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“If suffering brings wisdom, I would wish to be less wise,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats.
It is my hope that most of us are not yet deterred from seeking further wisdom; however, life certainly does seem to dole out problems of one kind or another with a degree of consistency. Perhaps the word “challenge” would be a little less disheartening than “problem,” because challenges can be met, or risen above, whereas problems are, well, problematic, and can seem unsurmountable or insoluble.
Now, the difficulties of life may not be the most heart-warming topic, partly because we don’t normally have the leisure of choosing when obstacles are going to be thrown into our path.
We don’t drop the universe a line and say, “A major problem you say? Let me think, er, next Thursday morning could work!” There are, however, optimistic folk, such as self-declared co-creators, manifesters, and so on, who are confident that all problems can be solved through the power of the imagination.
Now, it is possible that a dimension in which this is true may indeed exist, but I must confess I have not yet accessed it. And since I had promised myself this post would be a little more light-hearted than my previous ones, I thought I’d take a not-too-serious look at a few tried and tested approaches to dealing with difficulties and challenges, each with their own benefits and shortcomings.
4 ways to get unstuck and rise above life’s challenges:
1. Applying your mind to the matter.
In common parlance, this is usually known as “thinking about it.” The mind is a great and powerful tool, and it sometimes delivers the goods. What may seem like an enormous issue can be broken down into smaller parts, making it more manageable. Creative thinking, or “thinking outside the box,” can also bring a fresh and helpful perspective. But too much rumination, in particular when thoughts go round in a loop, can be like standing in the middle of a plowed field—whichever way you look, the furrows all look the same—and any more such gazing at arable land just drains mental energy and becomes utterly unproductive.
2. Not applying the mind to the matter, also known as not thinking about the issue.
Advanced practitioners of this method often like to do this by refraining from thinking about anything at all. Such a technique is not, however, available to all of us humans. There is a well-known anecdote about the economist John Maynard Keynes, who, the story goes, was sitting by the fire with his wife one evening, both of them gazing into the flames.
“What are you thinking about darling?” Keynes asked. Looking up from the hearth and turning her gaze toward him, his wife (the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova—yep, life creates some pretty strange matches!) answered, “Oh, nothing.”
Leaving Keynes to respond, “I wish I could do that!”
But I digress. Refraining from engaging the brain is in fact an essential part of the problem-solving process, though its effects are rarely felt immediately. It can create the inner space for fresh ideas or creative solutions, though these too may not surface at once. The poet W.H. Davies pointed to this when he wrote, “What is this life if, full of care, we have not time to stand and stare.” The time when we stand and stare, at a landscape, a rock, a bird, or simply out into space, leaving the mind at rest, can become an opening for insight.
3. Getting the matter out of your system.
This method is also known as, “Sod it, I’m going for a run!” (Or a swim, a walk, or who knows, a pint!) It has undeniable virtues, gets rid of negative or stale energy, and can have similar advantages to method two. At the very least, a person usually feels a lot better for having done it.
4. Removing oneself from the equation.
This is an underrated and sometimes little-known approach, but it is well worth experimenting with. The first step is to not take the matter personally. Obviously, if you are the one who is unemployed, in a relationship stalemate, deeply in debt, or with a court summons for a wad of unpaid parking tickets, in short, if it’s you who is experiencing the problem, then there’s no use pretending the situation has befallen a third party. But for the duration of the exercise, the idea is nevertheless to lift yourself out of the narrative—to take “it’s all happening to me” out of the picture, and stay on the sidelines for a while.
The equation without the “me” is impersonal and can be viewed more objectively: fate has not dealt me a personal blow, nor am I a victim of circumstances. There is just a state of affairs, with a number of givens and variables. Now, I am not claiming this perspective will solve the issue, but, if a serious effort is made to enter this mindset, a lot of the emotional charge around the issue is dropped, the weight of self-concern diminished. And since let’s face it, we are the cause of a good deal of our own problems, this feeling of lightening a burden alone is a great relief.
Ultimately, no doubt, it is partly a question of perspective. If we see problems everywhere, we will get plenty of them. But if we simply see situations, with their variables and parameters, life is much less problematic. I will keep experimenting and endeavor to find out.