Three Things to Do When a Challenge Pops Up
Even when we have taken the time to contemplate our core values and our main aspiration in life, challenges are going to pop up from time to time.
When a challenge or some kind of blockage or obstacle appears, our habits usually rise up to meet them. We see familiar images in our mind. We think of familiar words. Those words and images may be helpful, or not. But if we are prepared –– if we have a clear aspiration and a strong sense of resolve –– we can meet our challenges with skill and resilience.
Here are three techniques you can apply when you encounter unexpected difficulties. (I read about these techniques in a book called Emotional Rescue.)
The first step is to apply Mindful Gap.
With Mindful Gap, the first thing you do is STOP. You stop interpreting, or commenting on what’s happening. No one asked you to write a commentary, right? And in any case, do you really have the time and resources to spend on that? No. So don’t volunteer. Stop and feel whatever the obstacle feels like. Just observe it directly. Stop any commentary and simply look.
You’re not trying to stop the challenge or blockage itself from happening. You let it happen. But you stop spinning stories about it in your head. So that first step, Mindful Gap, is very important. It creates space between you and the issue you’re facing. And if you want to know more about Mindful Gap, there are many resources available.
The next step is Clear Seeing.
Recognize that disruption or blockage. Try to see it clearly, just as it is, without your usual commentary, without spinning a story or creating any interpretation. Just look at the situation without judgment of either the stressor or the stress itself. If somebody, or some entity, is causing you stress, let there be no judgment or spinning there, and no judgment of the stress itself either.
All that you’re trying to do at this point is to recognize the challenge or disruption. So first, you apply Mindful Gap, and then, Clear Seeing. Once you have done those two things, you’re ready to do the next one.
Third, opt for a practical solution. Once you have made space for yourself to see the challenge clearly, then you can make the choice or decision you need to make. Based on your aspiration which represents your core values, you can now look for a solution that serves your interest.
In the third step, you are Letting Go.
You’re letting go of spinning and spinning your thoughts around the problem. You are letting go of trying to interpret or comment on that problem, or on the person or entity that is causing you a problem.
And then you focus on a solution. It may not even be a good solution. But a bad solution is better than no solution, isn’t it? At least that way you’re on your way out of the problem instead of getting tangled up in a lot of judgments and commentary.
Have you seen those images of storms on TV, on the Weather Channel? Whenever there’s a weather system brewing, it starts with little weather systems, like small whirlwinds, spinning out over the ocean, that then come together to create a big storm.
One small whirlwind is like one cycle of thoughts. As soon as you think of something else, such as the stressor or person you’re having trouble with, then another whirlwind develops. And when those little storms keep on brewing in your mind and emotions, you get stuck in a hurricane of inner turmoil.
When we have a habit of allowing our thoughts to spin and spin, that makes it much harder to see the problem clearly. Then, in the midst of that storm of judgments, commentary, and storylines, it becomes even more difficult for us to land on a solution.
If we’re going to have the clarity we need to look for a way to address to our challenges, and then to land on a solution, we need to be able to stop the little whirlwinds of our thoughts, to keep them from turning into a blinding storm.
So you can try this method and see if it helps you with such habits. It’s helpful for me, but you have to test it for yourself.
The teachings on which this article is based were given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche at the retreat “Be Wise, Go Kind: Joy on the Path of Resilience” in April 2021, hosted by Nalandabodhi International and Nalanda West.