Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: Is it man's purpose to seek and reach enlightenment? What are the obstacles to reaching enlightenment, and how does one overcome these obstacles? I preach positive thinking to all that are around me, yet sometimes I find myself feeling hopeless and can't get out of the rut. Please help. Thank you.
— Claudette Y., Fair Oaks, California
You have asked two questions, but let me see if we can link them. Positive thinking is very good, even necessary, in order to have a vision of life. Your vision is of enlightenment, and nothing could be more positive. Having found your vision, however, you don't have to force yourself to think positively all the time. That is an artificial way to approach the mind. I find that if you don't force your mind, it works more naturally and with less stress.
Now, having set your goal at enlightenment, how do you get there? First, let's not think in terms of obstacles. Enlightenment is the product of personal growth. When a rose is growing in your garden, aiming for the day it will give forth a glorious blossom, it doesn't think, "What are the obstacles to overcome before I can flower?" It simply grows, taking the good and the bad as they come, with the assurance that one day the flower will appear.
Yet roses bloom best with rich soil, lots of nourishment and tender care. The same holds true for you. There are only two things needed on the spiritual path: a vision of the goal and the desire to expand your awareness. Whatever enlightenment may be—and many traditions describe it differently—every step toward enlightenment is a step of self-awareness. As you become more aware, not everything that reveals itself is positive. Life is a mixed blessing, and everyone has a shadow self.
But no matter how difficult some aspect of your life may be, it can't serve as an obstacle to spirit. Your body may face obstacles, and so may your psyche. Deal with these the best way you can find; in other words, lead a normal life with support from family, friends and others who are spiritually minded. But spirit is about awareness, and as long as you know that, the opportunity for expanded consciousness will always appear. Sometimes it appears in meditation, sometimes as a new insight, at other times as guides and teachers who appear to help us. Let your higher self be the ultimate guide and keep firm in knowing that the whole path takes place in consciousness.