Where do “problems” originate? Are there actually any problems “out there” in the real world? Shakespeare said, “nothing is right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.” And I heard Wayne Dyer saying that the world is perfect as it is.
How often we find ourselves imagining problems that don’t turn out to be true! “She doesn’t like me,” when it turns out she likes me just fine. Or “That will never work,” and lo and behold, it works just fine! Or “I suck at this,” and it turns out that I’m great at it. How often our brains pre-emptively assume conflict, drama, or problems before there is actually any evidence of them. Am I the only one who experiences this? I don’t think so!
Recently I have been thinking a lot about uncertainty. In fact, I wrote about it the other day. Deepak Chopra says in his book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” that we should factor in uncertainty as an inevitable–no, essential!–part of the adventure of living. I wonder if our mind’s tendency to add dramatic interpretations without justification is a coping mechanism when dealing with life’s uncertainty.
After all, in each of the above negative statements (She doesn’t like me, that will never work, and I suck at this), there is an element of uncertainty there. After all, she might not like me. I don’t know for sure, right? If I did, and if I knew she liked me, if there wasn’t some uncertainty, then I wouldn’t be wondering about it, right?
And that thing (whatever that thing is) might not work. It might, but it might not. If we are doing something we haven’t done before, something we are not entirely sure the outcome of, there is uncertainty. We don’t know for sure if it will work or not. Yet why does it seem so automatic for our mind to assume the worst, to assume that it won’t work? It seems to be at least just as likely that it will work as that it won’t. After all, many things work, and many people do many things all the time that work.
Finally, saying “I suck at this” definitely implies a person in a situation of uncertainty. That person seems to be feeling doubt about their ability to do something. Yet why are they condemning themselves to suckiness? Do they really know that they suck? How much have they tried this particular thing? Is this an informed judgment, or is it a knee-jerk reaction borne out of their frustration and self-doubt? It seems to me that at least some of the time, if not a lot of the time, when people say they suck at something, the truth is not that they suck, but that they become impatient with themselves for not having easily figured out how to be good at that thing. They too are dealing with uncertainty–or in this case, you might say insecurity– as they attempt something they are not yet confident they are good at.
Going back to what I started with, it seems that very often, people make things seem much worse than they are. Very often, we imagine problems where there are none, don’t we? Those perennial mountains we make out of mole hills. In my beginning piano students, I have definitely seen this from time to time: they can be quick to evaluate and assess their progress (usually losing out in the evaluation), however they don’t actually have the experience or the perspective to judge their progress accurately. How often it seems we judge ourselves from our subjective, even irrational vantage point! And then we do the same in daily life situations. It seems to be automatic, recurring and unavoidable.
Maybe it’s some kind of adaptation of the brain’s survival mechanisms. I read in a book that our brain’s fear instincts have adapted to prefer being pessimistic over the likelihood of dangerous things occurring over being optimistic. This is the “better safe than sorry” approach to life. Of course, there seems to be a place for this, but when taken to an extreme, it seems it can turn us thinking individuals into human watch dogs who see a malicious intruder behind every mailman who approaches. Perhaps our mind’s security measures, in its desire to help us avoid problems, actually cause us to make problems, even if none otherwise exist.
There is also the problem of risk involved. Perhaps the brain, when facing uncertainty, knows that there is a possibility that we will fail. With that failure may come punishment or pain. Perhaps it has evolved the mechanism of negative thinking (such as “she doesn’t like me!”) as a self-protective measure to prevent us from risking a painful outcome.
All of which is to say that, it seems that we can’t help ourselves. We seem to create problems fairly consistently, or at least to be inclined to project and assume the worst.
So what is the solution? The solution seems to be presence. That is, presence of mind that so many great teachers talk about, being conscious, being in the present. So often I hear people recommending meditation as a way to get there. I take moments here and there to stop and just “be.” I often use writing to clear my own thoughts. I’m sure going for a nice walk by the park can do it, or even hanging out with a friend. Whatever can help us get out of our minds for awhile (no, not that way!), until the drama up there subsides.
Coming back to Wayne Dyer’s assertions that the world is perfect the way it is, there is this idea that there are no problems. Instead, there are only situations, circumstances we have to deal with. Yes, the outcome of some of these situations may be uncertain, but that doesn’t make them problems. If you meet someone who isn’t instantly friendly, and you don’t know how they feel about you, you don’t have to assume they don’t like you. You can acknowledge that you don’t really know this person, and that very likely with further interactions, you will develop rapport and become friends (if that is your wish).
I realize this isn’t always easy to do. It can be so easy for us to jump to conclusions. We don’t even realize that we are doing it! But we must stay open if we are to truly partake of this adventure called Life. Yes, I know: it’s easier said than done. Yet we all have the ability to get conscious, to be present, and to get back to the now.
For better or for worse, however, it is highly likely that problems will continue to come up in our minds. We will continue creating them, as life continues to bring us into uncertain situations. Yet we always have a choice whether to believe our mind’s default assumptions, or whether to hang out in the moment, breathe in that uncertainty, and see where it takes us.