Feeling stuck?

Continuing the subject of overcoming discouragement.

Motivation, the first step

woman meditatingHere’s a little five minute meditation. With our eyes closed, we can first identify with our potential so we feel peaceful and can get some space from the delusions we are about to observe.

Then we can bring to mind the main areas in our mind where we feel a bit stuck, certain tendencies we may have that cause us problems — we wish to be free of them and yet we find ourselves stuck there. Perhaps there’s a tendency towards anxiety, depression, frustration, guilt, or unhappiness with ourselves or other specific people. Our life seems to lack meaning even though we know it could be so meaningful and one part of us suspects what we are capable of. Something in us is holding us back. To begin with we just have to identify this (though not with it.)

We also need to actively think about how wonderful it would be if we could unblock this area, if we could let go of it and move forward to actualize our potential. We can imagine doing this. We have to let this wish to change arise and then stay with it in our heart for as long as we can.

To bring about this transformation we need to train our mind. The problem lies in the mind, and the solution lies in changing the mind. So we need to aspire to this.

We need to do this not just for our own sake but for everyone’s sake. How many people in this world are caught in compulsive patterns of behavior that are just causing suffering, trapped in painful thoughts, painful habits, and painful addictions? Feeling trapped in their minds, thus feeling trapped in their situations? Our friends, colleagues, family — are they actualizing their extraordinary potential or remaining stuck? Even whole cultures, whole nations, trapped in cycles of behavior which accomplish precisely the opposite of what they wish for … ?

We can think: “I no longer wish to participate in this creation of unhappiness. Instead I am going to change my mind, train my mind, so that I can help others do the same. I need increasing mental freedom and enlightenment so that I can help everyone else.”

This great motivation is part of our aspiration or wishes, and without aspiration there is no way we are ever going to develop joyful effort – we do what we want to do, always, unless coerced. With a big motivation, we’ll have big effort.

Are you fixed or not?

what self-cherishing seesOne major reason we feel discouraged when it comes to thinking about changing our mind is because we perceive ourselves as being fixed, as being someone who can’t really change, or not that much anyway. Easier to switch on the TV or go to bed.

When we think of ourselves we actually have a mind of ignorance. This delusion currently accompanies all our perceptions, including our self-perception. This ignorance believes us to exist in the way in which we appear. And right now we appear to have a whole selection of negative qualities. We may appear to ourselves to be a depressed person. Or an anxious person. A fearful person. An angry person. A loser. A victim. An unloveable person. An ordinary person. And so on. That is how we appear to ourselves, and our mind of ignorance basically assents to that appearance. It believes it’s the truth. This is the truth – I am this! I am angry, I am faulty, I am anxious, I am incompetent, I am no good … We are holding ourselves in this fixed way and thinking it’s the truth.

So then we try to practice meditation and Buddhism on top of that … ?! For example, we hear or read something that inspires us and it’s like a breath of fresh air, “Oooh that feels so good, I CAN change!” But then we walk back out on the street or into work, and we take a look at ourselves, and we are looking at somebody who can’t change. On the one hand we get it, “I can change!”, but on a deeper level there is an inner perception, “I’m fixed in this way, I can’t change.” We are actually grasping at ourselves as someone who can’t change.

overcoming the laziness of discouragementSo guess what happens if we don’t address that? We don’t change. We can’t change because we are holding ourselves as being fixed. That is our real meditation, what we are really familiarizing ourselves with – we might spend 5 minutes developing the aspiration to change as in the meditation above, and the remaining 23 hours and 55 minutes familiarizing ourselves with being a depressed loser, holding onto ourselves as being a FIXED person with nothing to offer. “You probably don’t even want this unloveable person loving you, right?”

