Last week in my backyard I found this daffodil growing up through a leaf. I loved the way the four leaf blades were twisted so I went and got my camera.
I think of spring as the season of emergence, and I love taking photos of flowers surfacing through the winter’s leaf litter. To me this symbolizes life conquering any and every obstacle.
For a long time I dreamed of having a life without obstacles. I thought I’d be happier. I think a lot of people feel this way; that’s why there’s such an obsession in our culture with celebrities and the rich, and why lotteries are so popular. Our fantasy is that if we get rich and/or famous then all our problems will disappear.A cursory glance at any magazine in the grocery store checkout lane will dispel the myth that the lives of the rich and famous are obstacle-free, but somehow we still go on believing it will be true in our life when that happy life-transforming day arrives.
Recently I watched a film I made with my husband Arthur just after we got our first video camera twenty years ago. We went to a number of different locations in the Atlanta area and asked people, “What, in your opinion, is the meaning of life?” We got a wide spectrum of answers, and the film is a fascinating look at the variety of personalities in any given population.
After watching it this time I thought about how I would answer if this question were asked of me. “To grow, to expand, to learn,” I thought, “If I ever stop growing it’s time to die.” Obstacles are crucial to growth. Without obstacles we would stay stagnant. We wouldn’t have any incentive to change. Obstacles make life interesting.
I could easily have torn the leaf off of the daffodil and let it unfurl like the other daffodils around it, but I found myself thinking, “is that in the daffodil’s best interest?” For all I know, overcoming the challenge of this leaf could lead to a stronger breed of daffodil that could help daffodils survive into the future.
As unlikely as that may be, the point is that obstacles and challenges aren’t things to be dreaded or avoided or hated; they are necessary ingredients of an interesting life.
In fact, I believe that the universe exists for the experience of overcoming obstacles. In The Game of God, co-written with Arthur, we proposed that the Unlimited (which most people call God), created the universe for the experience of limitation. The attributes usually ascribed to God—omnipotent, omniscient, immortal, omnipresent—can be summarized as “unlimited.” God has no limit in power, knowledge, time, or space. In other words, God has no obstacles.
But, we observed, if God couldn’t have the experience of limitation then God was limited after all: the inability to experience limitation would be a limitation!
We concluded that the universe is God, experiencing life-and-death as if his-her-its life really depended on it. The universe is a game created for the fun of experiencing obstacles and overcoming them.
Many years ago I looked with wonder at some plants growing on a sheer cliff at Point Lobos, San Francisco, right above the pounding Pacific Ocean. I had lived in San Francisco for a couple of years and knew the force of the winter storms that came in off that ocean. How could anything survive in such a brutal environment? Those plants convinced me that nature would overcome anything that humans could throw at it. No matter how many obstacles we create, like climate change, pollution, radiation, etc., nature will triumph over them. We might not; our civilization might crumble if we push too hard, but nature will be fine.
[Note: The Game of God was published in 1993. In the intervening years we have changed our thinking about one aspect of this theory:
We no longer hold God to be a willful or deliberate creator. One of the most basic aspects of the Supreme Being must be that it is free from desire. The unlimited, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing source of everything would already have every thing. Where would desire come from? If you have everything what could you want? Where would the desire to create something come from? The logical conclusion is that the dualistic universe is an aspect of Supreme Being, not something “created” by She-He-It. This just deepens the connection between God and us: we’re not a game God is playing, we are God in the most meaningful sense.]