December 5 – Pursue the Obstacle – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Pursue the obstacle. It will set you free.

When I came upon the mountain, I was in a hurry. I thought it would take too long to make my way around, so I set out to break a path through.Each rock and branch felt like a waste of time. If only the mountain weren’t in the way. I cut my legs and arms as I rushed along. It grew harder to breathe, and I lost all sense of direction. Now I had to climb high enough to see.

Once I broke the tree line, something in me had to see the top. Then I hurried my way up, and strangely, as I worked the climb—step after step—I kept rising, but felt as though I were going nowhere. Finally, I broke the clouds. I had never seen sun on top of clouds. I sat in a clearing on a cliff, the light on top of my head, like a cloud. Suddenly, reaching the top or getting beyond the mountain no longer seemed important. I liked it up here and felt that I could live on the mountain. But I had to return. I had to eat. I needed love. But now when someone asks about breaking through what’s in the way or being in a hurry, I look both ways and say,“Pursue the obstacle. It will set you free.”

This story invites us to honor each obstacle as something flowing in its own right in the Universal stream, to see ourselves and the obstacle as two limbs of the same tree drifting in the same river, bumping into each other, and even blocking one another for a moment.

Looking at obstacles this way, we are asked not to oppose what blocks us as something mounting  its will against our own. For the obstacle will simply give our resistance back to us. We are being asked not to empower or perpetuate the life of the obstacle, but to step aside if we can with openness to the energy of the obstacle—much like the ancient art of Aikido, where instead of blocking a punch, you help the punch move past you.

All the while we are invited to question that in us which insists that what is before us is  an obstacle in the first place. It may not be so. It may be so. It may be something small that our history of struggle has enlarged into tragedy or bad luck.

So if we can, we must focus on our relationship to the stream and not to the things being carried along side us. If something appears to be blocking our way, we must try to understand what is moving it and what is moving us. If our movement in the world is still blocked, perhaps we are meant to be still. We must try not to damage ourselves unnecessarily by trying to force a movement to happen before its time.


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