If we are trying to change based on this strong self-grasping ignorance, this self-fixing mind, it is no wonder that we fail, and it is no wonder that we get discouraged. Then it can get even weirder because, in a strange sort of way, it becomes comforting to us that we can’t change. Simply because we think it’s the truth, I am a loser, I am a fixed person, an anxious person, etc – that’s who I am! It’s not a happy place but it feels like a secure place, it’s what we know, it’s where we feel comfortable. Then the idea of changing is unsettling because at least I know this. It’s like asking the person clinging onto the side of the burning building to jump into the net far below – they don’t want to, better the devil you know.

overcoming self-sabotage through meditationSo self-sabotage kicks in. Consciously, we set out to change – subconsciously we undermine ourselves because we don’t want to change. In fact, we are setting out to prove we can’t change. Like the example of someone who is always late given in the previous article on discouragement, or, another common example, someone who is trying to lose weight but they just keep snacking … And there is a comfort in that moment as we open the fridge door, isn’t there?! It’s like ‘You see, I can’t do it … I can’t do it … so then I don’t have to!!!’

Even though it is going directly against the fulfillment of our wishes, there is a strange relief there because it is affirming our limited view of self. “I’m stuck. I don’t like it here… but that’s the way it is.”

So, first thing to do is identify this problem. Then we can overcome it. More later. Meanwhile, do contribute to this discussion on overcoming discouragement — do you have any examples in your own experience of relating to a fixed, limited self, and/or how you overcome this?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

15 thoughts on “Feeling stuck?”

  1. Step by Step… Hold on to any good feelings, in between, each one step…

  2. Thanks for your article, I do feel like I learned something. I enjoy your blog and very grateful to be in your community. You asked for us to share and create dialog so here I am. I always feel like I am in the way of myself just when some good things are happening I find that those good things (mainly career and finances) are only temporary and never long lasting. When those diminish I always feel like I have to start over. My career has been a struggle through the past 9 years and my partner too. We are the eople who really feel the effects of the bad economy and terrible unemployment with college degrees and experience. I admit I have bad habits that I fall into that make me unproductive, lazy, unmotivated and not as proactive as I could be. I have known about this for a while but I can’t seem to change these issues for long term. I’ll change for a short term but its never been for indefinite period to where I can say, Yes! I overcame it and I have successfully changed and now things are happening for me. Meditation is also off an on for me. I can’t seem to be as disciplined about it as I know I should be. I read so much about how to be and what to do but then on execution I feel so blocked or stuck. Have I misidentified what is holing me back?

  3. Thank you Luna. I’ve pasted the article into my notes and I’ve been adding my own ideas/projects between paragraphs. So practical for overcoming discouragement. What do you think about the idea that we need to use our “worldly desires” to accomplish spiritual goals? My opinion is that if we come to dharma feeling like a failure in things we wished we could have achieved, we may bring that sense of defeat to our spiritual practice and even use dharma to cover a certainty that we cannot change. Speaking for myself, for example, I notice I can sometimes practice “compassion” that is really pity for someone’s misfortune or problems, and this can be a projection of my self-pity — an unhealthy cycle where neither side is viewed as able to change. (The perverse extreme is we can court misfortune and unhappiness in order to enhance this “compassion”) Or, I can feel strongly devoted to my spiritual guide, but feel incapable of any real change myself, sort of hiding my own unwillingness to change behind my faith. On the other hand, I may have a wish to lose weight. This wish is driven by some vain desires, though mixed with some much higher ones. If we succeed in a little project like this it can be really empowering. If we “use” the teachings on effort and rely on blessings to succeed it can greatly enhance our practical experience, our faith, our drive to become free, and our ability to help others. But as practitioners, how often do we avoid worldly goals to maintain our renunciation? Do we tell ourselves we shouldn’t pursue such goals or desires because there is no real happiness in samsara? When we do this, do we close off an energetic source of change? Since even our spiritual wishes are mixed with self-centeredness (until we are actually Enlightened) where do we draw the line in using our desire to bring about change? Obviously we draw it around others, keeping them free from harm. But do we draw it too quickly around anything that seems to overstep renunciation, even though our minds are not really there yet? Finally, I’ve been wondering if there’s a difference between doing things according to our will, and doing things according to our desirous attachment. Thanks again 🙂

