This morning, when I finished my shower, the tub was filled with water. It was still draining, but very slowly. I decided to give my dad a project (he loves to have projects to do). As he plunged the drain in the bathtub, the toilet started to gurgle up the funky water from the pipe between it and the tub. So he took the plunger to the toilet. He was nearly working up a sweat as he repeatedly worked to clear the bathroom channels. Suddenly, loud gurgling sounds could be heard from the kitchen sink.
A little hair had come up from the bathtub drain but not an amount that would cause a blockage like that. As I watched this whole process unfold, I realized that this was a metaphor for life’s problems. Although the tub was where the matter surfaced, the cause went much deeper. Just as the tub still functioned, but not at full capacity, when something is troubling us, we often find ourselves going through the motions, our verve gone. At first we might think those few surface hairs, or irritants, are the real problem, but, as often is the case, the problem is much bigger and goes deeper than we want to admit.
The clog started a couple months ago but it was minimal, so I ignored it. After a month it was much worse, and I meant to tell my father about it before I left the country for a month, but I’d been busy and distracted, and never got around to it. When I came back, I found the problem hadn’t gone away even though I had. Just as the junk preventing free flow through the pipes didn’t miraculously disappear because I was busy and went away, our problems don’t go away either, no matter how much we ignore or run away from them. But I was exhausted from travel and didn’t feel like dealing with it. A few days later the clog was so bad I couldn’t ignore it. Finally, I told my dad about it.
My father, despite an advanced degree, is old school and believes in fixing all things himself. Only when he’s tried everything, and the problem persists, does he admit it’s beyond his abilities and call a professional. So, after working on the clog for twenty minutes without success, he went to the hardware store to buy a small snake. That didn’t work either. So he went back and bought a bigger snake. Still no resolve. He made yet another trip to the store for some chemical product to dissolve the gunk. Fortunately that did work because the next step would have been a call to an expensive plumber (is there any other kind). Had I said something when I first realized there was a problem, he probably would have been able to fix it in ten minutes. Instead, it took two hours, three trips to the hardware store, and XX dollars before this problem was resolved.
Our problems are like that. We ignore them, push them down and pretend they don’t exist until they make their presence known by manifesting in our relationships or our health. They show up as anger and impatience, or in our bodies through things like skin conditions, fatigue, depression, stomach ailments, high blood pressure, and more. Eventually we have to go to therapists or doctors to help us fix ourselves. Or maybe we don’t and our relationships end or our health declines.
Just as strange noises in our cars prompt us to immediately take them to the mechanic to avoid a complete breakdown or more expensive repair, many issues in our life would cease to exist if we addressed them as soon as they come up. Ninety-five percent of the time, “address them” means simply, honest communication. If we did this, advice columnists would be out of business. Because most people don’t knowingly behave in annoying or hurtful ways, many “problems” are often one-sided. For example, say a colleague at work creates, what they think are, cute nicknames for everyone. Some people love theirs, but you hate yours. Is it easier to say to this person at the outset, “Look, I don’t like nicknames. Please call me by my given name,” or ignore it until it catches on and people from outside the office start calling you that? If your partner has an annoying habit that makes you insane, how do you address it after they’ve been doing it the entire three years you’ve been together? Wouldn’t it have been easier to communicate your feelings as soon as you realized you couldn’t stand it? By not doing so, it can grow to seem like a mountainous obstacle and slowly chip away at your relationship.
Nobody likes confrontation, especially when the other person is really nice. Addressing items early on, from a place of love, prevents situations from escalating into problems. There’s a reason why roommates have house rules, companies develop employee handbooks, and the military enforces codes of conduct. When people know what the boundaries are, they will behave accordingly. If they don’t, they understand there will be consequences.
One way to help prevent machines from breaking down is to perform regular preventive maintenance. This could be changing air filters, greasing parts, or cleaning motors. People also need preventive maintenance. This can look like vigorous exercise, healthy eating, and daily mediation. If we take care of ourselves, physically and mentally, we’ll be in a better, stronger state to deal with things as soon as they come up.
We all have a toolbox, it’s just a matter of finding the right tools to do the job. If you don’t have the right tools, you can acquire new ones. Book stores, the internet, and confidantes can all provide resources to help you tackle your difficulties. When you can’t find the right tool, or the problem is too big for you to handle, bigger than your toolbox, it’s ok to ask for help from an experienced professional with a bigger box and a larger variety of tools that have been tried and tested. It’s always okay to ask for help. We aren’t born with all the answers.
Unlike in the plumbing example, in life we can’t just pass the torch and expect someone else deal with our problems. We have to take responsibility and deal with them ourselves. And its easier to do that before they become seemingly insurmountable. As the adage goes, a stitch in time saves nine, so nip situations in the bud and enjoy life more.