Recently I bought “Speaking Being” and started reading it. The book is more like a screenplay of a specific 4 day and 1 evening Forum that was held from 27th December 1988. That particular Forum had 502 participants PLUS 40 Forum Leaders attending as participants PLUS another 100 people participating as observers. The 4 days and 1 evening session was led by Werner Erhard and two more Forum Leaders Wes and Kipp. The book, in addition to being a screenplay, also draws parallels between Werner’s work and Martin Heidegger’s work. Anyways, I don’t want to write more about the book itself in this blog. I want to write about a specific part of the book that got me thinking. I had first come across this distinction when I did the Advance Course from Landmark Worldwide back in 2010. But I had since not revisited it newly.
At one point in the Forum, participants are asked to inquire into the nature of “problems” in their life. More specifically, how exactly does a problem exist?
Something exists as a problem only when we setup a being as shouldn’t be.
In the recent times we have seen how there is a consistent conversation in the city about the “water problem”. There is a “water problem” in our gated community, the place where I live.
The “water problem” in our gated community exists for us as expressed in the statement: “underground water is depleting, we may not have enough water for use going forward and that’s a problem.”
Said in other words, what’s so is that “there isn’t as much ground water as there used to be.” The residents of our gated community, including me, looked at that and said “that shouldn’t be.” In other words, our experience of the water situation in our gated community is – “There isn’t as much ground water as there used to be, and that shouldn’t have been the case.” That “there isn’t enough ground water as there used to be” has become a problem for us only after we said “that it shouldn’t have been the case.”
Back when human beings discovered that they could drill a hole into the ground and pump underground water to the ground level so that they may be used for human situations, they had no idea how much water would be present underground. And once they did drill a hole, found water and figured out a way to get that water to the ground (later to overhead tanks), they had no idea if that much water was more than what used to be before. They made peace with whatever water they got and organized their life to make it work with that. At that time, “whatever water they got” was not a problem. No one said: “we got the amount of water that we got” and “that shouldn’t have been the case.” When human beings first encountered ground-water, they stood in Nothingness and looked at whatever water was available. Standing in Nothingness, there wasn’t “too much water” or “too little water” or “good water” or “bad water.” There was just water.
A phenomenon begins to exist as a problem for us in the instant we begin to relate to something that is so as “it shouldn’t have been so.”
Isn’t this a revelation? Isn’t this a beautiful insight? Something exists as a problem only when we say – “it shouldn’t have been so.” Problems exist in language. They don’t have an existence of their own. They only exist in our language. Outside of language, there is no problem.
Problems become personal when we construct them in the form: “I want X, but Y and that’s a problem!” We position a want as a want that is denied by something or someone. For example:
– I want to buy a house, but I don’t have enough money and thats a problem!.
– I want to learn music, but I have no time and thats a problem!.
– I want to travel, but my spouse doesnt like traveling and thats a problem!.
Coming back to the water problem in our gated community; in the last association meeting they said that on an average each house requires atleast 600 litres of water per day, but the ground water can supply only 350 liters per day. Once we heard that data point, for all of us the problem became personal. It became – “I want 600 litres of water per day, but the bore-well can only supply 350 litres per day and thats a problem!”
The moment we language a problem in the form “I want X, but Y and that’s a problem!”; it becomes a breeding ground for not being with either X or Y.
For example, lets look at the problem: I want to buy a house, but I dont have enough money and that’s a problem. The moment we language the problem that way, we can neither be with “I want to buy a house”, nor can be be with “I don’t have the required money.” What I mean with be with is to generate space in our life to simply let it be. By languaging it as “I want to build a house, but I dont have enough money and thats a problem!”, I am in-effect holding the “want to build a house” and “not having enough money” as opposing each other. And that opposing force creates an expenditure of energy, peace of mind and so on; that could have otherwise been avoided.
