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Problems and Pain

Once we know that life is difficult, once we understand and accept this, then it is no longer difficult. This is because, once accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

You may not fully see the truth of this. Are you always moaning, noisily or subtly about the enormity of your problems?

Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Yet, it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.

Problems bring out our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of our problems that we grow personally. So wise people learn not to dread problems, but to welcome their pain.

Most of us are not so wise. We fear the pain involved and attempt to avoid problems. We put them off, ignore them, forget them and pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to deaden the pain, forgetting that problems cause pain. We skirt round problems, rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them, rather than suffer through them.

This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering that comes with them is the basis of all our mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency, none of us enjoys complete mental health.

Some people go to extraordinary lengths, far from all that is good and sensible, building elaborate fantasies in which to live to the exclusion of reality. Their neuroses become bigger and more painful than the original problem. Some will build layer upon layer of further neuroses in an attempt to avoid the pain.... In chronic mental illness, there is no personal growth.

Fortunately, some people have the courage to face their neuroses and, usually with the help of psychotherapy, learn how to experience the legitimate suffering and personal growth that problems provide.


Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems. Without discipline, we can solve nothing. With only some discipline, we can solve only some problems. With total discipline, we can solve all problems.

These tools are techniques of suffering, means to experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work through them and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process.

There are four:

delaying gratification;
acceptance of responsibility;
dedication to the truth; and

They are not complex tools. You do not need exhaustive training to apply them. You do need the will to use them, for they are tools with which pain is confronted, rather than avoided. If you don't want to face legitimate suffering and personal growth, you will avoid the use of these tools.

Exploration and Discussion

1. How you see your life in terms of difficulty or ease, at which point between these two extremes would you place yourself?

Very Difficult
Fairly Difficult
Fairly Easy
Very Easy

2. What are the reasons for your position?

3. What negative emotions or feelings do you have about these reasons?

4. In what ways do you customarily avoid problems?

5. What negative emotions do you associate with this avoidance behaviour?

6. What would you most like to change in your life?

7. What are you doing or not doing that is stopping you making this change?

8. Can you describe an experience of growing through a problem that was difficult at the time, but which turned out to be an opportunity to learn and to grow personally?

9. How willing are you to confront your problems in order to change and grow?