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The Obstacle is the Path.

By Joyce Johnson


It always tickles me when what I seek to understand….shows up “coincidentally” in a media post, or a casual conversation over the fence with a neighbor, or you know, you open a book and it’s there, or in the most unlikely places. Sorta woo I think.


“Animorphs,” published 1996, by K. A. Applegate, was marked “obsolete.” It was hiding on the bottom shelf of the community library in the lobby of Bank of the Rockies, here in Emigrant. The little book is a great fantasy story about modern teens who become magically able to morph in and out of animals, specially dolphins, and with the help of a whale, save the world from an enemy ET takeover at sea. One of the teens quotes from the book by Sun Tzu: The Art of War, which I thought was ambitious: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” A ancient rather scary book about how to win wars? I wish we could say that book is obsolete.


But the “Animorphs” plot has the kids magically morphing into animals to find out what its like to be them: a hawk, the fox, and a squirrel, and it works, and the reader finds his consciousness in the nervous body of a squirrel being pursued by a hawk. (But the hawk is also one of the morphing teens and hears the squirrel yell “hey it’s me!” Clever writer.) One of the teens hears compelling distress calls from the sea, so the kids morph into the bodies and minds of dolphins and swim into the sea to find the source of the distress call. Challenging sharks threaten them, but one was wounded by the very cool defense action of dolphins who ram their enemies so the shark swam away bleeding and his shark brothers swam after it and um, finished the job. But, with the help of a wise old whale, the teens went to battle against the real “obstacle,” a huge E.T. sea monster, and won the battle that ensued, and saved the world. What a read!



The next day I saw on a Facebook a Zen proverb that made me scratch my head at first,...then the light bulb went on. It said, “The Obstacle is the Path.” I exhaled. It’s true that without challenge we will not grow.


A lot of obstacles and stuff is coming “to the surface” in the world of man, I’m sure you noticed, and I think not unlike another monster story: “Godzilla” who I thought sounded like he was screaming into a bullhorn. Or the “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” who was silent but deadly…Those great old scary flicks come right out of the collective unconscious of mankind, us, the very same place where myths that reflect us are born. Symbolism is the language of the unconscious. Ti makes us scratch our heads and strive to figure things out. Bodies of water are the symbol of, or image used by the unconscious mind according to psychologist, C.J.Jung. In general, he says, our dreams, myths, legends and fairy tales tell the universal plot of the antagonist, the obstacle! of course, or challenger, over and over since the good ol’ days of being chased by dinos, I guess...


Here’s the second quote from “Animorphs,” a Malayan proverb more up my alley and hands on almost: “Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water is calm.” …Ha!...:-D…Bingo! That’s a winner! I remember water-skiing on a channel near the sea, in Singapore, and the locals said, “Don’t fall. Crocodiles, mam.” Gulp. I didn’t fall, but only skied once there, thanks, and the boat skimmed close to shore to drop me after my turn, and I just about ran on the water and rolled up on the beach, dry just about. Exciting,... but anyway, so much has been hidden beneath the surface, in our world and I love when a quote is so simply brilliant and from another time, scene, and culture altogether. We are all the same but we just dress different.


Life is ongoing in repeated seasons and cycles too. I am being...scientific now. You know the routine:it gets so cold the Autumn leaves turn from green to red then brown and fall and after at least 6 agonizingly long cold months later in Montana, Spring is reborn and we are blissed out and taking pictures of the first new little blade of green grass poking up like it’s the dawn of a new dimension (speaking for myself that is). All civilizations have seasons too. They rise in power and fall eventually, like Rome. Get it? So obstacle and conflict happens in Nature, in science, and I am trying to convince me and you we should not fear it...for some reason. Proof can be demonstrated by a 4 year old with a red and green crayon: they are opposites. Without it’s opposite a color is sorta bored. It yawns. But placed together in balanced amount brings out almost a tangible brilliance in each! Like in the Fall colors. But the season must change. It’ dies and turns brown, like red & green paint stirred together makes ugh brown. But brown is the color of the muddy swamp—the rich fertile soup blend where the lotus blossom is born. Cut to the chase? I dare say God wins.


Chasing down and dealing with the obstacles in the world: we are in big bubble of obstacles I guess; a Dark Night of the Spirit; an eclipse of Light; a declining cycle of bad stuff up for dealing with finally. (Those are a few of many interpretations, all true.) My Astrologer friend says there’s another: “the planets’ positions forever shifting have huge influence even causing events on earth and affecting all her living sentient beings onboard.” He has researched when the activity of planets were similar in the near and ancient past, and bingo, similar stuff happened. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. But! Now here this: that lotus blossom will eventually pop up miraculously in the muddy swamp and...God wins.


Okay, how the heck do we just deal with obstacles in our everyday lives for heavens sake? And my muse said: “The golden Rule! As taught in all cultures and forgotten or dismissed as too simple, teaches consequence very accurately, as you create good or ill out there you will get it back as sure as you stand and greet the dawn again. Besides it’s just kindness. But bravely choose “right action” with compassion and the nurturing light and warmth of the sun will bless and infill the soul to strive another day... but...Keep your sword sharp…”


What?!! Muse quotes Christopher Paolini? How funny, and uh..wise afterthought sez me. Most readers remember the Paradise Valley teen, who wrote “Eragon,” the first of 5 books of the “Inheritance” series about a dragon and a teen hero facing the ancient challenges of a mythological world. After his book was published, I heard a voice over my shoulder at the library, “hey that’s my book!” as I had it open and telling my “BigBroBigSis” little sister, Raelyn, age 10, that “I knew the writer.” I later got her a signed copy. He walked into my life again, soon after, past my tables at the railroad park where I was drawing in a craft show. He yelled, “keep your pencil sharp!” and I grinned knowing who said it, and glanced up to see my young friend, whom I met when he was 16 drawing a dragon for a story he was writing. He visited People’s market this summer and walked up to my portrait table, after 30 years! It was like time travel. The beard did not hide him from me. It’s all in the eyes, and as an artist he knows it. He’s wife and two beautiful little children were with him. He is still writing books. Google Christopher online for more info, and be proud of our creative Valley Teen.


On behalf of the wisdom and creative genius hidden in our teens, who will one day sure as the sunrise, morph into heroes, know courage as well as compassion, sleuth the truth, defend life, and blossom from the rich muddy pond, and save the world….!…. I award Christopher Paolini Hero # 5, for the huge effort, imagination and skill it took to write great, creative obstacle-busting hero dragon stories and more, that all ages love, and always will. Thank you Christopher.

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