How to find a solution to any problem you have

Think of any problem you have ever had; whether financial, personal, professional or physical. Now, try to remember the solution you found to that problem.

You’ll find that the solution to the problem, when found, revealed itself all at once. All of a sudden, you had a flash of understanding and everything was clear. You knew exactly what you had to do. It was as if you had an insight into the problem, and you realized what needed to be done.

Now it’s quite possible that it took you some time to arrive at it. Maybe, you discussed the problem with friends and family. Maybe you read a few books to understand how to improve your personal relationships, or how to find a better paying job, or how to get in shape etc. Even so, the actual solution, the thing that told you what must be done, was something simple, clear and direct.

You said, “If I can just do this, it will solve this whole problem”, and then you did what was necessary. If you needed to advance your career, you realized that you perhaps needed higher education and began preparing for it. If you wanted to lose weight, you realized that unless you count your calorie intake, that goal cannot be achieved.

The point is, you had a flash of understanding which was complete in nature. A total recognition of the root of the problem.

This post is about finding out why and when such flashes of insight happen and if they can be repeated. If yes, almost every problem in our life can be solved this way and probably much faster. 

Understanding where it all lies

To put it simply, life is lived inside the mind, not outside. Our problems and solutions are all inside our mind. Our external circumstances are nothing but a reflection of our internal environment.

 As a man thinketh in his heart, so shall he be.

The Bible

Why does this matter so much?

In my observation, and I could be wrong, most of us blame our problems on external circumstances and things that other people said or did to us. Blaming someone else is the first response most of us have when we think about our problems.

If someone else is responsible for my misery then it’s up to them to change and not me.

How often do we say to ourselves, “If only he (or she) hadn’t said that to me, I would not be suffering today”.

We get hurt not because of things other people say or do to us, but because we are unable to process those words and their actions correctly. When we cannot process them correctly, we get angry. Not at them, but actually at ourselves for not being able to respond to the challenge they posed to us.

Blaming others is a consequence of a persistent refusal to accept total responsibility for one’s life.

No matter what someone said, or what the circumstances were, eventually it was you who took the actions that you did. You always had it in your power to do something different, and not be influenced by your circumstances.

On the flip side, the opposite of blaming others is not blaming oneself, but understanding one’s actions and taking responsibility for them.

 Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Victor Frankl- Man’s search for Meaning

If someone says that after suffering in a Nazi concentration camp for 4 years and after having lost their entire family there, it begs our full attention.

So where does it all lie, you ask?

It’s all in your mind. Not someone else’s but your mind and your mind alone. Period.

Do you feel it? It’s all in your control, and you can solve any problem you set your mind to. So long as you have your mind to work with, nothing else really matters.

So, then, it’s very easy.

All we have to do now is figure out to what we need to do in order to get out of whatever pickle we find ourselves in.

Having an insight into the problem.

What if the real problem is NOT being unable to find a solution, but clearing our mind, such that the solution which is hiding in plain sight becomes visible?

What if solving a problem is more similar to finding your way home through a thick fog, than like climbing a mountain? All that needs to happen is for the fog to clear, and reveal a straight path to your destination.

So the question becomes, how to not be in a mental fog? Or, if we find ourselves in one how to clear it immediately such that the solution to our problem shows itself.

To answer that question we must first understand what this fog is made of, and when and how it lifts.

The Fog

If, X plus 2 = 4. What is X?

Ever notice how in mathematics a solution fits beautifully into the problem? The correct solution feels like a key turning smoothly inside a lock until you hear that snap.

There is always this pristine connection between a problem and its correct solution. Such a connection is not just restricted to hard sciences. It is often seen in problems relating to life, relationships and personal fulfillment.

It seems like the solution is nothing but the problem, inverted. It’s hidden deep inside the problem and becomes clear once the problem is understood correctly.

Remember that time when your school teacher caught you in the middle of some mischief and you said just the perfect thing that got you out of trouble? As children, we have this knack of coming straight to the solution; of saying or doing the precise thing that needs to be done, out of pure instinct.

Even later in life, if one develops this feel for recognizing correctness, then one can immediately understand when the solution is found. But for some reason, if your mind is clouded with worries, fears, desires, or opinions then the solution and the problem cannot meet each other.

A mental fog then is nothing but the continuous distraction caused by doubts, desires, fears, and wants. It is a result of constantly reaching out in some direction, trying to meet some unknown end. The resulting inaction and confusion prevent our mind from totally understanding the problem and therefore, perceiving the solution. 

What happens when you stop reaching out? Altogether?

When you surrender to the problem, and say, “I have no idea how to solve this”, something strange takes place.

You enter a state of effortless action. In this state, the mental fog cannot sustain itself, because its power comes from conflict and the action of your will, that of yearning, of grasping at something. When we totally stop trying to attain something, the mental fog has nothing to base its existence on.

it just evaporates.

