Are we addicted to problem solving?

When we paint a picture of some-sort of utopian future we say we like to envision and then feel all the frustration, yet again, of not getting even close, are we failing to take into account one very important trait of human nature? Are we – in fact –  addicted to the journey, the challenge, the obstacles, the messes to clear up, the struggle for survival; in fact, is this the part we really like the best which is why we keep setting ourselves back?

In fact, is this trait such a fundamental part of why we came here to have a human experience, as opposed to choosing one of a zillion other life forms through which to give ourselves expression in this vast universe (and which may have been immeasurably less challenging) that we simply can’t let it go? Do we need to push against something to keep our momentum and, if so and we are evolving to where we are aiming to phase out our long-running “duality” and “lack” perspectives in order to heal this planet, what replaces these propellants as our fundamental drive to be here; over-and-above some wishy-washy idea that “everything will be nicer” and we will be “happy” and “at peace”?

How do we conjure up that potential future as something that genuinely motivates us towards it or that we know for sure that we actually want? Because, at the moment, its as though humanity is gripping onto a whole bundle of so-called negative motivations…such as addiction to stress, a belief in lack and an insistence upon “other”…like they are some sort of security blanket they don’t want to give back. As soon as one thing gets ironed out, we seem to go and create more of something else that is strikingly similar, so do we really want to break that trend enough for our most ideal future to appear through the mists; are we really any closer to achieving unity consciousness than we ever were?

This isn’t about to turn into an art blog but, as a useful metaphor, I see this love of chaos and endless problem-solving play out all the time in my occupation as an artist. As I’ve been making the transition from oil painting into almost total immersion in photography this year, I’ve been asking myself what it is about painting that drew me in for so long; in particular oil painting,  which is a very long and painstaking process leading to something that I often struggle to know when to declare “perfect” enough to call finished. I could give many and varied answers but the core one is this; when you paint in oils, you almost aways make a heinous mess to start with but then it dries and you can work on it in many layers, gradually honing it closer and closer towards some idea of perfection. In other words, the very act of oil painting is major “project-solving”…done with a paintbrush. In my previous career I did something similar involving people and logistics; I was a troubleshooter, a person who had to think on their feet to get an endless stream of high-profile, extremely time-sensitive and big budget projects out of some really tricky situations (whilst contending with unhappy or unrealistic clients and an almost farcical tendency for mishap to occur). As soon as one contract was finished it was straight on to the next one….and my painting habit first came up to replace that old work-stress rhythm while I contended with that other “big problem”; my health.

Now I see the same thing in my Photoshop editing only infinitely faster, slicker and with more predictable outcomes. Still all those layers to work with and many more tweaks to be made than most people would ever realise looking at the end product yet I can churn out half a dozen artworks in a day compared to one every 6 weeks and, still, the more those delicious messes require that make-over, the more blissed-out I feel. In fact, the excited “fizz” I get is in direct proportion to how hidden the raw potential is that I see buried  there when I first set to work. Some of the least promising photos deliver the very best and most satisfying art since I see something very subtle glinting at me through all the layers of crud; which then allows me to bring all my skill to bear in order to polish-up that terribly rough diamond. In fact, I don’t like the image to be pristine and “finished” straight from the camera; that’s boring and practically anybody could do it, why would I bother? And isn’t that what keeps us all (subconsciously) scouting for grey bumpy rocks instead of polished gemstones as our life experiences? This trait is something that underlies everything that motivates us as human beings, at the obvious and far more subtle levels.

