Problems, by John Aske

We are beset by so many small (and sometimes large) problems. They fill the space in our heads to the point when there seems nowhere left to mount a solution.

The central problem is that they all demand to be dealt with now, or otherwise there will be terrible consequences.

The ego loves fighting, but doesn’t like solutions, and in any case is not very good at finding them. Our egos and our sufferings are the two sides of the human coin.

The central problem is that they all demand to be dealt with now, or otherwise there will be terrible consequences. Of course we can’t solve them all now, so we collapse in misery and the little voices in our heads panic and threaten to bring the whole house crashing down on us. They drown out both common sense and the quiet, wise voice that might sort the whole mess out. Whilst we are so off balance, we can’t think straight.

If we had any peace of mind, we would see that one thing had led to another, then another, and that is how the whole net that bound us had been spun. Every spider has to start somewhere. A number of the Buddha’s major disciples (Moggallana for example) were won over by his explanation of this simple truth—a lucid explanation of cause and effect, and how our sufferings come to be. Most of our woes, he said, do not come from the gods, but are of our own making. As we sow, so shall we reap. This may not make us feel any better, but does lead towards a solution. When we begin to see how the knots were tied, we can begin to see how to untie them—or at least for the time being how not to wind ourselves any tighter in the net. But this is not as simple as it looks. What appear to be simple reflexes—fear, expectation, despondency, etc,—are weapons in the arsenal of the ego, which exploits them to create a ‘them and us’ situation. We are naturally attracted by the dramatic and the extreme in various situations because they emphasise the individual by means of its trials and tribulations; they cut us off from the outside world and make us feel more heroic and more important. But far from solving anything, they make solutions more difficult because they stop us seeing the big picture in which the relationship of the various bits makes clearer just where the solutions lie. I can’t count the number of times I have fallen into this trap, battling for days or weeks with a problem I could easily have sorted out, had I not determined to fight it out. The ego loves fighting, but doesn’t like solutions, and in any case is not very good at finding them. Our egos and our sufferings are the two sides of the human coin, and it is frustrating to realise how often things have been explained to us and how often we still fall for the same old tricks, and suffer in consequence.

Carving Buddhas in Burma © John Aske

Carving Buddhas in Burma

We need patience and the loosest knot to begin to unravel things. When this is loosed, some calm descends and we gain a little perspective. As they Dalai Lama said, `The small picture is full of problems. We need the big picture, then everything begins to be okay.’ (I am sure he will forgive my paraphrase.) Once we begin to attend to little details and deal with them, the mass begins to diminish and become manageable. The mountain slowly becomes the molehill it probably was before our tyrant egos turned it into an unruly empire. Think of the strong man who cannot snap a thin rope, while a little mouse can nibble its way through a thick cable. What we need to do is to nibble quietly away at our problems as if it were a cracking piece of cheese, until it is all gone.

When things go wrong, we cut ourselves off from the manageable world in which we live and turn our problems into demons. We make monsters where there are none, and then go in fear of the things we ourselves have created. If we could only see that they are just bits of the ordinary world that we have made monstrous and intractable, then we would have nothing to fear. The first sign of the bodhisattva is the gesture of fearlessness. The wise ones, unlike the rest of us, create neither karma nor monsters. In their presence, the world opens out, the storm of our human passions subsides, and far off through the clear light, we see the farther shore.

Read more of John’s posts here.

Sir John Aske


2 Responses

  1. Very valuable post. Nicely written.

    These concepts are vital to the conflict resolution field. As mediators we must find the ways to loosen the knot so that ego-less creativity might be applied to finding a solution.

  2. very nice! Not all egos are tyrants though. (all the time).. I find mine to be more slippery and subtle…(most of the time) … and I’ve never been sure about untieing the knots … as soon as I try to untie it; the hold is tightened… for me only when I let go does it slip away … and I need to become willing to release the grasp (and let go); which is where the wiley ego sneaks around and finds ways to keep ahold and stymie willingness … but like you point out if at least I’m willing to try to become willing the knots do dissolve…the mountain becomes less of an obstacle and more of a friend.

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