Unstick from Yourself

Practice of the Week
Unstick from Yourself

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.

Spiritual practice must be a process of training – envisioning your life as a process of opening and growing rather than simply enduring what happens to you, willy-nilly. To live with a training point of view requires a way to assess and see how you are doing as the training unfolds. Once you see how it’s going, you can extend and refine your practice.

Let me emphasize: go lightly. Do not be worried about “grades” or progress. Don’t turn corrosive judgment on ourselves, which will produce discouragement. The point of assessment is simply to remain engaged and informed so we can keep on making a steady, solid, interested effort.

There’s only one point, and it’s so simple, however much we keep forgetting it: Don’t be so stuck on yourself! Open Up! Mind training comes down to this. Keeping this slogan close by at all times is a good tool for seeing how you are doing. Whenever you feel upset, unhappy, dissatisfied, in a snit, frozen, constricted, bound – check and see. Probably if you reflect deeply enough you’ll come to the realization that the ultimate cause of this unpleasantness is that you are in one way or another stuck on yourself, favoring yourself and your own needs, desires, and viewpoint more than is necessary. Even recognizing this, and opening up just a little, relieves the pressure.

Think about it: you are living in a big world, with lots going one, many problems, many challenges, sad things, happy things. And all of this is the sphere of your life; it’s the ocean you swim in, the air you breathe. You are not separate from it for even a moment. Why would you want to artificially, conceptually, remove yourself from life’s great ocean and lock yourself up in the tiny prison of self, in which, despite your best efforts, you constantly feel confined and under attack?

The whole of the practice comes down to this: stop being so stuck on yourself. Let go of that and open up. Think of others. Try to do something to make them happy. Anything! Something like, “Hello, how are you?” And mean it.

This is a way to assess your practice as you go along, a question to ask yourself on a regular basis: Am I less stuck on myself, more available to others than I used to be? Am I thinking positively and generously of others more often? Be honest about your answers to these questions. If you are just as stuck on yourself as you ever were, that’s OK. That’s information. You know what you have to do. Invite someone out to lunch. Ask someone how she is. Practice more sending and receiving.

You can also practice this slogan particularly when you are feeling tight and embattled. When you notice a sinking feeling inside, say to yourself: “There’s only one point: open up!” Take three conscious breaths. Don’t think something in particular is supposed to happen. This is training. It takes time. You just have to keep on repeating the process. So take those three breaths. Notice what happens, and whatever it is, go on.

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How do we evaluate ourselves and others? How do we tell if someone is the genuine article or a charlatan? How do we know if we ourselves are going off the rails in our spiritual practice?

There are a lot of trappings in the realm of spirituality. There are all sorts of costumes, titles, and robes. People speculate on how enlightened this teacher or that may be, and look for signs of official recognition, status, and power. So what should we look for in a teacher or a faith community?

Looking inward, it sometimes seems that we are making progress, and at other times it seems that the whole endeavor has been a waste of time. It all depends on our mood. Sometimes all we notice is that years go by and we seem to be no different than when we began—or even worse. At other times, we notice that we have become a bit more calm, maybe, or a bit more aware, or even a bit more kind. We are discouraged one day and inspired the next. So how do we know how we are doing? What should we be looking for?

It all comes down to not being stuck on oneself. In looking outward, it is important not to be misled by trappings of popularity or spiritual power, and in looking inward it is important not to be caught up with our shifting moods or superficial changes. Instead, we must never forget the essential point, which is to give up ego clinging. That is the one and only true measure of a teacher or a practitioner.


As you go about your day, try to pay attention to the points when your solid sense of separateness is provoked. Notice the thoughts and sensations that arise with reactions such as defensiveness and territoriality. Pay attention to the thoughts and sensations that arise when something has drawn you out, beyond your self-absorption.

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