I find it again when I ask my daughter why she cares so much about getting A grades when the occasional B might be more comfortable over this obsession with pushing herself so relentlessly hard. Her answer, that she “must” get that top grade, must fear anything else like her life depends on it. Why? Not for me or her teachers but because without that fear-factor she feels she would lose all motivation; her work ethic and drive to “do well” would be all gone and what she perceives as her identity along with them. What about just knowing, already, how whole you are, that you don’t need to rely on those outward tokens of achievement to know that you have worth? What about not being subservient to favourable circumstance (which can be withdrawn in a split second) to measure that worth? I try to ask her these, to get her to think broader, softer, less pressured or fearful but, no, she feels (for now…) that she needs that endless survival-scenario playing out to keep herself going forwards towards what she envisions for her future so, while that may evolve in time, I have to leave her to it. Of course the schooling system…the way we are all trained from birth to become predictably-controllable addicts to pressure…has a huge part to play but do we also do it to ourselves? I couldn’t have been a less pressuring parent and yet I have the most pressure-driven child I know!

But then, at three times her age and with all this insight to offer, am I really doing any better at evolving that perspective? Two weeks into this photography-thing (plus a pretty compulsive writing habit …three blogs, a new book, endless reading and research…) and I’m already working to a schedule that looks much like any high-pressure job with deadlines, long evenings and barely a free weekend since the start of the year. Why do I do this when I’m self-employed and no one is waiting for anything I produce; there are no actual deadlines or targets except mine? Because, at some level, I feel I have to have that momentum, that cog within cog drive…even if I have to create those gears with my mind and my well-maintained sense of “lack” (of income, of fulfilment, of recognition or achievement, of enlightenment…) to keep pushing myself along. There’s not been one single project that I’ve taken on during all the (many) years of working alone that I haven’t run as hard-nosed as this, for all the daydreams we all tend to have about self-employment meaning we can live the free and easy lifestyle of flexi-hours, popping out for lunch, mixing up work with pleasure; I never do that, even when the family are all at home and I’m generally up working before they even start their days. About the only thing that encourages me to pause that kind of pressure is jetting off on holiday and even then I’ve been known to dash off a few thousand words or bring back heaps of material that I’m already thinking about how to use before I get back. I guess I’m just one of those people – and there are many of us – who hate to switch off the pressure tap or feel like there’s nothing to be improved or striven for; its what gets me up in the morning and to turn it off feels like a mini death, a complete loss of life-force. Somehow, gentle walks, watching sunsets or appreciating bird song don’t feel like enough reason to be alive all by themselves, even though I appreciate them vastly more than I ever did. Its the endless striving and, yes, more than a little bit of swimming against the tide that make me feel most alive and connected to my own humanity.

So those mini-deaths, instead, are what my body produces, which has been the health journey of the last decade and even in that, where there’s always been one step back to every two steps forwards, I can see how this is just more of the same. I have even come to see (which was a very big thing to realise…) that my health issues have been a necessary “tug back” towards the sense of my own humanity that was starting to float away from me almost from the very start of this life, like I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be here or “fit in”. In other words, these physical ailments GROUNDED me when I might otherwise have vacated my life through a fundamental lack of desire to stay in a body. I was bailing out on my human state in so many ways and those physical challenges (as so often happens to people) dragged me very firmly back into the visceral matter of cell and bone.

Yes, when all else failed to engage me with my human condition and complacency, jadedness or a tendency to think myself off-planet set in, my health crisis tugged me firmly and non-negotiably down into my body so that I had but two options left…to leave altogether or to fight for my desire to be here in every moment, expressing that desire each and every day with my choices and the very attitudes I brought to every new climb up a hill. You’d have thought doing that for so long would have got me further than it has…and yet, though I have come VERY far on that journey, it has remained a journey nonetheless. That is, the end, though close, has never quite allowed me to pop those corks or do the happy jig of completion before something else turned up to challenge me. Whenever I’ve come close, and I’ve come very close indeed, a new health challenge has always presented itself; often more “serious” or unfathomable than the one before, like I’m surmounting ever tougher levels of survival in some sort of virtual reality game. Its been a long time since I first saw in this a metaphor for our human condition and the way that the more we fixate on some sort of utopian end-point, the more deeply we are forced to re-immerse in all the blisters and grime of the trek. In fact, one of the things it taught me was that I needed to stop wanting that outcome so very much…or even at all…in order to get anywhere with evolving the current state I felt “stuck” in. Inherent in that was the (necessary) recognition that I was already there, that what I already have is that very thing I was pursuing so hard, warts and all (and that my ideal was never meant to be “wartless” in the first place). The classic idea of perfection always seems somewhat, well, imperfect and I was in fundamental resistance to it.

