By Terence Stone
How many of you have jobs wherein you are required to do at least some basic problem solving? How many of you bring that skill into your personal life? How many of you find that problem solving in the work environment doesn’t really translate into the personal sphere?
I’ve always been a fairly intuitive problem solver. Chalk it up to genetics or environment – being the oldest child of four, but I learned early on how to instinctively pick up on the needs of everyone around me. I may not have always been able to fulfill those needs, but I did my best.
I learned to see every unfortunate event, every sad face, every emotional conflict as a problem that needed fixing. And therein lay the true problem.
It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the reality that I cannot fix everything, and in fact, that not all things need fixing. In my relationship, my wife use to get very angry with me when I would ‘lecture’ her after confronted with some issue with which she was struggling. She would say, “You’re not listening. You’re trying to fix something that can’t simply be fixed with words or good intentions.”
Well, that didn’t make sense to me. I would get very defensive and upset that she couldn’t see that I was trying to help her by providing viable solutions. Yet, why should that really upset me? Could it be that the inner turmoil arose not from her reaction, but from some sense of insecurity and inadequacy inside myself? In other words, could it have been about me?
We live in a media and consumerist driven world dominated by the Western Ideal. That is, the suppliers are constantly telling the consumers that they are broken and in need of fixing. The things is, all of the suppliers are also consumers.
How do the suppliers know what people want? How do they know what sells? Sure, they can look at statistics and do their research, but at the end of the day, I have to believe they use their own personal experience. That is, they recognize this innate notion that life could always be better, that they are somehow broken and in need of fixing, and they know others feel it too.
It’s Buddhism 101. The best marketers realize that suffering is a universal human quality. But unlike Buddhism, they often indulge the initial unconscious reaction, which is to find a solution – to fix. They make suffering the problem – we all do.
Returning to my story, I have recognized that my incessant need to fix is very much about my own suffering. Instead of listening to and simply absorbing my wife’s complex feelings revolving around some issue, I immediately, and anxiously went into fixer mode. Because if I couldn’t fix her, then there was something wrong with me. If she wasn’t happy, how could I be happy? And worse, who would fix me, and how could I fix myself?
I made suffering the problem – her suffering and my own. In doing so, I actually caused a great deal more grief for myself and my wife. You see, the problem is not our pain. The problem is unconscious thought and action, AND it is a problem that cannot simply be fixed.
I’ve said it before, but to fix something implies something once broken is now mended, and can be put aside until it breaks again. We don’t treat ourselves so differently. We constantly look for the next quick fix until we break, and we go searching again. Unfortunately, life doesn’t really work that way. Furthermore, that constant cycle of breaking and fixing, is what causes us to suffer.
Every time we lose something that once brought us happiness, we feel pain. We eventually learn that no matter how much we make repairs, they are not permanent…and we feel pain. But what if we stopped looking at ourselves and others as broken? What if we stopped fixing?
The world would fall into chaos! People would start realizing that their suffering does not define them. We would realize that our pain can, in fact, be a great facilitator for reaching into the depths of what it means to be alive. We would begin to understand that accepting our suffering does not mean defeat, but rather, it instigates growth and wisdom. What a terrible fate!
All jokes aside, I think you catch my drift. In my own experience, it has been so important to begin to shift my own perception of myself and others from broken to in-progress. When we view ourselves as works in progress, we give ourselves permission to improvise, to make mistakes, and try again, and most importantly of all, to enjoy the journey.
Wishing you infinite depth of love and compassion for yourself and others.
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.