(This is a step-by-step, progressive course; if you arrived at this page first, please back up and start at the beginning, HERE.)
You will begin to breathe easier when you slow it down, stop trying to solve the whole big problem, and accept that, for most of us and for almost every difficulty, getting through it is a PROCESS.
There’s a reason I’ve been telling you about taking your big problem and breaking it apart into its pieces. The ‘all or nothing’ mentality that is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s tech-driven world is actually hurting you and setting you up for failure. Today’s youth grow up with such ‘instant expectations’ now, they think of solving problems completely and quickly, to them it’s either ‘all solved or else nothing gets better’. You’re either winning against it, or you’re a loser. You succeed only if you solve it, you’re a failure if you can’t make it better.
We see this ‘totality thinking’ especially on television and movies now, where reality and talent shows make instant stars of people and bring them instant wealth. What used to take people years, decades, a lifetime to build and experience, is often now packaged into a few weeks or months on reality shows. Huge lotteries that bring instant millions are now reported so frequently that we’re commonly bombarded with the hope of an instant change of lifestyle. The internet and technology sectors are so numerous and massive that it is now possible for even teenagers with the right skills and imaginations to spend a short time creating a service or website that goes viral and becomes worth millions, or billions, within a year or three.
This recently-learned thought pattern leads so many people into being impatient with longer processes. It leads them to thinking something is wrong if things aren’t happening fast and large. It leads to deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction, watching these wonderful huge experiences happening to other people every day on TV, wanting but not knowing how to become a part of that. And it leads to impatience in dealing with troubles.
Books are everywhere also, books giving you step by step guides on how to improve your life right away, how to become rich, how to change your life and become successful, how to do pretty much everything, fast and large.
And when you see these stories of fast success, fast problem-solving, people having their lives changed wonderfully and practically instantly… what can you do other than desire the same thing for yourself? We’re now in the age of speed and information, and this creates a whole new set of problems when it comes to dealing with the problems we already have.
You need to slow down. Breathe, even amid your panic and unhappiness. Just because we’re bombarded with daily stories of people whose lives change largely and quickly, remember: it’s an illusion, and an illusion in many ways. First, we read and see the stories every time we open a magazine or watch the news or the next reality show, so it SEEMS like it’s common, like ‘everybody is doing it’, because you’re seeing it happen to twenty people a day on TV. But it isn’t common. Those lucky people who get so much and so quickly, are extremely, extremely rare, compared to the numbers of us who don’t. It might happen to you that way, some day, but you need to stop wanting it, and stop transferring that mentality to your own problems.
Another illusion is the appearance that problems ARE solved by these huge events. They aren’t. TV, books, movies, are edited so they show you what their creators want to show you, and they also usually wrap up into a nice ending. But even ‘getting everything you want’, those large life changes, don’t negate problems for those people. Too much, too fast, can also lead some to indulge too much, too fast, and their health and lifestyles spiral downhill. Even people who get rich quick receive a new set of problems, such as keeping that money secure, taxes, what to spend it on, and even nice new homes and cars and toys begin to break down, need repairs, cleaning, maintenance, attention. And money can’t buy anyone true love and respect, fulfillment in accomplishment, skill, escape from injury, death, disease, loneliness, violence, poor social skills.
So despite the fantastic problem-solving the media showers upon you every day, don’t believe it. There’s no such thing. Whether you’re poor, or rich, or healthy, or ill, or with family, or alone, you will go through some large trials that create problems in your life, and everyone the world over will hope those problems can be dealt with completely and quickly.
Remember I spoke about the Sludgeball? Where you eventually lump all your specific, separate problems into one unified entity you non-specifically call your ‘problem’? As long as you think this way, and think in terms of dealing with that entire problem, your thinking will bog down and you’ll be defeated, because how is it possible to deal with your overwhelming problem as one big thing? With this way of thinking, all your small successes in dealing with smaller parts of your problem become ignored or unimportant to you, because the ‘big problem’ is still there, so large that it’s causing you overwhelm and immobility.
You need to move. Even if it’s crawling, or baby steps. Movement is the key to getting past your problems. Think of your problem as being a huge boulder blocking your road, you can’t drive any further with that rock there, you can’t drive around it. It’s far too large to pick up or roll out of the way, even with your vehicle. What do you do? If you just look at the boulder and realize you have no method to move it out of the way all at once and in a short time, then you overwhelm yourself, immobilize yourself, think of yourself as failing, and must turn around and go back. It’s the ‘total success or total failure’ mentality that has defeated you, not the boulder itself, not the problem.