So, working on that metaphor a little more, in my own experience I was forced to recognise that there’s a level – and I don’t at all mean at the conscious layer – where I kept creating more of this health “mess” so that there’s always something for me to “solve”or get my teeth into; like I don’t know how to be here, or ground my life-spark, in any other way. I’ve been forced to ask myself, is there a dread in me of that place where all health challenge is gone and what do I see when I visualise that endpoint? Its hard to make it out (so bland is it…) but it appears like something smooth and white cloaked in a mist, a velvet sheet of nothingness, quite devoid of texture, like a painting without brushmarks and so abstract as to almost not there at all. You could say, it is utterly serene in every way but is that appealing to the human in me? Are these rough patches, these ever bigger challenges to get my teeth into, my way of keeping things interesting and painting my most colourful and expressive “picture” of life, knowing all my biggest evolutions so far have always grown out of the soil of the last two dozen most nail-biting challenges? Is this what our cancers, our myriad chronic health conditions, our crashes, disasters and dramas are all about at some very fundamental level; the one where we have to admit that (along with our higher self) we ARE the co-writers of our own life script; WE put all these things into our own plot, to serve the higher storyline of our purpose for being human?

So, do we keep stepping this up, making the levels even more extreme as a sign of our mastery and how far we have come; our ever more greedy appetite for more and more and more to sink those teeth into; like my own step-up from very slow and painstaking “painting” to super-rapid and responsive “photo-editing” so that I get my creative fix a hundred times faster than before? Do we long for the next challenge, the bigger mess, so that we can step in and save ourselves at the eleventh hour over and over again, pulling ourselves off that razor’s edge brink of near disaster many many times in one lifetime? Is this what just happened in the our world political scene; we took the bigger challenge, something beefier to chew on because anything less than that felt too lame, like we had seen it all before? (Certainly, the many people who wanted something big to push against, “kick the ass” of or a major cause to join in with just became vastly more abundant in their heart’s desire since the start of this presidential administration…) Is what feels like our worst times really the best yet for the hard-core problem solvers of our world and will we get through it all….only to create even more mess from where that came from? And how do we motivate a world full of compulsive problem solvers to see the point in a utopian ending when everything gets fixed and there’s nothing left to “do”?

At least, while the “spiritual” solutions that are on the table look like vanilla compared to all the very broad “flavour of life” (from sickly sweet to rancidly bitter and everything in between) that we are used to, perhaps we will keep demanding the full buffet of experiences from one extreme to the other. Perhaps a fear of blandness keeps us from diving into some of the new alternatives that are being presented in our consciousness community; a bit like “clean” living and diets are utterly spurned by those who enjoy a quarter pounder and a mountain of fries. Anyone who has ever put themselves through an extreme eating regime knows how they long for that ice cream by the end and unless we really want that audaciously different way of living with everything we have, we’re going to remain in backtrack mode on perpetual loop. There’s got to be room for all of our most deliciously human traits on the New Earth or else how do we get everyone on board; this is all about being human, after all…not some other light-beings from a far distant planet (who are probably already doing that clean-living thing to absolute perfection). I’ve dedicated almost everything I have to my own spiritual awakening for the past six years and yet…many times…I just want to be the same frivolous, irreverent, fun-seeking, shamelessly flawed human being that I so often am without feeling I’ve lost my ticket aboard some sort of enlightenment cruise ship.

