Friday, February 26, 2010

Technical Problems vs. Emotional Problems

This morning, my ancient laptop was attacked, overrun, and completely disabled by a malevolent force in the form of a virus known as "Total PC Defender 2010." Masquerading as an altruistic anti-virus software that is trying to be helpful by warning you that your computer has been infected by a virus, it turns out that this malicious software is the virus.

I don't work on computers, and beyond turning them off and on, accessing the internet, and running some simple software, I'm totally lost in the cyberworld and actually get frightened when something like this happens. Fortunately, I did not make things worse by whipping out my credit card and purchasing their anti-viral software. The software, incidentally, does not actually exist. This virus is merely a trap to get my important numbers. I'm not a big believer in evil forces at work in the world, but seriously, how evil can you get?

Immediately, my body went into survival mode. All the familiar chemicals began coursing through my bloodstream. The rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, and dysfunctional thinking patterns that could only see doom and gloom in my future kicked in, and I was caught up in an emotional maelstrom, spiraling deeper and deeper into blackness and despair.

A long time ago, Kathy had shared with me her secret of moving through all the crises she encounters as the technical director of a touring opera company: ask yourself, is this a technical problem, or an emotional problem? If the answer is technical (and it almost always is), solve it step by step through technical means.

I won't go into all the steps in detail, which included calling Kathy first, having her look up this virus online, getting in touch with the Geek Squad to arrange an appointment for a technician to come get rid of the virus (for $299), and other things. Once I realized that it could, indeed, be removed without permanent damage to my files and laptop, my emotional symptoms eased quite a bit. 

Then my son, Zach, came home and told me that he has removed lots of viruses and spyware from computers. Hesitantly at first, I turned it over to him, and within ten minutes, it was gone. Not the computer, the virus. Obliterated, hopefully never to return. All done with the methodical skill and technical precision of a surgeon as I watched in amazment. 

The next time a challenge - large or small - presents itself, ask yourself if it is a technical problem or an emotional problem. When you see that it is technical, make a list of how to solve it step by step. Stay rooted in the present moment as you fulfill these steps, disengaging from catastrophizing thoughts about the future, or regrets about the past, by paying close attention to what needs go be done in this moment. And, of course, always factor in the unexpected, such as the sudden appearance of a savior in the form of your only begotten son.



  1. That made me think of my response a couple of weeks ago when I thought I had stupidly wiped out all my personal files on both my laptop and the external hard drive. I was in despair and my blood pressure skyrocketed (I took it, so I know it did!). I was still dejected when I went to bed but by then I had figured out how I could laboriously recover most of the files from an old laptop. By morning though, I was calm enough to try some things that had been suggested (and didn't work) the night before by HP tech support and voila, I got the machine back in order, restored to an earlier configuration, with all personal files intact. If I hadn't let my emotions take over, I'd probably have gotten there sooner - and certainly without so much stress. Need more mindfulness practice!!

  2. I love this method of asking, "Is this a technical problem or an emotional problem"! It immediately separates the two which gives you a clear perspective from which to view the problem! Thanks Kathy and Roger for sharing her wisdom :-)