THE DHARMA OF WORKING OUT A FUNK

Overcoming What We Resist
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THE DHARMA OF WORKING OUT A FUNK

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This blog is about what we can do when we find ourselves in a funk, not feeling like ourselves. What are the most practical means to get “unstuck” when our life progress seems to come to a standstill and nothing seems to be happening for us? It can be a hopeless feeling. And I apologize if what is being pointed out here is simplistic or I sound too didactic. I’m just trying to be clear.

I am amazed at how often lyrics from one of my daughter May’s songs come to mind, in this case a tune called “Rise Up Singing,“ and the line “You know, trouble ain’t built to last.” This song that May wrote was chosen to be included in the best-selling popular-folk-music collection in North America, having sold over a million copies. If you have never heard this song, you just might like it. I do. Here it is for those who have enough time for a time-out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X_uvK5ERM8

And the point of that lyric should not be lost on us, that even trouble (and hard times) aren’t made to last forever. Trouble always gives way to better times. Yet, if we can’t afford to wait (or don’t want to), we can help trouble to pass more quickly. Let’s look at the dharma of how this can be done.

First, it is important to realize (and this is a toughie my friends) that most often much of the situation in which we find ourselves is in our own mind. Where else would it be? LOL.

I’m not saying there are no intervening circumstances that may have brought our life to a halt at what seems like a full-stop. Certainly that happens. Yet, it is what we do about it that is important. We don’t have to just sit in a slump and stop living. As the old Neil Young album said, “Rust Never Sleeps.” This is also true for change; we never stop changing, no matter how empty life can at times seem. And we can take advantage of that fact.

Next, don’t take “No” for an answer. Keep going. Nothing is static. Everything changes, so be part of the solution and not the problem. We become part of the problem when we fall into believing that the way we feel right now (feeling down) is the way-we-just-are as opposed to just something we are going through. It’s like getting stuck in the mud out on the back roads here in Michigan. If we think we can just ride it out every time, that may or may not work. And that’s the idea here too. If we can’t ride, walk. And sometimes, we have to just get out and help push.

And it’s not true that “every door won’t open.” It will, but it may take time and care on our part to achieve that. The attitude required when life comes to a standstill (instead of progressing normally) involves our working with the situation. The moment we react and take a stand against a bad-moment (as in: “I don’t like it”), we are even more stuck with it. It is better (and far easier) to recognize our “bad” situation as a challenge and not a stationary fact. In other words, we are not “that.” The situation does not define us.

Yes, we may have to take a few steps back and survey the problem to see just how best to work with it, but working-with-it is what is required. Let’s be sure we are on the same page. Here are some illustrations as to what I’m talking about.

For example, we wake up one morning feeling not our usual self, as in a “bad” mood. And we have a big day ahead of us, important in one way or another, but for some reason we are just out of sorts. Not only do we not feel right, we are upset because of it. It’s no wonder that we somehow want to leap-frog how we feel at the moment and get back to feeling good. In other words, there is a division or separation between what we imagine we should normally feel like and how we actually feel at the time. And we don’t like it. That’s an example.

The idea here has to do with the “resistance” we feel, in particular our resistance in-the-moment to whatever we don’t like about how we feel. However, by resistance I am not talking about our resistance to conventions, the law, society, and so forth. I am referring here to our resistance within our own self to something we have to do or are feeling, like feeling down and stuck there. Here we are looking at our internal resistance (or reaction) to anything, especially a reaction that further constipates or slows us down into inaction and a slump. And I am reminded of Shakespeare and in Hamlet’s Soliloquy, the lines:

“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.”

I know. I’m using Shakespeare here out of context, but my point is that it does not take much for us to stall-out and have trouble getting moving again. We can sit in a funk or depression for who knows how long. And a major source of depression is the resistance we feel to accepting how it is with us in the moment. We want to feel better, but we don’t, and we don’t like it. So, what are we going to do about that?

