B.J. LEVIN O’RIORDAN explores the nature of problems and why we struggle so much with change. She offers some simple guidance on how to approach transformation, in everyday life as well as in the field of spirituality, and how to take help from others, including a spiritual guide.
“When you have a problem, don’t think about it.
Think of God instead. This is the Golden Key.”
I am grateful to my friend E.W. for bringing the Golden Key into my life.
I believe that problems result from the benign conspiracy between two agents – who we are now and who we are becoming. Our current limitations give us the motivation to take the next step, but those very limitations don’t allow us to take that step. The purpose of the problem is to enable us to become a new person operating from a frame of reference beyond the previous set of limitations.
For example, a five-year-old child is ready to go to school. The family’s love, in which she has basked since birth, has given her the confidence to explore, discover, and relate to others. She needs these abilities, but now that she is at school, she can no longer behave like the family’s darling. She won’t get away with it! The very purpose of the problem – school – is to enable her to emerge from the old version of herself into a new version. She can no longer use baby ways, like crying, to get what she wants. To solve the problem, she has to behave like and become a school-aged child.
This pattern of development persists throughout our lives. A child cannot use childish ways to solve the problems imposed by puberty, so the child becomes an adolescent and solves the problems from that perspective. An adolescent cannot use adolescent ways to solve the problems imposed by adulthood, so they become an adult.
We can never solve a new problem by being who we are. We solve it from the perspective of who we are going to become.
Throughout our lives, others help us negotiate these rites of passage. At each stage, we have guides from the past and guides from the future. The guides from the past ideally help us to retain the best of the old values, and the guides from the future usher us into the new perspectives necessary for our future selves.
For example, kindergarten children have their parents (past) and their teachers (future). Middle school children have their parents and teachers (past) and their peer group and new friends whom they want to be like (future). Young adults have parents, teachers, friends (past) and mentors and role models (future). Older people reminisce about people from the past and also learn from their own parents who are declining or dying(future).
Likewise, spiritually-oriented people have saints and sages from the past and, if they are very lucky, a living spiritual guide or master to usher them into a future of a different kind.
At a certain stage, the game radically changes. It is not a chronological stage, but a stage of character development. Something odd occurs. The problems that come to us seem crucial and hard. Friends who gave us good advice in the past don’t know what to tell us. We have reached a moral precipice where no one knows what to do.
To make things even harder, the spiritual guide does not seem the least bit interested in providing overt assistance. Either he says nothing when we ask for guidance; or he says something that can be taken in ten different ways; or he says something like “Acha,” or “Yes, I will pray”; or he refuses to speak at all.
We are left with a problem that our past self cannot solve and which our spiritual guide does not seem interested in solving. The more we think about it, the bigger and more complicated the problem seems to become! We cannot solve it because we are relying on the past to help us, and the solution can only come from the person we are becoming.
The spiritual guide seems uninterested in helping us because we are not relating to him properly. We are treating him like a wise man, thus making him something from the past. He is not just another wise man, like all those who have helped us before. He is something radically different, coming from a future we cannot comprehend.
We think we are using a problem as a means of growing, but our future selves may be using the problem as a way of growing us. Perhaps we ourselves are the problem! Our old self from the past and the new self we are becoming are bound together in fetal embrace, struggling to grow out of and into itself.
If we look at the situation from this point of view, the problem is no longer about income, family, or health. The problem is no longer about whether we will eat or starve, be included or cast out, alive or dead. The problem, quite simply, is how to relate to the new inner self within. That and only that.
The spiritual guide is very interested in this. He is watching us very attentively and carefully, even though his role in the matter is to say and do nothing.
Our work is to emulate him, that is, to also remain silent and do nothing. First of all, we don’t know what to do. Second, anything we would do can only come from the past. Third, we are no longer the person from the past, and we don’t quite know who the person we are becoming is. The most efficacious choice is to be quiet and have the faith to allow the nascent inner self to find a way to solve everything, by becoming itself.
It takes self-discipline to stop trying to do something about what we are trying to become. The person who is trying to do something and the person who is trying to become may not be the same, and we may confuse the one for the other.
We may pray, but I wonder if there really is any need for prayers at this time. Perhaps the problem has already been solved from the perspective of the future. Perhaps all we need to do is to try to live in confidence, savoring the problem as the blessing it truly is. Our prayer becomes one of gratitude.
I think that this may be how things work here on Earth, this training ground for Love, this vehicle for human transformation. It is also why a spiritual guide says nothing when we bring him a terribly hard personal problem. He understands that the problem is working itself out. Our inner self from the future will somehow solve it in a way that is unique and utterly unpredictable.