The Only Two Problems in Life, part two (#815)

In part one of this tip, I shared the only two problems every human being faces – misunderstanding the thought/feeling system and massively underestimating the creative potential of the mind. This week, I’d like to share a case study of each “problem” in action to better illustrate how these things show up in real life and how they so often resolve as if by design when we let them…

1. Alice and the Neurotic Husband

Alice was the wife of a client who I’d been seeing for only a short time who requested a session with me. When we sat down together, she told me almost immediately that she was fed up and wanted to leave him and take the kids with her.

She burst into tears and I listened to her share her frustration at his mercurial mood swings, neuroses, and inability to follow through on his promises. The last straw was a recent trip to the Caribbean which had been cancelled at the last minute when he panicked about everything from missing out on potential work to the plane crashing if the rest of the family went on without him.

As much as I liked my client, it really seemed to me like she had a point. But I knew enough to just keep listening. After a time, her litany of complaints drew to a close and she finished by saying “It feels mean-spirited of me because I know he’s going through a tough time, but I don’t know how anyone could live with this level of frustration!”

I asked her if she was open to some coaching, and when she said yes I shared a little about the thought/feeling connection. We talked about how frustration (or anything else we might be feeling) wasn’t feedback about our lives but rather feedback about the quality of our thinking in the moment. In a clearer state of mind, thought of frustration might still arise, but we don’t give them a second thought. When our minds are relatively clear, our personal thinking just doesn’t get traction in the same way that it does when our heads are cluttered.

So while I couldn’t advise her about what to do, the one thing I could say with absolute certainty was that she wasn’t in a fit state to make a good decision about what to have for lunch, let alone about whether or not she should be leaving her husband.

Her turnaround was dramatic. After a few moments of quiet, her eyes lit up for the first time since we’d started talking.  “I don’t want to leave him”, she said. “I love him. I really, really do. It’s just been hard seeing him go through this and it makes me feel like a failure as a wife that I can’t make everything OK.”

We spoke for another twenty minutes or so, and she thanked me and that was that. I only heard from her directly once after that, about six weeks later in an email. She thanked me for our conversation and said that things had been much, much better since we spoke. “I don’t always see it in the moment,” she wrote, “but just knowing that I’m feeling my thinking and not my life makes all the difference in the world.”

What struck me was how she got something in just a few minutes that had taken me nearly fifteen years of working with people to see. (About a year ago I heard from my client for the first time in three years. He was on holiday in Disneyworld with the family and all was extremely well.)

2. Between a rock and a hard place

Frank was a successful novelist who was six weeks away from his first major failure. Having paid through the nose for his new book, his publishers were eagerly awaiting the final drafts of what he admitted to me was his worst work since a short story he wrote in the 10th grade.

“It’s not that I haven’t got enough there to hand them a manuscript,” he said. “It’s just that if I turn this in, it’s over. Even if the publishers accept it, the critics will eat me alive and I’ll never get another book deal again. If I don’t turn it in, they’ll come after me for the advance, and the truth is I’ve already spent most of it. The best I could do is ask for more time, but they’ve already announced the release, so not only will they be pissed off with me, I’m not sure that more time would help.”

Having read some of the manuscript myself, I didn’t completely disagree with him about the quality. But I know from experience that anytime someone feels like they’re trying to choose between bad and worse, they’re not seeing what’s really possible.

Rather than try to “brainstorm” possibilities, which occasionally leads to a breakthrough but in his case I felt would just reinforce his sense of impending doom, I suggested we have a chat about where creativity comes from. We shared stories of how many of our best ideas had come to us from out of the blue, not just as writers but in the rest of our lives as well.

We both got quieter as we contemplated the formless nature of creative potential, like a lump of clay or blank canvas that was nothing and everything at the same time. Nothing much came from the conversation, but it did feel to me like some space had opened up in his mind around the problem.

The next day, he called me. “I’m starting from scratch,” he said.

When I asked him what he meant, he said he was throwing out all his work of the past eight months and writing a brand new story, one that had come to him while driving back to his house after our session. Six weeks later, he turned in a manuscript that delighted his publishers and wound up spending months on the bestseller lists.

So what do these stories have to do with you?

Well, providing that you’re a human being, everything. Because if you’re like the rest of us, you are living in the feeling of your thinking right now, even though it almost certainly seems as though at least some of what you’re feeling is to do with your circumstances. And there are areas of your life where you are either stuck or making the best of what seems like a choice between bad, not so bad, and much, much worse, even while the infinite creative potential of the mind sits quietly in the background waiting for you to look in its direction for new possibilities you haven’t even considered to emerge.

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if you are wondering what to do about the only two problems, either in general or in their specific manifestations in your life. And while I’m not big on giving advice, I can certainly share with you what I know to do for myself:

Look away from the form and towards the formless. Let yourself get quiet. Stop trying to figure it all out in your head. Let your mind get receptive. Give up the struggle and let the river carry you back to the ocean. Enjoy the ride. Have fun. Learn heaps. And prepare to be amazed…

 

With all my love,
Michael

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