Its like this. When I enter a room, I notice that there are walls. As long as the walls are where they are and I go about doing what I want to do in the room, within the boundaries of the wall, there is no problem. In the instant I stand up against the wall, start pushing it with all my might, wanting to move the wall and notice that the wall is not moving – it becomes a problem! I have pain in my hands, I am stuck pushing the wall and not spending any time in the rest of the room where there is space. I am not only stuck with the wall, I am also stuck with the room where the wall is. Since I am stuck with the wall and by extension the room, because of all the pushing, I have notions about the wall – “Stupid bloody wall! It should clearly not be here. Why the hell cant it move? I hate this room!” I experience a lot of anger, frustration and so on.
Take another problem statement: I want to travel, but my spouse doesnt like traveling. Me wanting to travel and my spouse not wanting to travel are two distinct facts. These two distinct facts when mashed up together with a but suddenly becomes a problem. And once something becomes a problem it becomes a reason for being right, making someone or something wrong, avoid domination of the other, dominate another etc. For example I can now use my spouse not wanting to travel as a reason to be right in the relationship. As a reason to make her wrong. Direct some judgement at her. Dominate her by emotionally-blackmailing her with statements like: “if it were not for you, I would have travelled the world.” And while doing all that, what I am actually doing is that I am avoiding taking responsibility for actually having a conversation with her and creating opportunities for traveling with her; or for that matter for taking time off to travel alone. I am positioning her as a villain in my life and sacrificing love, intimate connection, freedom and space-for-communication with her. Rather than taking responsibility for my travel, I end up having a lot of anger and resentment against my spouse, which I express in many other situations in our relationship. Standing in Nothingness, “my wanting to travel” and “her not wanting to travel” means nothing. It doesn’t mean that she is an obstruction in my life. It doesn’t mean that I am screwed for life and that I cannot travel ever. It doesn’t mean that she controls my ability to travel. It doesn’t mean any of that. Actually standing in Nothingness, if it did mean any of that I am entirely responsible for having it mean that.
If my problem is: I want to learn music, but there is no time. Then I direct all my judgement, anger, frustration, dominiation at all the people who seem to be contraining my access to time: my boss, traffic and so on. By blaming my boss or the city traffic for lack of time, I can escape from having to take responsibility for creating space in my schedule for learning music. Its so much easier to blame someone or something for my not being able to learn music than actually making an effort to create time for learning music.
So, what do we do when we have problems? We try to fix it. Fixing the money issue so that I can buy a house, fixing or changing my spouse so that she can travel with me, fixing or changing my job so that I can get more time for learning music and so on. That’s all great. What’s also true is that fixing and changing usually doesnt work; and when it does work it doesnt last long.
So, what do we do?
I think the first thing to do is to acknowledge that by constructing problems in the form “I want X, but Y and thats a problem!”, we are getting a payoff while being blind to the cost. The payoff is being right, making someone or something wrong, dominating someone, avoiding dominiaton of the other, passing judgement and in general not take any responsibility for creating space for “X” to happen/show up in our lives, while also allowing for “Y” to simply be as a transient reality. The cost that we are paying however is this: we are sacrificing our capacity to actually “be with” X & Y. We are sacrificing happiness and in many cases relationships with people. We are sacrificing love, joy and even health.
The next thing to do is this: realise that problems exist only in language. By itself, I want to travel is not a problem. By itself my spouse doesnt like to travel is also not a problem. It becomes a problem only when we mash them up together as “I want to travel but my spouse doesnt.” In that instance we make “my spouse not wanting to travel” as the source of “my not being able to travel.”
Instead of stating problems as “I want X, but Y and thats a problem!” what if we said
This way we grant being to both X and Y, without constructing them as opposing forces. We walk into the room and let the walls exist exactly where they are.
Lets try that out for size here.
– I want to travel and my spouse doesn’t like to travel.
– I want to build a house and I don’t have the required amount of money.
– I want to learn music and I don’t have time.
By granting being to X and Y, we create space for both of them to simply exist without having them somehow conflict with each other. Can you see that we dont have to fix and change X or Y anymore?
To really experience the power of this distinction, pick a problem in your life that you are currently dealing with as “I want X, but Y and that is a problem!”. See what happens when you language it as “I want X and Y.” Try it out for size. Notice how your relationship with problems transforms entirely.