led by Martin Evans on

Finding the right question (how to solve problems creatively)

On my last retreat I offered interviews with the retreatants – what I found that rather than ask questions about practice, most people wanted to discuss their problem. What can a teacher offer? Certainly not the solution. Only a way of understanding how we create problems, and how we can solve them creatively.

by Martin Evans

What is the problem?

Birth is a problem, aging is a problem, dying is a problem. Not getting what you want is a problem. Having what you don’t want is a problem. Not attaining one’s ambitions is a problem. Believing in your sense of identity is a problem. And the origin of problems is therefore desire – sense desire, meaning the desire to get something you haven’t got, or the desire to get rid of something; and becoming, that is the desire to become someone you aren’t or the desire to cease being someone. Can all your problems be captured in this model?

Does your happiness depend on having problems? It is a way we can express our identity – I am a person who ……has a problem. My problem is …. My problem is I care too much – and you don’t care enough. My problem is that my husband is expecting me to act as if nothing has happened. My problem is I’m too good. My problem is I can’t …… My problem is, I’m not happy if I haven’t got a problem.

Wanting to solve problems is just another desire. The best bit is when you know you have the solution, but you haven’t tried it out yet. When you put it into practice, you realise it wasn’t the solution after all – but the moment when you have the solution but haven’t actually tried it out is bliss. Just like having anything you desire.

Sorting out problems can happen two ways – one is with greed, hatred and delusion and one is without. One creates more problems and the other brings them to an end.

Finding the right question.

If you take a problem you have – something relatively trivial is good – try finding the solution for one minute – really one minute. Now what did you discover? How realistic was the solution? For example - My problem is … I have too much work to do and I must get it done this morning. The solution which presents itself is to get into a mad panic and start rushing at everything at once to get it all finished. Now spend one minute thinking of the right question – in this example, I let go of any idea of a solution immediately. I realise I have more important things to do than solve this problem – like washing up, and I need a shave. The work I have to do will wait. The jobs are better done one at a time in an ordered way, and even if I do just one thing on my list, I will have achieved something.

What is the right question? For a Buddhist it is ‘who?’ Because what we learn from our practice is that we create problems through self identity. If we take the ‘I am’ out of them they are revealed for what they are – as self created.

Look at the examples of problems I gave and you can see the self which is behind them. Now look at your own problems – can you see the same thing?

So ultimately there are no problems. Yet our lives are full of them.

Knowing what we need to do now, and doing it, is the art of living. Problems arise because we don’t know how to act with wisdom when we need to. Because we didn’t know how to act skilfully in the past, we live in difficult relationships and difficult situations in the present. How do we change these relationships / situations? Not through following our desire for them to be different, or our aversion to how they are. First we have to accept them as they are and accept our part in creating them this way – and forgive ourselves and others. Then we can start from the right place, back at the beginning. Go back to the time it first went wrong – how could you have behaved differently? Now you have a key to changing the relationship.

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