeds you first have to dig up some dirt.”
    When you start poking around to make a change in your garden or in your life, you’re probably going to dig up some stuff you’d rather not deal with. are amazing.

    Thankyou for sharing.

    Would love to share a link to an Inspirational blog that I love and I am sure that will amaze and connect to you too..

    Do visit –



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