Life is Not a Problem

A New Perspective inspired by Alan Watts

We often hear the phrase "the problems of life," but what if that notion itself is a misunderstanding? It may seem an almost astounding affront to common sense, but life is not inherently a problem. Instead, we see it as a series of obstacles, viewing ourselves in a constant struggle to solve the so-called great problem of existence.

For some, this struggle is philosophical: Why does the universe exist? For others, it is practical: How am I going to get enough to eat? From these extremes, it appears undeniable that life is filled with problems. Yet, this audacious suggestion arises: what we are fretting over are mere ghosts—issues that aren’t genuinely there.

One characteristic of neurotic behavior is its repetitiveness. The neurotic personality continually goes through unsuccessful life patterns, seemingly unable to break free from the cycle. This repetitive nature is akin to the rat race of life and death, as we live it. It's a vicious circle because we keep attempting to solve problems that aren't just overwhelmingly difficult—they aren't problems at all. They merely appear that way.

Take, for example, the many ghosts that haunt our minds. Consider the instinct for survival. We often frame the problem of life as a matter of survival. One might worry that relieving people of this "problem" might cause them to lose their drive. However, this drive itself is another ghost. We believe our actions are driven by mysterious forces. Yet, focusing on what is being done, describing it clearly and accurately, often reveals that these instincts and motivations are not as we imagined.

When discussing an instinct for survival, what evidence do we have? People survive until they don't. This raises the question: what happens to the instinct for survival when people fail to survive? Thus, trying to explain behavior by invoking some mysterious motivating force often means we haven't described what's happening clearly enough.

This concept emerges again when we try to describe anything at all. We often think we are describing something that exists independently, but we are misled by the notion of "stuff." A distant nebula appears as a solid star until viewed through a powerful telescope, revealing a spiral nebula. Similarly, the concept of "stuff" is a sensation we get when we haven't examined things closely enough. When our instruments are refined, we perceive patterns instead of solid material.

Consider the human organism and its shape. How is it that our organs are contained by the skin? The skin's structure keeps everything in place, but so does the surrounding air, exerting pressure that prevents us from exploding. It is not just the skin but the interplay between the organism and the environment that maintains this balance.

Describing life as a series of transactional relationships offers clarity. A buyer needs a seller, and you can't know something without something to be known. Every entity, whether animate or inanimate, exists by virtue of its relationship with everything else. A doctor, for instance, is not just a doctor but also a father, a citizen, and so on. His identity is inseparable from these relationships.

This creates the illusion of a constant, independent being navigating through various relationships. In reality, a person is inseparable from these interactions. Fully describing someone involves acknowledging the whole complex of relationships they are part of.


Every organism is part of its environment, influencing and being influenced by it. The organism is not merely passive but an active participant in the environment. By describing what is happening, rather than thinking in terms of doers and victims, attackers and defenders, we gain a clearer picture of the world, free of ghosts.

This understanding leads to an intuition that life is not a problem. It is not a contest between us and our environment. Recognizing this helps us see life more clearly and realize that many of our perceived problems are not problems at all. They are just ghosts.

Continue to join me on this journey!

Peace and Abundance Always, Peter Abundant, Ph.D