“Climber dies day after posting triumphant message announcing he had made it to top of world’s seventh-highest peak.” Reading this news reminded me of a Chinese proverb: “It’s easy to climb the mountain, but it’s difficult to come down.” Most of us know the benefits of yoga, but little attention is given to the obstacles. Yoga is usually regarded as a spiritual practice, and the spiritual journey is like climbing mountains, never easy. When we start the spiritual journey with passion and ambition, be aware that the journey will take a long time and will be hard. From the journey of Odysseus, we can see the obstacles as well as challenges of spiritual practice:
- The distraction. Odysseus’ men forgot their purpose of going back home after eating the sweet lotus fruit offered by friendly Lotus-eaters.
- The ego. Odysseus blinded the giant Polyphemus and proudly told him his name, thus being cursed by the sea god Poseidon, the father of Polyphemus.
- The weariness. When they almost reached their homeland of Ithaca, Odysseus fell asleep, and his men opened the bag of winds that the wind god Aeolus had given to Odysseus, and they had to start the journey of sailing home all over again.
- The death. Some of Odysseus’s men were eaten by cannibals.
- The enjoyment. The mystical Circe turned Odysseus’ men into pigs. After they were transformed back into humans, Odysseus stayed with the charming Circe for a year.
- The darkness. Odysseus visited the land of Hades and spoke to the dead spirits. Unfortunately, sometimes we must face the darkness by ourselves.
- The attraction of illusion. The seductive singing of Sirens can cause shipwrecks. Without awareness, precautions, and restrictions like Odysseus had, it’s very easy to be dragged by the attractive illusion, and disaster is inescapable.
- The circumstances. Going through the narrow strait between the six-headed creature Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. No matter what we choose, doom is unavoidable.
- The greater power. Except for Odysseus, all the men were drowned in the storm caused by Zeus, the king of the gods, because they had slaughtered the sacred cattle of the sun god Helios.
- Being trapped. Even a journey, like that of the warrior Odysseus, is not always an exciting and breathtaking adventure. Instead, the struggle of being trapped in the middle of nowhere can be the main part of the journey. Out of ten years of voyaging home, Odysseus was confined to Ogygia, the island of the nymph Calypso, for seven years, in grief, longing to leave.
- Being a minority. Odysseus, together with his son and two other herdsmen, needed to fight a large group of suitors.
Moreover, be alert that a transcendental experience can help us realize spirituality but is not the end of realization. Realizing the nature of reality and coming back to reality are another challenge. Think about climbing a mountain, successfully reaching the summit is not the end of the adventure. Accidents happen on the descent after summiting. The journey is not finished until we safely return home.
We might wonder why we bothered to set out on a journey with all these difficulties. Spiritual journeys connect us with wisdom. We know that without the protection of Athena, the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology, Odysseus would not be able to return home. We not only face obstacles in spiritual practice but in our daily life as well. The challenges in The Odyssey: temptations, death, decision-making and consequences, are part of life. Spiritual practice helps us get ready for the challenges and gives us the inner strength to get through them. Furthermore, it makes us become warriors and experience the life journey with perseverance and courage.
- CBS NEWS, April 12, 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/antonios-sykaris-dies-day-after-scaling-mount-dhaulagiri-nepal/#textThe20592Dyear2Dold20hadan20altitude20of2072C40020meters
- Norman Fischer, Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls (New York: Free Press, 2008).
- The Odyssey, translated by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Atria Books, 2013).
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