Home     Contact Us         Log in

Community Articles - Category Archive

Jun 24
Friday

The Problem with Problems

Filed under Community Articles

By Judy Lief

As we go through life, we face many joys and discoveries and many problems and difficulties. We have continual ups and downs. Over time, most of us go through economic upturns and downturns, health ups and downs, relationship ups and downs—all sorts of ups and downs. As we are tossed about, we are gradually toughened and refined, like rocks tumbled in a stream. The more obstacles we encounter and manage to survive and overcome, the stronger we become. On the path of dharma, we are encouraged to view difficulties as opportunities for awakening, not simply as roadblocks. The combination of study and meditative training gives us tools to work with what arises as it arises, whether good or bad, happy or sad. But the more we increase our ability to deal with our own obstacles, the more we become painfully aware that we may not be able to help others—our family, our friends, people in our communities—who are struggling in similar ways.

In this world of duality, every experience has its shadow. The wish that others may be happy and not suffer is marked by the fact that at times we can help, but many times we cannot. When we are faced with suffering, and we cannot fix it, what do we do with that recognition? How do we cultivate acceptance rather than despair, anger, and frustration? Although times are tough, we may have a way of working with hardships, but we cannot always say the same about those we care about. We may struggle and it may not be easy, but we have some degree of control, and when we make mistakes we can learn from them. Having gone through difficulties before, and somehow come through them, we may feel fairly confident that we can once again see our way through. What we have to work with is close at hand: our own mind, our own emotions, our own body, our own blockages and hesitations. We know what we are dealing with, and we can draw on what we have learned by facing similar problems in the past. But we have no control over other people. Although we want the best for our family, for the people we love, we cannot just make it happen. We are helpless. We can be strong for others, but we cannot make others strong.

The struggles of people we care about can be harder to face than our own difficulties. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a dying person who has come to terms with their own mortality to still be in great distress because they are worried that their family or loved ones do not have the inner resources to face up to what is happening. You recognize that your family is caught up in fear and anguish, pain and confusion—and there is nothing you can do about it. The fact that you are aware of your own situation and are dealing with it as best you can does not help. In some ways, that even makes things worse, because you see the contrast. You can work with your own situation but cannot protect the people around you or remove their confusion. And much as you might like to do so, you cannot simply transfer your understanding to others. So in addition to facing the pain of dying, you suffer from the frustration of not being able to help those you love, no matter what you yourself have learned. It is so lonely to know what is going on and be unable to fix it. But you cannot walk the path of another, and another cannot walk the path for you. The reality is that each of us is a traveler, and we travel utterly alone.

This pattern repeats itself in many contexts. In the current economic climate, many people have lost their jobs or are afraid they might. Money is tight and prospects are dim. Savings are disappearing and investments tanking. It is a time of belt-tightening, constriction, doing without, in which many people are cutting back on their expenses—those lucky enough to have expenses beyond the bare necessities. If you have lived through economic booms and busts before, you may be pretty sure that you can weather another round of tightened circumstances and uncertainty. In my own life I have experienced many different economic conditions, and I am grateful for that, I’ve lived on food stamps and unemployment and I’ve lived as a middle-class homeowner. Because I’ve experienced these extremes, I know I can adjust to both times of poverty and times of economic well-being.

It is empowering to face poverty and loss and find yourself not destroyed but strengthened by the experience. But even if you are able to weather changes in your own health or your economic situation, that is not enough. What about your children? What about your friends? How do you deal with the pain of others? You see so many people struggling just to cover their basic needs and support their families—working to the point of exhaustion, never being able to save a cent, and seeing no end in sight. You see people beaten down by the pressure of trying so hard to succeed, but not getting anywhere other than deeper in debt. How do you not feel despair?

You may be worried about your own children, wondering whether they will ever escape from living paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by. You worry that they may never reach the same standard of living as you have, no matter how diligent and hardworking they may be. The desire to see your children flourish comes up against the harsh reality that you cannot make it happen. You want to help, but your own resources may be limited. And even if you have resources, it can be really hard to know what is truly helpful. It is like the story of a child who comes upon a chrysalis, and touched by the struggling of the moth inside, decides to help it break out. But when the child pulls open the covering, the moth dies. Because the moth did not have to fight to break free, its wings were unable to strengthen and mature, so it could not survive. Blindly trying to solve things may only make them worse.

As you look beyond your own family and friends and your own immediate situation, you see that there are endless problems, endless issues, endless crises. There will always be something to obsess about, always be someone to worry about, always a reason to give up in the face of the futility over making things right. The thought loop of troubles and possible troubles, future troubles and remembered troubles, can take over your mind without interruption or relief. And the more you are captured by such thinking, the more frozen you feel.

