Often in life, we find ourselves at a standstill. What we are doing is no longer satisfying, but we are not sure what will be. If you are involved in spiritual practice, you may also wonder whether the dissatisfaction with the present moment is based on "ego" or on a genuine call from your inner self to do something different.
After staying with this question for a while, I have found a few steps that are helpful in getting us unstuck and able to balance present moment awareness with the genuine human need for creation, growth and change.
1. Dissatisfaction in and of itself is not a genuine call for change
According to Eckhart Tolle, change based solely on resistance to what is happening in the present moment won't work. If we are trying to escape the moment by jumping into something different, odds are we will find ourselves in a different setting, having an eerily similar experience to one we've had before.
Resistance to the present moment tends to arise from deep-seated negative emotions that we have not yet uncovered and released. If we can learn to stay with the present moment, including any negative emotions such as anger, fear, boredom, frustration, and disappointment, we will begin to see the root of some of these patterns and this will enable us to release their grip on us.
For example, not too long ago I felt completely helpless and stuck at work. Through staying with this feeling without trying to change it, I realized that what was truly agonizing me was the feeling that I was stuck. I felt powerless to change the situation. This was a pattern in me, that was not objectively true, that was causing me suffering.
2. You are free to change at any time
So often in life we feel that we are a victim of our circumstances. And this causes suffering. While there are certain situations such as extreme poverty, illness or imprisonment that make it quite difficult to change, ultimately we can always make small, tiny, sometimes even imperceptible changes that can profoundly shift our experience of reality.
- I don't have enough money
- I won't have enough security
- My family won't approve
- I'm not talented enough
- I won't be successful
These may all be true to some extent, but the concern with not being good enough or the fear of the unknown only arise when we are in the midst of contemplating some final state that is so different from where we are. If instead, we focus only on a small shift in mindset or action and let go of the focus on the end product, we can maintain a sense of safety as we change.
When I contemplated starting a mindfulness coaching practice, I concerned myself with all kinds of issues including whether I would have to do this full time, the kind of training I would need, what my husband would think, and whether I would be good at it. Eventually, I just sent out an e-mail to a group of people saying I was offering it. I let go of all the ifs and shoulds. Slowly slowly, my practice is growing, and organically I am finding the next step without having to have a complete picture of the end result.
3. No choice you make will be perfect
Once you get over the myth that you can't change, you will be faced with considering your options from a realistic perspective. If you currently work at an office, you may dream of being an entrepreneur and working in your pyjamas at home. Really work through that scenario... day after day, you wake up and it's time to work, no structure or office to go to. Is it all fun and games or are there other downsides to working in your pyjamas that you may not have thought of? (i.e. you may have to buy more pyjamas).
Talk to people that want to do what you dream of doing. Get clear on what the trade-offs are. Recognize that no matter what you choose to do, it will not be perfect, and many of the difficulties that you now face (and new ones) may arise in a different setting.
Meditation teacher Phillip Moffit states "Let the act of changing be the reward, and do not count on the outcome, for it may well be far different than you ever imagined."
4. Whatever you choose will have no impact whatsoever on your value as a person
Many times, we fantasize of change because we feel that we are not good enough as we are. When I was practicing Ashtanga, I really felt that when I "got" more fancy poses, I would have some semblance of peace and wellbeing that I couldn't presently access. Similarly, we can fool ourselves into thinking that a new relationship or a better job will bring us joy, a sense of confidence, or the feeling that we are making a difference. No matter what job you get or how famous you are, you will not enjoy it until you make the internal decision to feel good about yourself.
If you are stuck, the time to reframe your sense of self-worth and value is not when you reach the place where you want to go. It is right now. Whether you are single wanting to be in a relationship, in a job you hate, suffering from loss or illness, or even in a state of profound depression, you must in this moment, find a way to relate to yourself with kindness and friendliness. Gentleness is a necessary companion in the path to wellbeing, and it must travel with you from the start of the journey.
Begin to notice how you are speaking to yourself when you are feeling stuck and lost. Is there shame, guilt, blame? Where is it in the body? How would you talk to a friend or loved one going through the same thing? Find ways to relate to yourself with kindness and love, and remind yourself that you are already enough, just as you are.
Any change that you choose to make then becomes an act of joy and creation, rather than a way to escape the only moment that ever exists, the present moment.