Monday, June 20, 2011

Coming Unstuck
Painting by Mark Zillman (see below)
We hear a lot about the pain of samsara, and we also hear about liberation. But we don't hear much about how painful it is to go from being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.
--Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

 Sometimes I really envy people who don't seem to think too much about their experience, who they are, what they've done, where they're going, and why they're here. Even though I know an unexamined life means that people tend to make the same mistakes over and over, and that true growth means paying attention and thinking about these things, sometimes it just gets tiring. When I get tired of all the turmoil and change (one and the same thing?), I envy the people who don't seem to care too much, who slough off the past pains and disappointments and move on, seemingly without a backwards glance. 

I know that in the above quote, Pema is talking about stuckness and unstuckness in relation to enlightenment, but for me, the quote really rings true when applied to 'normal' stuckness, too.

Right now, I'm in the midst of great change. After 3 years of struggling to make a situation work, I've finally realized (much later than many people in my life) that it will never work, and that I have to move on. I feel like I shouldn't be writing about this anymore, which probably means I should be. I started this blog to record my actual experiences, not the experiences that I'm 'supposed' to have, and self-censorship doesn't serve that purpose. The truth is that I still struggle everyday with a combination of relief that I'm not longer in the situation and intense longing to be back there. Anger and sadness dance in my head. Self-righteousness and self-doubt. Acceptance and a childlike refusal to accept the inevitable. This morning at 5:30, I woke up and missed my old life - my old lover - immensely. The strange thing is that I hadn't wanted to go to sleep the night before, because I think I knew this was going to come up. Things have been going fairly well for me, I haven't been missing things so much, and then it hit me hard again, at 5:30, the way the cravings for something we're addicted to will hit without warning and all we can do is cling on to something and take deep breaths until the craving leaves us.

The pain of coming unstuck from this situation is what I think of when I opened When Things Fall Apart the other day and read Pema's quote. Becoming unstuck, for me, means feeling the pain, the discomfort, the longing, the confusion, and the regret, and not doing anything about it. Not trying to solve the problem, not trying to fix anything. This is in stark contrast to what I've done up to this point, always trying to rationalize, discuss, fix everything. Hoping that something would finally work, would somehow make the situation something it could never be. Becoming unstuck means facing mistakes I've made, means wondering if it's all my fault, means gently reminding myself to come back to the moment when my mind wanders off, telling stories about who did what and whose fault it was.

Coming unstuck means finally, fully realizing my own patterns and reactions and how they contributed to things, means finally, fully committing to changing those patterns in the future, and it also means grieving those patterns, those old ways of being.  

Coming unstuck means sitting in a sort of limbo-land, means not knowing anymore what I used to think I knew: exactly what I wanted out of a relationship, exactly what I wanted my life to be. It means being uncertain, not knowing if I'm doing the right thing, but trusting what my gut tells me. I means knowing that the mornings will be hard for me, and going to sleep anyway. It means waking up every day and accepting what arises, then doing the things I need to do despite the discomfort. It means appreciating the small joys and triumphs, knowing that they don't give the same pleasure as the addictive thing, but that their pleasure is healthier, for being more subtle. It means training myself to enjoy these subtle wonders in the same way I enjoyed the intense and dramatic joys of my old life, the way we train ourselves to eat carrot sticks instead of potato chips.  

But it's true what Pema says: we don't often hear about this aspect of things. Grief is supposed to last for a certain amount of time. Then we're supposed to adjust, recover, buck up, move on, and don't look back. This limbo place of putting one foot in front of the other and of letting our emotions come up and out of us, all of them, no matter what, day after day, hour after hour, not knowing when things will shift or if they ever will, this is what it takes to become unstuck. This feeling the painful ambivalence and looking forward, doing things that will take us into our future, even when so much of us cries out for things to be the way they were. This hearing people tell us we should be over things by now, and knowing that it's not so simple, and, most importantly, being okay with where we are in the process. That's what it takes to get there.

I'm impatient, I want to get on with things. But things will not be gotten on with on anyone else's time but their own. In fact, the impatience probably makes the process take longer. Coming unstuck means being patient, even when every fiber in our being screams to be away from all this muddy smelly confusion, angst, and doubt, when our internal critic echoes what all the self-help books (and the ex-) say: it's taking too long! Get over it already!

Have you ever dropped jam on yourself and discovered it hours later, but by then it's gotten all over the place? That's how it is to come unstuck. The stuckness shows up in places I would never have guessed. How on earth did it get there? I wonder. But I patiently (well, sometimes patiently) clean that spot as best I can, remove the stickiness, and hope that each time I find a stuck place, it's one of the last.


The painting above is my Mark Zillman (

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