If you want to continue, you have only two real options: if there are other people and vehicles with you, then you can ask for help, tackle the problem in unison. But if you don’t have help at your disposal, if you are alone, and assuming you don’t have dynamite with you, you must slow down, and go through a process. You must use other large rocks, or a sledgehammer or some tool, and pound it against the boulder until you chip enough away so the boulder becomes small enough for you to move.
That is the process most of us will need to go through, to escape our problems and make things better. Most of us will never receive instant big money, instant success, instant solutions to our large problems. Instead, most of us will need to plod through our small successes and failures methodically, taking smaller, more drawn-out steps. Most of us don’t get the big wonderfulness laid out for us all at once, rather we must wade through a lot of woodshedding, trial and error, roadblocks, wins and setbacks.
The people who learn to cope with even the largest problems human beings can ever endure, come to realize they don’t endure by tackling the entire problem. They follow the process as it unfolds, dealing with the parts of the problem as they can, as those parts become clear. Succeeding and failing become small words, applied only to small parts of the process along the way. What becomes important is CONTINUED MOTION, to keep walking forward, to keep standing back up when you fall down, to keep finding ways under, over, around, and through the smaller parts making up each larger problem.
All successful people, whether it’s the wealthiest entrepreneurs or the brokest people sleeping on the streets but still surviving, become expert at dealing with failure. They fail so often, but they keep moving past those failures, learning from them, ignoring them, whatever they have to do as long as they continue moving.
Here’s something amazing you will realize, when you go through the process of dealing with your problems: instant solutions to problems don’t define you or add to your experience, personality, strength, wisdom. They just sweep your problems out of the way, leaving you with no growth from the happening. Going through problems, all the steps from the beginning to the end, adds to you, helps define you. This is what makes people truly great, the steps taken through their life difficulties.
Do you look at someone who is given or has inherited all their wealth, had all they wanted since they were young… and respect them? Are you awed by them? No, you are awed by and respect those who have fought through all kinds of obstacles, failures, adversities, and kept going, even against seemingly hopeless odds. You recognize how ‘solid’ they have become, through their process. You become solid, grounded, strong, when you deal with each part of a large problem systematically. You see the parts in detail, their strengths and weaknesses, their power over you and their vulnerabilities. You work with your problems’ parts, become familiar and experienced, even expert with them, find your fail limits, and you find what breaks through the roadblocks and succeeds.
Here’s a strong personal example: I want to write my book. THE book, something I’ve dreamed about and picked away at for twenty years. I’ve wanted an open space of a year or two to write it, a year or two of living in a quiet and comfortable place, having all my food and needs met without having to be working or in ‘survival mode’. For twenty years, I’ve been struggling, hoping, begging, asking, pleading for that year or two of open space. I can write other things despite my changing circumstances, but that book – THE book – I need open, stable space to write that one.
Yet if I’d been given that open space twenty years ago, or ten years ago… I cringe at how shallow that book would have been. Even so, for the past twenty years I’ve been struggling for the means to get that year or two of open space. Twenty years of struggle, of thinking that ‘not being able to write my book’ is a big problem, a big disappointment. But here’s the beauty:
Those twenty years of struggle have actually given me the depth of wisdom I needed to be able to write that book the way I want to. If I hadn’t struggled, suffered, even despaired and wanted to die… how could I have written a book about transcending struggling, suffering, despairing, fear of dying? Not getting what I wanted, not getting any solution to my problems, actually gave me what I wanted. Yes, it’s another of those annoying paradoxes.
For some of your problems, some of your suffering, there is a reason you need to go through a process, a struggle. At some of the times you are suffering most, filled with terror and panic and begging to escape, you are receiving those experiences exactly so you can go through them and learn from them. To be given an instant solution, would seriously stunt your soul’s growth, so to speak.
Even just being broke again and again… perhaps this is happening until you lose your fear, your exasperation and frustration with being broke, the wise adage of ‘History repeats itself, until you learn it’. Years ago I was talking with someone about being broke. He said he’d been broke for awhile when he was younger, hated it, worked hard so he’d never be broke again! He then said he’d ‘learned his lesson’.
But that wasn’t the lesson. EVERYONE feels that way when they’re broke. What if you can’t pay the bills and are being kicked out, can’t even buy food, what if you have family to support, your kids are hungry, your spouse is despairing? Of course you hate being broke! It can be terrifying and seemingly endless, it feels horrible to lose your comforts, stability, security, your basic necessities.
