Identifying the emotional layer of our stuckness
This week I'm also feeling a little more head-y than heart-y with my writing so that may come through. Don't worry, I'll be back to wax poetic about cacti soon. As always, if you like what I do here tell a friend to subscribe here.

Morning, friends!

How are you doing this Wednesday morning?

It's finally starting to feel like spring here in Tucson. Spring is an interesting season in the desert. In D.C., springtime always felt like a dynamic event: the melting, the sprouting, the color, the clearing away! Here, it's a bit more subtle, gentle, imperceptible, a slow beaming in. Even my allergies here are more subtle. (Which I'm grateful for!).

As always this earthy shift is a reminder to me that just as nature is constantly shifting, we as humans — as beings of nature — are also always shifting.

But it doesn't always feel that way.

Sometimes it can feel like we are trapped right where we are.
Photo by Laura Reed from Pexels
Over the last few weeks, I've been using Tarot with my virtual retreat participants to work with some questions that they have. Afterward, I tend to journal on the cards that come up, and the themes of questions, and there is a common thread that's started to really jump out at me: stuckness.

This quality of feeling stuck — as much of the world rounds out a year of being physically "stuck" as a result of the global circumstances — should not come as a big surprise.

Yet I also realize that there are all different kinds of stuckness. And it's my opinion that feeling stuck is actually a sign that you are tapping into some valuable inner wisdom. I'll explain why in today's letter.

Let's talk emotions for a second.

If you google "emotions" (anyone else do this ever?) you'll find hundreds of maps and psychological theories around the human emotional landscape, but there are at least three emotions that most researchers tend to agree are common among us: sadness, anger and fear.

(There are other emotions of course, such as joy and disgust, but it hasn't been my experience that those emotions gravitate us toward feeling stuck. Joy tends to be a more vibrant emotion, and therefore ethereal and fleeting. Further, if you're in a joy-heavy emotional spiral, you probably wouldn't think, "I'm stuck!!" you'd just be like, "I'm in love!!!" In which case, I'll have what you're having.)

Often, we can feel stuck without understanding that there is anything below the physical surface. Here are some experiences where someone might feel stuck:
  • They've been in the same job at work for several years without a promotion or recognition of their work.
  • They hate their apartment or city they live.
  • They're in an unhappy relationship or recently had a breakup.
The thing is, these things are the symptom of stuckness, not the root of it. And stuckness is just a placeholder for what we feel when we're ready to peel back the emotions that lurk beneath the surface. I have a working theory that when we start to feel stuck is when we have essentially internalized our root emotion, rather than processed it. In the stuck place, we spiral.

The alternative when we encounter a challenge is to numb away the difficult emotion (with substances, spiritual bypassing, or any number of numbing mechanisms), which is not so helpful and in my experience only causes more suffering. So the good news is, if you feel stuck, that's actually a sign of strength. You have chosen not to numb or circumvent, and that's quite brave.

So let's for the sake of experiment look at three emotional root causes of stuckness: sadness, anger and fear.

1) Anger 😡

What's a possible root emotion of being stuck at a job? Anger jumps to mind — as someone who has been there before.

For anger, an external manifestation would look something like frustration or irritation ("Why am I not getting the recognition I deserve from others?") whereas once it's internalized for too long, it can start to feel like self-criticism or self-flagellation (e.g., "I'm just going to sit out of this meeting because my opinion doesn't seem to matter here" or "I'm not good at networking.") It can also start to feel like resentment toward others if you project that anger in other directions.

In other words, when you don't process your anger, you just end up taking it out on yourself. When you do that, you are likely to make the original challenge worse, thereby piling onto your anger. Andddd...that's how ya get stuck.

2) Sadness 😞

Looking at the next example, what's perhaps lurking beneath for someone who's depressed about their living situation? Let's assume it's despair ("How will I ever find a place where I can feel happy?"). When you're sad, it's a very slippery slope to self-pity which sounds more like "why me?" or "why do I always find myself in these terrible living situations?"

I think in my past, self-pity has started to take over when I've convinced myself too many times that I'm not allowed to or supposed to feel sad about my circumstances. Somehow, I get the message that my sadness isn't OK or appropriate, so I swallow it up where the only person who can feel sorry for me is myself. That is when I start to feel stuck, because self-pity is a very non-dynamic place to be.

As potentially unpleasant as the emotion of despair is, there is at least some information it provides us. Whereas, it's hard to know where to go with self-pity, which is inherently limiting and really reduces us and makes us feel small. Small and stuck.

Can anyone else relate?

3) Fear 😨

The last example is perhaps the heaviest: relationship woes. Yet, this is a pretty common experience and one that probably we will all have. When I really sit with this in the context of my own life, the dominant emotion beneath the surface is anxiety. I'm anxious for the unknown of starting over. While anxiety can feel more like the question, "how do I trust someone again?" it's a fine line between that and spiraling toward self-doubt which has at the heart of it: "How can I trust myself?"

Self-doubt is so hard! Of the three examples here, it's probably the one that I've experienced most in my life in various contexts. But recognizing that it's there is a powerful gateway.

Getting "unstuck"

So, if you have felt this sense of stuckness lately, are you able to see any connection between the "what's going on" and "what's happening on an emotional level"?

In my view, stuckness can be powerful because as much as it sucks to feel it, it's an indication that we have turned inward. Turning inward means we have the capacity to see how the unpleasantness we are feeling is all of our own creation. And therefore, it is ours for the shifting, too.

But just like the seasonal shifts of the desert, the unsticking can be subtle and without much ado. We don't always have to perform some grand gesture to break through. It can be much simpler, or even a small tweak in a daily ritual. I've included a few thought-starters below 😊

Try this at home ✍

Below are three exercises that have worked for me for the aforementioned self-pity, self-criticism and self-doubt. The antidotes are basically like internal resources—or values made actionable. The examples here are mine, but you might have others. The examples here are meant to provide a system that inspires your own reflection :)
External: Frustration or irritation ("Why is everyone so [fill in the blank]?")

Internal: Self-flagellation ("Why am I so [fill in the blank]?")
For me, the antidote to anger is curiosity.
Journaling prompt
: If the story you've got in your head is, "why does everyone suck right now?" Then follow it! Get curious! Why does everyone suck right now? Start writing down ideas for what might be causing the people around you to behave in ways you find irritating. Use your imagination to run through the possible scenarios and keep going deeper there. Sometimes, when you have a question on loop, the best thing you can do is try to answer it.
External: Despair ("When will things ever feel different?")

Internal: Self-pity ("Why me?")
For me, the antidote to despair is adventure.
Self-date: Move your body in an entirely different way than you ever would normally. If you usually walk, take a kickboxing class online. If you usually do yoga, try going for a run. Just let your body physically experience a paradigm shift.
External: Anxiety ("How can I trust anything now?")

Internal: Self-doubt ("How can I trust myself now?")
For me, the antidote to anxiety is connection with nature.
: Take yourself outside for a walk and try to notice three new things along the way. Maybe a house, maybe something about the smell of the air. Say hi, hello to at least a few plants along the way. If you don't want to say it out loud, you can do it inside.
By the way, if any of this interests you but you feel confused or overwhelmed, let me know. I'm thinking of holding a free workshop or exploring some of this stuff. 

Tunes 🎶

New additions playlist features a poet I've just become acquainted with, Kate Tempest, and other goodies.
Stream it!
Sending hugs,
There's one last spot open in my upcoming Sedona yoga retreat. Also my co-host Catherine is kicking off a course on practical spirituality I think a lot of you might enjoy 💕
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