Archive for April 2nd, 2019

“The obstacle is the path”

Zen Koan

Many years ago in ancient times, there was a king who was afraid his kingdom was in decline because of the attitude of his people. He decided to test their resolve, so he had a giant boulder placed in the middle of the only road into the city. Then, hidden and perched on a high hill, he waited to see what would happen. First to come along were some of the King’s wealthiest merchants. Annoyed at the inconvenience this caused them, they simply walked around it and blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the boulder out of the way.

Next came a group of the King’s courtiers who saw the boulder was blocking their path so they readily gave up. Declaring there would be no work for them that day, they turned around and went home.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the giant stone off the road. He pushed and strained, but to no avail. Then he found a long wooden pole and placed it under the rock. Using leverage, he was able to move it slightly. He repeated this tedious process until the boulder was completely off the road, which made it possible for him and others to easily pass through. He was about to proceed down the previously blocked path when he noticed a leather pouch where the boulder once stood. Opening it, he discovered it contained many gold coins and a note which read, “This gold is for you as you are the only one who realized the obstacle is the path.”

As we travel down the path of life, we often encounter obstacles. When we do, we frequently get frustrated, annoyed, discouraged, upset with others, and sometimes, we even give up. All too often we wish our lives were easier and that our relationships were smoother. We dream of living without trouble or challenges. But that is not what happens when one fully participates in living life. There are troubles and tragedies, mistakes and misunderstandings, dilemmas and disappointments. How we deal with these obstacles is as much a part of life and living as anything else.

We tend to caste obstacles in a negative light and complain when they show up. Sometimes we pretend they aren’t there, but if we don’t deal with them, they will never disappear. As this Koan so wisely teaches us, the obstacle IS the path, just as much as the path is the path. They are one and the same. Whatever we encounter along life’s journey, be it something we perceive as positive or negative, it is what life is all about. Therefore, the path is whatever is in front of us . . . not good, not bad, not to be avoided or ignored.

The only reason we get upset when we are met with an obstacle is because the path is not looking the way we think it should. When in reality, the problem is not that the path is blocked, the problem is your desire to go down the path with no obstruction. As soon as we understand the obstacle isn’t something standing in our way, but is indeed the way itself, is the day we free ourselves of all our upsets.

You want to meet people, but your shyness is an obstacle. You can act like the King’s courtiers and give up and stay home, or you can learn how to deal with your shyness. Do a deep dive into it. Find out what you’re afraid of and work through that fear. Handle that obstacle and the path will be clear.

You are overwhelmed and stressed at work or at home. Like the wealthy merchants, you can complain and blame someone else – your boss for not understanding or your spouse for not helping (but the obstacle will remain in the middle of the path). Or, you can deal with what is interfering with your balance and identify the root of your stress and overwhelm. Maybe you have unrealistic expectations or take on too much or don’t say no when you should. Once you do the self-exploration and deal with the obstacle (weak, personal boundaries) the path will be clear.

Perhaps you and your spouse are having a communication breakdown. You can spend days in silence or fighting, arguing and blaming, or you can realize there’s an obstacle in the way of your path of happiness and look deeper into what is causing the communication problem. Maybe you aren’t listening well, or you’re not seeking to understand, or you’re trying to be right. Whatever it is, it is YOUR obstacle you need to identify and deal with. Doing so is as much a part of what it means to be in a relationship as is the walk in the sunset together.

What is your obstacle? What/who makes you angry or sad? What fear tends to stop you from having what you want? What upsets you, makes you feel weak? When are you frustrated or jealous? You can deal with all these obstacles when you become like the peasant who found a way to deal with the obstacle in his path. Don’t go around it, or run from it. Go into it, work with it…explore it. Identify what is at the source of it. Be creative and find ways to manage it. Then take steps to move it out of the way. Doing so IS your journey. Identifying and removing the obstacle is as much a part of your journey as is the path itself.

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