Problems Problem

The funny thing about solving a problem is that it simply creates space for a new problem. The concept of “problems” never goes away by resolving actual problems – fixing one just invites another to take its place. So in that sense, there’s no rush to solve the current problem.

The same thing can be seen with goals or projects. I’ve rushed through projects only to find myself waiting for the next one to begin. Why did I bother rushing!? If I had taken my time, I would’ve strained less and enjoyed more. Rushing in this world is not a logical approach.

Rushing just gets you to the end quicker. In the case of life, that’s death. If you’re playing a game for enjoyment, why would you speed through it? Slowing down and savoring the sensations associated with gameplay seems the better strategy.

Problems aren’t circumstances that require solving. “Problem” is a label you apply to a particular state of affairs. Without the label, those specific conditions are meaningless. With the label, you’re suddenly called to action, having sufficient reason to engage with the world.

Bored? Now you’re not. That procession of problems is a cure for boredom. But are problems what you prefer to be preoccupied with? If not, you may want to move your focus away from the concept of problems. A hurdle on your path only becomes a hurdle when you define it as such. If you don’t want to jump it, just go around.

Constant Conundrum

I was recently re-watching the first few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was essentially watching people/characters that I like, undergo very difficult circumstances. The act of watching drama is basically sadism — deriving enjoyment from the suffering of others. Luckily, the characters are fictional.

Yet isn’t that what we do here? Watch others, especially ourselves, experience the worst things we can imagine? But of course, there ARE other ways to derive amusement from existence, but we so often revert to the easy-fix: the sadomasochism solution. “I’m bored! Is there some sort of suffering from which I can extract excitement!?”

But when watching TNG, I don’t actually enjoy the calamity, I enjoy the competence and professionalism of the crew. How will Picard and the gang get out of this one!? And of course they always do. THAT’S what I like, the problem-solving. But there must be problems or else there’s nothing to solve.

Therefore, life must fill itself with problems i.e. opportunities for problem-solving. So problems are not the problem — the attitude we maintain is the real key. Does Picard get frustrated and give up at each obstacle? No, he proceeds diligently, perpetually performing his duty as starship captain. As they say: keep calm and carry on.

Of course that’s what Krishna told Arjuna on the field of battle that day too: stop whining and do your duty. Because in this life, we all have a role to play, a character whose arc we must fulfill. It’s dumb to pause production in order to incessantly complain about the storyline. Just read the damn lines! Become the authentic character and enjoy the narrative.

Obstacles of Course

A part of the Overcoming Negativity series.

In the classic video-game, if Donkey Kong rolls a barrel down at you, do you stare at it, examine it, find displeasure in its appearance, perhaps hate it, curse its existence, wonder why such a thing would be thrown at you? No, you jump over it. Then the next one, and the next, and then the next barrel — until you reach the top. If you stop to ponder, you get crushed.

All the unpleasant, unappealing things you see in life are mere obstacles meant to be overcome and forgotten about. You’re not supposed to take time to examine a hurdle, you’re supposed to leap and move on. So by stopping to ponder, you’re impeding your progress along the path. You’re taking these obstacles too personally, despising them, when you should be appreciating them instead.

If Donkey Kong didn’t throw barrels, you’d simply climb up to the top and win every time. How long do you think you’d play such a game? How fulfilling would victory feel? It is the obstacles you overcome that give meaning to the game. Obstacles form the foundation of every game — and you’ll notice in any story, the central-character must always overcome something.

Your problem therefore, is not “problems”. Your problem is your negativity towards problems. You should want problems. Without problems, you’d walk straight to the top, securing a hollow victory of no significance. Why do we exist in this particular world? To overcome obstacles — that’s the enjoyment we seek as embodied beings within our avatars of flesh.

And your primary obstacle right now is negativity. Once defeated, a whole world of entertaining obstacles opens up for you. But to unlock them, you need the ability to appreciate the lighthearted-nature of the game. If you’re sitting there deathly afraid, then every merry adventure will seem frivolous and not worth the risk. To get to the good stuff, the pessimistic attitude towards problems must end.

Challenge Accepted

Do you have a problem? Is it a problem that you don’t prefer to have? Stop focusing on it, don’t think about it. The problem dissolves. A new problem floats in and replaces it. Rinse and repeat until you find a problem you prefer, one whose solution interests you. Dedicate your time to solving it.

Because life is a virtual environment comprised of flickering pixels, what you do here ultimately doesn’t matter — this also means that problems don’t matter either — so you’re free to pick and choose amongst the bunch you’re presented with. Being the particular person you are, you’re provided with a range of problems that fit your specific character.

For example, I’m a suburban-dwelling American male at about mid-life. In this role, I have certain career issues I can wrestle with, family relationships from a husband/father persective, existential crises, my fitness and appearance, political/profession sports-team stuff, finding just the right movie to watch on Netflix, whether to play video-games, and seeking out delicious foods as part of a culinary adventure.

Previously, I was under the assumption that I had to acknowledge EVERY problem that presented itself — even those that weren’t mine. “Is there a problem somewhere in the world? Then I can’t relax until it’s solved!” That was dumb and it’s a great way to create a miserable experience for yourself.

But it turns out that not only shouldn’t you acknowledge every problem in the world, but you shouldn’t even acknowledge all of your own problems. You get to pick and choose. And yes, you still want “problems” — what else are you gonna do with your time? But if you’re doing it right, they’re not really problems in the painful sense, they’re challenges and obstacles for you to overcome simply for the fun of it.

In summation: accept the challenges you prefer, decline the challenges you don’t. So when a non-desirable problem shows up in the queue, repeat after me: “This is not a problem I choose to focus on. Next!”

Unfocused Details

Particular people or circumstances don’t cause dissatisfaction, life itself is the root of dissatisfaction. Focusing on something in particular only prohibits our realization that dissatisfaction is inherent to existence.

If we get rid of a particular person or circumstance, another takes its place, the dissatisfaction will persist. Therefore, our focus must be directed towards removing dissatisfaction from life itself, not on the particulars. The particulars are merely life’s attempt to draw us in, ensnaring our attention.