Such worrying feeds on itself. It is a self-perpetuating trap. We can become so absorbed in frightening future scenarios that we lose touch with what we are experiencing here and now. Worry can have the perverse quality of making us feel righteous that we care so deeply—and we do not take responsibility for our worrying, but we conveniently blame it on others. Worrying about a person may show them we care, but it also conveys to them our sense of superiority and our lack of trust in their ability to handle their life. With worry, instead of recognizing our frustration at the limits of our power to help, we convert it into an incessant inner mental drone of thinking and anxiety. We are obsessed with all we cannot do, with thoughts of powerlessness. It becomes overwhelming and we do not know how to dig our way out.

Instead of piling up all the problems we cannot solve one on the other until we have a giant mountain of impossibility, we could take another approach. In working with people and their problems, we could accept that those problems might never be solved. The other person may or may not be able to deal with their situation and we may or may not be able to help them. That is the reality and we need to accept that. No amount of worrying is going to change that.

It is difficult to be with a loved one who is unhappy and suffering, and it is tempting to want to save the day and make everything better. We want their pain to go away—and we are uncomfortable with our own pain as well. That ground of mutual pain and rawness is an intensely claustrophobic and forbidding territory to explore. Rather than looking into it, we would like to get out of it, to fix it. But we need to examine that notion of “fixing,” particularly the idea of fixing others. We need to question our concepts about how we want things to be and what we want people to become.

If we can let go of some of that, we will see more clearly what we can and cannot do. We can learn not to obsess about all the problems we cannot solve, but to sort through them to find the one or two things we can actually do that might be helpful. It is better to do one small helpful thing than punish yourself for the many things beyond your power and ability to change or affect. Some problems can be solved, some cannot, and some are best left unsolved.

Shantideva, the great Indian teacher of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, said that if we could do something positive we should just do it. So why worry? He said that if we cannot do something about a problem, we should accept that. So why worry? The trick is to keep it simple—either do something or don’t.

As we grow and develop and learn from our experience, we are more likely to be able to help people who are struggling more than we are. We can learn when to help and when to step back, and we can see other people grow, as we have, through struggle and hardship. However, although we can prepare ourselves to face tough times, we have no real control over others. We can support the people we love and worry about, but we cannot solve their problems for them—and neither can anyone solve our problems for us. But we can be together with those we love, problems unsolved. Although each of us must face our own individual journey through life alone, we can travel together, bound by love.

+++++

Originally published on Lion’s Roar on July 15, 2021.

About Judy Lief

Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher and the editor of many books of teachings by the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She is the author of Making Friends with Death. Her teachings and new podcast, “Dharma Glimpses,” are available at judylief.com.

Entries filed under Community Articles


Touching the Earth Collective - February 2022 Newsletter

Touching the Earth Collective – February 2022 Newsletter – HIGHLIGHT

Pandemic Notes– Early Days in the Karmê Chöling Garden  By Sara Demetry At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when I went for a walk, I would find myself talking to the trees, noticing them, observing them. I thought about kissing the ground with my feet ... continue
Posted February 4, 2022 by Natasha West
Sunday Gatherings - February 2022

Sunday Gatherings – February 2022 – HIGHLIGHT

Each Sunday, Shambhala offers “Sunday Gatherings”, a series of free weekly online gatherings for the worldwide Shambhala community where we can come together to connect with our hearts and with each other. Weekly gatherings will feature a guest presenter and include a meditation or contemplation practice, as ... continue
Posted January 31, 2022 by Natasha West
A Look Into the Friendship of Thich Nhat Hanh and Martin Luther King Jr.

A Look Into the Friendship of Thich Nhat Hanh and Martin Luther King Jr. – HIGHLIGHT

By Marc Andrus Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh at the 1966 conference in Chicago | Photo courtesy Parallax Press In the new book Brothers in the Beloved Community: The Friendship of Thich Nhat Hanh and Martin Luther King Jr., author Marc Andrus chronicles the relationship ... continue
Posted January 18, 2022 by Natasha West
Touching the Earth Collective - January 2022 Newsletter

Touching the Earth Collective – January 2022 Newsletter – HIGHLIGHT

Books at the Winter BedsideBy Irene Woodard  There is little time to finish reading books. I always have five or six of them around to catch a chapter, some words to inspire. And I don’t always remember where I had first heard of a book. But the Mid-Hudson ... continue
Posted January 6, 2022 by Natasha West
Cheerful Children's Day!

