Several years ago, a friend with 15 years more life experience than me surprised me with her reaction to the troubles I’d been describing. “There are no problems,” she explained, “only experiences that we judge as problems.”
Observing my immediate resistance to this concept, she elaborated, “When you judge something as a problem, you spend unnecessary energy obsessing on its flawed nature. If, instead, you see your life as full of circumstances that either need attention or not, you save yourself the emotional drain and free up space to manifest the change you desire.”
This was new for me. At the time, had she allowed me, I could have given a rather elaborate account of my problems: more kids than I knew what to do with, no time for myself, a difficult marriage, a feisty teenager, a filthy house, a weed-infested garden and not enough money, to name a few. My life felt like one overwhelming problem after another, and I had grown weary of my load. But because I was ripe (desperate) for change, her words were like sweet music.
Half a dozen years into the acceptance (and further exploration) of this concept, I find more truth and profundity in its wisdom than ever. My life is not your ordinary textbook story. It requires an immense amount of intention and focus to keep my center. You can likely say the same about your own.
It is not in the judgment, but in the embrace of our current circumstances that we’re able to handle them from the healthiest state possible. Resistance to what IS is not only a waste of precious energy, but an ineffective tool with which to create change.
What does this mean in practical terms? The following are examples in my own day-to-day that come to mind. I am choosing rather light and surface level “issues” because the point is not to share my dirty laundry but to explore situations we likely have in common.
- The house is usually not clean to my liking. This has the potential to turn me into a freakish psycho cleaning lady, ever-armed with all-purpose spray and exactly zero fun to be around. Alternatively, I can let go of my expectations, embrace the state of things and either enlist more help, or let it go. It isn’t really a problem when the house is a wreck. It is my reaction to the mess that is the problem.
- I can’t meet all the emotional needs of my family. It’s just not possible. The freedom came when I realized it is also not my job. My time is better spent modeling healthy behaviors/reactions/choices than trying to fix their perceived “problems.” I am here to offer guidance and support, but the sooner they learn that mama does not exist to “make it all better,” the quicker they will be forced to develop tools of their own. (Disclaimer: I am not referring to the needs of babies here. I believe tiny people are very much dependent on us and that their capacity for emotional health as they grow is determined by whether their instinctual needs for attention and affection are met early on.)
- No one is cooperating. If there is something I need or want to do, I can bet there will be resistance to it from at least one, if not all members of the family. Nearly every time I sit down to write I am called to break up a fight, make a snack or tend a bloodied knee. As soon as I think I have all the kids organized and distracted and pull out my yoga mat, someone breaks a glass or lets all the chickens out of the coop. When I resist these inevitabilities, I feel angry, resentful and defeated. If instead, I keep breathing, stay in the moment and find the beauty or humor (or some days, just the headphones), I may get less work and yoga done, but without labeling this as a problem my contentment is not nearly so precarious.
- If only I managed my time more efficiently. As someone with many passions and interests it is a constant challenge to keep perspective on the fact that it’s okay that I didn’t have time to make the bread from scratch. It’s okay that I may never learn to play the guitar. It’s okay that half my kids don’t know how to sew, despite my own proficiency. There is not time in the day for all the expectations we set for ourselves. Life is adequate as is, and less is more in most cases.
I love the image and message behind a simple quote by Gautama Siddharta, “When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” My goal is to dwell in this state as much as possible.