the presence of problems

To understand that life means difficulty liberates us because it helps us to understand problems and suffering as natural parts of life, not as signs of our inadequacies. There is a saying, “A small heart gets used to misery and becomes docile, while a great heart towers above misfortune.” From the Buddhist perspective, the fact that life is filled with problems is no reason to be depressed, downhearted or resigned to a miserable fate. Buddhism is not Stoicism. Buddhism finds happiness in the midst of rather than the absence of problems. The reason so many people are unhappy is, for the most part, delusion. They believe the predominant myths that our culture propagates about happiness. -Buddha in Your Mirror

A couple of avenues of thought on this quote open up for me. My mind ambles around the definition of a problem, poking it here and there to see what gets my attention and what makes me yawn. Anytime I get a nudgy*, uncomfortable feeling that something is going to keep me from getting what I need or want, I am likely to define it as a problem. (*nudgy => a sensation that one is being nudged to action. I like making up words.)

The proportion of a “problem” is defined by where it might land on my threshold of concerns. Some problems present opportunities to get creative and do something (usually ANYTHING) different. These problems generally fall into the category of self-infliction. I brought the problem upon myself most likely because of my own behavior. If I am unhappy, well, then, duh. Being unhappy in the face of a personal morass is not necessarily a bad thing. The feeling should be a signal to me that I am not taking good care of me. The circumstances should be screaming “quit doing this!”

Whether or not I pay attention to the messages I am sending myself is well within my choiceful control (hmmm . . . not sure “choiceful” is a word but can’t take credit for making it one).

There are karma problems — those that seemingly materialize out of nowhere and toss some trash around my life that I have to clean up or learn to live with. These are the problems that happen when I am minding my own business and just living my life. I hate karma problems. It means that I was an idiot in a prior life and the problem is here to remind me not to sit on my laurels. (A laurel, by the way, is a success, something that I have achieved. There are very few laurels that are okay to rest on because all things in life are transitory, but that’s a blog for a different day.)

Then, there are problems that I create from nothing. Really. I can manifest problems where none currently reside. I don’t think I am the only person in the universe who can do this, though, so hold your applause. It is not a special, unique quality. The problems that I create from nothing are those I imagine because I believe I am missing something in my life. These result from my habitual practice of comparing. For example, I am perfectly happy with my car, until I see a car that appeals to me more. So I ask myself, why? Well, the other car is new, is a different color, has a bigger engine, washes its own windows, and I imagine that I will look so good driving it, people will pull over to stop and gawk at me. Fortunately, I have a built-in reality checker that notes the windows of most new cars are tinted and you can barely see the driver (think about that the next time you want to use a famous hand gesture to send inconsiderate drivers a message . . . waste of time . . . they can’t see you.)

What I really want is a car who will bake me cookies when I am having a bad day. I have to be scraping the bottom of my problem cookpot for me to let this dilemma depress me. Can you imagine the conversation?

“Hi, Barbara, you look down. What’s wrong?”

“Oh,” long heaving sigh, “it’s my car.”

“Your car? Oh, dear. What’s wrong with it.”

“It is just not performing well.”

“Hmmm . . . do you need to take it in for service? I can follow you and drive you back home.”

Another sigh. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve had this car for well over two years now. I treat it well. I give it lube jobs and oil changes regularly. I keep its fluids at top level, but it just does not seem to appreciate me.” (Wiping trickle of tears from cheeks.)

Other person blinking. “What?”

(sniffle) “It has never baked me cookies even I leave it hints and everything. The whole back seat is full of ready-mix chocolate chip cookies, and everyday I check, but it does not seem to get the hint.”

“Huh. You think you got problems. My car refuses to go anywhere without speeding. Even if it sees a speed limit sign at the speed it’s travelling, it still insists on adding ten miles to the speedometer! Yesterday it was so reckless, an old lady had to jump out of its way at a crosswalk.”

Wow. I feel much better. Now, I get to use my famous hand gesture in person!

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

4 Responses to “the presence of problems”

  1. holessence Says:

    Oh Barbara – this was such a fun read this morning. Now you’ve got me hankering for a car that bakes cookies!

    And you introduced two new words.

    And I believe the bird got flipped – twice!

    But most importantly, you once again provided a heaping plate of food for thought. Thank you.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — I had a little fun with this . . . got tired of taking problems too seriously; I kept hearing that little voice in my head “You lookin’ for a problem?” and the answer kept coming back “well, sort of . . .” It started to become very clear that problems are in the eyes of the beholder.

  2. sandiwhite Says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I was in need of a bit of bootstrap pulling-up philosophy this morning! I have sat at my desk for way too long considering what to make of the day and your words jolted me out of the doldrums. I will make very little of the day if I continue to sit here and manufacture problems, arguments and denials. A plan of action is needed and I do love a good plan. Action trumps inaction any day and while I may not be baking cookies, I won’t be sitting around bemoaning circumstances I have no control over. There are plenty of things that need seeing to and I have the time to deal with them. Have a great day and I hope you get dozens and dozens of cookies from your car. Have you looked in the trunk?

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      I have a Honda CRV with a hatchback . . . no trunk. It could be that the Honda is pilfering my cookies to the Subaru next door. I think they like each other. I need to start making lists of stuff that make me feel good and help me realize the abundance I have in my life. Might take up writing a humorous blog, too.

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