The Problem IS you

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“I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the Stern Fact, the Sad Self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever wonder if you’re looking for answers everywhere but the right place?

A few months after I launched Sonic Yoga in NYC, I got a fantasy call. The managing editor of a top magazine wanted to come, take a special class I’d developed, then write about it. It was a huge break, I was nervous and psyched.

This could really put us on the map…

Plus, the class she was coming to take wasn’t just any old class, it was our “signature” class, called Sonic Flow. Once a week, the morning of the class, I’d gather up all my CDs (this was pre-iPod, can you believe?!), run them into a DJ mixing board and literally mix-down a soundtrack where the beats per minute were precisely matched to the rythm of the class.

Then, later that day, I’d burn the soundtrack onto a CD (again, pre-iPod), practice to it myself to make sure everything was cool, then use it for the real event at night.

So, the day comes for me to teach, we get news that the editor is in town and I go about my routine, mixing, then burning the soundtrack. So far, so good.

But, this is where things start to fall apart…

The class is set for 7pm. Around 4pm, I set up my mat, pop in the CD and start my practice. Twenty minutes in, all is well. Soundtrack rocks, the pace works really well with the flow I planned to teach that evening. And, then I hear it.

It starts as a slight bit of background static. But over the next few minutes, it grows to a cacaphony of sputters, chaos, shrieks and white noise. What the?!

I jump up and check the buttons and cables, then hit play. Same awful sound. I unplug the entire system and reboot. The noise gets worse than ever.

Oh man…”I’ve fried my sound system,” I decry!

Now hours before the managing editor of a top magazine is flying in from California to write about a class…based largely on the soundtrack.

Time for quick thinking. If you’ve ever played music and you live in NYC, you know there’s a block where all the big music stores are. And, it was only a few blocks from my yoga studio. So, I ran to biggest store on the block and said, “I need a sound system, stat!”

The guy looked at me like I was possessed, but 30-minutes and a few thousand bucks later, I was in a cab with a new sound system on the way back to the studio.

I hauled the system up the stairs, but, by then, the lobby was packed with people waiting for “the Flow,” including the editor and the previous class was in full swing. So, piece by piece, I snuck the new system into the practice room and set it up while people moved, breathed and sweated all around me. I literally finished plugging in the system as that class was ending and my class was coming in.

But, I’d made it. Salvaged disaster…or so I thought…

The room was packed, the editor standing directly in front of my teacher’s mat as I began to teach. Ten minutes in, everyone was loosening up. Fifteen minutes, grooving and breathing.

Twenty minutes in…disaster strikes.

The sound. That awful sound comes roaring back. Within minutes the soundtrack is overcome with unbearable noise and distortion.

And at that moment, it dawns on me…

The sound system is fine. The old sound system was fine. The problem was…I’d burned a bad disk.

I’d checked everything but the most obvious problem. The source. The CD. Forty people, twenty minutes, one high-profile editor and the worst class in the history of yoga was in the process of unfolding.

All, because I went looking for the problem in the wrong place.

Wake up call, Big time. Not just for this class. But for life, in general.

How many times have you felt something’s just not right?

Probably every time you’ve uttered the words, “if only…”

  • If only you lived somewhere else.
  • If only you worked for someone else.
  • If only it were sunnier, hotter, cooler, more relaxed, faster paced.
  • If only you made more money,
  • If only you had more square feet,
  • If only you had blond hair,
  • If only you had cooler clothes,
  • If only you drove a faster car,
  • If only you had sassier jeans…

Then, you’d finally be happy…NOT!

All too often, we look for happiness by changing the circumstances and conditions that surround us. Man, we’re sooo sure that if this one thing were different, our lives would change. But, then something happens.

We change that thing we believed with all our hearts would make a huge difference and finally make us happy…and we still feel the same. Because, we were looking at changing everything but the one thing that would truly make a difference.


So, I’m wondering. What would happen if the next time we thought about starting a sentence with the words, “if only,” we took a step back and asked if THAT’S really the source of the problem…or if it’s really just a way to distract us from doing the work needed to deal with what really needs fixing.

So, what do you think?

Ever been there, missed cues like me?

Wondering why pain remains, though circumstances change?

