Problems. We meet our friends or find someone online so that we can talk about them. We think about them as we go to bed at night and terrorise ourselves with them in the small hours. And we wish the people in our lives would stop talking about theirs and talk about ours instead.
What are these things ? — these problems — that diminish and limit our lives?
Mental images, thoughts and bodily sensations, maybe sounds too, all come together to form the familiar experience which we call ‘my problem with …’.
My Granny used to describe such people as ‘worriers’ and would say ‘oh she’s such a worrier!’. The language of mental states has changed dramatically since her day and now ‘anxiety’ does the job or ‘worry’, with all its variations of social anxiety deadline anxiety and so on. We could also see these states as someone drowning in problems they don’t see a way to fix.
Mind at work
Maybe it’s just me, but as I ruminate over my current problem(s), I experience a subtle or not so subtle sense that if I can’t fix it, the consequences will be severe: I will die in poverty, I will be an outcast, people will laugh at me and so on. Or the emphasis might be on what I will miss if I don’t fix it, I will (forever) miss out on a wonderful life of pleasure, fulfilment, love and friendship.
Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450–1516) was a master at depicting the kinds of images our minds produce and the dark fantasies they create for us. This work was made a time when culture was organised around a belief that our behaviour in this life determined whether we ended up in heaven or hell after death. Our lives are now formed and defined by around much more complex and intricate belief systems. Heaven and hell persist in our imagination, nevertheless. We might not use those labels, but the pictures of annihilation and catastrophe still torment and terrorise us and in so doing, limit our lives and vision.
Digging a little deeper
We are all special cases. We all want to appeal against something!
Albert Camus The Fall (1956)
We can hopefully agree that this experience of being preoccupied by a problem is a mental and bodily phenomenon. On the mental side it is some version of ‘I don’t HAVE enough, and I want MORE’ and ‘Person X/Situation Y is WRONG and should be DIFFERENT.’ On the physical side, it’s a contraction, a feeling of tightness or tension, but it can also be deadness, weakness and emptiness.
All suffering is resistance
Obsessing over my problems… guarantees one thing: I’ll get to keep them. My mind does everything it can to convince me that it’s essential to maintain an intense focus on what’s wrong, what I did wrong and how I should have been different.
It never works (or if it does, it’s a miracle). There’s good reason why not: your mind is busying itself with lack, with your lack, with the world’s lack, with how other people lack or lacked what you need; and/or it’s busy with wrongness and how you are wrong, they wrong and the whole world is wrong.
This is like trying to find the North Pole in Antarctica — it looks right when you’re in the middle of the snowy tundra, but it’s not.
Focusing on the source of pain
If you have toothache, you focus on the tooth and finding someone or something to treat it. Our brains naturally focus on the source of pain, so if we have a problem, it’s painful and we focus on it.
We know this and we wish we could stop doing it but we can’t. On and on the mind goes, telling the same thing over and over and solving nothing. As Gail Brenner says in Suffering Is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-Judgment and Feelings of Inadequacy
If you could easily eliminate thoughts, then that’s what you would do, and you would be living happily ever after. But trying to eliminate them leaves you fighting with your experience and waiting for peace to come at some future time. So if you can’t stop or change these pesky thoughts that bring you down, what do you do?
There is a solution.
But first, it’s important to point out that I am not saying that there is never something outside of ourselves that needs attention; of course we may need to act, but my point is that the action is often the smallest part. It’s the thinking, imagining, regretting, ruminating, blaming, explaining, defending and catastrophizing that hurt us, that distort our present perception and wastes our energy.
Anatomy of a Problem
- Lack of awareness
Firstly, while we THINK endlessly about a situation, we are often not aware of how we FEEL about it because our feelings are fuzzy and mostly below conscious awareness and/or because we habitually suppress them as soon as we feel something brewing. Thinking is relentless, repetitive and often not very interested in solving anything; feeling gets things moving.
When we are aware of how we feel, we often don’t like it so we want to change it. We decide that we shouldn’t feel like we do. That’s when we start chastising ourselves, looking for someone to blame, asking ourselves endless Why? questions as we look to the past or our identity for explanations of why we are in the situation we are in and why things should be different. Or we just poor a big glass of wine.
- All about me
And the third part is we think it’s personal, all about us. We might think that our feelings are especially hard for us to deal with or that it’s unusually difficult for us to take the action we might need to take or to face up to how we feel. This is also where ‘it always happens to me’ and ‘why me?’ belong.
How to let go
The Sedona Method processes are structured to deal with these elements — lack of awareness, resistance and thinking it’s all about me — piece by piece. As each component of the problem releases, your perspective shifts dramatically, your view of yourself, the world and everything in it opens up. Discomfort, stress and any sense of overwhelm start to melt away.
In summary, this is the process:
- Welcome/allow/acknowledge the issue and all the pictures, stories, bodily sensations and sounds that are part of your experience.
- Welcome/allow/acknowledge any wanting to do anything with any of that? Any resistance, and ideas that it shouldn’t be here, any wanting to change it, push it away, or hold onto it?
- Welcome/allow/acknowledge any and all sense that you are at the centre of all of it, that it’s personal, about you?
Why all this about feelings? Aren’t they the problem?
Feelings are not the problem and never have been. The problem is what we do with them. We compress them, argue with them and reject them.
Our relationships with other people are an exact mirror of our internal relationships and the same mechanisms are at work. If someone tells you not to feel something? Or they push you away and ignore you because you feel a certain way, how does it feel? Equally, if someone fusses over your every utterence, every breath, what does that do? Your responses (which I assume were negative) give us some clues about how best to deal with our own inner conflicts. We have a battle going on between between the seemingly separate parts of ourselves:
‘I feel sad’ vs ‘Well you shouldn’t! — stop it’ ‘No one cares! You got yourself into this! Just man-up and get on with it!’
‘I feel angry’ vs ‘You better stop it and fast if you want people to like you — you should be ashamed of yourself for getting angry over nothing’.
If we truly welcome all our experience with open arms, our experience paradoxically loses its power to disturb us. As we allow and open to what we feel, we become less identified with what is appearing on the surface and more in contact with the imperturbability that lies at the core of our being.
Life with tasks and duties but no problems
Imagine the problem: a tax return to fill in or a bill to pay or a job to find without all that thinking. Imagine if stuff just happened or didn’t happen. Imagine if your sleepless nights didn’t produce the kinds of images we see in Hieronymus Bosch, and that you couldn’t create your own lost mental heaven and your own inevitable mental hell.
If this was the case, wouldn’t it be easier to do what needs to be done? Even if you could do it a little bit or some of the time, wouldn’t that dramatically improve things for you?
How do you feel now?
I hope this article helped shift your perspective — even if just a little nudge in the direction of freedom. After all,
‘What Is Wrong With Right Now Unless You Think About It?’ Sailor Bob Adamson