So, how to keep that flame of humanity alive with something substantial and juicy to burn on. Well, if problem solving and banging our heads on walls are so addictive then maybe we can channel that more into the kind of creation and problem-solving that would help uplift this planet. Perhaps (and, through photography, I’m just relearning this…) when we put our creative chaos into art, innovation and invention over self-destructiveness and fight-to-the-death mentality, we will find other means of provoking our life-spark into its fullest flame without getting singed in the process. I’m finding that getting my kicks out of an even more “one challenge finished…lets start all over again” process than I had before is allowing me to tilt the focus of my attention in such a way that daily physical challenges are called for less than they once were to ground my attention into my human condition. Instead of half a dozen physical challenges popping up to distract me from my tendency to drift off into other dimensions, I get to focus on the creative output of my very busy days, consisting of multiple applications of my time, each with its own set of challenges yet which can be started and completed to my satisfaction in relatively short time, producing tangible results from which I can gain a high degree of personal satisfaction. For someone as quick-minded and energetic as me, this is crucial to my wellbeing…in other words, if I don’t select the activity to focus my humanness on, my body will do it for me. By selecting the aim of my focus for myself, I have stepped in for the body and allowed its issues to consider decommissioning themselves in a way that I suspect will pay dividends in the longer run. I expect to see my body reflect this by creating a tangibly better outcome for me to experience very soon and we get to do likewise with our world.

t-987ech-um-dominik-scythe.jpgIn your own life, try recognising whatever “least desirable” form that challenge-setting trait is taking and then choose a similar but more uplifting focus for your attention. Make lists, if you like, of what your particular skills-set is (“I have this tendency to have these audacious projects for my career/relationships and then, just as they are coming together, pull the foundations right out of them until I’m staring at rubble again”) and find a lighter alternative (“I’d love to buy-up old properties to renovate and, just as they come together, sell them on so I can buy another one to sink my teeth into”…or whatever). The more you learn to identify creative and perhaps contributory ways you can apply your particular challenge-tackling skills, the more those least desirable expressions of them can quietly retreat or become obsolete in your life. Perhaps as more and more of us make this highly personal adjustment to where and how we are applying our particular life-skills (yes, these are important skills that the hardest times of our lives have trained us in so diligently), the more rapidly we evolve the whole planet as a side-effect. Which is as it should be, since our own lives are the most powerful transformation tool that we possess, which is why we should make them our core focus over-and-above joining in with what feel like other people’s big schemes, which should always be secondary to the self-evolution that is fuelled by our most personal arenas of enlightenment. As we individually discover the tail-lift of the spiral, we all start to spiral; this is how the universe was designed.

Its been interesting watching a spiritual teacher I follow have a small melt down and reconfiguration recently about the direction of his biggest project, which is to quite literally evolve the world in every way imaginable in under 20 years. His frustration: that people, even in his own team, weren’t committing enough, investing enough and, above all, were still back-peddling into their own human dramas or operating from a lack perspective. I can see how this would be frustrating but perhaps that’s what any golden-glorious vision of our future so far presented is missing; the infrastructure that ALLOWS that there is still  room for our most human traits without blacklisting them as flawed when perhaps they just need redirecting somewhat. Also, by its very nature, I can’t help thinking an audacious project like this is going to attract the kind of people who get most high on problem-solving (after all, no bigger problem than transforming the entire planet…), which you would think would be an ideal skill set to attract. However, if they are really that addicted to, and identified with, the deep-dive into the mire of multiple challenges, is it not also likely that they are going to keep self-sabotaging that project to create more of what they are really addicted to? Perhaps such people are the most likely of anybody to implode both their personal and professional lives, all at once, so that they can get that double addictive feeling of swimming relentlessly upstream against the current. I know…I’ve been there and (thanksfully) recovered from the trait.

I saw this play out in the “corporate” portion of my life more than anywhere; a team full of people dragging their woes into the office and offloading them to everyone else as they slurped the first of many cups of coffee…as though they loved that offload of hardships, the bitching and complaining, the snacks trolley and the feeling of relentless pressure in their lives all equally and in a bizarrely similar way. All that over-indulgence gave them even more reason to wallow in self-pity, or another load of addictive habits, at the weekends which restarted the cycle all over again and it was like a two-year anthropology study working there. Almost everyone in that vast office seemed to be fire-fighting for their lives.