Let’s discuss…

[P.S. – In case you’re wondering how the story worked out. I started cracking up when I realized what happened, popped in another CD and kept on keeping on. It was a great class, but, despite that fact that I explained what had happened in the the interview that followed, the article in the magazine still featured the sonic meltdown. Such is life. Live and learn.]

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23 responses

23 responses to “The Problem IS you”

  1. Great story, hahaha. I can’t believe you bought a new sound system hours before the event was about to start, and it turned out to just be a bad disc. Such is life.

    You never know, maybe it turned out a good thing that the “sonic meltdown” happened. It’s often events like that (negative or otherwise) that make something stick in someone’s mind. All the other studios she visited could have been a blur.

  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jonathan – Yeah, no doubt, it was an amazing lesson that’s stayed with me on a lot of levels. And, yup, it certainly did make it memorable for the editor, too.

  3. What a great story and good reminder.

    Looking to the source is not something we do easily in this culture.

  4. Simon Synett says:

    Oy Vey Jonathan, that’s tough! But well done for turning it into an important learning and teaching experience.

    If you’re interested, have a look at this similar observation I made about the search for self knowledge among religious people, where there’s also a tendency to try to shift the focus onto something external.

    As I say there, if knowledge is power, then self knowledge is power over yourself!



  5. Very fun story. I think there is another lesson in it…

    When we become frantic and panicked our mind loses clarity. Had you had a zen like disposition at the time (easier said than done), perhaps your first suspicion would have indeed been the CD.

    Ah… Such is life is right!

  6. Joe Jacobi says:

    No matter what I came here to read/learn/absorb, I’m leaving the beneficiary of not just a great story, but great story-telling too. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Tiffany – I think you keyed in on something, culture definitely plays a role in how we resolve challenges

    @ Simon – Thanks for sharing your story and “self knowledge is power over yourself.”

    @ Bamboo – No doubt, state of mind affects clairty and decision-making…even for zen yoga dudes

    @ Joe – Glad you enjoying, I like to tell stories, because that’s also what I most prefer to listen to and read.

  8. I love this story, it sounds like something I would do.

  9. […] The Problem IS you | Awake At The Wheel | Personal Growth | careers | entrepreneurship | health &amp…. […]

  10. Brilliant! I wish I could forward this to everyone I know.

    It reminds me of something the comedian Russel Brand said about holidays; “The f$%ed thing about holidays is that you are there”.


  11. Jonathan, that was a funny story. I really enjoy this blog of yours where you write about anything. I like focused blogs when I am looking for help, but I love the story and idea blogs like this one. I wander around the net reading articles like this and enjoying life a little. Thanks again!

  12. Enrico says:

    Your story reminds me of many difficult days of my life. It’s so easy to loose clarity and do a mess of a little problem…
    I always thought that a discipline like Yoga, that I’ve seldom practiced in my life, could change my mind for the better, but from your story I can finally understand that there’s no external cure for this! 🙂
    I just have to change the way I face the problems when I’m under pressure. Yes, of course it’s not an everyday problem, just of those times that we’re overloaded with: responsability, anxiety, worries, perfectionism, need to showing off, etc. etc.

    What do you think is the right way, apart to recognize that it’s our fault: we should try to drop all of these wrong state of mind, or we should try to manage them better?

    I tried in the past to remove them from my mind, and I reached my goal for a short time using the philosophy of taoism, but what remained was just an unmotivated person, very zen but absolutely uncapable to live in the our society. Good for a vacation but not to earn a living… lol!
    I guess we have to try to manage those states better, to use them to be more effective and not to let them to influence negatively our capability to think ad act effectively.
    This is my thought, but I’d really like to have your opinion on this, and in meantime I want to thank you very much for your wonderful posts! I always read your writings with much pleasure

  13. OMG!!

    First off I have to say that that photo of the guy with his head in the sand says it all!

    You are SO right.

    I have been in many situations where I am spinning my wheels thinking “if only” and “what if.” Eons have passed me by as I waste my time doing nothing but thinking about how good life COULD be “if only” something would change. I’ve spent equal time changing ALL of the things around me to no avail (apt, friends, work, partner, ect..)

    I read your book and I have to say that my first reaction was, “God I’ve got a lot of work in front of me!”

