Cowgirl (150dpi)

Cowgirl by Gina Freschet, 2006. Watercolor, ink, collage on paper. More at freschet.com

It’s blocking your way! It’s keeping you from your desired dreams! It’s really pissing you off! Relax, it’s just an obstacle.

They’re everywhere. They could be anything: rakes, people, diseases, rogue fence posts. Identifying them is half the battle. It could be worse. Some people can’t even identify when they are encountering obstacles until it’s too late.

Initially, Noah thought it was just a rainy month. President GW Bush declared the war was over. And has Lindsay Lohan hit ten rehab visits yet? Too many sunny days in a row without crab-like aliens landing and forcing you to eat egg foo yung at laser point can be dangerous.

Humans are lulled. Don’t be lulled. Never be lulled. Be aware. Be awake. Be on your guard. Take your obstacles seriously. Take your obstacle spectacles from the spectacle receptacle and put them on. And keep them on. What do you see? If your spectacles are working correctly, it should look like a meteor shower of all kinds of shit coming at you. Like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Dangerous; but strangely satisfying.

Because when you really draw out the picture of your days, weeks, years — let’s face it, obstacles are everyday occurrences. You live in a permanent meteor shower, my friend. It’s just that human nature is such that once they’re past us, we forget they ever happened, and when they are in our face, more often than not, we are shocked and surprised that they’re there. Something in our make up wants to identify them as foreign, alien objects flying at light speed towards us, attacking our normal state, but they are not. They are as normal as breathing.

For instance, when you don’t vacuum your room for six weeks and the dust bunnies tower over your head while you’re trying to read Crime and Punishment, and you curse them for making you sneeze and try to ignore them but they’re throwing shadows on Raskolnikov, then you have manifested an obstacle.

Why don’t you just vacuum? This is not someone else’s obstacle. This is all yours. Maybe because your parents told you to clean your room and you’re not gonna! Or because there are no parents to tell you, so you eat pizza on the sofa and use the crusts, bent once in the middle, as boomerangs to try and knock the vase on the mantle into the empty six-pack case below.

I know the dust bunnies appear to be outside you, but let me tell you something. They’re  inside. Why would I argue that? Because the solution to solve them is inside you. Go find the vacuum and clean. Done. Obstacle resolved. Nothing to do but finish reading Dostoevsky and wait for the next obstacle to rear it’s pretty head. And yet something HAS changed. The challenge of man-eating dust bunnies has brought you to a new place. You have a new sense of accomplishment, a lighter step, a better view of yourself. You are now known amongst your friends as the Bunny Terminator. Get new business cards printed.

How to Turn Everyday Obstacles into Something to Really Cry About

So often no one sees your obstacles but you. This can be very dispiriting. Here are five rules to magnify your obstacles to such a size that anyone around you can see them.

1) Drama. This is a necessity. Without drama the world will never notice that you are going through a crisis, goddamnit! And the key to good drama is exaggeration. (Dust bunnies!? Don’t you see what I’m dealing with here? Manatee-sized dust bunnies!?)

2) Blame. A froth of finger-pointing is important to deflect any blame, if blame there be, from the affected party–you! Besides, it’s not your fault. It’s THEIR fault!

3) Negativity. Go crazy. Dig deep. Knock yourself out. This is the moment to release all that negativity you’ve been trying to hold back. Why do it now when you were being so positive? See 1 and 2.

4) Miscommunication. Blurt out half truths and innuendos that could be taken any number of ways. Maximizing miscommunication is the key to magnifying a good obstacle.

5) Screaming. This is crucial and it works every time, as it goes directly to the nerve impulses of the people around you, bypassing reason, and therefore is guaranteed to get you the attention you so desperately seek. It worked when you were two, why not when you’re 32? (Caution: Learn to deal with negative attention before starting.)

Follow these important rules and you can often turn one mundane little obstacle into several hundred. Nice going. You’re unlikely to reach your true comfort zone in this lifetime.

