Let's begin by taking a moment to picture someone that seems to flow through life with joy, kindness and ease.
Do you even wonder how they do it? How life can be so simple for them and so challenging for you?
Many of us explain away their envious lives to good fortune, luck, naiveté or some other force beyond their direct control.
Sadly, we miss the opportunity to see the truth as it is. These blessed people are fully responsible for the lives they've built.
Their secret? They have far less problems than the rest of us.
Yes, this incredibly over-simplified explanation is the truth.
It's not that their lives are any less challenging. The difference is that those who live life with ease have developed the very special talent of preventing their challenges from escalating into problems.
While they seem to be born with this skill, anyone can develop it. Especially you.
It all begins with taking an honest look at how you see the world. Do you see it as inherently:
Filled with goodness, kindness and compassion or over-run by badness, evil and selfishness?
Overflowing with abundance for all or woefully under-resourced benefiting only the privileged?
Perfect the way it is or a complicated web of problems?
Many of us naturally lean toward the negative end of these spectrums. Of course we do. If we've lived long enough, we've seen countless examples of unspeakable selfishness, poverty and injustice.
While there's no escaping the reality of wide-spread suffering, what our assessment of the world really reveals is how we see ourselves:
A world over-run by badness? We're overrun by shame of our true nature.
A woefully under-resourced world? We ourselves aren't enough to live the life we desire.
A worldwide web of problems? We feel deeply, and irreparably, flawed.
This is no way to live. You don't deserve that shame. You're complete right now. There is nothing inherently wrong with you.
The problem with problems? They feed all of our compulsive thoughts, feelings and urges. By living compulsively, we interact with the world only from our tiny perspective. As a little self that is fighting alone in this enormous and challenging world, we're destined to a steady serving of problems.
Common compulsions include:
Ironically, seeing our compulsions as "problems" will only increase their severity as we'll be driven to conquer them. In a state of war with ourselves, we're blinded to the vital purpose our compulsions serve. Just as pain alerts us to physical injuries that require healing, our compulsions alert us to inner injuries that require attention. For instance:
Challenging relationships point us toward feeling unwanted or under-appreciated.
Mental, emotional, physical suffering points us toward feeling disrespected or weak.
Lack of balance (e.g. financial, career, play, family) points us toward feeling worthless or inadequate.
Overwhelming fear, worry or anxiety points us toward feeling cursed or ungifted.
Negativity points us toward feeling excluded or insignificant.
Using our compulsions as a guide, rather than our master, our attention is freed up to address the underlying root cause of our problems.
The healing process begins with an acceptance of our feelings as our personal truth. We must not allow ourselves to repress them or explain them away (e.g. I'm not a "weak" person. I'm just going to toughen up.).
Next, we must be willing to drop the stories that we've built around why we feel the way we do (e.g. all of the stuff that happened to us, or all the things we did to deserve our fate).
Freed from the story trap that leaves us imprisoned in our feelings and attached to our problems, we can now take meaningful action to recapture that vital feeling that we had lost somewhere along the way.
To find that lost feeling, we direct our attention toward finding others who possess what we crave. Only, rather than succumb to our compulsive urge to judge or envy them, we offer them our sincere praise. For instance,
Feeling unwanted: Look for others who are highly regarded and applaud their popularity.
Feeling weak: Look for acts of courage from others and compliment them for their bravery.
Feeling worthless: Look for acts of contribution and service from others and recognize them for it.
Feeling cursed: Look for others who are able to find the silver lining in challenges and tell them how they inspire you.
Feeling alone: Look for others who have a gift for deep connection and show them that you admire them.
This practice allows us to discover others we can model. Additionally, by giving our sincere applause freely, we're healing ourselves by rekindling the feeling that had gone dormant after a long period neglect.
With our newfound ability, we can now unwind the harmful patterns of our existing problems.
By why stop there? We want to live that effortless, problem-free life, right?
Living problem-free requires mastery of the ability to prevent our challenges from escalating into problems. To do this, we must actively cultivate our innate (but under-utilized) talent for accurately identifying our compulsions as they arise and addressing their cause before we succumb to them.
The first step is to identify when we're under the control of a compulsion. We know we're under its spell whenever we've created an expectation of a desired outcome. All unmet expectations create unnecessary problems that must now be protected and defended.
Our desired outcomes, or expectations, generally lean toward either acceptance or achievement as follows:
Toward acceptance (away from rejection): We compulsively seek the opinion of others to prove our worth. Our expectations are created from a feeling that we're inherently unlovable in some way. We generally see our unmet expectations (problems) as wrongs that need to be righted because of a deep-seated feeling of rejection for who we are.
Toward achievement (away from failure): We compulsively grasp for achievement to prove our value to others. Our expectations are created from a feeling that we're inherently inadequate in some way. We generally see our unmet expectations (problems) as issues that need to be corrected, because of a deep-seated feeling of not being good enough.
For example, picture a person who has always loved singing and is curious about enrolling in singing classes. The rationale they would use would differ depending on whether they're pursing acceptance or achievement, as follows:
Driven toward acceptance, their decision would be based on the opinion of others (e.g. Would I even be accepted as a singer? Would my friends reject me?).
Driven toward achievement, their decision would be based whether the benefits of success outweigh the drawbacks of failure (e.g. Is singing a skill that I could benefit from in any way? What happens if I'm terrible?).
When we're able to detect and avoid these drives as they arise, we prevent ourselves from creating expectations that will ultimately create a problem, since the one certainty is that singing lessons will not go the way we anticipate.
But, not all drives are compulsions. Where our compulsions drive us to problems, our "gut", or intuition, lead us to experiences that we're meant to have. Telling the difference is a subtle skill that can be cultivated but never be truly mastered.
When we're not ruled by our compulsions, our decision to enroll would be based solely on whether the experience would "feel right" in our gut. Led by our intuition, the outcome is irrelevant.
By transforming the power of our compulsions from the master that we once served to our trusted guide, we begin the life-long journey toward a problem-free life and toward becoming one of those blessed souls that we've secretly envied for so long -- An Illumed Mind.