This post will be a short, but hopefully sweet, one. It will be about problems—seemingly the bread and butter of the human experience. So often in life we feel besieged by problems that arise from external situations and individuals. We feel that these problems are thrust upon us, and that we are forced to either respond to them or be crushed by them. The scope and severity of these external problems need not be considered—their mere existence is enough to trouble us. Even the idea that they might be on their way is troubling. And worse yet, there are too many for us to reasonably contend with.
Mounting bills, health scares, elections gone haywire, pandemics, scratched car paint, lost wallets. You name it, it’s either happened, happening now, or will happen. We cannot seem to outswim these tidal waves of troubles.
But at the center of these problems is the root fact that we have labeled them problems. And a problem, almost by its own definition, is fundamentally outside of us, pressing upon this delicate skin that we call a self. It is an external action threatening your internal state. So, through this lens, we can see that there is strict duality. There is the problem, A, affecting you, B. There is no unity, only contention. The problem must be dealt with in order for you to be happy.
Returning to our tidal waves analogy, however, it becomes apparent that even if we manage to find and bring about a satisfactory conclusion to our problem, we will soon be assaulted by another problem, another wave on the ocean. And thus we will go on, eternally finding, fixing, and being overcome by problems, always hoping, inwardly praying, that if we fix enough, we will find contentment and eventually reside in a state free of problems.
Now, reading that statement, you will probably see the absurdity of it on an intellectual level. Life is never “problem free,” right? You might respond by saying that life is a long process of improving aspects of our life to be as happy and comfortable as possible. But even in this situation, the only reward for such diligence is death. We cannot evade death, cannot intellectualize it or disregard it. So we see that even if we resolve all of our earthly problems, our bodies will never be able to endure for eternity.
What’s the solution, then? Sit around and let ourselves be overrun by troubles? No, of course not. When we’re hungry, we don’t need to debate whether or not it’s right to eat. When we see an animal with its foot stuck in something, we don’t need to question if we ought to help them be free. We would not consider these situations to be problems, only “events.” Why is that? Put simply, it’s because we’ve disabused ourselves of the illusion that we are a victim. We are living with the immediate, concrete reality of the situation. We do what must be done, not because we’ve made a decision to be righteous or free of problems, but because it’s what the situation asks of us.
There is no problem that should be divorced from this mindset. In fact, when properly seen, there is no event that we can even call a problem. As mentioned above, a problem requires a subject and object to function. Somebody must be harmed or troubled by something. In order to respond fully to life and make the best decision possible at any given moment, we must close the gap between the problem and the individual. There is no problem, there is nobody being harmed by one.
When we see the world in this way, dispelling any notions of victimhood or personal suffering, we are able to become one with our “problems” and see that they are simply the result of the world playing itself out. If we regard a situation as simply being the state of how things are, rather than a distortion of how our life “should be,” we are free to engage with it using our full attention and compassion.
The next time you catch yourself feeling like a problem has entered your life, take a step back and listen to the internal chatter of the one who feels wounded. “I can’t do this.” “I just want this to be over with.” “I hate this.”
Who is speaking to you? It can’t be you, can it? If it were truly you speaking, why would you need to verbalize your own thoughts… to yourself? Why would you need to narrate your genuine feelings? Wouldn’t you already know them all and internalize them?
But even this “victim voice” is not a problem. It’s like a snake—neither harmful nor out of place, unless we choose to pick it up and swing it around. Or worse yet, to believe that it is “us.” Let the mind chatter, let the body play out its drama.
As long as you accept it all, there’s no problem.