  4. yeah I liked this article and although I don’t usually comment on these posts this one had something to say to me…….most of my life ive been dogged by isolation, depression and anger……so you can imagine that grasping for any little slice of happiness can feel quite strong at times…….the underlying mindset behind most of my thoughts and actions are usually based in some sort of insecure craving…….these minds are very powerful indeed, like they are a part of me or even the very core of my being!….now when I read dharma and other books of meditation I think at times…”yes a mind that is totally open and aware of the wider world and seeks to be a positive presence in the world is a mind that is free of all self-grasping and the problems it creates!”……but alas easier said than done……I cannot pretend to be an altruistic person as my usual minds are so much more stronger and powerful than any superficial pretence……..a pretentious mindset dosent sustain very long either and before I know it its back to the drawing board but feeling worse than before through self-defeat!……any suggestions on how I can tackle my negative minds in a gentle and skilful way?

    1. It is easier said than done, but it is not impossible. One suggestion is to take it day by day and identify with your potential as often as you can. Hopefully the next few articles will help a bit, give a few tips and tricks, but there is no substitute for patient daily practice. If anyone reading this has any other suggestions on how to practice skillfully and gently, as Anon is asking, please share.

  5. Hey, Luna, you mind reader! Just the kind of medicine I need. Very,very insightful and really encouraging. Just what I need to start challenging my currently frequent minds of discouragement (almost desparation). Heartfelt appreciation. xxx
    Blake hits nail on head again ‘Mind-forged Manacles’… (Songs of Experience,’London’)x

  6. After talking to a few people who had been practising dharma for many years I was amazed at how many of them admitted to feeling stuck. Myself included. I dont think I felt like that in the early days when perhaps I was more hopeful. I think this “stuck syndrome” is very important. Thanks for this article. Very useful.

    1. David, thank you for the feedback. I’ve also met quite a number of people who feel stuck, that is why I thought i’d do this series of articles. Give it a name, and we can collectively start to overcome it…

  7. You need to stop reading my mind, and writing about it lol! Great article, really getting to the heart of things…

  8. Hello Luna, wonderful blog! Congratulations and thanks for sharing. 🙂
    As you want to hear our opinion, here is my personal experience (by the way, sorry for my bad English 🙂

    I began to meditate seriously one year and a half ago, due to an emotional crisis: when I felt in love with one of my students, and simultaneously noticed my marriage was bad. Six months later, my emotions was pretty better, but then things became worst: my wife starts a destructive relationship with me, and my young student fell in love with me too. Then, I tried to start my meditation with 10′ of Metta (Loving kindness meditation). At first, it seems run well, but the tension in home and in the classroom was too hard for me.

    Well, the actual result of this situation, plus my daily meditation using mantras, is that my ego is semi-dissolved, my personal desires are almost gone … all my desires! I have changed a lot indeed: all the things I have liked before now don’t have any interest for me now. I’m feeling void. I’m in peace now, true, pain is gone, but I’m not happy at all. I think i have emptying my mind too quick, and nothing came to fill the void. I’m still a kind person, in fact more than ever, but I don’t have any interest about daily life.

    So I think the fear to change is not only an obstacle, but a protection too, for not to fall in this bad mental void. This is my experience. Hope it can be useful

    1. The idea of changing is not to fall into a void!! That is another thing we have to change about ourselves, so that we feel full of joy in every moment of our life, never numb or even desire-less. We need desires. A good personal desire to have, for example, is to love others with equanimity and to increase our wisdom and compassion. I hope you get your mojo and passion for your precious human life back soon. x

  9. Great article, thank you. I am just starting to realise how invested I am in being stuck where I am and .. well, it’s crazy! But your article helped me see why I am “fixing” myself and gives me hope on really fixing myself! Thank you again. Vanessa x

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