I love to solve problems.
It’s actually what I do for a living. My job is to teach design thinking inside a Fortune 500 company. Design thinking is an approach to problem solving that starts with empathy and puts humans at the center of everything.
My days are consumed with searching for problems to solve.
I coach people to frame their problem from a human need. I suggest design tools and methods to approach and creatively solve their problem. For most analytical folks design thinking feels very uncomfortable and uneasy. Trust the process, I say, lean into the uncertainty
So when a friend recently told me he was feeling like he was lost and wandering a bit, my immediate inclination was to help him solve his problem. Frame your human need and then you can solve it! Trust the process, lean into the uncertainty.
But then I paused.
I wondered — is feeling lost really a problem to solve?
You see for months I have not been able to shake a feeling. It’s a feeling that something is missing. A feeling of yearning. A feeling of wanting more than I have. I feel like I am searching to find the missing piece. Searching for the problem to solve. But I don’t know what I am looking for. Like my friend, I feel like I am wandering and lost. I can’t sit still. I constantly feel unsettled.
The medical term for this unsettling feeling is restlessness. According to WebMD, restlessness is a symptom of general anxiety disorder. It has taken me a while to recognize, but I finally accept that I do suffer from anxiety. And it makes sense – I have experienced two major traumas in my life including my mom’s passing at a young age and going through a divorce in the past 18 months.
But I refuse to accept that I have a disorder. Anxiety does not define me as a person.
According to Buddhist tradition, restlessness is one of the five hindrances in progressing in meditation and getting closer to a state of tranquility. And the way to overcome a hindrance is to investigate and understand it.
For me, taking the first step to become aware of my feeling of anxiety has allowed me to begin to liberate myself from my suffering. Even consciously saying “aware of my feeling of anxiety” versus “I have an anxiety disorder” enables me to distance my sense of self from the feeling and not take it personally. When I distance myself from the feeling it helps me to get to a steadier state of calm. To feel more settled.
As I investigate, I begin to understand that my search to solve the problem is ironically the problem itself.
I recognize that my anxiety stems from trying to control the future. That searching feeling is my subconscious working to ensure that I find happiness so it does not endure pain again. Even though my conscious mind says lean into uncertainty, my subconscious keeps searching for the key to happiness.
And there lies the tension. My subconscious and conscious minds are in constant battle.
It’s only when I can quiet my mind that I can recognize the search in itself is what makes me feel incomplete. When I am coming from a state of awareness and consciousness I realize there is nothing to search for. Happiness is right in front of me. I just need to allow myself to choose it.
There is no problem to solve. I am not lost. I am right here. And I am complete.
We spend our lives looking and searching in every conceivable corner of the world for that one thing that will bring us the fulfillment we desire above all else, only to find that it is glowing deep within. – Darren Main, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic