Funny thing about obstacles – even though we view them as temporary roadblocks on the highway of life, very often they lead us on a completely different journey.

You’ve no doubt read the inspiring stories of “average” people who suffer an unthinkable tragedy and use it to create a lasting, positive legacy – quite removed from the life they were living.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and subsequently reunited with her family. She explained in a TED talk that the horrific event she lived through enabled her to advocate for other sex abuse victims.

In 1980 after her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver, Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – one of the most influential non-profits in the country.

John Walsh, whose 6-year-old son was abducted and murdered in 1981, went on to found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and became the host of America’s Most Wanted, helping law enforcement track down hundreds of fugitives.

Admittedly, these are examples of some pretty big “obstacles,” but they highlight the resiliency of the human spirit, and to me, they open the door to a new way of thinking about obstacles. As human beings, we tend to view obstacles as roadblocks or setbacks – things to overcome so that we can get back to the business of LIVING.

Perhaps our obstacles ARE our life.

On New Year’s Day, I started a free, 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. Each week, I learn how to sit still, observe, and then “allow” whatever IS to simply BE. In other words, rather than figuring out how to lessen or eliminate the obstacles in my life, the goal is to change my relationship to those obstacles.

In preparation for the 8-week program, I was provided with a few videos to watch. One of them, a 12-minute TED talk by Daron Larson, significantly changed the way I view the obstacles in my life.

Here’s what he said:

“If you expect your everyday life to be free of discomfort and confusion, you’re going to spend all your energy worrying, trying not to feel what you feel, and saying, ‘this messy life is not my real life.’”

Daron went on to explain that human beings tend to view themselves kind of like a video game character, navigating various challenges in order to “get somewhere.” We don’t view these challenges as part of our “real” life; we view them as temporary annoyances that we must push through to get to the other side. The problem is, on the other side of the obstacle is – very often – another obstacle! So, we find ourselves on autopilot, slogging through each day…sitting in traffic, dealing with a difficult boss, biding our time until we can get some relief in the form of a weekend or perhaps a summer vacation – when our “real” life can begin.

We have to stop “holding out” for these comfortable, perfect lives we imagine!

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness simply means paying attention – taking a moment, in the midst of any experience, to be fully present, to explore the experience with all of our senses. Stop to smell the roses, yes. But notice, also, the vibrant red color and the velvety softness of the petal; listen for the hum of the bee hovering over the flower.

When we pay attention to the present moment, we focus on the NOW. We disengage the auto-pilot and take time to observe – and appreciate – all the little things that make up our LIFE.

A daily mindfulness practice can support us in being attentive throughout the rest of our day. If we notice relaxation during our timed practice, for example, we can learn to “check in” during the day to find something, anything, relaxing that we can savor, particularly in the middle of chaos.

So, instead of lamenting, avoiding, or railing against what we perceive to be impediments to the good life, we can attempt to change our perspective. Much like prying open the oyster shell to seek out the pearl, changing the way we relate to obstacles can help us discover the hidden beauty of life itself.

Written by : drallisonbrown

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  1. Lutheranliar January 20, 2018 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Wow. What an amazing way to look at Life. Realizing that all the messy little annoying stuff actually IS Life. Thank you for some great thinking to start my day — and help me appreciate the Life I have.

    • drallisonbrown January 20, 2018 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks for saying so, Alice! If you think about it, it really is quite arrogant for us humans to think that our lives are supposed to be nothing but hearts and flowers!

  2. Shannon January 20, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I saw Elizabeth speak at a Children’s Justice conference a few years back and she was truly motivational. We can all learn so much from those who have overcome such unimaginable obstacles. I, too, have been trying to be present in the now and it takes quite some intentionality but does help to feel appreciative and not focus on things I can’t control.

    • drallisonbrown January 20, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Wow, Shannon, I’ll bet that was a great talk! I heard Temple Grandin speak at a local college, and she was quite motivational, as well. It’s really all in how we look at it. We can look at autistic people, like Temple, as having a handicap or a very special gift that needs to be honed.

  3. An Historian January 20, 2018 at 9:01 am - Reply

    If I’ve learned nothing else in the last two months, it’s that things will go wrong and there is nothing that you can do about it- putting energy into worrying about that could use up the tiny bit of energy that you have left. For my own mental health, I try to look at everything neutrally- it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just a turn in the road!

