One summer’s day back in the early nineties, I was sitting on a friend’s floor in our University Hall of Residence and I casually picked up a text book lying on his floor.
It was an introduction to Psychology. I had never heard of such a subject before and I was instantly hooked.
I changed my degree course from Economics to Psychology and started my University career all over again – absolutely fascinated with what makes people tick, and especially my fascination was this: how do people become broken and how can I help fix them?
I was struggling with my own experiences of anxiety of the time, but I was also drawn to the research and statistics showing what a huge proportion of our society were impacted by mental health issues.
As my attention later became captured by entrepreneurship and marketing, I then wanted to take a deeper look at what makes people tick in the world of business.
How could we get more from ourselves? What could we do to overcome our procrastination, our fear of failure, our tendency to fall in a puddle of tears when our businesses didn’t go in the direction we had decided? How could we surmount those problems to create the businesses we wanted?
And from there, since stumbling across the Three Principles, it’s been about how we can eliminate the problems we have so that we can live with greater peace of mind and be more in flow in our relationships, lives and businesses.
I thought I’d found the answer: Simple: as soon as you understand that you’re creating your reality from the inside out, you’ll look at each problem in turn and at some point you’ll see it’s made of thought and then ‘poof’, it will vanish never to be seen again. (Except for when it doesn’t).
My job became to notice which problems were coming up for me and then take a fresh look at them with my new understanding in an attempt to ‘poof’ them away.
Because surely if I could just get rid of/make a decision on/move forward on THIS one really sticky area, then life would just flow…
This weekend I attended a training with Michael Neill and Mara Gleason and I saw something completely new about problem-solving.
Michael shared this story with us:
Once upon a time an affluent farmer approached Buddha with great hope. He prostrated before the sage and sought his blessings. Buddha raised his hand in benediction.
“O Venerable One!” the farmer said, “I have a major problem and I know only you can help me.”
Buddha kept quiet and the man went onto narrate that his good-for-nothing son was troubling him and that he was mad at his wife because she supported her son over him.
The man said, “Do something so their minds change and they realize how much I’m doing for them.”
“I can’t solve this problem for you,” Buddha replied and lowered his eyes again, in a meditative state.
The farmer told Buddha how he was worried about the upcoming harvest as the weather didn’t seem too favorable and the monkeys were destroying his crop.
“I can’t help you with this one either,” Buddha said calmly.
Still hoping in the powers of Buddha, he told him that many people owed him money and he was having hard time recovering it from his debtors. And that he too owed money to lenders and creditors. He asked Buddha if the sage could give him any remedy or amulet.
“Hmm…” Buddha said, “I can’t solve this problem for you.”
“What good are you then?” the man yelled. “Every one says you are the enlightened one and here you can’t solve any of my problems. Is there absolutely nothing you can do? I’m tired of my terrible life.”
“You see,” Buddha said patiently, as if he hadn’t heard the man’s tirade, “at any point in time, you’ll always have 84 problems in your life. The 84th is the key.
If you solve the 84th problem, the first 83 will resolve themselves.”
“Please solve my 84th problem then,” the man said, going back to being humble. “How do I do it?” he added.
“First, we have to identify your 84th problem.”
“What is my 84th problem?” Buddha smiled and peered deeply into the man’s eyes that were full of desire, doubt and anxiety.
“Your 84th problem is,” Buddha said and paused, “you want to get rid of the first 83 problems.”
I heard: “Your 84th problem is…. you think you shouldn’t have any problems.”
And I got goosebumps.
If I’m always going to have 83 problems, trying to knock them off my ‘problem to-do’ list one at a time suddenly seems like something I don’t have to give much attention to any more.
One of the biggest insights I ever had around time management was thanks to Ali Brown. She said ‘when you die, your inbox will still be full.’
In that moment I stopped worrying about a full inbox – there was nothing more to do now I had seen that ‘getting my inbox to zero’ was only going to be possible momentarily before it would just start filling back up again.
What was the point?
Not in a hopeless, ‘what’s the point?’ kind of a way, but a practical, full of relief, light, ‘what’s the point?’ way.
This was the same.
I suddenly saw the 84th problem was made of thought.
That’s the AIM of most personal development isn’t it? At some level we think if we work on ourselves (partners/kids/businesses), all our problems will eventually go away and then we’ll be happy.
Most days my headspace is filled with the ‘problem de jour’ as Mara called it.
That’s my experience of life – tackling one thing after another, with short periods of grace and peace in between.
I realised I had been ‘using’ the principles as my new ‘problem tackling’ solution.
I thought once the problems were tackled, THEN I could experience peace of mind.
But what’s happened in this moment is that I can have my 83 problems but they seem no more relevant to my life than the fact that I will probably always have 5001 emails in my inbox and 83 whatjamaflips in my junk drawer in my kitchen.
I don’t spend all day thinking about my whatjamaflips or bringing them up with anyone that will listen.
My whatjamaflips are unrelated to my peace of mind; perhaps my problems are too.
OMG, if I take ‘problem-solving’ off my list, what actually AM I going to do all day?
(Mind you, I probably had the same thinking about whatjamaflips at some point).