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August 2018


Problems As Path


Inquiring Deeply Newsletter

August 2018

Problems As Path

A central tenet of my book, INQUIRING DEEPLY*, is that problems are a basic organizing principle in psychological life. Consider, for example, (as every reader can certainly notice) the fact that everyone has problems. In my view, problems have a role in our minds analogous to the role of pain in the body; they call attention to what we most need to see.

Beyond the particular circumstances, we need to address the underlying view that having problems is itself a problem; as if life could be without problems or that having problems is an indication of deficiency or failure. Instead, problems can be seen as opportunities for growth.

The goal in a mindfulness-informed approach to problems is not to disappear problems (which of course is what most people hope will happen), but rather to deepen our awareness of them in lieu of overthinking them. The central premise is that solutions to problems emerge as a function of how clearly we can see where we are stuck. From this perspective, problems and solutions can be seen to be two sides of a single coin.

The path of problems follows along in the slipstream of our concern about a problem.

Problems are configurations or patterns in the mind which are organized around a nucleus of something too painful to be fully experienced . Such “nonexperienced experience” may be thought of as a logjam in the free flow of mental energy in the mind. Such patterns comprise the traumatic core of problems, which over time calcify or rigidify into a kind of ‘scar tissue’ in our psychic structure, including character.

Bringing mindful and self-compassionate attention to the network of our associative connections gradually untangles the knots of pain and trauma in the psyche and helps to reveal aspects of our innate wisdom.

In INQUIRING DEEPLY, I delineate ten headings or “stepping stones” on the mindful path of problems: ten component factors in psychological change. The first tasks have to do with clearly identifying the problem and conceptualizing the leading edge or horizon of change which the problem represents. A related task involves deconstructing the experience of the problem; unpacking the problem into component elements of sensation, perception, thoughts, and feelings. Because problems crystallize around relational wounds, inquiring deeply about our relationships with others is primary. Together, this deep inquiry leads to the development of insight, clarity, and deep emotional understanding.

* Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: Inquiring Deeply
Routledge Press, 2017.



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