The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
I’m not sure how I stumbled across this book, but I am so happy I did! It has been the shove I need to get past some “woe is me, why did this happen to MEEEE?” questions I’ve been fighting with for a little over a year. This book shut all of that down by clearly laying out 3 black and white philosophical disciplines in the tradition of Stoicism.
1. Perception – how we see and understand what happens to us (fair and unfair). It doesn’t matter what the obstacles are, but how we see and react to them, and whether we keep our composure in the face of them, or, even better, thrive because of them. Relates to our still overactive, primal fear response – we can perceive danger in negative situations and allow ourselves to sweat, feel stressed, or let fight or flight kick in, or we can learn to understand and filter those primal feelings and become disciplined in the art of perception so that we can clearly see what action to take in every situation. Perception is the discipline of the mind.
2. Action – the movements and decisions that define us. Action must be undertaken with “deliberation, boldness, and persistence” because “Thise are the attributes of right and effective action. When something undesirable happens to you, how do you respond? Most of us fail because we opt not to act. We let our fear overtake us and we act powerless or expect someone else to act while we ignore it or pretend it will go away, hiding behind the idea that it’s too risky to take action. “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Action is the discipline of the body.
3. Will– our internal power, fortitude, and wisdom that cannot be affected by the outside world and suffering. The ability to resign ourselves to less-than-ideal circumstances without giving in to negativity or resorting to hopelessness and despair. The art of amor fati – a love of fate –choosing to love everything that happens to you, good or bad. The idea that everything happens for a reason, and if eventually you’re probably going to eventually reach that conclusion anyway, why not choose it now and choose to feel good in every trial and tribulation? The will is discipline of the heart and soul.
Besides the 3 disciplines above which are defined, redefined, and redefined over and over in a thousand ways that make them easy to grasp and understand, the book is peppered with engaging and interesting (true) historical and modern-day anecdotes of powerful figures who overcame adversity through force of will, controlled their perceptions ,and took action in their lives to move themselves forward and live a full and productive life. Some of the figures that make an appearance include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Heraclitus, Plutarch, Socrates, Cicero, Montaigne, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, John D. Rockefeller, Margaret Thatcher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Malcom X, Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Steve Jobs, among many others.
This book feels like a lesson in philosophy, mindfulness, and history all rolled into a how-to guide for taking real action and living a fuller life. Next up for me is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. What are you reading and finding fascinating?