One Man’s Problem Is Another Man’s Solution

February 12, 2019

A collage of several canvesses comprising a face of someone smoking.

Many healing practices treat symptoms without considering the ways in which these secondary problems indirectly solve primary problems. People at their core are adaptable and creative and prove this over and over again. Outside of the human kingdom, even flowers grow in sidewalk cracks and diamonds crystallize under pressure. Initially, when the human psyche hears “problem,” there tends to be a negative reaction but things are not so black-and-white.

For example, an elderly man claims that smoking cigarettes helps his arthritis. As we all know all-too-well there is a risk for lung cancer and numerous other health issues/hazards that are associated with smoking cigarettes. Nevertheless smoking is for this man a solution of sorts. Is it just his justification? Was his belief scientifically proven? Did he read it somewhere? Is his solution itself a problem? It can be difficult to discern the heart of the issue, because maybe there’s a deeper issue that we can’t see. Until a better solution presents itself, the elderly man smokes (a “symptom”) to sooth the symptoms caused by arthritis. Even if the man didn’t have arthritis, smokers are all entitled to “self-destruct” in their efforts to survive whatever is haunting them, whether we like it or not.

A collage of several canvesses comprising a face of someone smoking.

“PATCHFAC3” by Patrick Oliver

Another example, a young man recognizes in his own behavior that he has a problem in sexual intimacy with his partners, because he is unable to identify his true emotions. Instead, he’s captivated by his partners’. Sex for him is a form of escapism related to the trauma he experienced as a child. The solution he comes up with is to abstain from any sexual encounters so as to get back in touch his whole self. Did refraining from sexual escapism solve his problem? Yes, but when one problem is solved two more emerge. The man’s father thinks abstinence is a problem because he wants a grandchild. In addition to the would-be grandfather’s problem the man now has a problem regarding his relationship with his father. So then it’s impossible for everyone to win, to have their problems solved? No, it’s very possibly but only in the eyes of those with metaphysical grit.

One of my favorite analogies concerns hot water and cold watertwo polarities, but at what degree do they become polar? If you turn on bath water, and the water is neutral, once you turn up the heat, when does it become “hot”? If you were to turn the knob down when does it truly become “cold” to the sensation of one’s flesh? This is the paradox and it is perception that often says, “this is a problem.” A Hermetic teaching, “all truths are but half truths,” comes to mind. What is true for one human, is not true for another. Correct perception of a problem can have such a strong part to play because if the problem is understood and addressed, the manifesting solution might be more ideal. Correct perception of a problem is highly important.

The old adage, “things are not always what they seem,” is relevant. It’s one thing to treat symptoms and another to cure that which is causing the symptoms. As you know substance abuse is a common indicator of mental illnessbut whose? It might surprise you how many addicts are mere decoys, taking the attention away from the secretly more-troubled family member. This nuanced perspective is at play in the exciting development of the Housing First (before psychological stability and sobriety) approach to homelessness. It seems as though problems that are solutions in a healing context can also be coping mechanisms. I might even say they are indirect solutions. More to that, if problems are solutions, are they actually things that just don’t need to be fixed? What is needing the fixing?

Returning to how we define or characterize a problem is most important. We assign gravity to a problem because we weigh it’s value on an unknowable internal scale. When we define the problem, we can provide multiple perspectives. It’s just like defining success. If success means to you having the easiest bowel movement of your life this morning because you had all that fiber in your salad last night then great job, you’ve succeeded. It’s as if we need problems to solve/digest in life; otherwise we, problem-solving machines, may just internally cease to exist. Some might say they’re the same thing. Problems are solutions, and solutions are problems. Problems are just beginnings, and solutions are endings. Such is the human condition.

When we say there’s a solution to everything, it can seem to imply that we can fix or resolve everything. Is there ever a problem human consciousness cannot solve, or even better, is there a problem which human consciousness is incapable of solving? In my own experience, humans are surprisingly creative and sometimes it is a matter of faith. We solve problems everyday, consciously, unconsciously, subconsciously, etc and often times problems end up sorting themselves out. Many times, the solution is already there, it just hasn’t presented itself in conscious thought.

In reality, problems present themselves and sometimes solve themselves without the slightest consideration and this may be the rule rather than the exception. As humans, it’s natural to try and solve a problem and problems seem to be a human construct that we can’t live without but if you take the perspective of God (good luck with that) there are no problems and the fact that we even call them that could very well offend her. Recognition of a problem is 100% subjective but it takes a lot of practice to see this in the heat of the moment.


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