Free Your Pen

Buddhist Writing Prompt: Your Problems Are Your Gifts

Your problems are your gifts is about working with your problems rather than trying to get rid of them or avoid them. It builds on the previous slogan and the practice of tonglen in order to transform suffering into happiness.

The original lojong slogan is: Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue, which needs some explanation. Put simply, you tend to either like, dislike, or feel neutral about things (the 3 objects) and this creates a reaction of either desire, aversion, or indifference (the 3 poisons). It’s your reaction that causes suffering, so by accepting things as they are you can transform the poisons into seeds of virtue. In other words, your problems become your gifts.

The real problem here is how you label your experience and judge it as being good or bad. That’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes your judgements are way off because they’re coloured by unconscious assumptions and fears. These automatic reactions cause suffering because you want to avoid painful things and keep hold of pleasurable things. But this rarely works.

This slogan gives you another way to look at things. Since you can’t get rid of suffering by ignoring it, you can turn towards it and transform it by accepting things as they are. Suffering is transformed into wisdom and compassion, and the poison implodes, becoming the seed of virtue, which is simply seeing reality as it is.

Apply this slogan to your writing practice by noticing your reactions and patterns of thought, especially the ones that cause problems when you’re writing. When you have a strong reaction, either positive or negative, step back and ask yourself what’s really going on. What are you reacting to?

Are you giving yourself a hard time because you think you’re not writing well enough? Are you letting yourself off the hook, thinking you’re writing brilliantly when in fact you could do with rewriting the draft one more time? See if you can find the root of the reaction. What’s really going on?

Your writing prompt this weekend: Take a situation in which you reacted badly to something – a disappointment, failure, or accident – and write about what you learned and what would have happened if you had reacted differently.

More in the book: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers
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