As a psychologist, I am privileged to witness people engaging with questions of who they are and who they want to be—where they are and where they want to go. I often think of my work as being an invited guest on an excavation into the depths of someone’s being. It is too dark to take the journey alone, but when we both put our headlamps on and take one step at a time into the darkness, we can see what lies ahead. We can remove the obstacles that stand in our way and plunge even deeper towards the treasure that we seek.
The obstacles people find can often be a cause for confusion. This is because every time we put the headlamp on to go exploring, we are afraid of what we are going to find. When we stumble on the unexpected, we automatically write a story about what it means. We determine that we are “crazy,” or on the wrong track and that we shouldn’t keep moving forward. We see the obstacle and say, “there is the evidence that I will never get what I want… why did I even bother?”
We often look at our lives as proof of how we are doing it wrong instead of how we are doing it right. My job is to point out the evidence that people are doing it “right” and to expose the “story” as just that—a story. We all need people to shine a light on this truth. In most cases, obstacles are really just treasures themselves. They are perfect vehicles for transformation. They are designed to rattle us because we probably need a little rattling. So many times, when we want our lives to change, we only want things on the outside to change. But for real change to occur, we have to change. The obstacles are vehicles for change. They are necessary. They are perfect. They are not signals that you're doing something wrong, they are actually stepping-stones to your own freedom.
Big feelings, obstacles, and the meaning we make of these are like booby-traps on the spiritual journey, trying to divert you from the gold. Can you imagine an Indiana Jones movie without the snakes and skeletons? Frodo without Gollum? Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? It may sound a little over-the-top, but there is a reason that there are so many stories like these. They are useful metaphors for our own lives. They are archetypal road maps, reminding us that the struggles are worthwhile, giving us hope as we cheer on the victor and internalize that there is a reason for the journey.
If we let the detours, the headaches, the fears and frustrations stand in our way, we never get to the gold. These stories of an external search for greatness are actually reflecting the internal search for ourselves. Joseph Campbell has written about how the same stories have been told in every culture since the beginning of time. Their essence is about the hero’s journey and each of us has our own journey to take. We are the heroes of our own lives.
I hope you might embrace your own journey today and place yourself as the hero in it. Although our childhood heroes were leaping tall buildings in a single bound, I believe that the parallel in the internal/modern world is when we take a deep breath, when we get curious about what is actually going on, when we pay attention to whatever it is that we find and honor it as our perfect path towards self-awareness, self-trust, and towards the gold that is within.
The skeletons and rockslides are there for a reason. We want the hero’s journey to be smooth sailing but the diversions are just rungs on a ladder, guiding us deeper into our own hearts. We want someone else to be the hero of our lives but the only thing distressing about the damsel who waits for such a hero is the fact that they are waiting. Waiting to be dubbed good enough instead of leaving the tower to discover their own landscapes—realizing they didn’t need rescuing, or permission to claim the treasure they were seeking all along: themselves.
Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice.
Copyright by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., 2012. All rights reserved. Any excerpts reproduced from this article should include links to the original on Psychology Today.