On any given day, many of us will wake up and face what we consider to be a huge problem. If you’ve been watching the news lately, then you’ll agree. Top that off with any personal or health problems you have, and sometimes those problems appear overwhelming. But gradually through the years I’m learning that where ever and whatever I put my focus on, grows. Most problems are like that. I also remember hearing the late Norman Vincent Peale give a talk one time when he said, “The number of problems you face shows the aliveness in your life. The only people who don’t have problems are six feet under.” With that in mind, could it be that the way we choose to look at the problems confronting us is the real problem?
I’m not the only one to ask that question. Byron Katie, best-selling author and international speaker boldly believes, “There are no physical problems—only mental ones.” Calling what she does, “The Work,” Katie asks us to identify and question the issues we face, and then analyze the thoughts behind those issues. But let’s be clear, Katie doesn’t ask us to deny reality. What she does is ask us to question the perceptions or the “movie” we are playing in our mind about our circumstances. She teaches that in the big picture, reality is neutral. However, we as individuals make up stories about that reality—either good or bad—and the way we tell those stories determines whether we are living in a heaven or a hell.
Katie says, “Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked because it approaches the problem backward. What The Work gives us is a way to change the projector—mind—rather than the projected. It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on a projector’s lens. We think there’s a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears on next. But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.”
Katie, like author and speaker Eckhart Tolle, is convinced that suffering happens because we are attempting to change the “is-ness” of the situation. However, our best reaction is to become aware of how we are thinking, and then change our mind about it. Tolle says, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts.”
Another speaker and author named Mary Manin Morrissey also teaches that our suffering comes from the stories we tell ourselves. Morrissey says, “If you and I attend the same movie, we will not have the same experience because the movie isn’t on the screen. The experience of it is through the lens of our own perception, through the data bank of our history, through the framework of our belief systems. We experience the same things differently, based on what we think is real or valuable. Our lives can be full of glory or empty with despair. When we choose to open our hearts to Love’s presence, we open to the magnificence of Life Itself.”
Author and speaker Wayne Dyer also routinely taught that our individual thoughts about our world determine how we see reality. In his small book, 10 Secrets for Success And Inner Peace he devoted an entire chapter to this idea. He claims, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” Dyer teaches that we give power to problems by seeing the illusion of separation between us and an undivided connection to the Universe. He says, “Light always dissolved darkness. Love always nullifies hate. Spirit always cancels problems. Problems exist as beliefs of your ego mind, which is unable to conceptualize an awareness of your spiritual mind, just as darkness has no concept of light.”
But lest you think only self-empowerment authors follow this line of thinking, consider Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. Einstein said, “ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Also like Wayne Dyer, Einstein believed, “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. “
In Einstein’s mind, a problem isn’t something to be fixed or to avoid. Instead he declared, “The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” In other words, problems can open the door to new possibilities. It’s all in how we see them.
I realize that it can be very difficult to see problems as opportunities. Whenever I have been sucked into the abyss of a problem it often feels very real and insurmountable. But I think that’s why I like Byron Katie’s approach so much. She never tells anyone else what she should think or feel. Instead, she asks four simple questions and lets the person who is suffering answer them as they choose. According to Katie, it is only after arriving at a place of understanding and clarity that we change our thinking. Katie is there to help facilitate that change if a person is open and willing.
None of these authors deny that bad things happen to us all on occasion. Pain can be devastating and unexpected tragedy happens all around the world every day. Being told that your suffering exists in your mind often brings out a knee-jerk reaction of anger and shame. But what these authors suggest is that even though your pain is real, long-term suffering from it can be reduced and even eliminated.
Any of us facing a problem right now has at least two choices. One, we stay convinced that there is no solution and nothing we can do will change things. The other choice is to start noticing the thoughts and stories running through our minds in relation to the problem—and then begin the process of changing our mind. In the end, seeing the problems in our lives as a doorway for new possibilities or as opportunities to increase our awareness and understanding, is both a SMART and life-enhancing thing to do, 365.
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