How to Solve Problems: It’s All About Perspective

One of the great things about Buddhism is its ability to transform anything, and everything, into the path of awakening. In Buddhism, we try to solve all our problems in life by treating them as opportunities to develop spiritual qualities in us that otherwise wouldn’t be cultivated. Often when we have a problem confronting us – that is all we can see – the problem. It’s a dark, ugly tunnel that seems to go on forever and we can’t see any exit out.  This can quickly lead to feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and despondency. But what might look like a disaster to us, from another perspective, could actually be something quite fortunate. In fact, how every situation is perceived is simply a matter of opinion. If everyone else can look at the same situation and view it as something different, then perhaps we can too.

Maybe getting sick isn’t a disaster but a fantastic opportunity for us to slow down and find some balance in our lives. Perhaps losing our job is the shove we need to really find our true calling and follow what we’re really passionate about. Maybe our friend backstabbing us is the wakeup call that we need to find better friends.

The important thing is to recognise that there is nothing that happens in our lives that is inherently bad. There is always a golden nugget to be found in every situation. If a friend or family member is sick, it might seem like the end of the world to us. We feel helpless and their suffering places an extreme emotional toll on our hearts. But in this time of crisis there is an amazing flower that is allowed to grow, and that’s the blossoming of our generosity, love and compassion. Spiritual qualities often need an external trigger for them to be cultivated. And there’s nothing better than using our own difficulties in our lives as ingredients for cultivating these spiritual qualities.

Enlightenment doesn’t just happen. It requires us to constantly let go, purify our mind and create positive karma. By letting go of habitual views we can transform the narrow perspective in which we currently perceive our everyday problems. Just because something doesn’t feel nice, and doesn’t make us happy – doesn’t mean the situation is bad. It’s just a question of whether we can tweak our perspective to see if there is something beneficial that can come out of this situation. When a problem arises, we tend to habitually focus on the negative and unhappiness it brings, but it might help to practice the wise and wonderful advice of Ajahn Chah to repeat the words, “Not sure, not sure, not sure” in every situation we find ourselves in. We don’t know what is around the corner. We don’t know what others are thinking about us. Perhaps they’re just writing us an email to apologise now. We don’t know how things are going to unfold from here. Often our second-guessing about the future only escalates our present anxiety and depression, and we really can’t say for certain what the future will bring.

It often helps at these times to remember that everything is impermanent – even the difficult time we’re having now. It cannot and will not last. Something has to change. It is the nature of life to move in cycles. Sometimes things will go our way and sometimes they won’t. So we need to practice wisdom and remember the impermanence of our current difficulties. In fact, knowing that they’re in the process of change, right now, should put a smile on our face. In the past, what might have seemed to us as insurmountable problems have now passed, and this one will too. It’s just a matter of practicing a bit of patience and waiting for the shift to happen.

Difficult situations in our life can also help to reduce our arrogance. We develop humility when we acknowledge that we are not in control and accept that life isn’t always going to go our way. Humility might be a hard pill to swallow at first, but it helps us to open ourselves and be flexible in difficult times, rather than rigid, angry and uptight.

So when problems in life confront us, rather than reacting with anger, blame and sadness, and therefore perpetuating more misery, we should try to see what we’re being served as an opportunity to make progress on the spiritual path. Let it become a catalyst for inciting our compassion, generosity, and tolerance. Let us avoid falling into negative responses of anger and instead cultivate compassion towards ourselves and others in the midst of turmoil. By doing so, we can quickly make progress in our spiritual development. The truth is, we need the difficulties in our lives to help “massage” these qualities into action; otherwise a perfect life without any trials won’t promote these qualities (unless perhaps you already are a practitioner who is already purposely cultivating them).

Recollecting the impermanence of our situation is a simple but profound method for shining a light on the many exits in the dark tunnel which we previously didn’t see. Every moment is an opportunity for the problem to be potentially solved. In fact that dark tunnel is so full of exits it should resemble one of those cartoon characters who has been riddled with so many bullet holes that when he drinks a glass of water the water leaks out from all the holes in his body! Once we learn to train our minds to recognise the impermanence of things and to see situations in a different light, there’s actually a humorous element when we can see ourselves falling into the “poor me” syndrome and not seeing any choice but to be miserable. And if the problem is a recurring one, for instance, disagreements with our partner, then we should allow a bit of lightness to our mood and silently smile to ourselves, knowing that the problem is not as big as it seems and that this, too, will pass.

Lastly, our difficulties will act as an invaluable reminder that life will continue to be unsatisfactory until we make some changes in our mindset, which is an important teaching that the Buddha left us with. He taught that mind, alone, creates our happiness and unhappiness. So if we’re serious about living a happy life, then we need to work on our mind and the way we frame our stories. By taking an altruistic view and embodying the spirit of generosity, compassion, and kindness with every person and every situation that we meet, we will never feel that a day hasn’t been well-lived, nor will we ever meet a situation that appears to us as a ‘disaster’.

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