By Leo Babauta
Often we’re discouraged because of some tough challenge or obstacle in our way. But a shift in mindset from a Zen proverb can change everything: “The obstacle is the path.”
The obstacle isn’t something standing in our way. It’s the way itself.
That might seem strange, so let’s look at a few examples:
- You are struggling with writing, and procrastinate. Procrastination is the symptom, but it also illuminates the path you should take: you are dreading something about the writing, you are shying away from discomfort, you are afraid of the writing or what will happen when you publish the writing. So work with that dread, the discomfort, and the fear. You’ll be stronger for having done that.
- You are shy and can’t meet people. This can be seen as an obstacle to social happiness, or as a path for something to work with. Many people will avoid this obstacle of shyness, and instead stay home and not socialize. Instead, go towards this shyness, explore it, find out what you’re afraid of, work with that fear. You’ll get better at handling the fear, even let go of it, and it will no longer stand in your way.
- You are stressed out and overwhelmed at work. You can complain about this problem (and it will then continue for the rest of your life), or you can immerse yourself in it, let it lead you to self-exploration, and deal with the source of that stress and overwhelm. You’ll learn that you have unrealistic expectations and ideals, learn to let go of them, and the stress will go away. You’ll now have a tool for dealing with stress for the rest of your life.
- People criticize you for doing things different, and don’t understand what you’re doing. You can get mad at them, rage against the unfairness of the world, or avoid them. Or, instead, you could embrace this concern, thank them for caring about you, and engage them in a conversation about what you’re going through, why you decided to do it, and how you could use their support. They might not completely understand, but they also might understand you better, which is great. And you’ll now be better at dealing with this forevermore.
- You are jealous, angry, weak, impatient, grieving. You can deal with any of these issues, if you are willing to go into them, and be OK with experiencing these discomforts.
The examples can go on forever, but the principle becomes clear: when there’s an obstacle, don’t go around it. Don’t run from it. Go into it. Work with it. Explore it. Learn how to be with it and deal with it, and you’ll have a skill for life.
And what’s more: you will no longer be limited by obstacles in your path.