    That’s when it hit me, yes Shelley, you do have a lot of work to do so get of your keester and get something done!! The problem was never the external stuff, the problem was ME. I needed to focus and get to work-

    Since then it has not been all rainbows and butterflies, but it has offered me the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the true “problems” that need “fixing” For me it has turned out that mostly I had to just do, without judgement or expectation of how it should all stack up to the perfect version of my life’s goals. I have found out along the way that the baby steps are getting me closer then the constant worry or misplaced energy ever was.

    Which reminds me, my dad used to tell me that when I was younger. Damn!! He was right again! Must call father to confess…

    Thanks J for the reminder, and I will make sure to thank MY dad for the same.

    Love and Light-


  14. When the pressure is on our reasoning can be somewhat hindered. I can’t help but think that your deductive process would have started with the CD if circumstances were a little more relaxed. Stress can really tweak the way we respond. Still, your point is well made and appreciated.

  15. Bo says:

    Hmmm…two things come to mind.

    It’s so much easier to look for a cause, (fault, excuse, scapegoat, whatever) outside ourselves. The world around us promises quick fixes to make us richier, taller, thinner, cooler…even more spiritual(!) as long as we are willing to pay for those fixes. It’s structured around the fun, pleasure and instant gratification of outer transformations. Alas, new and improved parts and attachments break down or wear out and inevitably, we have to get newer and more improved replacements. I agree, Jonathan – real change can happen only within ourselves.

    Yet “change” may not necessarily be so literal. In order to do “the work needed to deal with what really needs fixing” we can perhaps just take an honest look at ourselves and learn to embrace what we see first. You gotta know what you want to change before you change it, no? It’s damn hard, really knowing one’s self, facing what we don’t want to even acknowledge. Heck, I don’t know if I can fully get there in my life time! But constantly, diligently, truthfully looking at ourselves seems to be the change we need (well, at least to me).

  16. I’ve been there so many times. When I was in the horrible moment I would freeze. The thing is every time I looked back on it I found something funny and interesting about the incident.

    Late last year I was in a meeting giving a presentation and I lost my train of thought. I froze for a loooooong second. I felt the my face flush then I made a choice to just role with it. I acknowledged my brain freeze made a joke about drinking too much slushie and kept going. The crowd laughed, I laughed and it helped me deliver a solid presentation.

  17. It’s tough when you’re under pressure to keep your head clear and allow yourself time to stop & think – time to figure out the problem, come to a solution, & execute it. When you’re rushing/freaking/impressing things can get hairy! I hope you took away, Jonathan, the positive reaction you had to having the CD go awry during class. What great improv skills! What a positive way to deal with a negative situation! If that’s what you can walk away from the situation with – the pat on the back that you handled it well within the moment – then it’s not a lose/lose situation here.

    BTW, I think if anyone says they haven’t done this, they’re a big fat liar.

    Hope you kept the receipt for your new equipment!

  18. LOVE THIS!!! It’s so nice to have you “package” this life lesson with a powerful (and painful) “been there, bought the t-shirt” story!

    I’m reading – I’m sympathizing and then BANG! OUCH!!! What? You mean it’s not my bitchy boss/spouse/kid/in laws fault that I’m not happy?

    Exceptional example of blogging at its finest!

  19. PennySue says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, things similar have happened in my life only different circumstances, really leaves us felling like sticking our head in the sand (love the picture)wishing you could crawl away or disappear in thin air. Like Michelle said we get in a hurry, rushing around to make all the preparations,its difficult to think clearly at this point.

  20. […] @ the Wheel confirms that The Problem IS You. But in a nice […]

  21. LisaNewton says:

    This is so true. Sometimes after I come home from taking pictures, I ask myself, if only I’d moved this way, or if only I’d taken my tripod, or maybe, if only I used a different camera setting.

    Then I take a longer look at the photos I did get, realizing even without all the stuff I just listed, I still got the shot I was looking for.

    It’s a learning process, and each time I ask, if only, I realize, I don’t really needed it.

  22. Thanks for the great article, Jonathan!

    To change your life, you must firstly change yourself. So many successful people have shared this tip of advice, yet so few of us actually follow it. Blaming others for our problems will not get them solved. I realized that an year ago when I started turning my life around for the better.

    The problem IS you. Also, the solution IS you.

    Thanks once again for the thoughtful post.

  23. I’ve never thought of it this way, but you just make me realize that just as people look externally for validation we also look externally for blame.

    Thank you!