“It was a good day,” my husband told me after describing his day at work where things had gone smoothly. “They’re all good days,” I thought to myself in response. Yet that is not how we usually experience it. When we have “good days,” it usually means it was a day in which we came across few obstacles–an obstacle being something out of our control that interfered with our expectations. So is the good life a life free from obstacles or is there more to it?
Avoiding obstacles is not a path to happiness
Most believe stressful situations are what cause us to feel stress, and by somehow controlling outcomes, we can avoid obstacles thereby avoiding stress. First of all, there’s very little over which we have control. And the more we try to control, the more we set up rigid expectations leading to more stress and inner friction. Stress is simply our fight or flight reaction to a demand or change of expectations. This is one of the reasons we meditate, through deep rest we gain energy to adapt to changes of expectations, thereby preventing a stress response. Fear is greatly mitigated since one can simply adapt to any obstacle.
Obstacles are stepping stones to growth
There was an ancient revered Vedic sage known as Ashtavakra, which literally means “eight bends” reflecting how his arms and legs were bent and twisted to such a degree, he looked like a spider. In his past life, he had been a beautiful prince that had everything a man could ever want but he did not find happiness. When it came time for him to select his next life, he chose to be severely handicapped so he would not be distracted from a spiritual path and would know true freedom. When life is moving along smoothly, it can feel like we’re on auto-pilot. It often takes an obstacle to push us into creative mode. It’s at that edge of yourself where change and personal evolution can happen. From this perspective, not only do obstacles not stand in the way to the good life, but they in fact, bring you closer to it.
Obstacles as Karma
Most Westerners have a very poor understanding of Karma and think that obstacles come our way as a punishment for being bad. The true meaning is that when we ignore our intuition which is always trying to keep us on the “Kriya” path, or our most evolutionary path, we end up on the “Karma” path where obstacles come in to bump us back on the right track. Think of the Kriya path as moving smoothly down the center of the river and the Karma path as moving away from the flow, thereby bumping into the rocks on the side which push you back to the middle. One can think of obstacles as lessons to help us. They highlight change that is required. If the lessons are not learned, a more forceful obstacle is on its way.
Obstacles keep life from being boring
If the universe is one giant all-powerful perfect consciousness, why can’t everything fit together nicely and be free of obstacles? The truth is, from the highest perspective, it does all fit together nicely and the “obstacles” are there to keep things from being boring. Imagine a movie in which nothing went “wrong.” It would be incredibly dull. Nothing would ever happen. When we meditate, our consciousness grows to where we live our individual lives while simultaneously experiencing the inner witness which is observing manifest reality through our point of view. The more your awareness is grounded in that witness, the more obstacles seem compelling as opposed to frustrating. The reaction after something hinders you goes from “Oh $#!+” to “huh, I didn’t expect that, that’s interesting.”
Be like an elephant
Of all the Vedic deities, Ganesh is by far the most beloved, or at least the one who sells the most little statues. He represents many things but is best known as the remover of obstacles. If you imagine an elephant walking through a village, they are gentle but there is little that can slow them down if they are determined. They don’t even seem to notice the dogs barking at their ankles or the objects in their path. This is the inner experience of a meditator. To go through life gentle, kind, and immune to what life throws at you.
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Me and Gauri at an Elephant rescue in Jaipur, India