by Joel Orenstein
Whilst recently waiting for a matter to get before a Magistrate, I bumped into an old friend from Uni days. He looked up at me and smiled, happy to recognize someone from a different time. Despite the smile, he looked completely drained.
Over a coffee he said that he was feeling exhausted and stuck. He shared that he had been working 12-hour days and visiting clients in custody on weekends in an effort to keep up. Despite all the hours he was putting in, he felt undervalued and unsupported by his employer and said that the morale at work was terrible. He also felt pressure from his wife and guilt at not being around for his daughter, which just added to the resentment he was feeling.
Over the last 12 months he had been desperately trying to find a new job. He explained that although he’d gotten a few interviews, nothing had eventuated. Either he was rejected or positions were withdrawn because of “no suitable applicants”. He said that he had also started applying for non-law jobs, thinking he might try teaching, but again nothing was presenting. Feeling unable to stay where he was, and at the same time unable to find something else, he felt completely trapped.
I sympathized with his position. I well remember being stuck in a similar situation that I knew was no good for me, yet at the same time feeling trapped as if tethered by a leg-iron. I recall the sickening anxiety that comes with stuckness – like being a blowfly in a jar, buzzing around and around banging its head against the glass desperately trying to find a way out.
I shared that looking back, what I had experienced externally was simply a manifestation of a deep emotional stuckness that was underlying my inability to move forward or back. The more I wanted out and tried to control my outer circumstances by force of will, the more stuck I became. Trying to control my situation was simply feeding the anxiety and plunging me into depression.
The problem that we have when we are feeling stuck is that we are convinced that we can work it all out in our heads. We are absolutely sure that the problem is that we just haven’t thought enough about it and we need to think some more. We buzz around looking for a way out and get more and more wound up, and more and more stuck. The result can be extremely debilitating. At the same time we cannot force our way out of stuckness – it may change our external circumstances, but guaranteed that without embracing the underlying emotional content, we soon find that familiar constricted feeling returning.
Yet it is actually when we let go of the effort of coming up with a solution and relax – when we stop thinking – that we get some clarity. Choices become a lot clearer and flow naturally. It seems that the more we try to force it with our thinking, the farther away we get from truth. Paradoxically, the more we open to our experience, the more in tune we are to our own innate wisdom. It is in this space that things naturally shift and at the same time emotional healing can take place.
Even with this understanding, we soon learn that relaxing is easier said than done, particularly if we are so habituated to the opposite. When we are stuck we can become so tense about needing to relax, we just wind ourselves up even tighter. The problem is that we approach relaxation as another thing on the list to do or fix, and only succeed in creating more tension.
Relaxation is a complete letting go – it is not doing. Imagine the freedom in that!
Getting unstuck requires enormous kindness. With patience and compassion for ourselves, we say stop and allow acceptance to flow over and through us. We make peace with ourselves and embrace the entirety of our being. Letting go of needing to be anyplace else but right here and now, we can allow ourselves to feel our anxiety and frustration, to hold it with an open and welcoming heart. This will naturally allow our emotional stuckness to shift. In so doing, we stop trying to change the external to fix how we are feeling, which is what has got us stuck in the first place. As we open our eyes with peace to what is actually here, things shift of their own accord.
The irony is that we no longer have any need for them to do so.