On Feeling Stuck in Life — Indecision, Regrets, and Procrastination
We are stuck in life when we refuse to face the givens of life. When we do not reconcile with the human given that we are limited, eery ‘symptoms’ such as procrastination, chronic indecision, stagnation, inertia, and self-sabotage will emerge, making us feel stuck in life.
To mature spiritually, we must look at our past and courageously grieve the paths not taken, but honor the paths that we have taken. There is no ‘would have, ‘should have’, ‘could have’, only ‘what is.’
Ambivalence is a given in life.
We never only feel one way about something. We are always, at any given moment, ambivalent about people, events, situations— everything.
Certain ambivalence, while being a fundamental part of our human condition, often gets swept to the shadow or the underbelly of our collective consciousness.
We are ambivalent in relationships— we want things to go well, we want the relationship to last, at the same time we consider what life will be like if we were free from attachments. We think about all the people we have let pass by committing to one and think about ‘the ones who got away.’ Yet most of the time, any expression of doubts are tabooed and frowned upon by our friends and relatives.
We are ambivalent in parenthood— we love our children dearly, yet at times we miss our freedom, old identity, and we resent them when they are hurtful and ungrateful. We want them to grow, but we dread them leaving. We want the best for them, and a part of us is envious of their youth. Yet none of us is allowed to speak up about any potential regrets when it comes to parenthood without seeing the horror on others’ faces.
We are ambivalent towards our elderly parents— we want them to be healthy and well, but we worry about caring responsibilities in their old age. We have forgiven them, but the scars from our childhood wounds still hurt. We are both loyal and yearn to break free. Yet anger towards our old and frail parents is silenced wherever we go, sometimes even in our therapists’ office.
Jung said our psyche operates in pairs, when there is a seed of love, at the same time, a seed of hate also is born. Yet we hardly see this being portrayed in social media, fairy tales, or Hollywood movies. The psychology of characters is often reduced and polarised — it is as though there is no evil in the fairies, no beauty in the witch, no hate in love, and no heaven in hell.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
Not Facing Ambivalence Keeps you Stuck in Life
By shoving ambivalence to the shadow of our collective psyche, we have all become out-of-practise in dealing with it.
A given of being human is that we only have one body, and we live in chronological time. We can only be in one place at one time. So whenever we need to make a choice, we are faced with an existential juncture: When we choose A, we have to forgo B. Somehow, something is lost, a door is closed, a path is blocked. If we refuse to face this truth or find a way to come to terms with the sense of loss (perhaps of what we will never have), we will be stuck in life.
When we do not reconcile with the human given that we are limited, eery ‘symptoms’ such as procrastination, chronic indecision, stagnation, inertia and self-sabotage will emerge. These are the times we say we are stuck in life. For example:
You have been in a dead-end job for years, and yet you cannot take the plunge to leave it.
You are in a stable but stale relationship, and are every day haunted by the question of ‘to go or to stay’.
You long for true intimacy, yet dread the reality of it, so you choose to indulge in a fantasy life, rather than reconciling with imperfections in human relationships.
You put your soul’s callings off perceptually, forgetting that not making a decision is also a decision.
You over-commit, overfill your plate, ignoring your body’s need for rest and rejuvenation, only to be burned out later.
You complain often, you know you are not living optimally, but refuse to take in any solutions or advice offered.
Or you get stuck in your rage about injustice and let the feeling of being a victim paralyzes you. When you are stuck in rage, you are also stuck in life.
Essentially, you are stuck in inaction because you cannot bear the consequences of potential downfall. When you are stuck in inaction you are stuck in life.
But this is absolutely not your fault. Quite likely, it happened because you have been deeply hurt by the trauma of one or more painful regrets in the past. In the fear that you cannot survive another bout of depression, guilt and existential pain, you have opted for the false safety of inaction, not knowing that it will keep you stuck in an inferno.
“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”
Ultimately, these are all symptoms of an unconscious protest against the given of life; it is how we try to defy gravity and resist to spiritually grow up. When we refuse to grieve the path not walked, the person not chosen, the opportunities not taken, we are in essence refusing to face our temporality and finitude. In essence, we are denying our inevitable movement towards death that is happening at every single moment and turning a blind eye to the urgency of life.
Existential doubt is a universal issue, but when you are different because of your intensity and sensitivity, you do not have a ready-made community that affirms and reassures the correctness of your life choices. Again and again, you are pushed to either literally or metaphorically justify, explain and stand up for your unconventional life choices. The lack of support and social pressure heightens your existential angst, potentially making you more doubtful, more ambivalent, and more lonely in your dilemma.
