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Life Is Not a Steeplechase

Sometimes the answer is not an answer, but a better question.

I recently took the time to page back through my 2021 Pathways workbook pages. Like a friend always reminds me when we hike together, periodically you need to turn around and look at where you’ve come from, making a special note of anything you see that can serve as a wayfinding marker. You do this in case you get lost.

I was looking back at the year hoping to gain some perspective on what I had accomplished and how far I had come.

Turns out I had not come very far, then again farther than I ever thought possible. The yes/and paradox of my life.

But what I saw, repeated time and time again on the pages in front of me, was that while I am an experiential learner, I have to learn the hard way. I learn by doing. And it seems I learn best by failing and trying again. Sometimes again and again and again.

Why couldn’t I be more like Siddhartha Gautama? One day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening) Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation and reflected on his experience of life, determined to penetrate its truth. He finally achieved Enlightenment and became the Buddha. Siddhartha sat under a tree, determined to understand his own truth, and did.

My learning paradigm is more like the adage:

When faced with an obstacle in front of you,

you can try going over it, try going under it, or try going around it.

Just don’t give up. There is always a way.

When faced with an obstacle, I do just that. I get to work. With determination and focus, I seek to surmount it and get it behind me as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it is the least obvious approach that finally works. And sometimes I just make it work. But that never stops me. Having been lost for so long, now that I am finally on my way, I need to hurry and make up for lost time.

Thinking about this in light of my review of 2021, I have invested a lot of time in the trials and tribulations of learning the hard way. Though definitely the road less traveled, this approach is not without merit. In the words of May Sarton:

One does not ‘find oneself’ by pursuing one’s self, but on the contrary by pursuing something else and learning through discipline or routine … who one is and wants to be.

The discipline needed to find a way over, a way around, or a way under one’s obstacles has taught me a lot about myself, about people, and about life. And I really thought that was the point. But in looking back at 2021, all I could see was Sisyphus. In Greek mythology Zeus punished Sisyphus by forcing him to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity. For eternity, Sisyphus will push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again.

At times, staring at the newest obstacle in front of me, weighing my options of over, under, or around, I know exactly how Sisyphus must have felt watching the boulder roll down the hill. Maybe the next time. I was beginning to wonder if there wasn’t a better way.

And it didn’t take me long to find it. Whenever I need an answer to a new problem, I go looking in old books. I have a few never fail favorites, and on my third attempt, I found this quote by Marcus Aurelius:

"The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." —Meditations, Book 5.20.

All I could do was to repeat the last line. What stands in the way becomes the way. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Clearly, I had missed the point of every obstacle that stood in my way in 2021. I had repeatedly disregarded the obstacle, looking only for a way past it. No wonder Creation continued to place obstacle after obstacle in my way. I had totally missed the point.

When I turned to look at where I had come from in 2021, I was able to see the wayfinding marker I needed to ensure my safe travels. Thank you, Karen, for a very valuable lesson.

What stands in the way becomes the way. Now I just need to figure out what that means in my life, with my obstacles.

Sometimes the answer is not an answer, but a better question.


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