    • drallisonbrown January 20, 2018 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      That is so true, and it’s a great thing to remember. Experiences are neutral. It’s how we categorize them that makes them good or bad. Thank you for bringing that up!

  4. Rachael stray January 20, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Really great post made me think. I want to try to be more mindfull. Good luck with the rest of the course. Please share some pearls of wisdom with us!

  5. Fancy January 20, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    A lovely concept and I aspire to do so x

  6. Modern Gypsy January 20, 2018 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    That’s the thing I love about the mindful way to look at life – the messy bits, the lovely bits, the sorrowful ones and the joyful ones – they all make up our reality, they change from moment to moment, they are life, and none of it is permanent!

    • drallisonbrown January 20, 2018 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      You are exactly right! Life is not just the good stuff. Life is everything! And it’s all a blessing…

  7. Molly Stevens January 20, 2018 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful, and a great reminder to live all of one’s life, not just the mountaintop experiences. I do try to see the positive and beauty in ordinary things, but all too often I rail against the aggravations and obstacles. Relaxing into them could make my life so much better! Off to watch the TED talk.

    • drallisonbrown January 20, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks Molly! You are not alone.… we all tend to rail against the negative stuff. Very often, it’s not until we look back that we see the beauty in the experience.

  8. Anna Mamwell January 21, 2018 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Yes glad I found this post, makes a lot of sense and I’ve certainly been living my life more like this since nearly dying from aggressive Leukaemia in 2015, really resonated.

    • drallisonbrown January 21, 2018 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Wow, Anna! That is definitely a pretty large obstacle! Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Angela noel January 21, 2018 at 11:34 am - Reply

    I’m looking forward to trying this. You know I just realized a bit of self-talk I do. Here’s how it goes: “I want to like more in the present and be more self aware…but, I’m already pretty self aware and present so do I really need to do anything?” And so it goes. The funny part is that I know I can only benefit from a mindfulness practice. And the one thing that keeps me from a mindfulness practice is that I already deluded myself into thinking I’m already mindful! When big obstacles appear it seems to feel easier to refocus. But when nothing is really “wrong” I kind of just go on as “business as usual.” A mindfulness practice, I think isn’t about trying to manage through a CURRENT crises, it’s a strategy to manage the ones we have yet to experience. Like training for an upcoming race, mindfulness will help my brain be ready for game day, and every day. What a ramble… But a very thought-provoking post, Allison!

    • Angela noel January 21, 2018 at 11:35 am - Reply

      live, not “like” more in the present. Sheesh, I hate my fingers sometimes. :)

    • drallisonbrown January 21, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      Good point! And I tell myself the same sort of thing. I feel like I’m pretty mindful and appreciative, but I’m curious to see how this course enhances that. I’ve never stuck with a “formal” meditation or mindfulness practice for that long. Because I’m resistant to that (sticking with something that I don’t particularly like or feel that I need), there must be a need there.

  10. Erin - Unbound Roots January 21, 2018 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    I really do believe that whatever may transpire in our lives – it was meant to happen. And, you are completely correct – it’s all about how we approach these happenings. Mindfulness and living in the moment is a great way to just take things as they come. Adults tend to worry, anticipate, and plan ahead. Heck! When I woke up this morning I was thinking about putting on another coat of sealer on the basement floor, whether or not I had time to do some blogging, and how I needed to get my son’s birthday invites done today – all before the big football game today. I should have been relishing the warmth of my heavy blankets, enjoying the darkness of the morning, and living in the quietness before the kids and dogs awoke with endless energy. Great post, Dr. Allison!

  11. Diana January 21, 2018 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Why is it that we think it is always someone else that needs to be mindful, present and aware. Like bad things don’t happen to good people, especially ourselves. Denial is half the problem. Denial of our true feelings and how we are reacting to the issues at hand. You always give good advice Allison and a reason for deeper thought. :)

    • drallisonbrown January 21, 2018 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Diana! You are so right about denial. Humans are good at hiding, even from ourselves.

  12. Ivy January 21, 2018 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    I love the part about stop waiting for that perfect life. Honestly, life will pass us by. We hav