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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

What’s in Your Way?

Obstacles Point the Path to Wholeness and Healing

Since childhood, Mary O’Malley always thought that something bad was about to happen and experienced a continuous dread that gnawed her insides. Over the years, she tried to eat, drink and medicate away the anxious feelings plaguing her, and sought help from group therapy, hypnotherapy and psychiatrists.

Then in 1972, in her late 20s, O’Malley attended a yoga workshop that helped advance her quest to let go of struggles and embrace life. Later, when she met Stephen Levine, whose teaching is influenced by Buddhism, he conveyed, “There’s nothing in you that needs to be fixed,” and invited her to view her own issues with curiosity and compassion.

The transformational insights learned along her journey shared in her book, What’s In the Way Is the Way, include simple tools for those that need to move beyond struggles to live in the present with more peace, ease and joy.

Train as a Tightness Detective

Ask this internal question when feeling stressed: “In what aspect of life am I holding on for dear life?” Is your breath short, are your shoulders tight; do you feel a fist in your solar plexus or an elephant sitting on your chest? These are indications that you’re aligned with some struggle. By softening and breathing into the tight places, you can open into life and better align with ease and grace.

Strengthen the Curiosity Muscle

Whenever O’Malley experienced inner gnawing, she tuned into her body and inquired about the dread: “How big is it and how deep does it go? Does it have a flavor?” The more she questioned,  the more curiosity and attention she brought to the emotion, and the freer she felt.

Turn Curiosity into Compassion

O’Malley learned to more accurately self-report her feelings. Instead of, “I am afraid,” she learned to assess; “Dread is here.” Then she cultivated compassion, treating the dread as her friend signaling the need for a solution. She acknowledged and listened to the stricken and paralyzed parts of herself, knowing they were separating her from joy because they needed to be heard and understood.

Step Outside Struggle to Embrace Humility

O’Malley believes that struggle is humanity’s core compulsion. We develop a story about the difficulty of life and heroically fight against myriad injustices. Yet making a U-turn in perspective to see them as challenges is tailor-made to help us recognize and achieve separation from our individual struggles in favor of a better way of experiencing life.

“The dictionary misses the full meaning when it defines humility as ‘lowliness, meekness, submissiveness,’” O’Malley believes. “True humility is a state of great availability, and from this kind of openness we can reconnect with the joy of being fully alive.” She now discovers gifts embedded in every single challenge.

Deborah Shouse blogs at

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