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Excerpt from The Spirit of Quest by D.M. Dooling, February 1994.

Obstacles. We spend our lives fighting them, overcoming them, getting around them, or making excuses for being stopped by them. How much of all this energy is spent tilting at windmills? Something, certainly, stops us from attaining what we wish and being what we could be; but is it what—or where—we think it is?

Opposition and challenge from the outside evidently stimulate us to do battle, exercise and train us, develop our muscles and our patience. But there is something inside everyone that resists help—a coward shadow that dogs the heels of our potential hero. This is the real obstacle, and it is very close to home; we have met the enemy, and he is us.

For many years I have been drawn to the question and extraordinary potential of obstacles. Hindrance and possibility, force and resistance, I cannot and I would, are what we are made of, from little boys or girls to big ones. And the capacity to reconcile that inner conflict—over and over again, perhaps, in a gradual process of creating a more mature and balanced whole—is the exclusively human characteristic; it is what differentiates us from the animals. We know in our bones that the final glory, the ultimate achievement, of the human being is to master himself. This does not have to mean that he is successful in "overcoming" all those outer barriers, nor that he becomes a saint who eliminates every trace of the natural mortal. One who masters himself is in charge of what he is. He has brought about a relation between the animal and the divine in him, through which the animal is cared for and the divine is served. And this means, sometimes, the apparent absence of struggle: the huge, often invisible effort of acceptance of what one cannot change. No aspect of the battle for self-mastery is harder than this one of renouncing one's natural "rights" and desires, to find what lies beyond them, an inner peace. For when the higher will conquers the lower, the result appears to be a joyful freedom from both victory and defeat. "To be victorious and to be defeated are equal," says don Juan. "Everything is filled to the brim and everything is equal and my struggle was worth my while."

Such freedom must be costly and painful to acquire, and we put off the attempt to gain it as long as possible—usually until it is too late. But we know it is our real destiny, and that we are capable of achieving it. ("You could free me if you would," says the enchanted princess to the man in the fairy tale.) And when we are aware of someone else engaged in this struggle, we recognize it with a kind of leap of the heart. Another person fights our battle with us and for us; we are allies.

No matter how bravely one may face the outer foe, the true nobility of the warrior is in how he faces himself. Any animal will fight for its physical life and need, but only a human being can fight for his soul.

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"Think before you act,

act without thinking

Virginia E. Valentino