I like to go fast. The one time in my life I was on a motorcycle, I instantly fell in love with it.
I was young, it was my birthday, and a friend, a master carpenter, took me for a ride around the block because I'd never been on a motorbike before. We probably didn't go faster than 30 miles an hour; I wasn't wearing a helmet; the ride had all the things I love: power, rhythm, freedom and speed. It was amazing. It was a good thing I only had one ride, because if I had the chance to ride a motorcycle, I'd want to do it all the time, in deeply reckless ways, and I'd wind up smearing insides all over the pavement.
I like to go fast.
Sometimes when I'm driving, I wonder if my car is glowing, or if it has some kind of giant arrow pointing to it that says, Cut me off! I'm not in any hurry, and I don't care at all if you treat me like shit! Because I always get stuck behind people who are driving slowly. They rush past me, seeming to have all kinds of speed, and then get in front of me and suddenly get distracted by a bird flying by or something and they slow down, and I'm stuck moving slowly behind them.
I hate it. It sends my blood pressure up. It is as if the universe has picked up a giant boulder and dropped it right in my path.
I think my car does have that cut-me-off glowing arrow pointing at it. I think the universe knows I like to go fast, and so it puts obstacles in my path.
Obstacles make me nuts. And that's precisely why I need them.
Every time I get cut off by a BMW (because, let's be honest, it's always a BMW), I get the chance to take a deep breath and make a choice about how much this matters to me, and how much energy I'm going to let this take from me. I get to decide to let it go. It's not always an easy choice for me, but it's a choice I always get to make
I've learned from Elesa Commerce that the practice of meditation is not the moment of sitting and chanting or visualizing or whatever; instead, every time you pluck our awareness off the monkey-mind road it ran down (what am I having for lunch... I can't believe she said that to me... don't forget to deposit that check, you're going to need the money to--OMGJessshut theFup--Ooommmmm...) that quiet space in between the thoughts, however brief, that returning of your attention: THAT is the practice of meditation.
And so an obstacle is an opportunity to cultivate that space, to practice snatching my attention away from grumpy and uptight, to practice stepping away from the distraction, and to come back to myself.
Obstacles allow us to practice patience and slowness. These are important qualities to practice. They make us safer and smarter. They give us the chance for a better idea to occur to us. They allow reflection, consideration. Hopefully, we mellow as we wait, we don't stew. We can consider our own mistakes, and attempt to make right what we can, what we need to.
Obstacles allow us to cultivate creativity. If we want to take a direction or solve a problem, and suddenly we can't because there's a giant fire truck blocking the road, or because we're injured, or because there's an uncooperative person in our way, well, we gotta suss out how to get unstuck and find another way where we're going. So we get creative: we carefully reverse down half a city block; we take the sequence lying down instead of on our feet (and realize we're still working just as hard); we learn to work with others, or to let go of baggage that doesn't belong to us.
What I find most compelling is that when I encounter obstacles in my path, I first feel fear. But if I'm lucky, and if I try really, really hard, it doesn't stay fear. It becomes bravery. An obstacle offers me the opportunity to cultivate bravery. It says, Are you going to let this beat you, Jess? Are you going to give up on this obstacle because you can't get over it or around it? Are you going to quit because it didn't go your way today? (It doesn't so much sound like a gruff gym teacher/sports coach; it's softer, more encouraging.) I decide: I'm not scared of this obstacle. I'm going to pursue it, wisely, compassionate with myself, and as egoless as possible. If I don't blast through the rock today, well, there's always tomorrow.
So this is where my man Ganesha comes into play. Ganesha is one of my favorite deities to work with: I love his devotion to his family, his sense of humor, his big belly and his swinging trunk. As a person who is always seeking more grounding, I appreciate the solid, earthy energy I cultivate when I chant the Ganesha mantra. For a time, I would cling to it, feeling that my day-to-day was so obstacle-ridden I could hardly move. I felt really graspy in my practice, cold with fear and desperate for something or someone to take all these obstacles out of my way.
A teacher recently said to me that Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, but that sometimes in order to grow, there are obstacles that need to go up in your path. Sometimes you need an obstacle to get stronger, to improve. I've said before that musles don't get stronger if you don't add resistance.
Sure there's a difference between having an obstacle or two that makes you stronger, and having a life so replete with difficulty that you feel you can't get out of bed. I'm definitely not suggesting that we seek out struggle for the sake of struggle. I think what I'm saying is that surrenduring to the occasional struggle might benefit us now and again. Getting angry about struggle just makes for exhaustion and frustration; but when we can give in to struggle, and use it as a means to cultivate bravery, or compassion, patience and creativity, we're better for it.