Wait it out? Wait until we naturally feel better? Or, are we going to “identify” with feeling bad as just who we are, how it is, or that it’s what we deserve, and sit ourselves down and pout. It is easy to become discouraged and give up for a while, when life-events have taken the cream off the top of how we feel and we accept that this is just how it is, will be, or must be for us. In other words, we identify with the depression as us. “We” are depressed.

My point is that this view is not helpful, but just one more turn of the screw and not a time to give up or sideline ourselves, much less to identify with the depression as us! This would be a big mistake and we can easily do something about it. Well, perhaps not too easily, but instead, working WITH our situation is what is suggested.

In summary, at some points in our life it does not take much to get us down and, once down, it can be hard to get going again, to get back on our feet. So, if we are talking about remedies here, the above described situation is what we are remedying. How do we keep what is just a depression on the road of life from shutting us down and disabling us? Such a state of mind can be hard to ignore or get around.

And the way to prevent that is to not-identify with the depression as anything other than what it is, a dip in the road, a setback, etc. If we insist on reifying every bad moment or every resistance that we feel, we are creating our own problems as we go along. Instead, we can learn to consider each setback or depression as the challenge that it is. We may be feeling bad, but we are not the “feeling bad.” We are ourselves and the “feeling bad” is something that is just temporary because we are aware of it. That awareness is our edge.

And I am reminded of the Old Testament in the Bible where it says something like “This came to pass” or “That came to pass,” etc. Nothing comes to stay; everything is just passing through and will pass away. In other words, our job here is to help things pass away, especially whatever makes us feel uncomfortable or out-of-sorts. Help it out. So, the Buddhist techniques in Lojong training are designed to facilitate and help us work with whatever comes our way and not lock horns with it through resistance. We are not resistance fighters. So, how do we remedy this?

For starters, the answer is: slowly and carefully. Rejecting our current situation, even if we don’t like it, seldom works. Instead, we have to accept however we feel and get familiar and comfortable in it. In this case, it is easier to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear than it is to hold our breath and wait for better days. Or to quote a method from Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War, where it says to ”keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Don’t reify the perceived divide.

We want to be aware that there is a division between who we are and how we feel, but not strengthen that division by the attachment of opposing it. It’s just the opposite; we want to take possession of our “bad” mood and accept how we feel as the only means to change it up to feeling better. In other words, we have to accept feeling bad, bring it closer, get into it, and transform it; cheer ourselves up, so to speak. As long as we keep our bad mood at arm’s length, we only intensify the separation. That’s what “stuck” is.

And to me, the interesting point is that we are just the person to do all this, i.e. transform our bad mood into a better mood and cheer ourselves up. We have handled moodiness before and come out feeling better. However, we can’t do this if we refuse to accept our mood just as it is, warts and all. It’s ours.

And while it’s correct to not identify WITH the bad mood, it’s equally true that we must own it. It’s our bad mood. It’s where we are at just now and only we can turn it around. In fact, we are ideally suited to do just that. If we don’t, it’s like trying to drive a car and not be in it. Eventually, we have to just get into the car and drive it where we want to go.

And it is the same with getting stuck in one of life’s low spots. Just as we don’t want to identify with it as “us,” there is also no point in trying to wait it out. Instead, we get more familiar with it. Keep in mind that we are already aware enough to know that we don’t want to feel like this. That is our advantage. We know how we would like to feel, so with a little love, attention, and care we can pull up out of whatever has gotten us down. It is just as easy to work with our bad mood and change it as it is to remain stuck there opposing it. By working with ourselves, as it is, we can ease on out of it.

In other words, we have to relax and accept the “bad” mood as a starting point to regain a normal sense of ourselves. If we are doing something like sitting meditation and don’t feel like it and are just waiting until it is over, it’s the same story. Relax and accept where we are, like “in a bad mood,” and work it like clay until we shape up into something better. That is the dharma of it, as I know.
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