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What is the Problem Right Now?

Narrow your life down to this moment. Your life situation may be full of problems – most life situations are – but find out if you have a problem at this moment. Do you have a problem now?
Eckhart Tolle

A saleswoman named Jessica worried constantly about money. She had just moved to San Diego from Sacramento and, while she wanted to establish herself at a new company there, she did not quite know how to go about it. In the meantime, she had no income and her savings were starting to dwindle. She talked to many people about this and got a lot of advice. But she still could not shake this constant worry. She needed to find relief soon!

One day, Jessica decided to take a friend up on their advice to start meditating. Maybe that would help with her worrying. She went with her friend to a Zen Center in Pacific Beach, a neighborhood in San Diego. She went through the instruction class for newcomers and sat with the other people there in the rather ordinary house on a rather ordinary neighborhood street. At best, one might say that Jessica “white-knuckled” through the whole thing, as her mind raced with worry and she found it very difficult to settle down. The others around her somehow seemed to know this about her, but they just smiled warmly at her.

At the end of the sitting, a very calm, friendly man came up to Jessica and asked her if she would like to meet one of the teachers at the Center. Feeling she had nothing to lose, Jessica said yes and was escorted to the coach house in the back yard. The man led her to a room where she found a very old Japanese woman sitting there, the essence of pure presence. The man warned Jessica that the woman did not speak much English, but that everything would be OK.

At that point, the old woman smiled warmly at Jessica, then uttered the only English words she knew, which were:

“What is the problem right now?”

The man encouraged Jessica to try and answer the question as best she could and, once again, told her that everything would be OK.

Jessica hesitated, but finally managed to say, “I’m afraid I’m going to run out of money before I get my new sales position going.”

The old woman paused for just a moment, then repeated, “What is the problem right now?”

Jessica noted how the woman emphasized the words “right now” and realized that she had not, in fact, answered the woman’s question. Her response was not about “right now,” but rather about a problem she might have in the future. At this point, Jessica appreciated the wisdom of the old woman and tried to formulate another response.

After a few minutes, Jessica said, “I regret having a job where the income is so unstable.”

At this, the old woman frowned just a little, but then quickly her frown turned into a warm smile. She said, for the third time, “What is the problem right now?”

Jessica now worried that she was trying the patience of the old woman. She tried to understand why her latest response did not seem to satisfy the woman. Then it dawned on her that her response, again, was not about “right now,” but rather about the past, about what she regretted from before now.

At this point, Jessica realized that she had gained great wisdom from this woman who knew only six words of English. Sensing that her time was almost up, Jessica wanted to get as much wisdom as possible, so she quickly got out her wallet, opened it up, and showed it to the woman without saying a word. The woman looked inside the wallet and saw it had nothing in it. The woman then said something in Japanese that Jessica could not understand. The man, who had been standing there patiently, said, “She said, ‘So you think there should be something in there?’”

Upon hearing this, Jessica came to realize that, at that moment, in the “right now,” there actually was no problem. Any way that Jessica could think of to describe a problem either had to do with the future, the past, or some misconception she had about the present.

Jessica was suddenly startled to find that she felt completely calm and present for the first time in, well, since she could remember.

The old woman rang a small bell and the man told Jessica that that was the signal for the end of the interview. Jessica got up, bowed to the old woman, who by now was grinning at her, and left the room. Jessica found herself floating out of the coach house and toward the exit of the grounds of the Center. Several people smiled at her and expressed hope that she might come back sometime. Jessica knew that she would, but, for right now, she went about the business of living her life as it was in each moment.

Copyright 2014 Daniel J. Metevier

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