7.40 Small Practice Problems


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7/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian



Bourgeois Problems as Practice 


I first heard the term “bourgeois problems” on a Pema Chödrön audiobook called Don’t Bite the Hook. She beautifully presents the brilliant teachings of Shantideva, an 8th century Indian monk. 

She presents the idea that we can use our bourgeois problems to practice spiritual-religious fitness.

Let me explain what this means.

We all encounter day-to-day problems:

  • The kind of food we want isn’t available
  • Our gas tank is almost empty when we wished it were full
  • Something (like a dog barking) scared us

Our days are filled with small, little bourgeois problems that bug and annoy us.

Pema Chödrön and Shantideva suggested thatweshould practice dealing with disappointment with these – our small problems.


Their reasoning is this: How can we expect ourselves to be able to deal with HUGE issues like loss, death, and catastrophe, if we can’t even cope with small trifles?

Should we really expect ourselves to hit a homerun (or even hit the ball at all) with the big problems if we can’t do it well with the small ones?

Try the following exercise: next time you experience a small calamity, I want you to think of it not as a “problem,” but as – dare I suggest – an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself.

(Hey, I almost want to gag on the idea that your problems are actually opportunities… Nonetheless, I hope you understand the point I’m going for here.)

We all have problems. Life doesn’t go as we think it ought. And, if it does, our good fortune doesn’t last long enough.

We dislike:

Not getting what we want.

And we dislike:

Getting what we don’t want.

Both lead to disappointment and, frequently, to anger.

But if you can master the ability to handle the small stuff – like a somewhat cherished object breaking; food that is too hot or too cold; or an automated recording telling you to “Please hold, your call is important to us” (while subjecting you to bad music in the background) – then you’ll have a much greater chance at handling the big calamities in life.

And, let’s face it, those big things are going to happen. Guaranteed. You might as well become as spiritually-religious fit as you can before you have to deal them.

Spiritual-religious advice: Work out your “problem-handling” muscles with your small, bourgeois problems.


With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

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