Reflections on Matthieu Ricard’s “Overcoming Obstacles”

by Charles Hastings
Obstacles should not discourage us, but rather be viewed as catalysts for further progress. They are part of the journey to unchanging inner peace.
—Matthieu Ricard
It is easy to feel helpless in today’s turbulent world, and we may also feel helpless in the midst of our inner turbulence. We may feel overwhelmed by complicated or emotionally charged situations and sometimes our inner conflicts seem like a tangled knot impossible to undo.
Those who have gone through the Foundations course will be familiar with the practice of being aware when thoughts and emotions arise come and simply letting them go. When we first try to meditate there are so many thoughts. They come tumbling one on top of another and sweep us away. It’s like the waves of a heavy sea crashing on the beach. Our efforts to find us stability might feel like a child trying to keep its balance among the waves pounding the shoreline. Every moment is a new upheaval. This is a normal phase which allows us to see how much agitation is going on in our mind.
With practice we can gradually find more space. The thoughts and emotions still come but we learn to let go of them and we can experience intervals of calm between the thoughts. If we don’t follow thoughts and emotions they have nowhere to go, just like waves that rise up momentarily but can only sink back into the great ocean. Eventually we can learn to relax in the simplicity of the present moment.
In parallel to our meditation we can learn to let go in the same way in the situations of our everyday life. We can bring a freshness to the difficulties that crop up instead of being overcome by anxiety and rumination. Instead of closing into a protective shell or projecting our anxieties outwards we can leave the space for our innate potential for clarity and compassion to shine. As our confidence increases we naturally develop the suppleness to cope with change, the inner balance to be able to love without fear, and the courage to act in the best way we can in the midst of an uncertain world.
Matthieu is talking about something very profound here. We have all experienced magic moments of serenity, when looking at a beautiful landscape for instance. As we continue our practice of meditation little instants of relaxation and freshness or spontaneous compassion may crop up unexpectedly for no apparent reason. That can give us an inkling of what could become a steady state.
This is a meditation to come back to again and again in a spirit of discovery rather than expectation. With time our ruminations and fears can give way to a natural feeling of kindness and freedom.
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