“Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
The Master never reaches for the great;
Thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into difficulty,
She stops and gives herself to it.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
One of our greatest evolutionary advantages is our ability to pretend. Our ability to tell stories helped us create religions and cultures that bound us together, helped us work well together, and not only ensured not just our survival, but enabled us to build complex civilizations.
But this unique cognitive tool is a double-edged sword. The stories a people tell themselves can delude them, or lead them to oppress the “bad guys” in their story. The stories a person tells himself can lead him to deny and repress ugly realities, to Disney-fi things—to pretend.
When we come upon an obstacle, we often deny it is there, distort its nature, or decide to just hit the gas and ram through it. We do not stop and acknowledge it, but keep moving. When we spot a plot hole in our working story, we try to quickly weave over it and restore the psychic fabric it threatens to undo.
But over time, the jagged obstacles over which our narrative is overlaid will begin to tug at and tear it, and we’ll have to go back to make repairs, which increases the complexity of the weave, which leads to tangles, which leads to knots. And our refusal to stop and deal with the obstacles on their own terms creates new obstacles.
The obstacles are not the exception, but the norm and, beyond that, the occasion for a good story. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “the obstacle is the way.”
Somewhere in the middle distance of your vision, there is an obstacle blistering the vista of your ideal future. It’s probably already inducing tension somewhere in your body, a little pinch on the periphery of your awareness.
Stop, drop your story, and roll toward it.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”
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