From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping-Stones:
Adversity as a Key to Spiritual Development
Kathy L. Callahan, Ph.D.

Stumbling Blocks- Stepping StonesMany schools of thought teach us that it is the difficult things in life that serve as an impetus to greater growth and wholeness. Jesus said that temptations (stumbling blocks) must come as a necessary experience in life. Buddha expressed this sentiment when he said that it is our enemy who teaches us the most valuable lessons. According to the psychological concept of individuation, it is only by overcoming adversity that we become whole and fully functioning individuals capable of realizing our true potential. Similarly, the Edgar Cayce readings teach us that it is the difficult things in life that present us with opportunities to further our spiritual development and bring us closer to God.

The readings tell us that a soul enters the earth plane to learn lessons necessary for its spiritual development. It is only after we have applied and mastered a lesson that we are allowed to continue on to the next step. God is patient and merciful. We are given opportunity after opportunity to become the creative beings we were meant to be.

The readings also tell us that very few experiences happen by chance. “Hence in the relationships, the meetings with others in WHATEVER form or manner, such are not coincidental but are rather as purposeful experiences.” (1722-1) Every person we meet, each condition we encounter, and all the situations we face, present us with an opportunity to learn lessons designed to help us on our spiritual journey.

A number of esoteric traditions teach that prior to entering the earth plane each soul is given the opportunity to choose what lessons it desires to learn. During this “life mapping” session, the soul is given the opportunity to see all the possibilities it may meet based upon the choices it makes. The soul rejects some and agrees to others, knowing that some may involve physical pain, emotional sorrow, or suffering. While in the spiritual realm, the soul sees the greater purpose each experience may bring, knowing that physical experiences are temporal and cannot truly harm it. The soul accepts those experiences in the knowledge that they will foster a unity-consciousness with God.

A soul may therefore agree to endure what appear to be hurtful relationships and tragic conditions during a physical lifetime on Earth. The most common reasons for doing so appear to be to learn a lesson, to teach others, or to make manifest the glory of God. In fact, the readings give numerous instances of “advanced” souls who entered the earth plane with a physical or mental disability so that others might learn from their associations with them.

When we enter the earth plane, however, the “veil” of this material world clouds our memory, and the reasons for which we came move to the subconscious level of our minds. We begin to see with our physical eyes rather than spiritual vision. While the conscious mind of a person may not be aware of the choices made by the soul, the individual subconsciously knows and understands the reasons for the condition.

Individuation and Spiritual Development

A parallel can be drawn between the psychological process of individuation (first developed by Carl Jung) and Cayce’s concept of spiritual development. In individuation, the strongest desire of any human being is to fulfill his/her full potential. In the readings, this equates to the soul seeking to correct its errors of perception and realize its true nature and relationship with God. In individuation, this urge comes from the unconscious mind and requires the forging of the conscious and unconscious. The readings attribute this urge to “memory of First Cause,” contained within the spirit (spark of God) of each human being. It is First Cause that prompts us to look beyond our five physical senses and integrate all three components of ourselves: body, mind, and soul.

In order for the process of individuation to succeed, a person must confront his/her shadow self. In order to awaken spiritually, a person must confront his/her true nature as a co-creator with God and acknowledge that as creative beings, our thoughts and actions create our experience. While at first look this may not seem to equate to the “dark side” of the shadow self, it truly does equate, because this requires us to accept the fact that we can create evil as well as good.

“Ideas may be merely thoughts. As they run the course through those activities and minds of individuals, they may become crimes or they become miracles, dependent upon that with which the individual entity gives the thought or the idea to an ideal...” (5250-1)

The goal of individuation is an indivisible, unified personality. The goal of spiritual development is a “fully integrated human.” The fully integrated human is able to move beyond the perception of the five physical senses and perceive phenomena that exist in the world of pure spirit or energy. This enables the person to see with a new type of “spiritual” vision, look beyond old paradigms built upon differences (separation), and act according to paradigms based upon unity or God-consciousness. Simply put, the fully integrated human becomes aware of his/her spiritual nature, and begins to act upon spiritual impulses rather than selfish desires.

The catalyst for individuation is something that is destructive or life threatening to the individual. The catalyst for spiritual awakening is often adversity of some kind. The readings call these experiences stumbling blocks and frequently admonish us to take the stumbling blocks we encounter in our lives and turn them into stepping-stones toward greater spiritual growth and development. The story of Job is an excellent illustration of this process.

The Book of Job tells us that Job was a righteous man and that none of the misfortune that befell him was due to his own making. If you accept the premise that the soul chooses the lessons it desires to work on while in the physical plane, you realize that Job chose the experiences he encountered, knowing the great soul growth that would occur if he met those experiences with the right spirit.

Scripture clearly indicates that Job met the many misfortunes of his later life in the same spirit he had met the good fortune of his early life—with patience, understanding, and faith. Job could easily have reacted with anger and even hatred toward God for all the evil that befell him. Some might even say that he was justified in doing so. If he had made that choice, however, he would have separated himself from God and fostered a separation-consciousness. Instead, Job chose to manifest spiritual attributes thereby reaffirming a unity-consciousness between himself and his Creator. Because of the misfortunes he experienced, Job knew both good and evil, and through free will, made the choice to manifest good. By returning good for evil, Job experienced a high level of spiritual growth.

When we experience those difficult things in life, we need to remember that it is our response to those difficulties that truly defines us. If we respond from a divine perspective, we make a choice to rise above surface appearances and search for the lesson each experience brings. We demonstrate our belief that there is a higher order and wisdom at work in the world, and reaffirm our unity with God.

Kathy L. Callahan, Ph.D.Image of God and Shadow of Demons Kathy L. Callahan, Ph.D. has been as student of the Edgar Cayce readings for over 40 years. She is a noted author and speaker for the ARE. This article is adapted from Kathy’s book In the Image of God and the Shadow of Demons, A Metaphysical Study of Good and Evil, available through the A.R.E. store at