On the art of not solving problems

For most of my life I have been a type A, achievement-oriented person, and so my response to every challenge that comes my way is to do something about it, which is why being Jessica’s mother is so maddening. There is nothing I can do about it. There ought to be! I don’t care how impossible the task might be, I would get it done.

But there isn’t anything to do other than to accept, which turns out to be one of those damned annoying Life Lessons that I am always doing my level best to avoid.

A few months ago, I had the random realization that every single thing that is a problem in my life, or that I consider a problem, is the direct result of my trying to solve some other problem. Yes, indeed, every problem I have was once a solution. Eating too much is a way to cope with stress. Teaching that class I hate teaching is way to pay the rent. Overspending on dining out is a way to deal with the fact that I don’t have enough time to cook from scratch.

So at first I thought, well that sounds a lot like life, it’ll bite you in the ass no matter what, and I started solving the problems I had created by trying to solve problems and I think you can guess where this is headed.

So then I thought, Dear Zeus, I am going to have to stop solving problems, and that is very hard for a person like me, harder than pretty much anything I’ve done in life, until finally I had the aha! moment that apparently all this dumbass work has been driving towards: I realized I needed to stop having problems.

Now you may not believe me but this is way easier than it sounds, or at least it’s way easier than it sounds once you realize every other approach you’ve ever tried has failed.

Once I stopped thinking of life as a problem to be solved, it suddenly became a lot more interesting.

The grey beginning

This is not a site about personal development. I like you fine, warts and all. In fact, your warts are what I love about you. Nothing is more obnoxious than a saint, unless it’s someone who’s trying to be one. So light up that Marlboro; I won’t complain. I’m having a mocha overstuffed with sugar and two shots of espresso, even though I know the caffeine will keep me up tonight.

This is not a site about how you need to lose ten pounds OR YOU WILL DIE TOMORROW!!! or how to stop yelling at your dog UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE A BAD AND EVIL PERSON FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!! And, no, I don’t have the first idea what you should do about your 401(k).

This is a site about coping with the hard things in life (major loss, catastrophe, even) and accepting the gifts that such experiences offer us.

Now I’m going to tell you a story. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

When my daughter was three days old, a neurologist said to me, “Your daughter’s brain is massively deformed.”

In the heartbeat that followed this pronouncement, I thought the very best thing that could happen would be for us to die in a tragic auto accident on the way home from the hospital. You might call that not wanting to deal with the world as it is.

Later, when I decided I would do everything I could to cure my daughter, I was trying out another fantasy: that everything would be all right if everything just changed, if I just did something about it. The world was not to my liking, but it could be altered so that I would like it better, if I just tried hard enough.

On the day I thought, “I need to let go of everything I think I know about life,” I found the path through the forest. In thinking that, I chose the positive road, the warrior’s way, the path I like to think of as the Tao: saying yes to life in all its joy and sorrow.

In the beginning, what I sought for my daughter was something out there: an elixir, a cure, a magic amulet that would make her all right, take away her crippling disease. But there exists no such thing. What I learned, instead, was how to find everything I needed inside of me: acceptance, courage, strength—and joy.