the right tool for the job


I have a quirky trait of stubbornly “making do” when faced with a task requiring a specific tool. My resistance rises with even the thought of purchasing a tool when I think that I may have an object that was made for a different purpose but will do in a pinch within arms reach. This approach has always seemed simpler, more practical and oh-so-much-more efficient than the alternative of the time-guzzling acts of browsing, shopping, listing pros and cons of which one is the best to buy, spending money on then cleaning, storing and organizing all the tools until the end of time! Doth she protest too much? Methinks so.


Beyond my issues with the traumas of shopping, and my still firm desire to just get the job done effectively and efficiently, I am growing in my appreciation for the wisdom of using the right tool for the job.

Despite our love affair with our minds and the wonders they perform, when it comes to emotions and moods, the mind and its incredible ability to problem-solve external situations is precisely the wrong tool for this type of internal work.

Emotions are not problems to be solved. They exist to be felt. Why then do we feel the need to enlist our minds into action, to swoop in heroically and solve our problem of unhappiness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, anger or depression? The answer is because we don’t like to feel uncomfortable and will numb ourselves to these signpost emotions that we’re off our path.

Instead of feeling the emotions, we question why life is hard for us but so easy for everyone else. We wonder why we can’t seem to just get over our hurt and resentment quickly. We speculate on what we did to deserve the pain. And we ruminate on the darkness of our lives thereby increasing the gap from where we are to where we think we want to be.

Trying to “solve” emotional issues through thinking is like digging the trench deeper. The deeper we dig the trench, the more accustomed we become living in a trench and it then becomes a future platform for the unproductive process of thinking through our feelings.

There is a way out of the self-built trench that may include professional intervention but could also be supported by:

  • Taking our minds off the pedestals
  • Remaining keenly aware of our mind’s desire to be in charge
  • Developing a practice of sitting with overwhelming emotions
  • Noticing when our mind tries to hijack the process

Our minds have their place but our vulnerable yet resilient inner workings deserve the use of the right tool for the job.





6 thoughts on “the right tool for the job

  1. Thanks for this very thought-provoking blog.(As all your blogs are!) “Emotions are not problems to be solved” They exist to be felt.” How much time and effort we exert trying to “solve” our emotions and the emotions of others, by thinking and more thinking! Awareness and Practice…..two very good tools! Thanks Danette

  2. So true Danette. Until a few years ago, I thought that unless I was problem solving, planning, reviewing, analysing, or otherwise thinking, I was wasting time. I had little awareness of my feelings except the intense unpleasant ones, and I kept the unpleasant ones alive by feeding them with endless thought. As might be expected, that led to major depression.

    I was fortunate to have meditation and mindfulness as part of my depression treatment. I liked these. Even though I didn’t really see immediate benefit during my 8-week in-patient treatment program, I just continued to practice them at home. Three years later, these are part of my daily life.

    In practicing and studying meditation I became exposed to Buddhism, and concepts like remaining present with difficult feelings (largely through the teachings of Pema Chödron) that I would have dismissed as stupid before my depression. I could see how this could help me ride the wave of depression, something I learned through reading about MBSR and MBCT, so I practiced when I was feeling depressed. As I continued my journey, being aware of and remaining present with difficult feelings expanded to include all feelings.

    Through mindfulness I am aware of both my feelings and my thoughts a lot of the time (perhaps most of the time). This makes it possible to pause and recognize what is happening before reacting from past conditioning. It allows me to recognize when I am problem solving a feeling. It’s not always immediate. Sometimes I will problem solve for an hour, but usually by that time I recognize what is happening.

    Once aware that my brain is trying to problem solve my feelings or what triggered the feelings, I remain aware of my thinking. Sometimes the rumination stops by itself, having been simply acknowledged. Other times it persists and I might pause what I am doing for a few moments to just sit with the feeling where I am. Often that is sufficient -a brief pause to welcome the unpleasant feelings and acknowledge them (ref. Rumi -The Guest House). When the feeling is intense or persistent though, I move to the meditation cushion (or bed to meditate lying down), to just spend an extended time being present with the feelings, watching them change, noticing the thoughts as they arise and letting them go. In some cases the strong unpleasant feelings remain afterwards but they are less intense and I am able to put thinking about them aside for extended periods of time and stay aware of rumination as I get on with life.

    I have very much come to appreciate that my mind is much more than thoughts and thinking, and that often thinking is exactly the wrong tool to use.


    p.s. I very much enjoy your blog. I found it through your Mom, whom I see at Art of Being meditation retreats. I’ve been meaning to respond for almost a year now, but just didn’t seem to get around to it. I had to respond to this particular blog because it is the story of a significant chapter in my life. I dug my trench very deep over more than 10 years but with professional intervention I climbed high enough to embrace daily mindfulness and meditation practices that include what you list. These practices have changed my life and I see their benefit every day.

    • So wonderful to hear from you, Richard and thank you for taking the time to respond. Your story thoughtfully and courageously articulates the struggle of many people. And your commitment to a personal practice to sit with difficult feelings is inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

      Happy to meet a fellow wave-rider!

      Peace on the journey,


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