“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.” ~Douglas Adams
The Buddha famously said that life is full of suffering. While I acknowledge there is much suffering in the world, for my privileged life in the West, I like to think of it more as life being full of challenges. You see, sometimes the suffering part is optional.
Now again, I’m not talking about war, famine, trauma or other life-threatening or intolerable living situations. I’m talking about your regular developed world problems.
The hot water stopped working.
The subway is over-crowded.
Your child has the flu.
You didn’t get the job we thought we deserved.
Your friend isn’t talking to you.
You can’t afford a new car.
Those regular sort of problems that we encounter on a regular basis that interrupt our well-being. We get annoyed by them, ruminate about them, and make them bigger than they need to be. Our minds tend to go straight to the negative, and that is usually to beat ourselves up in some way or predict the worst-case scenario.
Suddenly our temporary irritation becomes a BIG problem.
I’ll never find a plumber who is reliable.
I hate this subway ride—I can’t keep doing this.
How am I going to keep my job if I have to keep taking days off? What if it is something more serious?
I’ll never find a good job.
I’m a terrible friend / they’re a terrible friend.
I need more money.
Our brains are incredibly unhelpful. We have this negative bias that is designed to keep us safe, a useful characteristic for our ancestors, but not so functional in these modern times. We don’t need our minds to play out to the worst possible outcome and we certainly don’t need it to keep reminding us of our perceived inadequacies.
I was reminded of this recently when I had a falling out with my youngest child. I kept replaying it over and over in my head.
What if we never sort this out?
What if she doesn’t want a close relationship with me anymore?
Where did I go wrong in my parenting that she could behave like this?
She hates me!
I am a bad mother.
Yep. Over and over again in my head either going to worst case scenario or beating myself up.
And all the while making the situation much worse than it needed to be.
And then I remembered: A problem is only a problem when we decide…