That feeling, I know it so well. I wake up in the morning and I do a mental scan.
In my mind I go through all aspects of my life looking for “what’s wrong” and it seems no matter how good things are going I’m always able to find something. Not enough money, someone I’m upset with, an area of my life I think I should be more successful in.
But then I think about all the greatness of my life and I slink away from these “problems” just to find myself surrounded by the shame of my own ungratefulness for all the wealth that is my life.
Problems, they always seem to be there, it doesn’t matter how good things seem to be.
Why is this?
The only answer I have is because we’re human. Humans having a spiritual experience? Or spiritual beings having a human experience? I’ll let you decide that one for yourself. But it seems inevitable that as a human we will often have a sense that there’s a problem in our life. And problems need to be fixed. Right?
Over the last five years I have taken a new approach to problems. And I can see that others have, too. The new idea is that there is nothing to fix.
Or perhaps this isn’t a new idea at all. Perhaps the Buddha explained this long ago and we are just finding it again.
Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“Our practice is based on the insight of non-duality. Both our negative feelings and positive feelings are organic and belong to the same reality. So there is no need to fight; we only need to embrace and take care. Therefore, in the Buddhist tradition meditation does not mean you transform yourself into a battlefield, with the good fighting the evil. This is very important. You may think you have to combat evil and chase it out of your heart and mind. But this is wrong.
The practice is to transform yourself.
If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost. And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you. Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them.”
But how do we turn our garbage into compost? How do we create the fertile ground where the flowers will grow?
I’ve looked to many teachers for the answer to this question and they all seem to say the same thing. Just notice everything, just bring awareness to everything you think and feel and this simple step will bring about change.
Bhante Gunaratana puts it best here,
“How do you “kill” a hindrance (another word for problem)? You watch it to death. “You bathe it regularly in the fiery light of awareness and it melts away.”
Want to bring some fiery light of awareness to your problems? Here is a technique that can be used for that nagging problem that just won’t let go.
First: Bring the problem up to the surface of your awareness and give it a name. There was a time in my life that anxiety about money was overwhelming for me. So, I named it monxiety. I like having funny or humorous names for my problems because they make me smile.
Second: Every time your attention turns to the problem say its name in your mind. Don’t analyze the problem or try to find a solution. Just name it.
Third: Do this naming process over and over again. At times I would have to internally say monxiety every 30 seconds even every 2 seconds.
Fourth: Watch what happens.
Often when we bring attention to problems in our life they become hotter and stronger before they leave us. I think of this process as the problem coming up to die. It’s like the problem is having it’s last ‘hurrah’ before it leaves us.
Usually we can’t see it that way. We just think the problem is getting worse and we feel really frustrated because we have been working so hard bringing our awareness to the problem to make it ‘better’ and it seems to be getting worse.’
In fact the problem feeling stronger can be a sign of progress—if there is such a thing. It can really help to tell a friend you trust about the process you’re doing so they can mirror back to you that the problem feeling bigger is just a reflection of the progress you’re making.
Again Bhante Gunaratana explains it best,
“While you are doing the awareness process there is a sense of ‘It’s still there. It’s still there. When will it ever go away?” But one day you say, ‘You know, I haven’t seen such-and-such around lately. I wonder why? By George it’s gone at last.” We often see it (problem) when it is present and see it when it is gone, but fail to notice that ‘going away’ stage in which it is becoming weaker and less frequent.”
Having problems might not be going anywhere for the human race anytime soon. But needing to run from them might be.
So, lean in, turn towards, shine a light, bring awareness to, look it straight in the eye, hug it in close, welcome it in, whatever you want to call it—notice your problems with an attitude of curiosity and loving-kindness and they might not be around for much longer.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Jess Sheppard / Editor: Renée Picard