Do you see obstacles to your happiness? Who put them there?

What obstacles do you put between yourself and your happiness?

Some wise lessons take a lot of repeating to sink in, and a lot of teachers with a lot of different delivery methods — for me anyway.

I learned this lesson about happiness twice recently: in tai chi class and then again two weeks later from Molly Gordon in her Art of Living class. (Just in case Molly’s class page is down, you can meet her and her beautiful work here.)
What obstacles do you put between yourself and your happiness?

The tai chi lesson

The latest in a long line of ego smackdowns that come with studying an internal martial art.

This happens a lot. I’ve been a tai chi student since 1974. So many opportunities to see (and be shown, in case I’m missing it) my ego in all its sad glory.

There I am, in class, soaking up the too-infrequent feedback and instruction I get from my friend and teacher Greg (who visits twice a year from NYC, who’s known me pretty much this whole time — over four decades) and then I get frustrated and say something like: “Why do I bother even trying to do push hands? My body (and its musculo-skeletal challenges) — I just can’t. I’m too old, too damaged, too sick.”

Greg’s response to me: “You always have some reason that keeps you from fully engaging with what you have, who you’re with, what you’re doing.” I’m paraphrasing the exact words a bit (not the sentiment). I got so mad at him when he said this, and in the time between being angry and realizing just how right he was, I managed to forget exactly how he put it.

Then I realized he was right; I can be so skillful at finding an external circumstance to blame for…anything!

And every story I tell myself gets in the way of my ability to experience happiness now.

  • Losing my balance in tai chi push hands? I must be too old and too injured.
  • Not getting enough attention? I must be an unlovable loser.
  • Still dealing with that persistent digestive issue? I am clearly not trying hard enough.
  • My rebranded, upleveled new website isn’t completed yet? I’m moving too slowly; I’ll never get it all done!
  • Finances are in a shambles? My business revenue is down? I’d better not go to the beach, or the movies, or pretty much anywhere.

You know the kinds of thoughts that come right on the heels of these stories:

  • Resignation: Why bother?
  • Self-pity: Why doesn’t anyone call me?
  • Fear: I seriously don’t think I’ll What’s wrong with me?

The Art of Living lesson

The assignment from the first Art of Living class was to “make a list of all the stories you’ve been living out.” Watching myself write these down as they occurred to me, I realized in a new and deeper way that the content of my stories is just that — content. I realized we all have stories, and while the content is different for each of us at different times, the pain and unhappiness they bring are universal.

  • The content and circumstances of my stories are not what cause me to feel blocked from happiness. That comes from what I end up believing because a story is present.
  • If the stories aren’t telling me “too old, too broken” or “unlovable” or “too lazy” they would be telling me something else. In fact, if I don’t take them too personally, each story is a transformation and growth opportunity.
  • When I can choose to love what is, unconditionally, and let go of the belief that I have to change circumstances, I can be free.

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. — Guillaume Apollinaire

What about you? How do you deal with the stories that dance around inside of you and get between you and your happiness? I’d love to know; let’s talk in the comments.

On another note…

How are you doing with the Retrograde madness?

Mercury just began another retrograde (until May 22), Mars is retrograde (until June 29), and every other planet except Venus is retrograde (or approaching) right now. Are you feeling sped up? Slowed down? Stuck? More problems than usual? I know I’m moving slower than I’d like to. I’m hoping that when Jupiter stations direct next week, things will begin to ease up. I’m hoping. How’s it going for you?

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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Join the conversation!

  1. Wow. This sort of post is both my most and least favorite. I don’t know what I think — so it will be with me for a while. Thank you. (I think.) <3

    • Andrea, I’m intrigued. What qualities make this your least favorite kind of post? If my writing alienates, I’d love to know why!

      Thanks for your honesty.

  2. Martial arts teaches us some valuable life lessons. So glad that it helped you realize that we are 100% responsible for our results in life and that we can CHOOSE the stories we tell ourselves about what’s true.

  3. I’m a bit of an overly optimistic optimist, Sue, having trained my mind to find at least 1 good thing in any situation that is driving me nuts, whether of my own doing or someone else.