So what happens when a project is much more uplifting in its intentions than the average corporate job and has everyone feeling engaged and lit-up together yet the hidden addiction to fire-fighting becomes much bigger than the shared objective of the group? How do we overcome the major hitch that occurs in our forward momentum when people are secretly getting-off on the feeling of resistance against all their efforts than their excited anticipation of achieving their goal and is that feeling of “wanting” something so very badly just the fuel for their endless cycles of addictive “conflict” with whatever seems to be preventing them from getting there. This scenario so-often plays out amongst people working for a cause yet where the goal itself becomes secondary to all the back-biting and politics that are really feeding those characters who are “fighting” for whatever it is; which is why I have always side-stepped these kinds of involvements and worked independently by preference.

The other big question is, what if people secretly dread or are a little bit afraid of that feeling of completion; in the way that just so many people who win the big lottery jackpot they always thought they wanted freak out and fritter it all away just to get back to their old lives? If it is even achievable (which I very much doubt since I feel we will just keep on evolving, ad infinitum…), is the idea of “completion” that some people try to sell us even appealing to us, really? I know I struggle with it…and, in my mind, its always followed up with “so, what’s next?” Even if we don’t really know what comes after some sort of goal is achieved, is it about time we started acknowledging that human nature requires that we suggest that there IS something interesting coming up next if we really want people to get onboard. People need to gain a wonderful sense of what lies up ahead beyond recovery  in order to recover and, especially when it comes to our projects to evolve the planet, we need something delicious and tempting, not just this very bland idea that makes it sound like we all get to wear togas and sit around all day dangling our hands in a pristine river on a harmonious clean earth with uplifting programs on “consciousness tv” to watch in the evenings. It can all tend to sound, well, a little bit vanilla and, as a marketing campaign for enticing vast numbers of “ordinary” people on board, it stands on fairly flimsy legs. I tried asking some people what they think of a New Earth with all the trimmings and they all declared they would “get bored”.

Of course, we all want different things on different days, according to different moods – which is part of being wonderfully human and we have to incorporate that into our vision. Part of this vacillation between forward momentum and then a sort of stalemate where the momentum chases its own tail again for a period of time is (I now recognise) a manifestation of the Ninth Wave, as discussed in a couple of my most recent posts (Consciously Creating with the Ninth Wave and Using the Ninth Wave to Heal Your Life). According to Prof. Calleman, author of the book The Nine Waves of Creation, evolution has always “come in” on the back of these waves emanating from a “cosmic tree” that pulsates energy at a frequency that has speeded up over time, one wave after another.  Whereas the peaks and troughs of the most currently active waves used to be spaced hundreds or even thousands of years apart, since the activation of the Ninth Wave in 2011 those peaks and trough are on a cycle of just 18+18 days made up of “night” and “day” phases. So perhaps as more and more people start to resonate with that wave, bringing themselves into full alignment, then more of them will start to see patterns in their own behaviour that feel like forward momentum followed by a sort of crash, self-sabotage or inwardly oriented period of rest – which is certainly something I can track in my own rhythms going back a few years. Looking back to when the 8th wave was the most active in my personal resonance (with its “days” and “night” of 360 days), I see how I got myself into a rhythm of one really forward-propelling year followed by one really slow, much more inwardly focussed or even back-tracking period. I coped best with the latter once I taught myself to paint, which distracted me from ruminating on all the things that were “going wrong” with me, especially my health. During the “day” phases I would vent my frustration with the “night” that had just passed by pushing myself way too hard, often to the detriment of my health.

