A few years back I was leading a workshop in Malaysia, and sharing a story with the group about a farmer who had a bald spot on his head. Every day while he toiled in the chicken coop the perspiration made his scalp itch, so he would stop to scratch and rub his scalp. One day he looked in his mirror and noticed that his hair was growing back. He came to the conclusion that this was due to the fact that when he scratched his head he was inadvertently rubbing in chicken poop, which must have some miraculous hair-restoration properties.
One thing led to another, and the farmer started up a company that sold poop-based hair-restoration cream. A year or so later he discovered that the chicken poop was not the key to his hair growth, but rather that it came about due to the vigorous rubbing of his scalp.
I then related my experience of waking up that morning with a sharp pain in my left shoulder where it met my neck. I could have taken a painkiller, asked for a massage, or sought out some other remedy, but instead I decided to simply sit with the pain. I focused my awareness deep into the center of it while relaxing my body as much as I could. I don’t know if I was expecting any particular result, but the more I relaxed into the heart of the pain, the more peaceful I became, and a pleasant sense of detachment came over me. There seemed to be no sense of personality, no Christopher, and at some point, inexplicably, there was a sharp click in my back, and the pain melted away immediately.
I shared these two stories with the group to illustrate how we often react to problems as something wrong and seek mechanical solutions in order to alleviate the discomfort we feel, when in fact life is offering us something greater and the problem is the signal that this offering is available. We turn to our intellects to provide solutions—and the world to provide the means—often believing that the only appropriate response to a problem is to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. When the problem does pass out of our lives, we generally believe that it’s due to something we did, or something that happened from outside of us.
But what if problems exist solely for the purpose of supporting us to grow in acceptance of the human experience, awareness of the magnificent being that we really are, and appreciation of this ineffably beautiful life design. If the previous sentence is true, then perhaps problems disappear because their purpose has been fulfilled, or because the purpose was ignored and life chose to offer us the opportunity through another form. We may never know for certain, but it does seem that problems can be looked upon as burdens or recognized as gifts of support, perceived as enemies or seen as friends. You don’t have to like them in order to begin to appreciate the purpose of problems. On every occasion when I relaxed and faced my discomfort—physical or emotional—with acceptance and awareness, I experienced that which lies beyond the discomfort and I was ultimately left with only a deep sense of appreciation.
So I shared the chicken poop story, and the story of my shoulder pain, as well as what I learned from the experience. As soon as I called a b
reak, at least five or six participants approached me with different ointments and suggestions regarding how to heal a shoulder pain that no longer existed!