“I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward.” ~ The Blind Seer in O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
I like this movie quote a lot… and not just because it has me pronouncing the word as “obb-stack-els” now. No, I like it because it ‘s a reflection of how I look at my own path. I know that there will be roadblocks along the way, but I also know that I need not fear them, that I will overcome them in time. I may need awhile to work through them, but eventually, I will climb over each road block and continue down my path with a fresh set of lessons learned.
If we are to overcome our obstacles, we need to be able to recognize them for what they are. This is a task that appears to be simple, deceptively so. Seeing obstacles for what they are isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, the obstacles themselves are so big that we don’t even realize there’s an alternative. At other times, obstacles are wrapped in attractive packaging and may appear on the surface as being something beneficial for us, when in fact, they are holding us back. Something that once propelled us down our path may now hold us back from new progress.
I can’t tell you what your obstacles are or what you’ll need to do to overcome them. Overcoming obstacles is something that each of us must work out for ourselves. What I can tell you is some of those that I’ve encountered. Perhaps you’ll recognize a few of your own among these. Perhaps you’ve found a better solution than I for getting past them. At any rate, here are a few that occur to me off the top of my head:
1. My own fears and prejudices…
As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to better handle these, but early in my path, these were some of the biggest roadblocks that I encountered. I come from a family that was a mix of various Christian denominations which only seem to have in common a condemnation for any practice that wasn’t clearly Christian. Like a lot of new seekers, I felt conflicted about leaving the church that I’d know my entire life. It wasn’t easy to overcome those doubts, but as I’ve progressed down this path, I’ve become far more confident that it was the right decision and that staying with my family’s faith was simply not an option.
2. The fears and prejudices of others….
I admit that I’m often the first to say that I don’t care what other people think of me and then silently worry that people don’t accept me for who I am. It’s an internal conflict, compounded when others project their fears and prejudices on me.
I’ll never forget the day that my sister turned to me in the middle of a conversation and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to Hell because I have a tattoo (actually, I have several, but the one in question has incredibly deep spiritual and personal significance to me). If the logical and rational side of my brain were allowed dominance, I would have written her comment off as yet another bit of self-righteous superiority from someone who really shouldn’t be throwing stones. I don’t even believe in the existence of Hell, yet her comment made me stop and wonder if I had it wrong. If someone who has known and purported to love me all of my life thinks I’m this wrong, could it be I really am running down the wrong road?
Fortunately, I quickly came to my senses in this instance by reminding myself to consider the source. I love her, but my sister found God and a smug self-righteousness at around the same time and has been pretty insufferable and intolerant ever since. All statements regarding one’s soul made by her need to be taken with a grain of salt… and probably a little tequila chaser.
3. Doubt and dark nights of the soul…
I’m not sure I even need to mention this one, since I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t experienced spiritual or religious doubt at some point in their lives. I’m fairly certain that entire books (both fiction and non-fiction) have been written on the subject. Been there, done it, bought the t-shirt, and started over again… several times.
4. An inability to let go…
Suddenly I have Howard Jones’ voice in my head singing “A thousand skeptic hands won’t keep us from the things we planned, unless we’re clinging to the things we prize” (song is here if you need an 80’s earworm). There’s sometimes wisdom to be found in musical lyrics and this one is a gem as far as I’m concerned. When we cling to things, to people, to ideas that no longer benefit us, we create our own obstacles. It’s far too easy to get caught up in a cycle of holding on to something that we once cherished, even if that something has become harmful to us.
5. Getting mentally stuck…
This is closely related to #4 for me. Perhaps I’m the only one who does this, but sometimes I get stuck mentally on a question or problem and just can’t get past it. It gnaws on me until I either find a solution or force myself to let it go entirely. For me, part of the problem is that cognitively, I’m an organizer who needs to mentally catalog, inventory, and puzzle solve. Throw something unexplained my way (doesn’t happen much on my path, no…) and I usually will need time to work through it until I have an answer that’s satisfactory at least in my own head. If an answer isn’t forthcoming, I just keep chewing on the problem trying to work out the whys and hows. Usually, I can get through this kind of blockage within a few weeks at most. Once in a while, I manage to come up with a sticking point that lasts long-term, that I just can’t seem to figure out, that still holds a sense of importance even after a good deal of time has passed. These turn into more of a repeating series of speed bumps than an actual obstacle, but still, they tend to hold me back from progress.
6. Challenges from deity…
Sometimes, I really do think that the sole purpose for the creation of humanity was to give the gods an endless source of entertainment. I usually feel this way shortly after having been handed a challenging situation by a deity and being told to deal with it. bleh. Thankfully, this is a fairly infrequent problem for me or I’d be mad as a hatter by now.
That’s it for me. I’m sure you’ve got a few obstacles of your own that you can name. Just remember this: Obstacles don’t happen simply to hinder our progress; they exist to make us stronger, wiser, and more able to cope with our lives.