PhilosophyCenterPhilosophyCenter | Odysseys
PhilosophyCenter | Odysseys

Posts from — January 2016

The Obstacle Is the Path

The Obstacle Is the Path

Various spiritual traditions extol nonresistance as a path for living. Jesus admonished his followers to “resist not evil.” Five hundred years earlier, in the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze tells us, “Because the sage does not content, no one can contend against him.” Gandhi turned nonresistance into a political movement that freed India from colonial rule. Yet there may be no general spiritual doctrine that is more misunderstood. For many, the word, nonresistance, implies passivity. A student of Florence Scovel Shinn, for example, hearing her teacher espousing nonresistance, expressed the worry that if she took this path, she would be a “doormat,” that everyone would walk all over her. Shinn replied that if she truly practiced nonresistance, she could never be a doormat. Perhaps Shinn was saying that there are certain natural assertions of our being that we would have to resist to allow people to “walk all over” us. In other words living passively involves resistance. If we truly adopted a nonresistant stance, these natural assertions would have a clear channel. We’d express them honestly, because there would be nothing in our psyche blocking that expression. We would say yes when it’s yes, and no when it’s no. The only thing lacking might be the aggressive posturing that we may feel we need to add to whatever we have to say in those cases where we don’t have our own permission to say it. But without self-resistance, there would be no need to “protest too much.” The practice of nonresistance proves that bowing to our own nature never makes us weak. On the contrary, it is the source of our true strength.

The same holds true when the obstacle presents itself in the world. In the Field Project Course, which I wrote from 1993-1997, I put it this way: “The problem and the solution are the same thing. Resist one, and you resist the other.” This is a far-reaching idea that quickly takes on the force of a revelation if one puts it into practice. As it turns out, the only real problem in any situation is resistance itself. If we resist something in our experience, that thing shows up as a problem. The moment we accept it, we step through a different door, and the problem becomes instruction, direction, guidance, illumination—in other words, it becomes a solution. Then we may see that the thing we were resisting was trying to help us all along; it just needed our cooperation. As Buddhism puts it, “Embrace your thousand angels, embrace your thousand demons.”

The Zen saying, “The obstacle is the path,” expresses the same idea nicely. For those committed to self-work and the ongoing improvement of their consciousness, there really are no obstacles, only instruction awaiting recognition. Nonresistance is not a skill one acquires overnight, perhaps, but it is well worth practicing. The path bends around each so-called obstacle and is shaped and determined by it, so that seen from above, as it were, the obstacle and the path are inseparable. If everything that we used to think was frustrating us, impeding our progress, or derailing our plans turned out to be nothing more than the path winding in an unexpected direction and calling us to take it, how effortless our life would become! How quickly our problems would reveal themselves as solutions, and our demons, unmasked, would be seen at last as angels we had been unwilling to embrace.

January 21, 2016   Comments Off on The Obstacle Is the Path