I wanted to talk more about this “making things into problems” thing–specifically, where it comes from, and what we’re doing when we make things into problems. And, I wanted to talk about how to accept your life in a way that’s deeply real and pragmatic.

When we make ordinary, everyday life into a series of “problems,” we’re trying to get control in a world where have a fundamental lack of control. Instead of sitting with that, it becomes easier to say, “The problem is that I just need to get more organized” or “If my boss would change, I’d be happier.”

Externalization is the name of the game–put it over there, out there, get it away from me! Why, I’d be happy if…

Yet, I confess that I’ve always felt a bit dissatisfied when someone pointed out this phenomenon to me and the answer was to simply stop doing it.

“Yes, yes, I know I need to stop doing that,” I’d think. “I see how I’m just on a hamster wheel. I get that making things into problems just amps up the drama in my life. But if I just stopped…then what? What do I do with all of that empty space?”

Well, I have two ideas about that.

One idea is that someone could start spending more time with that empty space–breathing in it, crying in it, hitting pillows in it, laughing in it, dancing in it. Rather than trying to externalize anything with a to-do list of “problems” to tackle, or even making the fact that we tend to problematize things into yet another PROBLEM, we could just sit with the emptiness that arises and be with anything that comes up alongside it.

What comes up could be sadness, anger, or joy. Most likely, it’d be all three. You could sit down for an hour each day and just…be. No problematizing, just breathing and watching what comes up and processing through it. –And I’m serious when I say, “sitting with it.” I literally mean–making time each day, or finding a retreat space, or finding a workshop that does this kind of thing, and making a conscious effort to be fully present to your feelings and process them out.

The other idea is that someone could be conscious about the tendency to problematize and then make an internal switch that starts to alchemize things. It would be something along these lines:

  • Instead of it being a “problem” that the house is a mess, one could recognize the impulse to make it a problem. One could recognize that deep need for control that’s coming up, and recognize where it’s coming from. Then one could say, “Alright, I’m going to USE this. I’m going to get started on cleaning my house, and I’m going to be present in my body while doing it. I’m going to use physical movement and breathing and staying present to transform the energy/feelings into something else. I don’t even know what it will transform into, but there’s a stuckness that I feel when I make this into a problem, so I’m going to approach this differently.”
  • Instead of it being a “problem” that your boss is a pain in the ass, one could recognize the impulse to make their boss into a problem. One could recognize the deep need for control that’s coming up (wanting people to be different than they are choosing to be?–yep, those are control issues) and recognize where it’s coming from (any resentment in your past when others have treated you the same way as your boss? Does your boss remind you of someone?). Then one could say, “Alright, I’m going to USE this. I’m going to stop trying to control my boss or expecting my boss to act any differently than he/she does. If my boss is rude or unkind to me, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to practice respectfully and compassionately speaking up for myself, while simultaneously realizing that I can’t control anyone else. I can only control myself, and I’ll have more self-respect if I start speaking up for what I need. I’m going to use this situation where I’m triggered by what my boss does to start realizing what is unresolved in me, and where I start to sell out on my own personal integrity by wanting to treat someone else unkindly simply because I think they’ve treated me unkindly. I’m going to notice my own tit-for-tat tendencies. I’m going to see this as a call to go even more deeply into my own process. I don’t even know what this is going to transform into, but there’s a stuckness that I feel when I make this into a problem, so I’m going to approach it differently.”

See how this could go? Alchemy is a beautiful thing.

The very things that we use in one context as “problems” could in fact be solutions, opportunities to our own opening up. We live in this world in which there’s very little that we can control beyond our own responses to life, and yet that piece–the power we have over what we do with what is showing up–makes all the difference.