“Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.
And then [Marcus Aurelius, in Mediations] concluded with powerful words destined for a maxim.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
These words were scrawled by Marcus Aurelius himself, to himself, likely on the battlefront as he lead the Roman Army against barbarian tribes or possibly at the palace amongst the intrigue and pressure. Not exactly a happy or encouraging place to be.
Yet in the years since I first read it, I’ve started to understand is that this little paragraph is the perspective for a special kind of optimism. Stoic optimism.
I’m sure that sounds like an oxymoron, but stoicism gets a bad–and unfair–rap.
What Marcus was writing — reminding himself — is one of the core tenets of Stoicism. What it is prescribing is essentially this: in any and every situation — no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable it is — we have the opportunity to practice a virtue.
(Via Ryan Holiday)
It’s a long-ish but worthwhile read regardless of your view on Stoicism. Ryan cites specific examples of this view in his pleasantly digestible way.
In our daily lives we forget that the things that seem to be blocking us are small and that the obstacles blocking us are actually providing us answers for where to go next. It’s a timeless formula that can be revisited again and again.
All I can say is that this attitude is something I try to think of always. I try to envision these people facing much more significant problems than me, and seeing it not only as not bad but as an opportunity.
We all face tough situations on a regular basis. But behind the circumstances and events that provoke an immediate negative reaction is something good — some exposed benefit that we can seize mentally and then act upon.We blame outside forces or other people and we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. But there is only one thing we really control: our attitude and approach
Which is why the Stoics say that what blocks the path is the path. That what seems to impede action can actually advance it. And that everything is a chance to practice some virtue or something different than originally intended. And you never know what good will come of that.
The obstacle is the way.