19 February 2014
“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise”
If someone you love has told you they don’t love you anymore and is leaving you, or if you have been told your role is redundant and you now need to pack up your desk, a friend pointing out how this is a great opportunity will probably make you feel a whole lot worse.
You need time to process the information - to grieve, get angry, feel sad, plot revenge. Whatever your mind presents to you is fine. From the perspective of Mindfulness, it’s just your mind doing what your mind does. They are only thoughts.
And every thought and feeling that we regard as a problem is an opportunity for us to get to know ourselves better, to have one less inner battle, and to find a constructive way through whatever predicament we are in.
The feelings and thoughts that arise in us are the conversations we have with ourselves as we navigate through our life. For these conversations to lead somewhere useful we need to take ourselves seriously. We need to listen mindfully – with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and loving kindness. Like the conversations we have with other people, when we don’t listen with care, our inner conversations go in circles. They can be hurtful, damaging or simply a waste of time. Nothing gets resolved.
Can we listen deeply to ourselves?
In February I had a birthday party and invited many friends and family to join me to celebrate. Was I happy? Yes and no. I complicate matters by saying to myself “Perhaps not many people will accept my invitation. I will make all this effort and only a few people will be there”. I don’t like this thought. It pulls my confidence from under me, and I feel disheartened and isolated.
My first reaction is to tell this thought to keep quiet. That doesn’t work. I try logical argument. It has counterarguments. Then I remember what I suggest to my clients. I accept this thought and its associated feelings. I let them in with kindness and care. As one of my meditation teachers puts it, I invite the thought and feelings in for a cup of tea.
When invited in with kindness and openness, the thoughts and feelings change. I notice the fear inside and around them. A memory comes to me of disappointments when I was in my early school years. I recognise that the thought that is telling me things probably won’t go my way is actually trying to help – to prepare me for disappointment so I won’t be hurt so much. The thought is actually motivated by care and love. But its use-by date has passed.
Seeing that it is trying to help, I soften and thank the thought. It becomes less intense and I immediately feel greater confidence. As my birthday gets closer, the thought returns but with much less intensity. When it's around I again give it kindness and care.
While this has taken a few paragraphs to describe, the process actually took about 20 seconds. It’s not a logical, problem solving approach. I create a kind, caring space for the thought and feelings I am trying to avoid, and then pay attention. This means I learn something that helps me move on.
Try it. You may be surprised at what you learn if you practice a little kindness and patience. (And lots of people came - it was a great party!)
Let me know how you go. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
I wish you well, Stephen