Cheerful Children’s Day! – HIGHLIGHT

We would like to wish you a very cheerful Children’s Day, solstice, and holiday season filled with joy, good cheer, and the love of family and friends. Here’s a brief description of Children’s Day, written by Noel McLellan: Noel McLellan Children’s Day is a celebration of the Winter Solstice ... continue
Posted December 21, 2021 by Natasha West
Happy Together

Happy Together – HIGHLIGHT

By Gaylon Ferguson Reposted with permission from Lion’s Roar Note: Gaylon Ferguson is presenting in the upcoming Shambhala Online course, Meditation: The Way of the Buddha. For more information, and to register online, click here. Photo by Karsten Wurth The times we live in keep asking us a simple question: ... continue
Posted December 14, 2021 by Natasha West
5 Reasons to Meditate

5 Reasons to Meditate – HIGHLIGHT

5 Reasons to Meditate By Pema Chödron Note: Pema Chödron is one of the course presenters for an upcoming Shambhala Online course, Meditation: The Way of the Buddha. To learn more about the course, visit the course website. Ani Pema Chodron at the Naropa Graduation of the Daily ... continue
Posted November 12, 2021 by Natasha West
Touching the Earth Collective - November 2021

Touching the Earth Collective – November 2021 – HIGHLIGHT

Touching the Earth Collective: November 2021 Newsletter Days of Action in Halifax, Boulder, Sky Lake and Washington DC. HALIFAX: by Richard Peisinger Inspired by GreenFaith’s October call for action by faith groups worldwide, the Halifax Shambhala Touching the Earth Collective organized an October 29th RBC Day of Action in conjunction with Leadnow, a ... continue
Posted November 9, 2021 by Natasha West
Touching the Earth Collective - October 2021 Newsletter

Touching the Earth Collective – October 2021 Newsletter – HIGHLIGHT

October 2021 Newsletter What Do We Want to Say? by Irene Woodard What is it that distinguishes Shambhala Buddhists when we are participating in a march? What do we really want to say as we involve ourselves outside of Shambhala Centers? How do we show up on the streets, walking ... continue
Posted October 5, 2021 by Natasha West
Shambhala 2020 Annual Report

Shambhala 2020 Annual Report – HIGHLIGHT

Dear Shambhala Members and Friends, We hope you are all healthy, safe, and that you continue to be well supported during a time of ongoing challenge. We are pleased to share the 2020 Shambhala Annual Report with you, which outlines the activity of the Shambhala nonprofit organization ... continue
Posted September 21, 2021 by Natasha West
Harvest of Peace

Harvest of Peace – HIGHLIGHT

Dear Shambhala Friends, Warm greetings to all of you as we approach Harvest of Peace. This seasonal transition, the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere, occurs officially on September 21st this year. Since the equinox falls on a Tuesday, many Centres ... continue
Posted September 17, 2021 by Natasha West
Touching the Earth Collective: September 2021 Newsletter

Touching the Earth Collective: September 2021 Newsletter – HIGHLIGHT

Shambhala Mountain Center Offering Lessons in Earth Protection By Mac McGoldrick   In 2018 Shambhala Mountain Center established our Healthy Forest Initiative. In this work, we sought to consider our complete ecosystem to ensure that we’re providing an all-inclusive, science and ecology-based conservation plan.  SMC is living into a plan that factors ... continue
Posted September 9, 2021 by Natasha West
Overcoming Habitual Patters

Overcoming Habitual Patters – HIGHLIGHT

Habitual patterns keep us stuck, how do we break free into a fuller version of ourselves? By Halleluiah Strongheart Reposted with permission from Strongheart Leadership. I have often wondered why it’s so hard to change habits. Even when we know what’s best for us, or how we want to ... continue
Posted August 3, 2021 by Natasha West
Touching the Earth: July Newsletter

Touching the Earth: July Newsletter – HIGHLIGHT

Finding Our Way Through Existential Crisis: The Centre for Local Prosperity By Robert Cervelli “We don’t own the land, the land owns us.” These were the words spoken to me by a Mi’kmaw Indigenous Elder. We were talking about the colonial mindset and how dramatically juxtaposed it is ... continue
Posted July 23, 2021 by Natasha West
Shambhala Buddhism And Fashion Choices

Shambhala Buddhism And Fashion Choices – HIGHLIGHT

By “Jackie Writing Jackie” The basic teachings of Buddhism, which are a core component of Shambhala and other types of Buddhism, include The Three Universal Truths, The Four Noble Truths, and The Noble Eightfold Path. Buddhism, which is a philosophy of life, often takes these teachings into ... continue
Posted June 22, 2021 by Rose_Keyes

RSS feed for the Community Articles category

View all posts from authors in Community Articles: natasha_west



Website Development by Blue Mandala using Wordpress MU.
All content and source Copyright © 1994-2022. Shambhala International (Vajradhatu), Shambhala, Shambhala Meditation Center, Shambhala Training, Shambhala Center and Way of Shambhala are registered service marks of Shambhala USA
Privacy Policy
Translate »