We all know what it means to be stuck in our personal development, we all know how we are stuck as people, and if we are honest, we know what we need to do to get unstuck. The problem is not knowledge, according to James Hollis. The problem is that “getting unstuck stirs the archaic fears within each of us and shuts the necessary change down.” This quote is from his powerful book, Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives.
So we had to once again tackle that big concept, that stifling factor that comes up again and again when we talk about anxiety and depression: The F-word. Fear. And the big fear we have to contend with in this context is fear of finding out who we really are. After all, if we knew our highest purpose, if we knew what task truly lay ahead of us, if we knew what needed to come into the world through us, then our symptoms might get worse—because we might learn that we’ve been meandering for so many years down the wrong path; that we chose the wrong way to pursue this life, that we are living an unlived life. So this fear of self-awareness gives us a choice: We can tinker with our symptoms, or we can listen to that pesky voice of wisdom with us.
I shared another question tonight. It's a beauty. I heard it in a TV commercial for the new Ford Mustang GT: "Are you running from yourself, or are you becoming yourself?" I don't know if this frightening question will sell sports cars, but it did get the attention of our group members. Being stuck makes us want to retreat, to shy away from the task at hand, to disengage from the lifelong act of becoming us.
And what is the real us? Again, everyone in the group understands those words. A genuine life is a concept we "get." But who are we? Who are we being now? How do we become us? Those are questions we are born to confront at some point. And that continued confrontation is much more important than any answer we can construct using such feeble tools as logic, religion, or conventional wisdom.
Henry Ford’s beloved mother died when he was twelve. He would never recover from this devastating setback. Instead of recovering, he invented the Model T when he was 45, then he revolutionized manufacturing, raised wages, and shortened the workweek. This notoriously anti-Semitic peace activist hated jazz, created the Model A when he was 64, and vociferously disagreed with his business partner and son, Edsel, just to try and make him tough-minded. An aggressive peace activist, he had many more failures than successes. One notable personal loss came when he offered Thomas Edison a million dollars to help him end World War One, and was turned down cold.
Knowing all this makes the profound pronouncements he left us resonate even louder:
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”’
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't.”
“There isn't a person anywhere who isn't capable of doing more than he thinks he can.”
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
Stuckness is as individual as our DNA, as our personal and family histories. Some of us are stymied by grief or trauma we can’t seem to shake. Some of us carry so much anger from unfair childhoods that it spills out when we least want it to. Some of us are stuck with clueless parents, or in soul-sucking jobs, or stuck in bed. Adapting to our stuckness doesn't help get us unstuck, but we are adaptive creatures—so we keep trying: We engage in compulsive behaviors or get caught in relationship traps, we make adjustments that contort our personalities to fit a misshapen world, or we settle into a learned powerlessness and conform. We may conform so much to the idea of success that may have been foisted on us by previously deceived and well-meaning elders, that when we achieve that success we thought we were supposed to want, we are miserable.
David Byrne warns us: “And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack, And you may find yourself in another part of the world...And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ And you may say to yourself, ‘My God, what have I done?!’”
"Once In A Lifetime"
So. What now? What’s the answer? Ha. That’s a good one. One thing I do know: Facing the abyss alone is harder than facing it together. What’s down there, waiting? Is it that part of me that demands too much? Is it fear of the unknown, or the known? Is it living a life in the face of eventual death? Is it enlightenment? Is it authenticity? One thing we all know is that there’s only one way to know.
It takes courage to peer over the edge of the abyss and not look back; and even peel off old shoes, gummy with old stuckness, and even peel off old clothes—the metaphorical uniforms we wear to show “our” world we fit in or show “their” world we refuse to. Together, barefooted, naked, let’s be brave. Let's dive in.