“You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.” –Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape

The voice of the inner critic rings with discouragement: “Not this [same problem], again!”

If there’s one thing that drives me nuts because it’s just so damned hard to admit, it’s seeing clearly those places where a pattern is showing up allllll over the place; That the pattern is not just in one place, but in fact it’s all around me, showing up in work, friendships, my relationship, family, even the way I drive–everywhere.

It’s laughable to admit that–I’m smiling with a good humor about it as I type–because first of all, I’m well aware of the fact that people translate their behavior patterns across categories, and second of all, at this point, my whole life is oriented around examining the self, and it’s a chosen path, so duh, what did I think I was going to find when I embarked on a path of looking at my “stuff”–rainbows shining outta my butt? Of course I was going to find out that things are messy!

But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us–and how all of us have a universal tendency to not want the shit to hit the fan, how we get upset and curse it when it happens to us.

Normal, normal, normal. I invite you into, and endeavour myself, to cry when the tears are there, to get pissed and hit something that does not breathe when I’m angry, and then to be bold and brave enough to choose joy.

I also invite you into, and will continue to endeavour myself, to ask: “What’s this really about?” When something is showing up in various parts of your life, across multiple categories, there’s a root reason behind its presence. What’s chronic or repetitive in your life?


First, make a list of the top five problems you’re noticing in your life, right now.

Next–Make a small chart with six columns and four rows. Along the top, where I’ve put “Prob #1,” actually put one of the problems identified in your list:

Prob #1 Prob #2 Prob #3 Prob #4 Prob #5
I feel…
I notice

myself saying…

The situation would be

improved by…

Hold on to this. Start paying attention over the next week. Start noticing if, across all categories, you’re feeling the same feelings or sensations in your body–is there a specific way that your stomach dips right before you get upset? Is there a pattern of reacting quickly and then realizing later that you over-reacted?

Pay attention to the words you choose when thinking about this issue or speaking about it. Across all categories, are you saying, “It’s not fair” (which points to victim thinking, a sense of powerlessness) or “If _____ wouldn’t happen, it would be fine” (which points to non-acceptance?).

Notice what impulses you have around how the situation would be improved. Maybe you’ll discover that you’re pinning all of your hopes on money, or having more time, or you pin a lot of the blame on one particular person or others in general. Maybe you’ll realize that you already have the solution that would clean up the five biggest issues you face–talk about striking gold!

By identifying and seeing more clearly what shows up again and again in your life, you’re in a clearer place to work with it. It’s entirely possible that you might be walking through your life thinking XYZ are your problems, when in fact they all are rooted in one central issue: for instance, chronic blame or a belief that money fixes things.

When we penetrate the surface, we see a few central truths: one is that our behaviors are motivated out of love or fear. Another is that we’re so much more alike than we are different. Another is realizing that the surface stuff is drama, a hamster wheel of distraction from the real issues. And the most courageous one that we can come to is this: realizing that the real issues are but opportunities in disguise, never so terrifying as we might think.

The “issues” are our (dysfunctional, fearful) warmhearted companions on the path, the places within that contain the challenges we’ll use to define the content of our character as well as the fodder for our growth and our gold.

How lucky we are that, as we prepare to shift something in our lives, none of it is hiding out, obscure–the issues are obvious, waiting, tireless in being our guides, in shining light no matter how much we don’t want to look over there and see… and perhaps not so demonic after all.