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Lions Roar : November 2018
GENERALLY, WE DEFINE SOMETHING as an obstacle because it stops us from achieving a goal we’ve set. If you’re walking along a trail and a big tree has fallen across your path, that’s an obstacle. You either have to turn back, climb over it, or go around it. Chances are you cannot simply lift up the tree and clear your path. Instead, you have to assess the situa- tion and find an appropriate response. You need to figure out your options, and to do so, you need to know yourself: your strengths and limitations. On the other hand, if you’re not trying to get somewhere, the tree is no longer an obstacle. It’s simply a tree lying across a path. It could be quite lovely, with furry moss and a woody fragrance. It could be home to many living beings. It could be a nice place to sit. So, is the tree in itself an obstacle or not? We need obstacles, because when we face and overcome them, we experience growth and forward movement. In fact, we intentionally create obstacles to challenge ourselves and develop skills. We make obstacle courses. We struggle to beat our last time in a race, lift a heavier weight than before, or get to the next level of our video game. Once a game or a challenge becomes too easy, we lose interest. Without obstacles, there’s no growth, no reward. This need to challenge ourselves is apparent even in little babies. My four-month-old granddaughter has a project: to learn how to move about. She spends many of her waking hours diligently working on this project. First, she worked really hard learning how to roll over without getting her arm stuck. Once she could do that, she struggled to lift herself up into a crawling position. Soon she’ll move on to the next step. We seem to be born like that: we need obstacles at every step of our life, in order to learn and develop. How does this relationship to obstacles apply to our spiritual path? Do we need obstacles to deepen our meditation practice and gain a feeling of accomplishment and growth? There are many lists of typical obstacles encountered in meditation practice—things such as drowsiness, physical dis- comfort, restlessness, distraction, and impatience—and there are various suggestions from experienced practitioners about how to deal with them. It’s encouraging to learn that your own particular obstacles are not all that unique. They’ve been known about and worked with by countless practitioners who came before you. However, if you focus too much on obstacles and how to overcome them, it can backfire. You begin to relate to obstacles as more solid than they actually are. At the same time, you become more entrenched in your view of what is supposed to be happening while you’re meditating. You’re guided by “the meditation experience according to you.” Developing a solid view or opinion of what you’re supposed to experience when you meditate can be pretty appealing. If you’re trying to manufacture a particular experience, you can enjoy pushing through obstacles to get there. You can measure your meditation according to the standards you’ve set up. You can document your progress. You can succeed! That’s all great. It’s good to make progress and overcome obstacles as they arise. But eventually, it’s time to revisit the whole idea of obstacles. To do that, it makes sense to clarify where you’re trying to go with your practice. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once commented that rather than using the term “meditating,” it might be better to simply say “experiencing.” Experiences arise moment by moment, as does meditation practice. However—seemingly instanta- neously—we label these experiences one way or another: good, bad, desirable, undesirable, etc. As soon as we create those labels, we enter the world of obstacles and antidotes. We find ourselves subtly struggling to shift what is to what we think should be. This habit runs very deep. Our attempts to manufacture experiences we presume will be better than what we’re already experiencing can be very sub- tle. As you’re meditating, you can notice the many moments of micromanaging, the many little adjustments you make to shape your experience. Because you’re trying to make something happen, you also need obstacles to overcome. You need to form allegiances and take sides. This may be subtle and somewhat hidden, like No Agenda, No Obstacles If you’re not trying to get somewhere, says JUDY LIEF, nothing can stop you. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 46