When You Like Obstacles Too Much Because They Give You the Reason to Complain

Obviously this a self-fulfilling prophesy. You are stuck my friend. You ain’t moving forward one inch, because you have designed the perfect system for not moving forward. Life didn’t do that. You’re clever brain did. But how to get out of this cage? My only advice for you is to take an action. Any action, really. It just needs to be something to get you out of the bubble you’re in. Go ahead, take the Greyhound bus to Dayton, Ohio.  Somewhere on that long trip, you’ll start to reason with yourself. “Why the hell am I going to Dayton, Ohio!? I can just as well buy gummy bears in Albany.” And you’ll take action to change course. It’s not the course, but the ACTION that will bring you to a new place. You may meet your soul mate on the bus and re-start life as a pool cleaner in Albany. Have new business cards printed.

When Obstacles are People

Ok. This happens all the time. Even though you are as shocked and surprised by these as you are by your karmic dust bunnies.

One sure sign that this is happening is when you feel your buttons being pushed.

“Back up Bertram!”

Oh wait. Bertram is my boss. If I tell him to back up, I may get fired. But why is he pushing my buttons? Doesn’t he understand that only abusive fathers are allowed to do that? He’s not my eff-ing father.

“Back up Bertram!”

Shit. I’m on probation.

My shrink says I have a deep-seated hatred of authority based on my father’s need to have me scrub inside bathroom drains with a mustache comb.  I tell him Bertram has no facial hair whatsoever. He asks if any other figure of authority other than my father ever pushed my buttons. I tell him only about 250 of them, my whole life. He tells me it’s not about Bertram, it’s about the obstacle of Bertram as he represents my past karmic relationship to my father. I tell him Bertram’s a shit stick and should have his nose hairs plucked until he screams “Mama.” He tells me that after the authority issue we’ll start on facial hair, and that the answer to dealing with this obstacle is not outside, it’s inside me. I’ve heard this somewhere before so I’m instantly suspicious of it, but have to admit that the other 250 authority figures I had problems with were shit sticks as well. And if I hadn’t allowed them to push my father karmic buttons I’d be better off than I am today.

Next day I bring Bertram a box of chocolates with Tabasco sauce centers. It turns out he doesn’t eat chocolate and neither do I. We have fun dropping them from his third story window and talk about my father’s nose hairs. It turns out he’s an orphan.

Love Your Obstacle

It is yours. All yours. Other people have obstacles that may be similar, but no one has obstacles like you do. Show some pride. Take responsibility. Those are some fine looking obstacles you have Mr. Jones.

Besides, ownership is the first step to awakening.

If you don’t claim them, you will all always be buffeted by them. It will be like playing dodge ball in a ping pong ball testing zone, blindfolded. “No sir. Those are not my obstacles. I never saw them before in my life. My obstacles wear condoms.”

The Upside

If you get used to not just obstacles, but the everyday flow of obstacles, you can relax. You can take off the Freddy hockey mask, rubber knee covers, umpire vest, ear plugs, nose plugs, protective eyewear, athletic cup (no, on second thought, better leave that on) steel toed shoes, and deflective ladle. Re-lax. Let them come. Bring them on. “Oh really world, is THAT the best obstacle you can throw at me today?” Money flows in and out of your life, why not obstacles?

In fact, the more you grit your teeth, hold your breath and become a paranoid Polly, the more you  hold onto obstacles. The more you hold on, the more you internalize…pretty soon you’ve got health problems. You swallowed your obstacle and you won’t spit it out. While you were doing all those things you wanted to do with your life if those obstacles would just leave you alone, you have become your obstacles.


Without obstacles you are nothing. A beached jellyfish. A couch potato on Soma. Your obstacles are your life–study them, treasure them, struggle, yes struggle, to understand why they’re in your life and not someone else’s, dialogue with them, spread them like mayonnaise on the ham sandwich of your soul. They are the yang to your ying. The pearl for your swine.

So treat them well. Take them for long walks on the beach. Introduce them to your friends. Treasure them as challenges, appreciate them as motivators, study them as ways to get from there to here, and finally get beyond them. Then set sail on that open sea of possibilities…where guess what?  You’ll be saying hello to your new obstacles.