The way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that makes the problem disappear.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

David Krueger MD

Some time ago I saw a cartoon sequence of a dog straining at its leash, barking ferociously at a cat, as if to say, Just lemme at ’em. The cat wasn’t too shabby—actually looked mean—and was at least as big as the dog. All of a sudden in the middle of a ferocious bark, the leash snapped so the dog was free to go after the cat. He looked astonished. Scared to death. He quickly grabbed the leash, ran back, and tied a triple knot. Then, he could again safely strain at the leash and bark his fiery Just lemme at ’em. 

Every story of an obstacle has a shadow story of desire.  The obstacle packs up and conceals the desire.  What we seek is camouflaged in what we fear.  Show me an obstacle, and I’ll show you a desire.  We construct an obstacle to have its icon make stopping justifiable. 

The surface story and the shadow story are related, and often go in opposite directions with equal force.  For example, the surface story may be, I want to generate significant income and create wealth.  Yet, the shadow story can be, I don’t believe that I really have what it takes to do that.

There’s a secret hiding in the open here. An obstacle is the unconscious mnemonic of desire—it reminds us of what we want, but makes it safe to want if we’re afraid.  When viewing a film, if you don’t want to see a scene, you cover your face with your hands as if to say, No, I don’t want to look. But then the desire creeps in and you peek through your fingers at what you’re drawn to see. The obstacle makes looking acceptable.

The desire does not reveal the obstacle, the obstacle reveals the desire. So the kind of obstacles that someone constructs tells immediately the vocabulary of impediments. Pay attention to the obstacles that you construct. 

Rather than strategizing to overcome, avoid, or defeat an obstacle, simply consider not creating it. Consider using your energy to generate something else instead, such as what you really want. When you find yourself focusing on an obstacle (I can’t find time to exercise; I can’t put away any savings), reflect on the underlying desire. 

When you’re ready to consider that you create the obstacle, you’re also ready to consider the possibility of not creating it. 

Imagine what it would be like to not create your obstacles, and instead create a system to achieve your desires.

Excerpted from: Engaging the Ineffable:  Toward Mindfulness and Meaning, just released by Paragon House