Getting Unstuck

The feeling of being stuck can be a symptom or result of too many intentions and motivations that conflict with one another.

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A tire stuck in the desert

There are probably endless variations of feeling stuck. One common variation for me is when I need to write “book worthy” or even “newsletter worthy” content. Setting this kind of high bar can be debilitating, and can suck all the enjoyment out of a task. This feeling has many names – in the Zen world it’s sometimes referred to as “comparing mind” or “sinking mind.”

For me, in writing, and in most ways where I feel stuck, the antidote is to:

– notice that I’m stuck and be curious about the feeling
– do something by taking some action, no matter how small
– return to or clarify my most basic intention

When I’m stuck in my writing, it’s usually a really interesting, annoying, and sometimes painful feeling. I start by noticing — ah, I’m stuck! How interesting.

As a small action to take, something that works for me is to let myself write freely, without judging, without comparing good or bad. I’ll name a prompt, and just write for twelve minutes. Some of my favorite writing prompts are:

– What surprises me about my life right now…
– My father’s desk…
– When I grow up… (yes, really!)
– What annoys me is…
– What brings me alive is…

Either on a piece of paper or using a computer, put the prompt at the top of the page, set a timer for 12 minutes, and just write. Minimize planning, thinking, or comparing. Let yourself be surprised by what arises and where you go. I remember writing with the prompt “My father’s desk…” which began with the words: My father didn’t have a desk. This then led me to remember a summer I spent assisting my father at his work as an electrician, in central New Jersey, when I was about 13 or 14 years old.

It can further help me get unstuck when I can do this exercise with another person or with a group, where I can share what I’ve written and listen to what others have written. This is powerful in many ways. It gets me out of my “stuckness” when I see how common my concerns and problems are. Listening and sharing with another person or a group takes me outside of my comparing mind. Listening to others helps me see that being stuck is part of the human condition, as is freedom, acceptance, and creativity.

What further helps me get unstuck is the act of taking action, in the form of enrolling others to write with me, to read, and to listen. Small actions are potent ways to get unstuck.

Of course, writing is only one specific place to get stuck. We can get stuck in endless ways, such as in our work, leadership, relationships, meditation practice, in anything that really matters to us, or in life in general. Just stuck.

Whatever the form or condition, just notice, without beating yourself up, what it feels like to be stuck. Where in the body do you feel it? What is there to learn from this feeling?

Then, do something. Even a small experiment of writing, reading, talking with another person. Taking action isn’t meant as an avoidance strategy. Just the opposite. Acting can be a way of exploring, learning, and experimenting.

Buddhist practice encourages us to return to a single intention in order to free the mind. The feeling of being stuck can be a symptom or result of too many intentions and motivations that conflict with one another. We humans can be rather complicated creatures. One way through these conflicts and complications is to return to your most basic intention and your most basic motivation, whatever that might be.

For example, your most basic intention might be to develop your awareness, or to heal yourself and heal others, or to return to and grow your most basic, original creativity, freedom, and wisdom.

So, next time you’re stuck:

– Notice and appreciate and learn from your experience.
– Do something, experiment and explore; take some small action.
– Return to your most basic intention. What really matters to you, right now?

Some resources:

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