    It’s easy to get caught in the stories and lose out on the little things that add to our happiness. That’s when practicing mindfulness and accepting that we don’t control the Universe but we do control ourselves comes into play. I loved your post, it got me thinking.

    • Vatsala, that’s a great commitment, to find at least one good thing in every situation. I think I’ll give it a try.

      Love and light,

  4. Reading this post I thought of both Steven Pressfield’s classic book, “The War of Art”, and also the idea of our stories being “rackets” we tell ourselves and live as our truths, learned from Landmark Education. Pressfield is a brilliant writer and if you haven’t read “The War of Art”, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Without saying too much about it, “resistance” is a big player. The key as you’ve identified, is to be able to stand back and objectively look at the “drama/story” we are living and then to have tools to transform it or to create a new story we do want to live. Thanks for offering some food for thought in this personal post! Loved it, Sue!

    • Beverley, I just ordered The War of Art from my library. I’d never heard of it before.

      And yup, rackets.


  5. Love the exercise of “writing out the stories we’ve been living out,” Sue.

    One question I ask myself and clients when I hear that “story voice” or “identity voice” is: What are YOU getting out of it? (e.g., What are YOU getting out of being “the giver” or “the fixer”?)

    There’s usually more to the story/identity than the comfortable, familiar stuff at the surface, I find.

    • Dana, I like that exploration, of asking myself what I’m getting out of this or that role? Definitely uncomfortable, and definitely worth the discomfort to really look.

      Blessed be.

  6. Oh yes Sue moving much slower than i wanted to, got a serious infection that stopped me, my rebranding is taking too long and yesterday i just felt like i was going round and round in circles so i am right there with you This was me Resignation: Why bother?

    Self-pity: Why doesn’t anyone call me?

    Fear: I seriously don’t think I’ll What’s wrong with me? I wondered if I had a new disease!~ Anyway today i feel full of life have a simpler plan to move forward and accept that rest is something I need a lot more of than i think I do, thanks must be time for a virtual tea chat i feel big hugs xxoo

    • Suzie, I know what you mean about how long this stuff takes. I’m glad you’re beginning to feel better; may it continue.

      Yes, let’s set up another virtual tea chat. I’ll message you a link to my scheduler on Facebook. Let’s see what we can do with our wide-apart time zones.


  7. Oh man, the stories we tell ourselves are pretty powerful, aren’t they? I know I’m not alone when I say the story I’ve struggled the most to rewrite is that I’m not ready, not quite good enough. Part of that comes from childhood issues, but as I keep reminding myself, I’m a fully responsible adult now so get over it.

    This month I am working to embrace the discomfort of becoming more visible – publishing outside of my blog, doing more interviews and guest posts. The goal is to do at least one uncomfortable thing each day – so far so good. 🙂

    • Marquita, they sure are powerful, those stories. We humans are story-making and meaning-making machines.

      Thanks for blazing a path of increased visibility. You inspire me!

      Love and magic,

  8. Isn’t it interesting and so profound that our teachers are so often right in front of us – not only when we least expect them to be but who we expect them to be. I have ‘caught’ myself in the same place of being a tad angry at a comment that inside I knew was true but thrown by when it came and who it came from. My husband has studied martial arts long before I met him and in a land far away from where we are — but his embodiment of it tends to inspire me frequently. Thank you for allowing me to resonate with your message and I am so in it with my journey and teachings too. I love the perspectives you brought forth.

    • Teresa, you remind of this: When the student is ready the teacher will appear. Even if you don’t think you’re ready. Even if you never expected to get any kind of wisdom from this particular person.

      It’s such a gift when an unexpected lesson pierces our lines of defense and lands right in the heart.

      Blessed be.

  9. We wouldn’t be humans if we didn’t have a committee upstairs creating disempowering stories or thoughts. It is the human condition that we are meaning making machines. Thank goodness I learned this before it took over & I get to recognize some of the voices almost immediately. I thank it for sharing & say, I prefer…

    • Roz,

      I like that (and use it often): thanking my monkey mind for sharing and moving on.

      Love and gratitude,

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