The word obstacle is defined as a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress.
I’m thinking about obstacles as I am stalled in the school pick-up line. Officer Marty Jackson directs traffic each afternoon, resplendent in neon orange gloves and a smile. Today he lets a long line of cars out of the parking lot. The car in front of me swings out onto Boone Avenue and then I get the palm. I slow, then stop, then sigh. I’ve hit the wall.
I always imagine Officer Jackson as the elephant god Ganesh. Ganesh is revered in the Vedic tradition as The Remover of Obstacles, an archetype who is thought to help keep our spiritual lives on track. Ganesh has an elephant head and a rotund belly and is generally depicted with four arms. I like to imagine him as a sort of divine traffic cop, standing at a four-way stop, three hands in the universal sign for halt as one lone line of cosmic cars gets beckoned forward. In my mind, he sports Officer Jackson’s uniform, complete with jaunty black hat, polarized sunglasses and bright orange gloves on each of his four hands.
Blurg. I was in a hurry today to get home and so of course I got Ganeshed. I have a million things to do before bed tonight. I grumble for a second. None of us likes a stop sign, a bump in the road, a slowing of our roll or hitching in our giddyup. We’re all likewise convinced these things happen only to us and everyone else gets a pass.
Except they don’t. One of the arching principles in my spiritual belief system is that obstacles are simply detours in the right direction. When the universe introduces a hiccup in our spiritual plans, it’s almost always in our best interest. As Gabby Bernstein writes, far too often, “Your plans are in the way of God’s plan.” We get in our own way when we attach too deeply to our plan; it leaves no room for the intelligence of the Grand Plan.
When I look back on my life, I have the perspective to connect the dots. I can see how one twist of fate led to a decision, which lead to another twist of fate and yet another decision. There were plenty of detours along the way, some simple swerves around the traffic cones, others leading me down dark, scary roads with no gas stations in sight. But each moment laid some pavement in the road of my existence. I can now look over my shoulder and see that road vanish into the horizon. I can telescope time from this vantage to see how all the curveballs, hurdles and complications were blessings in disguise. How every traffic jam, scheduling snafu, or snag to my plan was offering me an opportunity to become wiser, or to practice becoming a more decent human being. How every person that seemed to be in my way was a divine teacher. When we choose to see obstacles as gifts, we realize they are there to teach us an important lesson or to show us how to choose love over fear or anger.
But looking forward, there’s nothing. We haven’t laid that pavement yet. So it’s too easy in the moment to see each little holdup as a personal affront.
Remember that Ganesh removes obstacles; he doesn’t create them. What we see as hurdles and brick walls, he sees as divine GPS. When he shows you the palm, it’s a chance to slow time and wake up to the glorious now.
So I take a deep breath and look over at my daughter. I mean, really look at her, noticing how she seems to have grown since breakfast. The sunlight turns her mousy hair golden and her eyes the color of cornflowers, of a cloudless summer sky. I catch my breath, her beauty catching me by surprise. With these present eyes, I look around. I see the way the rain shimmers on the pavement. See a kid with wild hair and acne sporting a shirt with a cactus on it (my life would succ without you, it reads, making me smile). See Officer Jackson motion me forward, directing me on my way with a newfound sense of gratitude. I salute him as I pull out and head home.