Panning Panacea

via Daily Prompt: Panacea

Ah, the cure-all. That one thing that will fix everything.

In my professional life, this gets called a “salvation fantasy”. If this event occurs (I lose weight, get the job, Dad is happy, the cancer is cured, I meet and fall in love with the person of my dreams, etc., etc.), all my difficulties will be resolved. Its fantasy, all right.

We humans are fond of the idea of panacea. It takes so much less work than dealing with complexity. This happens so much in politics these days, with many things being reduced to a tagline. Never mind that the distance between tagline and what is actually going on may be measured in lightyears! And then there are the ads: “the one thing you must never do”, Eat or don’t eat this “miracle” food: All playing to our longing for a panacea.

There’s a teaching story I’ve heard, attributed to the Buddha, involving this very human desire to be rid of problems:

The farmer, finishing his list of complaints, looked expectantly to the Buddha for a solution and was surprised when the Buddha said that he could not help him. According to the Buddha all human beings have 83 problems and that is just the way life is. While you can work hard and solve a few problems, once you do others will soon take their place. Upon hearing this, the farmer, in exasperation, asked, “Then what is the good of all your teaching?” The Buddha replied, “My teaching can’t help you with the 83 problems, but perhaps it can help with the 84th.” “What’s that?” the farmer asked. “The 84th problem,” the Buddha said, “is that you don’t want to have any problems.”

I have no idea whether the number of problems each of us is faced with at any given time is 83 or not. I do have the experience that there is “Always Something” (thanks, Gilda Radner). I’ve come to the recognition that this is an intrinsic part of life, and not a sign that one is somehow “wrong” or a “bad person” for having problems.

I propose that we challenge ourselves to be willing to allow complexity, issues that don’t have easy solutions. Accept that we are works in progress, individually and collectively. Take one step, reevaluate, reassess, and from there determine the next healthy step.

No panaceas other than a different approach to living.


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