September 2015: Life’s Everyday Challenges

by Brad on August 31, 2015

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” — Jack Sparrow, in “Pirates of the Caribbean”

Life’s challenges. Big ones, small ones. We all experience them. You know their voices: he made me angry, she didn’t do her job, they fired me, it didn’t turn out, I’m not good enough, life won’t give me a break, if only …. Although your challenges are uniquely your own, we’ve generally come to see life itself as a challenge. It follows (naturally?) that we experience what Buddhists call suffering, what we call stress, anxiety, guilt, resentment, anger. And because we don’t like suffering, we then devote our energy to fixing everything we now see as being wrong. Yet it’s not working! Why?

NobskaFrom very early in life, we’ve been taught to see “what should be” rather than “what is.” Think about this in your life, (including what you may be teaching your children). You should be nicer to others; you should do better in school; you should go to college, get a good job and make lots of money; you should control how life turns out; you should just ‘get over it.’ Every one of these “shoulds” teaches that life is conditional: you’re acceptable if you get it right. So we learn early: (1) label any challenge as evidence that something is wrong, (2) assign blame – to life, its circumstances, other people, etc., (3) fix what’s wrong! This wrong/blame/fix loop is so ingrained in the unconscious that we’ve come to believe struggle is normal, never stopping to realize that life’s “challenges” have no independent existence beyond our “thinking them into being” by deciding in the first place that life “should be” a certain way.

If you were aware this is true, you’d never allow such a “braking system” to keep you from your dreams or potential. The path forward entails coming to a non-judgmental understanding of how the struggles you experience in life result from your unconscious attachment to “what should be” and a consequent denial of “what is.” The way things really are doesn’t ask for your judgment, blame or fight. It asks for your creative genius instead.

The practice below sets you on the path. The essence is this: stop fixing stuff; get to know the thinking that created the stuff instead. As always, awareness of your consciousness in this moment is your most powerful tool to evoke change in the next moment. That said, experience with clients suggests that two false beliefs may threaten this self-reflection:

  • a belief that accepting “what is” (person, situation, circumstance, self) means agreeing with “what is.” Not so, for truth is impartial; it doesn’t care if you like it or not. It is still truth. It’s how you respond to truth that matters.
  • a belief that taking quick action is the most effective path to resolution. Also not so, for quick action uses the same thinking that created the problem to try to solve it, thereby denying the fact that thinking itself is the causal factor.

As you take on the practice suggested below, just notice where and how these beliefs may impact your path forward.

Exercise: Ending “life as struggle.” When you make unconscious rules conscious, you see the limitations they place on your well-being. With new seeing comes opening to new thought and choice. The work here is not trying or fixing, but expanding perspective (context) and sharpening perception (clarity) – of your own thinking. Divide a journal page into two columns, one labeled “should;” the other, “is.” In the left column, list everything in life you think should be different than it is today. You may have 50 or more things. You know what bugs you, so don’t censor; just write. Then, after you feel complete with the list, note under each item what or whom you blame for the existence of this challenge. When you’re done, take a break, then move to the right column. Next to each “should,” write what “is” – today’s truth on the topic in question. Remember: “what is” is non-judgmental; it’s just the “report” of current circumstances. (“She’s an idiot” probably won’t help you.)

Take another break. Read the “should” column slowly out loud, noticing how you feel; then read the “is” column aloud and notice how you feel. Name the differences. Afterwards, notice any shifts in thought and feeling you experience as you move your consciousness from “should” to “is.” Via this practice, you come to release “shoulds” in your life, naturally, and to see and respond to “what is,” not with your judgment or blame (or even your need to fix), but with your calm, creative genius instead.

A River Runs Through It [Life lessons offered by nature]

When I’m immersed in nature, I often recall the Zen poem: “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection; The water has no mind to retain their image.” Nature touches us with so many gifts: beauty, perspective, peace, insight, wonder, and a sense of connectedness with both our deepest truth (soul) and with a reality far bigger than ourselves (spirit).

Despite her offerings, however, what we experience is not a result of nature “trying” to give us something; it comes from how we perceive. Birds sing because they have songs, not because they want to impress. Flowers present showy colors as a way to toss seeds for the survival of future generations, not because they want us to like them. Cockroaches are one of nature’s most successful creations, despite our general judgment against any “beauty” they may offer. True, birds attract mates and flowers attract pollinators, but I suspect the energy involved is more about creation than it is about trying. (I mean, I never saw a flower jump up and down complaining because a bee chose another blossom.)

The same is true for us. Who you are is the gift you offer the world. You don’t have to “try” to be who you are. I mean, who could be a better you than … you? Yet it seems we live so much of our lives wrapped up in trying to be someone we’re not. Even experiencing life as being difficult is rooted in our trying to be someone we’re not – a survival strategy adopted to gain approval and love.

Just some thoughts to ponder as you take time in nature to be alone with your thoughts.

And if you don’t have a regular practice of quiet time in nature, get to know the inner stories you tell about why it’s not true for you today. “I’m too busy; it’s a waste of time; it won’t work; I don’t want to become one of those “tree huggers;” the “know more and try harder” model will surely work for me … one day.” Just get to know your unconscious thinking; there’s no need to change. Your awareness will do the work for you.


Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

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An invitation to possibility: This (or any) newsletter could be the basis of a focused program of personal coaching. So if you read something that evokes the yearning inside you … and have the courage and determination to challenge conventional thinking so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can energize your dream. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work, and the world – that will allow you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month – Rising Strong, by Brené Brown. Just released. Researcher and amazing author on the relationship between vulnerability and courage, Brené Brown, writes powerfully about some of the toughest aspects of our humanness. She defines vulnerable as “the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome.” (even the simplicity of that is powerful). In this book, she acknowledges that to be vulnerable is to risk falling, and there’s a process the courageous follow to rise from falls: reckon with our emotions and get curious about our feelings, rumble with our stories until we get to the truth, live this process every day until it creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. It is this process, she shows, that teaches us most about who we are. I love her work. … And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


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