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How to Approach Obstacles

In our meditation practice there are two primary forces we employ to cultivate our minds: awareness and benevolence. Awareness allows us to see what is true of the present moment, whether within our minds or our outside circumstances. Once we know with clarity what the truth is we can do something about it, whereas if we are lost in ignorance or bad habits without awareness we will not have a choice to overcome them or not. With awareness we can then make a choice to change our approach, our attitude, and/or our perspective on what is happening. We center ourselves, maybe using the breath, and instead come from a wholesome attitude. That is where the benevolence comes in. We come with an intention of love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, faith, and the like, as an alternative to whatever state of mind that we recognized did not serve us. That is a transformational moment. In that we find our becoming. Our greater selves arise from small moments of this practice.

There are several kinds of obstacles we can experience in our daily life, so how do we apply this practice to those specific circumstances? We can take three different kinds of situations: a difficulty in a relationship, obstacles in the way of our goals, and how to feel complete as we are.

Lets say you are having a conversation with someone and you get into a disagreement, soon you start to feel yourself getting frustrated and angry because this person doesn’t seem to get it. At that very moment mindfulness is essential, recognizing you are starting to go in a direction that doesn’t serve you or others. You may have good reasons for being upset, but there are better reasons for being a peace in yourself. For one, if you are at peace you have more clarity of mind, and are not so attached to your own views. This allows for space to explore what is true with the other and have a civil conversation. Try to say your perspective in a clear, rational, and kind way, and the other person will be more willin to listen than if you just get upset at them. And even if they still disagree, you can practice having patience, respecting their right to their own thoughts, having faith that the truth will come out eventually. In the end, the relationships we have are more important than our daily opinions. We can be willing to agree to disagree for the sake of peace, or continue to use communication later.

When we are acting to accomplish goals, like in work or in life in general, it is very important, especially for this western society, to not lose sight of the present moment for the sake of our goals. Achieving goals are indeed important in their own right, especially if we are very invested in them, however the way we achieve our goals best is by enjoying the process as well. The only time you can work on your goals is right now, and it is in the present moment that we should focus our energy and not just in our future goals. If we focus on only one step at time, and enjoy each step, we can see that the goal is not the only thing that is exciting but the getting there as well. Let say, however, that you come across an obstacle, something that makes achieving your goals uncertain and worrisome, it is that time that we can have mindfulness. With awareness we can recognize that our mind is disturbed by an obstacle to our goals, and instead of feeling like the sky is falling, we can do something radical that will change our attitude: completely accept the obstacle. Once you accept the fact that an obstacle has arisen, you no longer have any resistance to it in your own mind, thus making yourself feel more in accord with your life. Not to say that you want the obstacle at all, but that you accept the fact that it exists and is a part of your life. Then, with a more sober mind, you let go and move forward with a more wholesome, centered attitude. This way you are clearer, and more capable of accomplishing your goal and overcoming the obstacle in the first place.

Being complete in ourselves is sometimes difficult in our western society. We are often told by our culture and by the media that we need things to be a certain way before we are complete. We need a good job of social regard, we need a spouse, we need children, a good house, a good car, etc. What they don’t tell us is that we are complete just as we are, and that we don’t need anything else outside of ourself to be whole as a person in this very moment. That is the wisdom we cultivate in meditation practice. When we meditate, we recognize a still, centered place in ourselves that feel innately complete, innately good, innately worthy of love and respect. This place in ourselves is not something we do, it is not artificial, rather when we sit still and breath, this place naturally arises. It is our birthright. The Law states that all men are created equal, and this place within us is why. This is our preciousness, our innate value as a human being. We can know this within ourselves and live from that place. If we do so we don’t wait for anything to define our contentment with ourselves, cause we are already self-sufficient, self-assured in this deeper place in us.

So lets say that we may be down on ourselves, a kind of perfectionist, always doing less than the standards we set for ourselves. We may have inherited these standards from our parents, or our peers, but regardless, our days are filled with clouds over our heads because we can never live up to our own expectations. This is when mindfulness is essential. We can recognize that these habits of thought don’t serve us, that these standards that we set for ourselves are abusive, and that we can recognize that success comes from our own abundance and not from being harsh to ourselves. From that we can let go of extreme standards and act out of joy, because we want to, because we love to, because we believe in the value of what we do itself, and not for some other standard or ideal to define us and make us acceptable. We are our own creators, and we can make ourselves and our lives in any way we want. We can take the opportunity to transform when the opportunity arises, right now. And in that place of transformation we can come back into a deeper place in ourselves that knows that we are complete just as we are.

Obstacles are a gift. Why is this true? Because if it were not for obstacles we would not grow in our ability to have awareness and love. All the things that make us disturbed will always make us disturbed as long as we don’t practice. So for that reason, obstacles are a great opportunity. They are our opportunity to transform ourselves, to become better people, and to practice virtue. It is easy to be virtuous when life is easy. But when obstacles arise we are tested to come from our integrity. Obstacles are our teachers. They show us exactly what knots we have in us, and give us the opportunity to untie them. Meditation and mindfulness practice is the conscious awareness of this fact. No one wants obstacles to arise, but when they do we can have an attitude of turning lead into gold, of turning an obstacle in to an opportunity to cultivate virtue. May you practice your meditation and mindfulness diligently that your opportunities will not pass you by.

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