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Zen View of “Problems”

I’m not a Buddhist, but I like a lot of the Buddhist philosophy that I’ve read. One approach that stays with me, funny enough, was just a short article that a stumbled across in a health magazine. One aspect of the article that stuck with me is the belief that ascribing labels such as “bad” or “good” upon situations elicits negative or positive feelings. The trouble with constantly labeling situations is that we are no longer detached observers…we are interactors and creators of our own feelings about that situation. We then get “sucked into” the whole situation and have a difficult time stepping back from it.

The article on taking a Zen approach recommended trying to avoid labeling situations as “bad” or “good” and, instead, tell yourself it just “is.” This might sound somewhat odd at first, but it is tremendously powerful. Also, it fits with a lot of the more recent findings in the field of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that stipulates that it is not a situation itself but our thoughts about the situation that gives rise to various feelings.

I remember right after I read this article, I was trying to leave the house to attend a fitness class. I could not find my car keys…we’ve all that happen before! I was starting to get increasingly frustrated as I searched in vain for those keys. Before I reached my boiling point, I remembered the article that I had just read and decided to give it a try. I began to tell myself that misplacing my keys was neither a bad thing or good thing. “It just is,” I repeated to myself.

I noticed that through reminding myself of this fact, I was able to regain a peace of mind through a curious detachment from the typically maddening experience of misplacing one’s car keys.

Since that time, I try to remember to use this Zen approach whenever I encounter day-to-day frustrations. Granted, such an approach does not work well when we experience significant tragedies such as a loss of a loved one. However, we do experience a great deal of frustration, sadness, and anxiety on a daily basis for more minor “negative” events (e.g., caught in rush hour traffic, late for an appointment, misplaced car keys). I would wager that, if you gave this a concerted effort, you find it useful at times. Ideally, you have a variety of strategies in your toolkit because you never know what your are going to need. Now that I’m having to deal with my hard drive crashing on my computer, I have to keep telling myself, “This is not bad or good. It just is.” What a challenge!

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