5 Tips for Meeting the Obstacles on Your Spiritual Path

BEAR closeup "We've got to go through it" 5 tips for meeting the obstacles on your spiritual path

There’s a song I’ve sung to both my children called “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. It’s the story of this brave quest to find a bear – perhaps you can view the bear hunt as a metaphor in this case for enlightenment or some other spiritual goal.

In this preschool song there are MANY different obstacles on the path to this “bear”: swirling snowstorms, gooey mud, deep dark forests. Let’s say that each of these obstacles are the aspects of life that we feel threatened by, such as our wounds, our emotional dependency or our primal need for love and belonging. At each obstacle in the song the assessment is such: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! we've got to go THROUGH it!”

This, in essence, is the spiritual journey. It can feel very intimidating to face these challenges, and of course we naturally will want to look for detours so that we can evade them altogether.  But have you ever noticed that sometimes, even when you manage to step away from a challenging situation, you keep encountering the same obstacles in new disguises?  You move a thousand miles away from your harsh and judgmental mother only to find the same qualities in your new boss. Or you always seem to attract emotionally dependent people, no matter how many times you block their calls. The Universe has a funny way of showing you the obstacle again and again until you’ve faced it head on.

Spirituality can offer us many places of respite along a difficult journey but it can also be a great temptation to dive in prematurely and bypass the opportunities for growth. John Welwood, the American Buddhist psychologist who coined the term “spiritual bypass” reminds us, “we are not just humans learning to become buddhas, but also buddhas waking up in human form, learning to become fully human.”        

Whether you need to re-route from a spiritual bypass or you are just looking for some tips in how to face life’s obstacles, here are 5 strategies for a healthy spiritual journey:

Grizzly standing up on hind legs

Get clear on your feelings and needs. We can all find ourselves in situations that “muddy the water” and confuse our emotions. Stress, anxiety, alcohol/drug use and other addictions can make it even hard to tune into what is true for you in the moment. But naming your feelings and needs is one of the hallmarks of a healthy communicative relationship, both with yourself and others.

polar bear and its full body reflection in the water.

Nurture your observing ego. This means no matter what you are experiencing you have part of you inside that can be unconditionally present and open to whatever unfolds. This nonjudgmental inner witness will support you in showing up for your life without expectations. It helps to cut back on the knee jerk reactions that might have you panicking, running or putting up a fight.

Bear roaring in anger. Value your emotions. They are your body's wise communication.

Recognize the value of emotions. Our feelings aren’t present just to torment us. Rather, they are the body’s deeply intelligent form of communication that intends to guide us. When we listen deeply to what our emotions are expressing we can come to understand the valuable wisdom that is inherent in them.

two bears foraging in the forest side by side

Nurture healthy relationships. A healthy and secure attachment to others allows us to be fully present with one another. In the healthy space between clinging too tightly and complete detachment there is much fertile ground to nurture a sense of connection and belonging, grounded embodiment and overall well-being.     

                    Mama bear and baby bear looking into one another's eyes                    

Tune into those you love. A part of being present for each other means being open to listening deeply… rather than merely waiting for your turn to talk! When we allow ourselves to get curious and understand another’s experience, the natural outcome is compassion. These qualities of curiosity and compassion are all the key ingredients we need in order to make each other feel seen and loved. This careful attunement isn’t just for others either. You are just as worthy of the same love and empathy.

Remember that you don’t have to face these obstacles alone. It’s often helpful (and healthy!) to acquire the guidance of a mentor, teacher, wise friend, therapist or coach. Someone who can turn on the flashlight, or hold some of your belongings for you as you make your way through the dark forest.

Our self-paced online course, Bridge to Your Soul: A Flower Essences and the Arts course, may be just the companion you are needing on your spiritual quest. 

Adrienne Cress, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Expressive Arts Therapist

Adrienne Cress portrait (1)

Adrienne Cress is an Expressive Arts Therapist, Coach and Educator. She is the Co-Founder of The Loveliness and has a private practice in Portsmouth, NH.  

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