In order to not let ambivalence keep you stuck in life, you must come face to face with it, practice working through and with it, and ultimately grow in it.
“Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me.”
How to Not be Stuck in Life: Tolerating Ambivalence and Maturing Spiritually
The inability to hold ambivalence in life can be thought of as an existential sickness. The good news is, of course, that it can be cured. You might feel stuck in life, but through spiritual maturity you can get out of it. Here are some pointers to help us befriend and work with our ambivalence, so they do not haunt us by remaining hidden in the background of our psyche:
— We can start by acknowledging that there are different parts to our psyche. Even you are one person, inside of you there are ‘sub personalities’ that operate according to different interests, intention,s and desires. You can lay your inner conflicts bear by giving these different parts names and bringing them out from the unconscious to the conscious. You may then allow these different parts to have a conversation; there are various techniques for this: Left/right-hand journalling is one of them. Draw a line down a page on your journal. On the left side, use your dominant hand to write a question. Then, on the right side, use your non-dominant hand to free-write your answers. Allow your unconscious to do the work and you may be surprised by what emerges.
— Whenever you are faced with a decision point, ask yourself: what do I have to let go of by choosing A/ B? And am I prepared to do that? Have I exercised my free will, my agency to take a plunge? Remember, by not making a choice you are making a choice- one that keeps you stuck in life.
— Ask yourself: what values do my choices reflect? By becoming consciously aware of how your actions ARE indeed congruent with what you believe in, you feel more coherent and integrated on the inside. To borrow a psychology jargon, you become more ‘ego-syntonic.’ By having a sense of “I know what I am doing and why I am doing it”, you will feel a greater sense of calm and confidence.
— With regards to your inner conflicts, is there a creative compromise or solution? Can one option be chosen after the other? Within the confine of chronological time and the fact that we have only one human body, can both needs be satisfied to a degree? We can often achieve this by unpeeling the deeper layers of our desires, to our core needs, and then find a creative way to meet needs on both sides of the equation.
— Get off social media and stop mindlessly and meaninglessly comparing your real life with someone else’s polished highlight reels. The grass always looks greener on the other side; it is a cognitive delusion and avoidable suffering.
— Vow to never beat yourself up for decisions you have made in the past. You did the absolute best you could with the given information and resources you had. I promise you, you have.
— Accept and appreciate the ‘ordinariness of life.’ There is joy in the mundane, sweetness in the day-to-day. Being able to ‘chop wood, carry water’ might be one of the biggest blessings you have right now.
— Listen to your dreams. with the infinite power of symbols to hold paradoxes, dreams are the ideal places for our inner conflicts to be surfaced and seen. Our psyche will speak to us and reveal the deepest insight, only if we listen to them. In a previous letter, I talked about how we can learn to decode the symbology in our dreams.
— It may sound daunting at first, but meditation on death could be a potent medicine to the ailment of doubt. Psychotherapist Yalom points out that death anxiety underlies all our neuroses. It turns out, when we refuse to bear the ‘real’ pain of acknowledging our limitations as humans, we create pseudo-neuroses and anxieties that get attached to random and trivial issues. Becoming aware of our finitude pushes us to accept mixed feelings and motivations as a part of life, and propels us to forgo perfectionism and take action. When harnessed, death awareness is a precious gift. It allows us to live more fully, more congruently, and compassionately.
“No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.”
To mature spiritually,
We must look at our past and courageously grieve the paths not taken, but honor the paths that we have taken.
We wrap our painful regret in a warm blanket, softly rock it and heal it with our own bare hands.
Instead of allowing regrets to swamp us, we reconcile with the truth of ‘not knowing’— we do not know if the road less traveled by is better, or worse. We do not know if others have made ‘better choices’, or worse. But there is no other life, there is no another past, there is no parallel universe; there is only one reality— waiting eagerly but patiently for us to turn towards it, love it, and work with it. There is no ‘would have, ‘should have’, ‘could have’, only ‘what is’; and as famous author Byron Katie says, growth is about “loving what is”.
You can choose to be a voyager of life. Even if you have been hurt, disappointed, and suffered great losses in the past. You can choose to be stuck in life, be swamped by sadness, or dance with all the colours of the wind.
You can choose to not chase a fantasy or indulge in mere infatuations, and reap the deepest contentment from the small pockets of beauty in life.
You may continue to love deep and greatly, always remembering that others, like us, face impermanence, sickness, and death. Everyone suffers, and everyone is a fellow journeyman.
You can relate to life events with equanimity, to other people with compassion, and to yourself with wisdom.
Spiritual maturity is realizing that there is no perfection, and yet everything rests perfectly in its divine imperfection.
“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”