While others celebrated, I groaned when I heard 2016 was the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese, or lunar, zodiac. I’ve been fearful of most non-human primates ever since a band of baboons attempted to snatch granola out of my tent during a childhood camping trip in Saudi Arabia.
After discovering the lunar zodiac in middle school, I learned I was born in a Gold Monkey Year. The lunar zodiac continued to captivate me, inspiring me to review the happenings of Monkey Years every time they arose. So much so, that I talked to a shaman about my irrational anxiety about the Year of the Monkey.
I asked the shaman what 2016 might conjure up for me since past Monkey Years resulted in unexpected life transitions, hard lessons, and humbling reckonings. The shaman laughed and said, “You’re fearful of it because it’s ambitious and audacious, and sometimes petulant, like you.”
And so it is.
Although I no longer have sharp-clawed mammals to contend with like I did in the Saudi Arabian hills, the unforeseen onslaught of family, work, and autoimmune-related stress that ushered me into the New Year has been similarly unsettling. When you add the alienation of winter and the shifting nature of friendships that I used to be able to rely on for support, I’ve too often felt like I was treading water by myself in the Bermuda Triangle.
The truth is, I’m not superstitious enough to think that there’s something inherently wrong with this year or this time. But I am struggling with the feeling of being stuck in a holding pattern with an unknown end, and experiencing the accompanying discomfort. I’ve been looking for a clearing, an answer, or an indication of when relief is coming, but inertia has been constant.
The discomfort of this rut has been something I’ve tried to ignore, but it always reemerges with the nagging, dull torture of a dying tooth. The “stuckness” is a sensation I’ve known before that creeps up every time my soul rebels against my more pragmatic, and sometimes conflict-adverse mind. The pain and phenomenon of not being here, nor there, remains unrelenting and it demands to be recognized. Though that never feels convenient.
So, after mulling over how to cast a more encouraging light on the rut, I decided to meditate until the answer came. After hours of pulsating butt cramps from sitting so long, I realized that I felt stuck because I’m afraid of standing on the uncertain edge of change.
The emergence of clarity is both liberating and terrifying.
On this journey into the gray, I’ve learned that we’re never truly alone in our struggles, even if it feels that way. And, if other folks tell us to get over it, or that our experiences aren’t valid, then perhaps they don’t want to confront their own demons.
We all have the potential to feel stuck at times, and my own struggle with this has taught me that facing this head on, instead of avoiding it, makes the ride so much better. That’s why I’m sharing some of the practices I’ve found useful. Here’s what I’ve tried:
Know your value.
If you’re feeling stuck, it’s likely that you might feel invisible or taken for granted in some aspect of your life. If stuckness is nagging you, you might feel that you’re not being challenged. Or alternately, the complexity of your troubles may be overwhelming. Even though it might not always feel this way, know that your struggle doesn’t define you.
Your value is inherent in the fact that you are a human being. There is nothing you need to do—past, present, or future—to make yourself worthier. And if you’re still not convinced, ask your five-year-old self if she would still love herself just as she is right now. I’m pretty sure she’ll agree with me that you, my dear, are priceless.
Connect the dots.
Once one of my cousins, my dear friend from high school, and a random street poet all randomly found me sitting on a corner in Union Square bawling about being dumped by a dude that I’m now SO grateful set me free. At the time, my barely fed, sad, pajama-bottom-wearing self was inconsolable because I couldn’t make sense of what direction to go moving forward.
I couldn’t fathom how I once again ended up burned by someone who lied and reneged on their commitments with cruelty. After an hour of listening to me vent, wail, and ask why this was happening again, my cousin said, “First, God gave you a smaller rock, and it hit you and you fell. And then you got up and then a bigger rock came. It hit you and you fell again. But then you still got up and picked up this same kind of hard rock in a bigger size even though it looked a little different than the last one. It hit you and left you with even more injuries. Now, you were hit by this boulder, and it hurts but you will get up now that it got your attention. What’s the pattern about all of those rocks? What’s the constant?”
The rock metaphor was a click moment. I realized that owning my part in ignoring my instincts about repeated patterns, enabling certain behavior, and engaging with people who didn’t share my values was the consistent thread. Learning to discover the pattern that led to the stuckness was the first step in moving toward creating new possibilities. Once I identified the pattern and mapped out what I had the power to change, create, or let go, I stopped playing dodgeball with boulders masquerading as men.
No matter how tempting it is to bottle up unnerving feelings, it can be restorative to speak our truth. It may seem counterintuitive to navigate through the cloudiness of disorientation by expressing yourself, but it often helps—even if it feels awkward at first.
Depending on the day, journaling, singing my favorite songs, talking to a parent or another person who loves me unconditionally, texting with a trusted friend, meeting with a therapist, or drawing have been like a healing elixir.
Get into a TARDIS.
Whenever I start to feel like the misery of a moment seems like too much to bear, I imagine myself getting whisked off in Doctor Who’s time machine to the future. Once I’m visualizing the present from the vantage point of the year 2050, I’m able to prioritize the decisions, concerns, and disputes plaguing me at the moment with more ease and clarity. The big eagle-eyed picture will always bring us closer to the truth in the long run.
Wade in the water.
Water is a symbol of release and cleansing in many cultures and religion. Since I grew up learning Negro spirituals like other kids might have learned lullabies, I often sing them when I’m seeking comfort and a return to my personal center—or as I like to call it, my North Star.
“Wade in the Water” tells a story of the Israelites escaping Egypt and features a chorus about healing through water. It’s also often referenced in narratives about the Underground Railroad because some people claim that Harriet Tubman and others used this song to help instruct slaves on how to escape and throw slave catchers and their dogs off their trail.
When times get tough, I’ll take a long, soothing bath, swim, or dip my toes into the ocean or lake if I’m near one. I often sing spirituals when I do this, because it reminds me that my people found a way to avoid captivity so that they could be free and this always creates a shift towards lightness and catharsis.
Trust your gut.
This one is simple. If you’re in a situation or relationship that isn’t working for you but you’re afraid to acknowledge your discomfort with it out of fear, trust your gut. It’s one more step toward being unstuck.
Several years ago, I had dinner with Rha Goddess, an entrepreneurial soul coach who is also a hip-hop artist and playwright. Rha noticed that I was holding a lot of stress and tension in my back and was able to work her magic on me almost seamlessly after we dined on chocolate.
After helping me align my posture to a more powerful and much less painful stance, she recommended a practice that I use today. Rha instructed me to go home and release my pain inch by inch, atom by atom into the floor while lying flat. Once I started doing this every evening before bed, I slept more soundly and lessened my anxiety dreams that often run rampant when my circumstances seem immovable.
The last thing I want to do when I desire to crawl under the covers and hide is move, but it’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to create clarity. I jump on my trampoline, do yoga, dance to Beyoncé, and clean like a machine when I feel overly stressed.
Dance in your underwear. Go for a run. Jump rope. It might be tempting to avoid it, but I promise you won’t be sorry.
Put on your oxygen mask first.
Taking opportunities to say no more, delegating projects when possible, and choosing to help people with things they truly need my specific help for, and supporting them with resources (for things they can do themselves) has cleared a lot more space in my life for reflection about what really matters.
There are resources out there, and you’re not alone. Here’s my short syllabus of books that can help you through your journey, one page at a time:
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
- Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
- If The Buddha Got Stuck by Charlotte Kasl
- The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte
These are just a few tools that have helped me find my way back to myself. I hope they’ll be useful to you, too. ♦
Do you have a question or suggestion for the next edition of Club Thrive? Please send them to [email protected] in an email that includes your NAME, CITY, and AGE.