I see now how the recent change of gear from the slower paced act of painting to super-rapid photo-editing reflects my attunement with the Ninth Wave since it takes me (on average) much longer than 18 days to complete a painting so…at some very subconscious level… it was no longer fitting with my rhythms over the last year and I was finding it frustrating. I would come out of a few days “inwardly creative” phase of working on a canvas that was not yet finished and yet my mood had changed and, by the time I returned to it a few days later, would feel like it was an obstruction because I was longing to move on to something else, having had all sorts of new epiphanies during the “day time” period that occurred in between. Computer-based art keeps up with how lightning-fast I feel I am now moving forward with new desires to express and, being more outwardly connecting with other people (so much more so than painting; I suddenly have a much more dynamic and younger audience), is more in tune with BOTH the “night” and “day” rhythms of the Ninth Wave, which is serving to melt away the hard partitions between those very different impulses. During the “daytime” periods, I am no longer shoving myself hard or forcing myself to create to the beat of a drum; even my writing is something that I allow to come to me as a natural flow, taking down occasional notes while I am otherwise working on my art. I strongly suggest it is this very act of dissolving the hard or even contradictory distinctions between “day” and “night” phases that serves as the forward momentum “gear” to our next level of evolution, achieved as we each find ways to harmonise and bridge those two distinct phases in our own lives.

So, instead of feeling on top of the world, forwardly propelling, having such dynamic and outwardly oriented conversations with all these wonderful teams of people with whom we are co-creating and so on for a few days and then crashing and burning all our own schemes or withdrawing to our cave to lick our wounds for the next few days, perhaps we will all learn how to work with this evolutionary wave… firstly, by nodding to its rhythms. We can work with it best by chosing the most appropriate tasks for the particular stage it is at (here’s a calculator you can use to check that; we are currently heading for the peak of a “day time” phase). In my case, during the “night” times I know I tend to go very deep into myself so I am starting to use that time to plant new seeds into the dark soil of my life…BUT without prodding or coercing or over-tending that new potential for the moment but, rather, allowing it to gain some quiet confidence within the anonymity and soft, nurturing cushion of the earth of my own introversion. Once the “day” phase gets started (bearing in mind the transition from one to the other can feel somewhat turbulent) I am more inclined to run with that project in a much more outwardly focussed way, sharing it with others, pushing myself quite hard in terms of what I set myself to achieve and being more outspoken, confident, social or even collaborative. Suddenly, life feels so much more productive, positive and forwardly propelling. I can sense some of my own goals clearing through the mists of a lifetime because I’m not always being tugged back by the ankle; and I’m genuinely excited for the future.

In order for some sort of shared goal to feel real, desirable and exciting, we have to make sure that what we envision for our collective future makes room for the very traits that underpin the extraordinarily complex human characteristics we’ve spent millions of years evolving. To demand that these change beyond recognition in the space of a lifetime is just more separation-mentality, like we all get to be shoved through some sort of highly selective filter system to get to the New Earth. One of the things I find myself worrying about most is a total lack of the kind of humour that my personality hinges on; I can be pretty irreverent at times and I’m not sure that would be “allowed” in the future some people are painting. Are people afraid conscious evolution means having to be just too  “nice” all the time, or are they asking where will we get our excitement, our white-knuckle moments, our naughty thrills? Again, I feel it comes down to evolving so that we still incorporate these experiences yet by choosing higher-vibe expressions of them, in a similar way to how I am funneling my problem-solving addiction into creativity instead of fixating on deep-dark or even life-threatening problems. I suspect the reality is that the more we go after the thrill of problem solving, the more problems will just keep on generating for us, as far as the eye can see, on the long long path unfurling ahead of us (that’s how powerful we are at manifesting what we want…) but I know I would rather see a pathway of interesting art-related conundrums up ahead of me than to have to tackle any more chronic health conditions like my life depended on it. So, we change focus somewhat to the side of what feels like our biggest stuck point….whilst allowing that humans LOVE to operate with some problems to deal with and even the occasional big juicy mess so lets not take all that away. Suddenly, by making this small adjustment, we all get to discover the highly individualised motivation that will move us forwards with our collective vision for this planet and we don’t have to write all the most interesting plotlines out of our future, we just get to stage them somewhat differently.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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2 Responses to Are we addicted to problem solving?

  1. Pingback: Using the Nine Waves to heal your life | spinning the light

  2. Pingback: Consciously creating with the Ninth Wave | spinning the light

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