Monday, January 12, 2009

Obstacles are Question Marks

Even if you don't like the music,
Get up and dance!

Even if you don't like the situation you are in, you still must somehow respond to it -- so why not respond with joyous enthusiasm?

I used to think that obstacles were stop signs. When life put up road blocks, I would take that as a sign that it was "not meant to be," and I'd turn around and go back. In response to an obstacle, I would often completely reverse course. After 40 years of that, my Life Map looks like an arcade paintball room -- splashy ricochets in all directions. I never knew which way to go -- I just kept doing U-turns in the hope of finding an obstacle-free path. I never did.

So now, at midlife, I'm experimenting with a new life philosophy. Obstacles are NOT stop signs. Obstacles are question marks. When you're moving forward in a certain direction, an obstacle will likely appear, in order to ask you, "Do you REALLY want this?" or "How BADLY do you want this?"

If you want to continue on your current path passionately enough, or if you desire the intended outcome badly enough, you will leap over, circumvent, or plow through any obstacle along the way. In Yoga, we call that fierce determination "Tapas" -- the inner fire. If you don't want it that much, you'll see the obstacle as a brick wall and give up.

Obstacles are tests of your intention and determination. If you see an obstacle, don't just turn around and go back. Pause, tune in with your inner voice, and then follow your excitement. Your intuition will respond to an obstacle either with "Nah, it's not worth all that trouble," or "I don't care what it takes, I'm DOING this!" Listen to your intuition, and respond appropriately.

Here's a personal story for you that illustrates the point:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved art, and was really talented at it. She was ably drawing faces when she was only 20 months old. She loved to draw and paint and play with clay. She impressed her parents and everyone she met with her artistic abilities and creative enthusiasm. Her parents nurtured her with praise and enrichment activities. The girl also loved to dance and sing and make up stories. She even invented her own language, and wrote and illustrated her own books. She was very creative and imaginative throughout her childhood.

In high school, the girl took every art class available. Unfortunately, the art teacher there was not nurturing, and treated the girl harshly. The teacher told the girl's mother, "even though she is talented, she will never make it as an artist." The girl, then 17, told her mother she wanted to go to art school. The mother said, "no" and insisted the girl do something more "practical."

When faced with this obstacle, the naive girl turned around and went the other way. She attended university instead of art school, and majored in psychology instead of fine arts (which she minored in instead). She received a bachelor's degree, got her first job in advertising, which she was very good at, but disliked.

She was disillusioned by her options in society, and galvanized by her work in the peace and women's movements. She wanted to do something positive and alternative. The girl, by then a young woman of 22, moved to an intentional community, and learned about natural living, whole foods, communal childcare, and how to live happily in nature with other people and less stuff.

A year later, she came to Eugene and became pregnant. She focused her life on her child's needs and wants, putting her own life second. Her son, it turned out, had autism, and needed extra care. She tried to pursue a "practical" graduate degree in counseling, but she did not enjoy her classes. In the face of the many obstacles faced by the single parent of an autistic preschooler attending graduate school, she gave up and returned to Eugene.

After being inspired by The Artist's Way, the young woman tried to fulfill her dream of becoming an artist, working alone several hours a day in her garage. But without training or support, she floundered, and soon took a retail job in a bookstore. Many boring and low-paying office jobs later, she worked for awhile as an interior designer for a home builder. She enjoyed the creativity, but selling carpet for subdivisions felt like selling out. She quit. She became a yoga teacher, and later a yoga therapist. Yoga teaching fulfilled her social and spiritual needs, and was also somewhat creative.

She had another baby, a girl who began to show signs of artistic enthusiasm and talent. Watching her young daughter's love for drawing, painting, and clay, listening to her stories, songs, and imagination, the mother remembered her own childhood and her own creativity. As she spent many hours drawing and sculpting with her little daughter, the mom's love and passion for art reemerged, as did her dream to attend art school. She decided to try again.

She signed up for a sculpture class at the community college. One week before class started, she was involved in a debilitating bicycle crash. Her shoulder was in pain for many weeks, and her right hand was in a splint for a month. She dropped the class.

The next term, she tried again. She signed up for a drawing class. A month before the class started, she had a toxic, allergic reaction to an antibiotic, which made her so sick she could not work or barely leave the house for several months. She could not even sit comfortably in a chair. She dropped the class again.

But she did not give up. The desire did not fade; it grew stronger. The following term, she signed up for another drawing class. So far she has completed the first week of class, and is doing well. She is enjoying it, and her enthusiasm is bubbling up from under the surface.

She is going to keep trying, keep overcoming obstacles, and keep pursuing the long-dormant, neglected childhood dream. She, and her daughter, are artists. When the question mark was raised, "Do you REALLY want this?" -- the mom said "YES!"

Samskara Subtle impressions of one's own past karmas, or actions. Fixed notion or habitual reaction formed by one's past. The innermost wall of the city of life is constructed by the samskaras that hold the aspirant's attachments and pleasure-seeking desires.

When the need to move forward is stronger than any obstacle, there are often deeper forces at work. Respect what you cannot understand, listen to your inner voice, and follow your excitement.

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
--Joseph Campbell


Emily F. said...

Dear Anita,
I absolutely love, and identify with, your feelings about being scared to take risks, and always putting your family first at your own expense. I am 43 and have watched myself slowly become invisible as I raise my two kids and forget who I am and what I loved to do in life. I've neglected both my body and spirit and now face a medical situation which has caused me to necessarily put myself first. This medical challenge presented the opportunity I needed to change my life and, while scared, I am grateful for it. I am also grateful for the Holistic Moms Network - a national non-profit connecting parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. Through the organization, I have found a community of moms who are committed to natural living and also going through many of the same issues I am. I encourage everyone to check the group out at The online forums are a source of incredible advice, information, and support. Best of luck on your artistic journey!

Anonymous said...

Great solid story and advice.
We must make the choice,prepare and then go.

right on..

Never chemo....ever....

closedlotus said...

Thank you for your story, Anita. I am now faced with an obstacle, and this story of perseverance gives me pause to think about....
Much love and peace to you,