“Stuck” is our go-to word to describe a state where we feel immobilized by life, like we can’t move. We can’t make a decision. Our feet are stuck in the muddy rut. Life keeps moving around us, but we stay still, unmoving, unchanging.
Most of the time, we think it’s because we don’t know what to do next. We may be overwhelmed by everything. We may have habits that we can’t seem to break, like reaching for ice cream or wine every night to temporarily numb the stuckness. We may withdraw and isolate, this time not out of a healthy introvert need to recharge, but out of a need to shut it all out and shut it all down.
After a while, stuck is all we know. It becomes the “new normal,” and it becomes easier to stay stuck (it’s predictable, safe, static) than to change. We intellectually know that it’s not in our best interest to stay stuck. We grip so tightly, we might even be cutting off our circulation. But we do it anyway.
I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön’s “Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears.” On page 22, I started to feel some puzzle pieces falling into place. Chödrön wants to know what takes us out of the present moment, and she introduces the Tibetan word “shenpa,” which is usually translated as “attachment.” Chödrön shares that she feels that’s too abstract; she prefers to think of it has being “hooked.” Something happens that triggers our story, and that sucks us out of now and into then. It takes us from connectedness and openness to ego. And it’s what gets us and keeps us stuck.
I started thinking about all the times I’ve heard clients, colleagues and friends (and myself!) say “I’m stuck.” I used to think it was because we couldn’t see the choices available to us, and that that was at the root of the problem. So among the first questions I might offer was “Well, what choices do you have?”
That’s still a legitimate question, but if it’s asked right off the bat, it’s premature. We won’t be able to really see all of the choices available to us. Or we’ll see them, make one and then inexplicably fall right back into being stuck once the initial “I made a choice!” rush wears off.
So if it’s not unawareness of choice that gets and keeps us stuck, then what it is?
I think it’s two primary things: attachment and regret.
Attachment is the static cling. We’re clinging to an old story, an unquestioned belief, an expectation that something is going to go a very specific way. And we are unwavering in our attachment. It’s static as an adjective, in the sense of being unchanging. It’s also static as a noun, in that it’s interference or white noise that drowns out supportive voices that could pull us out of the muck (and in informal usage, “static” can mean “trouble”… hmmm….).
We might be attached to something that feels positive, such as making a certain amount of money, finding a particular type of partner, making a relationship work, having a child or a specific breed of pet. After all, you want what you want!
We can also be attached to things that keep us safe. Not losing weight. Staying in an unhealthy friendship (who wants to have that conversation?!). A job that numbs our soul. The fear is greater than the pain. We know it’s not good for us, but it’s easier to stick with the devil we know.
In a recent coaching session, a client was describing her stuck state, saying “I feel like I wasted time because of the past choices I made, and now it’s too late.” My heart ached just a little, not out of pity, but because I could hear the pain of regret.
Several years ago, I led a retreat for six amazing women. We were eating dinner the first night in this cozy cabin in the woods. One of the participants led us in an activity that included a single question answered by everyone. One question was “If you could go back and have a do-over of anything in your life, what would it be?”
For me, there were two interesting things that came from the sharing. First was that everyone shared a story of a perceived wrong they wanted to make right, or a choice they would have made differently. No one conjured up a happy memory, such as “I want a do-over of my wedding day.” Second was that I realized for the first time there was nothing – absolutely nothing – I would have done differently. It was in that moment I experienced the power of living with no regrets.
And with that came a sense of freedom. There were no wrong choices, no failures, only experiences and lessons and fully embracing life as an imperfect being.
It’s not that every choice I made turned out well. Many choices I made in the past resulted in personal pain and heartache. But those choices led me to other loving and joyful experiences that may not have happened had I not made those choices. Or maybe they would have happened anyway – who knows? And that’s the point. I’ll never know, so why keep looking in the rear-view mirror?
So the simple answer to getting unstuck and getting rid of static cling – identify and release attachments and regrets – is anything but a simple process.
I won’t pretend to have the five steps or three magic words for getting unstuck. But something did become clear to me during that client conversation I mentioned above: there will be no release of anything until we grieve and forgive.
When we choose to give up our attachments (even those that seem “healthy”) and regrets (even those we could insist were rotten choices), we’re choosing to let go of a piece of our identity. And actually, we’re not letting it go entirely, because the lessons will always be there. The shift is that we’re formulating a different perspective, one that empowers us rather than diminishes us. But still, the comfort of those old stories, the familiarity and safety they brought, deserves a bit of grieving. Acknowledging the release of pain as well as the release of an expectation of certain victory.
How does it work when we’re attached to something that seems outwardly positive, like having a successful business or relationship? Why let that go? Because when we’re attached, we begin to label things as good or bad, winning or losing, succeeding or failing. An outcome other than what we envisioned (attached ourselves to) is deemed a failure. This is when I turn to a mantra that has probably saved my sanity and my business:
I am open to outcome, not attached.*
This has allowed me to take risks, learn from an often unexpected outcome, and move on, while keeping my sanity and my ego (mostly) intact.
It’s made it easier to change course midstream, cut things, add things and generally have the freedom to see things for what they really are, in the moment. That feels so much better than the struggle to make everything.go.a.certain.way.
As for forgiveness, this is key. You may also see it as compassion. To recognize the things you’re attached to or that you regret will almost certainly bring up feelings of judgment and shame. So we must forgive ourselves. We must have compassion for who we were, who we are. We did the best we could, we made the best choice we could with the information we had, and we now we can choose to pull out the love and leave the fear behind.
We can choose to say, “Attachments and regrets, you are no longer going to keep me stuck.” Then we can move on and explore our choices, unencumbered by the weight of history and expectations. That doesn’t mean we’ll have it all figured out. It won’t be all sunny skies and calm seas. But at least we have drawn up the anchor and can start moving forward.
Please share: Where have you experienced attachment keeping you stuck? Do you agree with trying to live with no regrets? Why or why not?
* One of the principles expressed in “The Four-Fold Way” by Angeles Arrien.