Paradoxically, it is only when you give up trying to solve the problem, your mind enters that state in which a solution is found.

Remember how you learned swimming? The constant wading in the water did nothing more than sinking you. However, the exact moment when you gave up trying to stay afloat, you began to swim!

This can also be experienced while playing a game called push-hands in Tai Chi, where the goal is to stand in one spot and make your opponent go off-balance. The more you try to overpower your opponent, the more your muscles and tendons tighten, and the more easily your opponent is able to move you, by affecting your center of gravity. Yet, if you stay relaxed, your body stays flexible and can quickly adjust to any pressure. It then becomes quite hard for the opponent to move you. To them, it feels as if they are pushing a curtain.

The method involves staying relaxed, and yet not totally so. It’s about finding the right balance between Yin and Yang. Yin can be interpreted as soft energy, and Yang can be interpreted as hard energy. If you are too Yin, then you fall down like a noodle, if you are too Yang, then you move as easily like a stump of wood. If you have balance, then you feel like water.

And there is no fighting with water.

To give you another example, learning how to ride a bicycle is not easy and takes its own time, but once you get it, then it becomes second nature. All you need to do is to let your body take control of maintaining that fine balance. The stiffer you become, the faster you fall off the bicycle, the more you relax, the steadier you feel.

Mental clarity is not a matter of just effort but finding a balance between effort and relaxation.

Once the fog has lifted and you have mental clarity, the next question becomes how to approach any problem with that clarity.

An example

Let’s say your relationship with your partner is a strained one and that deeply troubles you. You know you value the relationship, but you keep having quarrels over small things. You know that this cannot keep on going in the interest of your happiness and sanity.

How will you solve this problem?

Firstly, we have seen how it’s all in your mind. This means that the problem is never with the other person. You can never blame another for your life’s problems, ever. It is quite possible that your partner is not meeting you halfway and so you expect them to be more accommodating of you, just as you are of them. Even so, you cannot blame your partner for your relationship troubles, because it puts you in a habit of shirking responsibility.

So then, you observe.

You realize that perhaps your fights begin as broad intellectual discussions. You and your partner go back and forth over a certain issue for a while, until one of you begins to lay particular stress on finer points. Points which are not that important to the larger premise of the discussion.

The more specific your points get, the more you get attached to them. The more attached you get to them, the more you get invested in the conversation. The only return on this investment seems to be an unconditional acceptance of your position.

This leads to a tension between you two. The whole conversation is now laden with heavy expectation, hinged upon an unqualified acceptance of another’s point of view.

What begins as a casual discussion ends up with statements such as, “But you said the opposite of this 2 months ago”, “ You always misinterpret what I mean”, “ You’re too afraid and emotional” or “You are too selfish and don’t think about others.”

Sounds familiar?

Remember all that happens during your fights and just look at it without getting carried away by the words. Observe how it all careens out of control, the more you try to control it.

Notice how after a certain point the conversation cannot be recovered. A point after which the damage is done and a quarrel becomes unavoidable.

If you follow and track your thoughts as you have them, you come to an unmistakable point at which things go sour. You question what this point really means.

You discover that it was precisely at this point when you began to lose your temper. Something irked you in what your partner said, and that made you subconsciously angry, even though it was not on the surface yet.

Slowly as the back and forth progressed the anger worked its way up into your conscious mind. Then you snapped back at your partner. That was the point of no return.

How do you discover all this?

Just by looking. Its usually in plain sight if your vision is unalloyed. This is the power of careful observation without judgment, haste or distraction. Carefully untangling the threads of your psyche, you see what actually is, and not what ought to be.

Then what happens?

It becomes obvious to you that it is your lack of anger-control which results in the escalation. If only you could master your own anger, and stay in control at all times, a fight is simply impossible. Your partner may or may not do they part, if you do your part, the fight will not happen.

A simple way to undertake this process: The Walk

 The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

– John Muir

One of the main reasons why I love to take long walks is it allows me to shed the common burdens of life and take a path of isolation and quietness. Nature has its own way of making you focus on your surroundings and not on yourself.

Walking helps one reach that fine balance between relaxation and alertness. We become non-personal and watchful while we walk. We naturally focus outward and not on our particular personal problems.

This is very useful if one’s purposes is to clear the fog of distractions from the mind. Once you have a mind that is not focused on itself then you can take an impersonal and non-attached view of your life situation.

This way of approaching the problem without any specific desire is essential to looking at the problem as it is. If your own prejudices are standing in your way, your observation of the problem is always skewed, and hence your conclusions always tainted with the influence of your own propensities. Clear your mental fog, and see your problem for the very first time. It’s solution is hidden in plain sight.

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Image courtesy of Alessio Lin

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