The Problem with Directness

What we think the problem is, often isn’t.  “Oh gosh,” you say to yourself, your friends, your co-workers, your mentors, your therapist, “I’ve got this problem and it is XYZ.” We assume that by talking about it, analyzing it, stewing about it, or focusing all our energy on it, we can solve it and everything will miraculously start moving forward toward resolution.

Not so fast. The real problem and, therefore, its solution is in many cases, actually in most cases, not something we’d expect it to be. Rather, what’s smacking us in the face are symptoms. These are reactions we’ve created internally to defend,  protect, or shore-up the original situation. They may present themselves as big emotions, pointing fingers, or an emptiness so profound it scares the hell out of us.

OK, we say, “I am courageous. I’m going in. I can deal with this.”  I remember saying this to myself and others. “I’m going in. I’m resolving this issue now.”

I was emphatic. And, this head-on approach didn’t work.

A curious and often frightening thing can happen (as it did to me)  when we sit down in a comfortable and grounded way, go inside, and focus directly on what is bothering us.

We are greeted with feelings of obstinance or anger, or a sense that what we are focusing on has gone into hiding and doesn’t want us around, or we find nothing there at all except blankness.

The more we focus on it, the worse it gets. It is gone. Putting my direct attention on it drove it away and left only terror in its place. Not a good start. Here’s what to do.

This is the moment to back off and ground your energy.  Feel the earth energy in your feet and up through your body. Feel how your body is supported and held. Put lots of space there. Perhaps, even say inwardly, “I’m putting a lot of space here.” Space is always good thing.

Next, diffuse your attention. Instead of focusing it directly on the problem, divert it to the periphery. Instead of laser-sharp focus, diffuse your focus. Think of this as a kind of seeing sideways. Instead of looking straight ahead, focus your attention softly on the perimeter.  This is a kind of night vision. Have you ever noticed how at night, in the dark, when you look straight at something it disappears from view, but when you allow your vision to settle softly on the edges you can see more clearly.

Something magical happens when you do this. Things start coming forward as bodily sensations, textures qualities, images, words, or even sounds and colors. Now is the time to listen attentively and softly, to acknowledge whatever comes in an empathic and non-judging way. “Just inwardly letting what is presenting itself know, “I am hearing you. I am seeing you,” is all that is needed.

As you go with this process, the unraveling begins and ahas happen.  The thing at the center, eventually presents itself.  Then there is the realization that what the real problem is, the original situation, isn’t what we thought it was after all.

This is the time to continue listening, to holding all with empathy, and acknowledging. Little-by little, you will feel the release of energy until suddenly you are aware that what was there is not there any more. In its place is a feeling of forward energy, a bright, flowing, openness.

Try it. And remember, this process is not whizz-bang. It takes time and space and your whole soft attention. And, remember, sometimes, direct focus of our attention is what is needed. What’s needed is attuning to what’s going on inside and proceeding appropriately with care and non-judging attention.