Review of ‘What’s In the Way is the Way‘ by Mary O’Malley
What’s in the Way is the Way a great title. It says that what we think is in the way of our life, is actually our life. It’s the way we have to go. The author deepens this idea to tell us that rather than running away from the things we dislike and always wanting to change and fix things, which puts us in a constant state of struggle, we should simply accept what is and work with it to further our development into fully conscious beings. Her teaching is about being present with life as it presents itself. We can’t avoid difficulties in life, but by dropping the struggle to control the uncontrollable, we can avoid making things more painful. This is the point of this book.
The author stresses that our problems come from living in the clouds of our thoughts and emotions, rather living in our natural state of awareness, which is free of entanglement. She calls this the meadow. And she gives exercises throughout the book to help us experience this.
The degree of benefit that anyone gets from books like this varies a lot depending on the reader, but one of the things that affect how well one relates to such teachings is the language used. In this case, the author uses some words that simply don’t work for me, such as calling beliefs ‘spells’. I can see why she does this, but I also don’t see what’s wrong with simply saying core beliefs, which is what they are. Some, however, may find her particular terminology enlightening. The language in general here is a little saccharine for my taste as well and it’s highly repetitive. The same things are said over and over again, such that I began to feel preached to, and some phrases even ended up sounding a little like empty platitudes.
I don’t doubt that there is a great deal in this book that many people will find helpful, and the basic premise is good. Giving up trying to control everything and learning to ‘go with the flow’ is an excellent teaching, but the book has some major flaws. I’ll share a couple of examples; in one case the flaw is by neglect, in the other it’s misdirection.
The case of neglect is that the author has neglected to remind readers that when it comes to physical pain, not trying to fix it is not wise. I suspect that the author has not had a lot of chronic pain in her life, because if she had, she would have handled this aspect with much more care. It is not helpful to tell those in chronic pain that all pain comes from fear. Perhaps all emotional pain does, but physical pain has much more complex causes. If you’re in extreme pain, your awareness of it is very acute and to suggest that you should focus on it will only cause more distress. Then to suggest that one is somehow less conscious if one tries to fix one’s pain, is downright insulting for those suffering extreme physical pain.
The flaw of misdirection is in the statements that ‘life is for you’ and ‘life is you.’ The aim of such statements is to help people to feel that they can trust life, but they are, at best, a gross oversimplification. Such statements feed our already over inflated egocentricity, but we are not the centre of the world, we only feel like we are, and solidifying that perception will not help you to flow with life or connect with others, because though we’d love for it to be true, life does not work that way. Life is not for one of us, it’s for all of us. Things don’t happen because they are right for you, they happen due to a complex web of causes and conditions that involve every being and all phenomena because we are all connected. Life is not for or against you. It just is.
In addition, in her bio Ms O’Malley does not list any relevant credentials, teachers, studies or personal experience to help me have faith in her teachings. So though the book offers much that is helpful, don’t trust that everything is as she says it is. Most of us are indeed far too caught up in the stories in our head, but we need to make sure that we don’t just replace old stories with new ones.