>Stuck is bad

>I know that most people seem to think that stuck is bad. But is it? One of the blogs I occasionally drop by to read is Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. There is no value to it for myself – I am neither a careerist nor much into people who are brazen. But I do appreacite honesty and she is nothing if not honest. If you follow her posts regarding her boyfriend you will know what I mean. I am not altogether sure how I would conduct a relationship with someone who Tweets, and especially one who tweets about me – but that’s another story. The point here is a quote in one of her blog entries which says “you start not being able to get out of your transition (my problem) then you are stuck. And stuck is bad. I’m stuck eating to procrastinate changing tasks because changing is hard and eating makes it easier….It’s a discomfort being between things.” This is an especially insightful, for me, post. The phrase “Stuck is bad” links to many things at the same time but two main things come from it: the concept of stuckiness, the implication of the alternative.

What are some forms of stuckiness? Could we say that a dark night of the soul is stuckiness? How about depression is that stuckiness? Most critically, and implied in the post, what is the opposite of stuckiness? Progress? Should we always be improving, changing, growing? This vegetable metaphor seems very popular. Is a human being called to always grow? Is there some sort of Moore’s Law of self-help?

All these questions seem relatively benign until you realize that this idolatry of progress leads to some serious amount of guilt and fear and of course failure. I cannot tell how many people have told me that Christianity is too full guilt where after some soul searching questioning came to realize that it was Positivism at church which led to guilt. The Christian message, per se, in it’s toe-tripping reality is the very vaccine against guilt.

Positivism is an interesting social philosophy. It first came to life at the end of the 17th century – a time when the human race unleashed the powers of rationality in a shockwave from which we are still recovering. I am not by any means an irrationalist, but I am terribly concerned with idolatry. Any philosophy which holds to a monotone theory of knowledge, be it through inspiration only or through reason only, is bound to be idolatrous. Most especially, as a Christian, any belief which rabidly defends that only natural, physical, and material approaches to knowledge are valid is bound to be found wanting when faced with the slippery nature of reality. But still the shades or shadows of Positivism linger.

Another point to keep in mind when looking at stuckiness is a distinction between people’s fantasies about utopia. I first ran across this distinction when studying some Chinese philosophy. The Chinese (and many others) believed that the past was better. This BTW is also found in Christianity, especially up to and through the Middle Ages. The Rule of Benedict says: “For those monastics show themselves too lazy in the service to which they are vowed, who chant less than the Psalter with the customary canticles in the course of a week, whereas we read that our holy Fathers strenuously fulfilled that task in a single day. May we, lukewarm that we are, perform it at least in a whole week!” (Chapter 18). In fact, the idea that we are worse off than the olden days was a common belief until the Enlightenment. At that point we started, collectivelly, positing a better future, and the mem of progress firmly implanted itself in the human race, certainly in the West.

Some things need to be addressed here, but not too much because I reallyw ant to go back in be stuck on stuckiness. But at least one question comes to mind: are the obvious advances in quality of life through technology the same thing as progress? One more question: does progress advance at an equal rate across all areas of knowledge? Is there an inexorable march forward, or are we more like spilt milk – parts of it running forward from where the glass fell on the floor, but others, frustratingly, retreat to the safety of the area under the oven? Are thing getting better all the time? At the same rate?

Spirituality is a wisdom of living between things, of finding oneself being in-between. Spirituality becomes an unbrella term for a set of tools which help us broker peace between ideals and realities. Further, spirituality is a stepping into, and perhaps a stubborness to leave, liminal spaces. Anyone who’s had an experience of being in a sacred space will know how it is both exhilirating and infuriating at the same time. This is the nature of the in-between spaces. This is what countless churches, synagogues and mosques aim to create with their architecture. In fact, architecture itself is a constant work of framing and delineating liminal spaces.

What makes liminal spaces so energizing is also what makes them dangerous, confusing. It is not that these spaces are themselves dangerous and confusing, bu trather that the view from there is of such a different angle that thigns which were solid certaintites before become a lot less solid and much more undertain. Spending time in liminal spaces allows us the opportunity to move from the as-if world into the what-if world. A world where we are not 100% certain of intentions behind acts. The world is no longer black and white.

One more thing happens to those who frequent liminal spaces regularly: we are constantly bumping into the ‘adult world’ – all those large unwieldy pieces of ethical furniture which are shaped so as to always stub your toe. We have a few of those (literal) items in my house. Very frustrating. I am sure that someone with a better industrial design eye would be able to explain exactly why everyone trips on the legs of the very large coffee table in the living room. I mean it is a hulking thing. But yet sooner or later someone slams their foot against it. Why? Something about its design, I am convinced. The lines in the upper part of the body of the table suggest that the lower less visible part should be different than it really is. And that is the perfect metaphor for ethical dilemas: something in the outward shape of the situation suggests a different inner dynamic than what is there in reality.

And here we go again with the reality thing. It is funny how hard it is to avoid reality. it just keeps tripping me up. No matter how much I wish it was a different shape, it is the shape it is.

It takes much courage to look at reality long enough to see its real shape. Only then can we begin to make some meaningful changes.


About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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