And if some wise person comes along during all that and says ‘Trust the process, trust what you’ll learn from it’, do you calmly thank them, with gratitude for their wisdom, try think deeply about what they mean, talk this over with your spouse and kids? No, you want to scream at them that they don’t know what you’re going through, they don’t know what they’re talking about, fuck the process, you need HELP, not some idiot whining about what spiritual growth it’s giving you!
But what if the entire process is all about giving you the chance to learn to NOT be like that? There are people who learn to be calm, patient, loving, understanding, even when their world is crashing down around them. If the Dalai Lama began losing what he has… appearances cancelled, monasteries razed to the ground, people hating him instead of venerating him, losing all his resources, down to his clothes and nothing else, maybe his life in danger again… do you think he’s going to freak out? Run around screaming, “Everything’s fucked up, somebody help me, Jesus Christ almighty get me out of this!!!”
He has already been through much pain in his life, pain and loss he couldn’t escape… and that process gave him the tools to become a person who doesn’t react like that any more, even amid the worst happenings.
And he is only, simply, a human being. Just like you.
I have been broke so much of the past two decades, lost so much, been so out of control of my own life, overwhelmed by the things I didn’t want to happen, devoid of the things I did want to happen. Each of those times, all of those times, I wanted out. I wanted help, wanted saving, some instant and complete escape. And I didn’t receive it.
I had to go through the process, a process of small, laborious, seemingly interminable steps, to cope with each and every excruciating situation, try to extricate myself from it, tackle it, avoid it, move around it. Always, the process of steps. Of plodding movement, of being there, inescapably with each uncomfortable thing, of taking miniscule steps along the path. Sometimes the steps were simply steps of being able to live through, cope with something, and that’s all. Sometimes… the horrendous challenges are forced upon you, just so you learn to cope with things you’d never have tried to cope with willingly. Sometimes you just can’t escape, and it’s only about the coping, surviving.
But the process brings repetition, familiarity, tools, wisdom, and strength. The happenings that used to cause me intense fear, despair, horrible black hours and weeks, eventually lost their power over me. Years of living through those have given me the tools to cope with them. Now, when some of the same things happen that used to herd me to the edge of sanity and tolerance, I feel differently. The fear and discomfort aren’t unknown to me anymore, they’re not terrifying strangers, so when they’re present again they aren’t wrecking my soul. Going through the process with my older difficulties, has given me the tools I need to stop letting any new difficulties wreck me, or even bring me down much.
With the tools learned during your own processes, you eventually learn to the steps that help all things within you become better. You will probably never receive five million dollars, to sweep away your financial problems. You will probably never have your cancer just ‘go away’, without having to go through a painful process of combating it. Most of you will get some money, pay some bills, get some more money, pay more bills, maybe save some for retirement. Most of you will wrestle and negotiate with health and happiness all your lives. When you withstand some painful happenings, you become a little stronger. When you withstand even more adversity, you become even stronger. When you survive the incredible, you become incredibly strong. These are cause-and-effect, results of the process.
But whatever the intensity of what you are going through, no matter how insistent it is that you solve it RIGHT NOW, get help RIGHT NOW… chances are, like almost everyone in the world, you will have to accept that it won’t be right now and won’t be completely solved. Like almost everyone you will learn to slow down, breathe, go through the process, tackle the parts you can take on, try make small movements to help you get through this hour, then today, then you tackle tomorrow in little bits, then the next day.
Going through the process is what most of us must do with our problems. And ‘going through’ is just that; it isn’t ‘avoiding’, ‘going around’, ‘being rescued’, ‘solving’… it’s a linear passing through, working through all the details, breaking it apart where you can, taking it on in bite-sized pieces you can handle, and surviving, coping.
It’s simple to identify when you need to remind yourself to allow the process to happen: the moment you stop moving and stop coping, the moment you realize that you’re being overwhelmed and immobilized because you’re facing too large a force, taking on too much at once, treating many smaller things as one large obstacle… that’s the moment you need to slow down and reawaken to allowing a process to happen.
There is no problem that cannot be made smaller, possibly even taken apart completely, when you stop trying to tackle it all at once and as a single large entity. In fact your very acceptance of this, your letting go of the panicked insistence on everything being solved at once, right now, will bring you considerable relief. If you slow down, go through the process of tackling its smaller parts individually, allow the continuing process of these small successes and setbacks, you will ease your present problems over time, you will achieve inner tools to help you avoid many future problems, and you will become a much stronger person in dealing with any difficulties that arise the rest of your life.
You’re understanding that, whether you like it or not, some of your difficulties are a process you must go through. What NEXT?