The Obstacle is The Path

The Obstacle is The Path - Zen Proverb

As humans, we often look for that which is easy and, consequently, not challenging. We create life hacks, take short cuts, and shorten things that need to be left alone. This is what distinguishes a martial artist from a non-practitioner of the arts and a success story from a beaten down soldier. If you set out to only accomplish things without putting in the work, you'll never get to the accomplishment and more importantly, you won't experience it on the way. You won't even know why you may want to accomplish the things you set out to do.

I recently addressed my colleagues and staff at my University's commencement after serving as Chair and leader of the Faculty Council the previous year. I mentioned in a final message of gratitude that The Obstacle is The Path to which some may not have understood my intentions. However, as simple as the statement may be, it is truly profound and speaks volumes to those who continually push for things in their lives to happen. It's not magic and there is no one formula to this thing, but if we stop to examine ourselves and our place in the world, we can begin to accomplish great things. One lesson I have learned over the past seven years is hard work does not always result in success. However, I've come to realize success is the continual rewards you reap from knowing the difference between hard work and what is the right work for you.

So, in my final address to the faculty, I stated the goals I had achieved and the ones I look to meet. I spoke of the struggles of leadership within systems that may not always understand one another. I thanked my colleagues for trusting and believing in me that together we could make change happen, but only if we approached each obstacle as a challenge and ultimately, looked within. It's not to say that we have to always look for hindrances to follow and overcome, but rather we need to focus on that which prevents us from moving forward. We often don't see answers to our predicaments when they are directly in front of within us. Seeing the Self directly is the closest pathway to the truth I know and this is the direct pipeline to discovering what big and bright obstacles are in store.

In the martial arts, this has been practiced for centuries and, much like with a meditation practice, it can be thought of as one's personal path that becomes a lifelong journey to achieve and understand. That is what the arts teach us. That we cannot do life without others and we need to always be aware of our own challenges and setbacks and compassionate with others. Only with the knowledge of the self can we truly help others.

So, in a personal and professional sense, the proverb has been resonated with me as I move on to two major milestones in my life within one short summer. As I transition from a full-time faculty member to administrative faculty, from Chicago, to Washington, D.C., and from being a 1st kyu for three years to a Shodan in Shotokan Karate, I relish in practices of humility while seeking wisdom from those who have fought and won before me. At the cusp of all these transformations, I hold close the mantra that self-discovery is the only path to success and that we cannot effectively lead, communicate, nor succeed without first understanding and mastering the Self... and understanding that a refreshed life and new perspectives can be continually gained by accepting that the obstacle is the path.