Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

Many of us do everything we can in our lives to not feel dis-ease. Some of this is basic human nature; after all, why would we want to feel pain when we could feel pleasure? But at some point, all the running and ways we attempt to distract ourselves catch up with us. At some time in our lives, we will experience the death of a loved one, an illness, children leaving home, a divorce, a financial loss, or a betrayal. This feeling is a pretty vulnerable place to be, and many of us will do anything to avoid it. Some turn to alcohol or substances, others turn to work, entertainment, compulsive habits, or unhealthy relationships. Basically, we do anything and everything to not sit with the emotions and restlessness this ungrounding sensation brings.

There will always be change in life. Often it feels like life as you know it is unravelling, but years later, when the situation or circumstance has passed with time, you recognize it’s just life in a new form. Often the more we try to fight to keep things the same, the worse things may get. Life continues to teach us things are always in transition. True wellbeing comes from allowing change to happen rather than constantly fighting it. We are born with the free will to make healthy choices, take appropriate action, and manifest our life’s direction. We create suffering when we hold on to the belief things will last forever.

We truly awaken when we embrace change with the full realization that it takes death for there to be birth. Anxiety stems from knowing we are veering into the unknown and we may not be fully in control. Anxiety is released when we choose to be fully present without reacting to our past and placing rigid expectations on our future. We can then make wise choices without being overly tied to the outcomes and our expectations. We can engage in the situation at hand rather than thinking about everything we can’t control, everything that is not going how we expected, what we might need to do, what we should have done, or everywhere else we could be that’s potentially better than where we are.

A way I like to explain this concept is using the analogy of a traveler who comes to a fork in the road. They find a sign that points one way to the beach and another to the mountains. The traveler has three choices: He can choose to obsess about the choice, running through his mind all the things he would miss if he made the wrong decision. “If I go to the beach I can go surfing, but if I go to the mountains I can go skiing. But if I go to the beach I can lay out in the sun, but if I go to the mountains, I can sit by a warm fire”. They continue this obsessive thinking due to an underlying fear they may regret what they decide. Another outcome is they make a decision all the while, obsessing about the decision they did not make. For example, they choose the beach, but while they are there, all they can think about is what they might be missing out on in the mountains; how they might be missing out on the fresh snow on the slopes. Thankfully, there is a third alternative. In this one, we make a choice, stay present, and enter in the decision with full acceptance. We maintain full enjoyment in where we are without comparing or contrasting what we might have missed had we made a different decision. We choose to live in the present moment without regret or comparison.

Sometimes we create our own anxiety and suffering with the belief we didn’t make the right move rather than just relinquishing ourselves to the move we made and the dynamic flow of life. If we are ever going to shift the habitual patterns of our mind, we must become truly present with where we are, rather than there always being somewhere better to be or someone better to be with.

We have the choice to realize that whatever we are currently experiencing is not the beginning or the end of anything, but just an experience. We can begin to look inside our mind with the understanding that “This too shall pass”. Whether it’s a thought, emotion, mood, or memory, we can allow for the constant flux and change and embrace whatever is arising with full acceptance rather than obsessing and anxiously trying to regain control. We can continue to take healthy action and choose to react to the situation at hand from a positive perspective.

The emotions of anxiety and restlessness so many of us experience stem from the false belief we are lacking something. The more we cling to what we think we should have, the more anxiety we create. All we truly have control over are our actions and reactions to our circumstances. What we focus on becomes our reality. Therefore, if we continue to focus on our traumas and problems, we are bound to have more trauma and problems. Instead, we can take healthy action when faced with a difficult situation, while remaining light-hearted. This healthy light-hearted attitude can help us to begin to see doors where another might see walls.

Once we drop the expectations placed on us by others and ourselves, we drop the ideals of what we think should happen or who we think we should be. We stop comparing and judging ourselves. Accepting ourselves, even the parts we don’t like, requires we let go of shame and guilt. We must stop blaming others without needing to be right or worrying about being wrong. When we don’t hold too tight to our beliefs, and we have an open mind, we can remain open to all perspectives. We can let go of the belief everything should be a certain way. Everything is dynamic at its core; when we try to find rules and absolutes, we are just searching for security and comfort where they often don’t exist.

The times when we feel challenged are the best opportunity to assess our reactions. Do we open up or shut down? Do we become bitter or soften? Do we remain ignorant or become wise? Do we become critical or compassionate? When the ground is pulled out from under us and we don’t know what’s going to happen next is our greatest opportunity to recreate ourselves. This is where we are able to turn obstacles into opportunities.

When we are able to truly tap into our vulnerability and the true vulnerability of the human existence, we can begin to stop running and hiding. This enables us to to embrace not only our pain, but the pain of the universe. This is the compassion that exists within suffering. We feel others pain and wish for others joy. From here we can truly begin loving without conditions. We can let go of our ego. We begin to find that by opening our heart in kindness and generosity, our heart becomes open to receive the love the universe offers.

Lisa Decker M.S.

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