How do you typically react when life hands you a new problem to deal with? What do you do when nothing seems to be going your way? Do you accept that problems are a natural part of life or do you resist them and complain about the unfairness of it all? Perhaps you’re like the man who, in an effort to rid himself of all his problems, sought the advice of the Buddha:
(…) After the man had told the Buddha one of his problems and asked for help, the Buddha replied: ‘I cannot help you get rid of that problem.’
The man was surprised that the Buddha could not help him in this regard, but he told the Buddha about another problem; he thought to himself that the Buddha should at least be able to help him with that problem. But the Buddha told him ‘I cannot help you with that problem either.’
The man started to get impatient. He said: ‘How can it be that you are the perfectly Enlightened Buddha when you can’t even help people get rid of their problems?’ The Buddha answered: ‘You will always have 83 problems in your life. Sometimes a problem will go, but then another problem will come. I cannot help you with that.’
The baffled man asked the Buddha: ‘But, what can you help me with, then?’ The Buddha replied: ‘I can help you get rid of your 84th problem.’ The man asked: ‘But what is my 84th problem?’ The Buddha replied: ‘That you want to get rid of your 83 problems.’ (1)
This anecdote reminds of a scene in American History X where the main character played by Edward Norton is clearly agitated while folding sheets in the prison laundry room. Eventually, the prisoner working next to him gets fed up and says:
“Every day I watch you go through these sheets like you gonna get to the end of them. No matter how fast you get through them they gonna keep bringing them in and bringing them in. Throwing them around like that ain’t gonna do a damn thing but give you a heart attack!” (2)
Isn’t that what most of us do every day? We attack our problems aggressively thinking that the faster we get it done, the sooner we’ll get rid of all of them. And when the next one shows up, we get surprised and frustrated and attack that one in the same way. And so, this pattern repeats itself again and again.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you suffer from the 84th problem and make yourself miserable over the fact that you have problems? If so, the good news is that THIS problem can be solved. All you have to do is learn to accept life, as it is, difficulties and all.
Instead of desperately trying to get all your sheets folded, realize that there will always be a new one brought in the moment you’re ‘finished’.
Approaching life this way will save you from a lot of unnecessary stress and help you move slowly and steadily toward your goals.
“If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.” — Dalai Lama