The Path to No Path

Do Problems Have External Causes?

The belief that “my problems are caused by other people, or by external events” is so prevalent that it is usually accepted without comment. Some days ago, I saw on television a man, sitting in his car, saying that it was unacceptable that his daily drive to work and home again took so long because of all the traffic on the road.

He went on to say that these other people ought to make more use of public transport. I wondered why he didn't heed his own advice.

Yes, it is so easy to blame other people, or the weather, or the government. “The other drivers should leave their cars at home and travel on the bus, or on the underground. If it wasn't for the possibility that it might rain, I would consider cycling to work. In any case, the government should have a coherent transport policy.”

At one time, I would regularly drive about 30 miles to Heathrow Airport, and on the return journey the traffic would usually be very heavy and slow-moving. On parts of the motorway, the speed limit would be varied according to the traffic, in an attempt to make it flow more smoothly.

I used to joke to my passengers that the variable speed limit signals were a challenge to drivers, to see if they could drive that fast, for it was usually impossible to achieve the speed limit when the traffic was heavy.

I accepted the fact that the drive back from the airport could take a long time, much longer than the journey there, yet my passengers would often get quite upset by the slow-moving traffic, even though I knew that they had no need to hurry back. All they had to do was to sit there comfortably and relax. Instead, they would fidget and complain about the traffic.

The suffering that people feel about such problems is vastly greater than what one would expect by looking objectively at the situation. This excess suffering is created by the mind. It is therefore more accurate to say that I create my own problems, rather than merely dump the blame on external factors, most of which I can do nothing about.

90% of so-called problems are created by the mind, and are therefore not really problems at all; 9% of problems are due to external situations, and again are not really problems – at least, they are not psychological problems. Finally, the remaining 1% of problems are in fact intractable mysteries, and mysteries are things to be explored, not things to flee from.

These mysteries are ultimately what makes life worth living.

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If you should wish to contact me about anything you have read here, especially if you feel strongly for or against what you have read, or if you feel that something is missing, I offer you an opportunity to share.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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