Sticky Sticky Stuck

May 17, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

This talk is called Sticky Sticky Stuck. And it is about what gets us stuck.

One time, many, many years ago, I was getting some teachings from somebody, and he said to me, you just never got stuck. And it really stuck with me that he said that because I contemplated, 'why was that?'. And, really, the reason is Anandamayi Ma. That's why I haven't gotten stuck.

If you have her as your beacon, then it's really hard to talk yourself into having arrived. [laughs] You never actually think you have arrived when Ma is your beacon. So you don't really get stuck.

But of course, we get stuck in all kinds of ordinary ways, and we also get stuck in various ways in our practice, including me. So here are some of the ways I've noticed myself and others of you getting stuck over the years.

Getting stuck means we get stuck with one version of things. Life is changing all the time. This is impermanence. It's an ever-changing panoply of circumstance arising and subsiding.

So if we get stuck with one way of experiencing things, one way of analyzing things, or a handful of ways that don't change, they just keep repeating over time, then whatever our way of experiencing and analyzing is, it's out of sync with what's actually happening. It's stale.

This is what karma is. Karma's just, like, your basic staleness. When patterns set in and they aren't really addressing or responding in a live, fresh way to what's actually happening.

So here are some ordinary ways we all get stuck:

Generating stories about how we are. Any stories about how we are and repeating them. So trying to pin down a coherent self with repeated narratives that define how we are. This gives us some false sense of security, but it also means that we get stuck with that mode of seeing and feeling and experiencing.

And then, if we have these repeating narratives about who we are, how we are, then we find in us and around us selecting, confirming evidence to prove our point.

So not only do we have limited narratives that repeat, and this continual effort to try to narrativize ourselves in some way that is coherent and stable, which is a great source of limitation, but then we're constantly trying to prove that our limitations are rational and justified by picking out selectively, confirming evidence from our experience and our circumstances.

Maintaining fixed ideas about what is important, meaningful, constitutes success, what is success, what is meaningful, what is important. So maintaining fixed ideas about these things that we inherited or picked up from our families and various cultures and our ancestors.

So we have a lot of paradigms about what's important, what's meaningful, what does success look like that we have picked up from here, there, and the other. We're like giant carpet lint balls with this stuff. And we just roll around picking up more lint. [laughs]

But these things are also extremely limiting and extremely narrow and historically conditioned and culturally conditioned. They're conditioned. These are all forms of conditioning.

This next one is one of the greatest sources of misery in human life: Maintaining, generating, attaching to fixed ideas about what we need to be happy, as if our happiness depended on only one set of circumstances or only several set of circumstances. This is a great source of misery. And then the flip side: generating narratives about what we absolutely can't have because we'll be miserable if those things are actually present.

So when those things are present, we are a self-confirming narrative, we then become miserable. [laughs] And if we can't get what we have defined as the thing that's going to make us happy, then we are also miserable, we suffer. And we also feel like failures.

Another source of great misery and suffering— see, all these things that we value, like coming up with these ideas about ourselves, definitions of things, discovering what's meaningful and important, 'what's my vision board tell me about what's going to make me happy?'. All these things that we think are actually going to make our lives better, make our lives so much worse. These are all forms of attachment.

Fixed ideas about how other people should be and how we are justified in reacting when others fall short of the terms we have set for them. So fixed ideas about how other people should be and how we are justified in reacting negatively or being upset or angry when other people fail to obey our rules about how other people should be.

Another cause of suffering where we take the moral and ethical high ground thinking there's something good about this, but we're actually just causing our own suffering.

And here's a 21st century special: Associating suffering with meaningfulness. It isn't meaningful if it doesn't feel bad. This is something that I have discovered in my young students that was a surprise to me.

Not that I'm comparing myself to the Dalai Lama at all, but when the Dalai Lama first started coming to the West, he was very surprised to find out that we experience self-hatred.

Right, there's that famous story about him where some Western person in an audience asked him, what do you do about self-hatred? And the Dalai Lama just kind of looked very puzzled and he leaned over to his attache, he was like, what did she just say?

And the attache explained to him that she had asked this question about self-hatred. And then tears just started rolling down his cheeks. He said, What? You hate yourself? It didn't even occur to him that anyone could feel that way. And he was very moved by that revelation.

Similarly, I wasn't aware that it was such a cultural moment where so many people younger than I—I'm 65 years old—generate and perpetuate pain and suffering and use pain and suffering as a way to connect with other people and associate that with having a meaningful life.

Like, everyone's always having a difficult transition. Always. [laughs] Right? Everything is difficult. And that's, like, a great way to connect with other people. You can sit around and talk about how everything feels terrible and how you feel terrible by yourself. This is sort of a corollary in self-hatred, but... And then it feels like your existence is somehow justified by this. There are alternatives, right?

And then we get stuck if we're too attached to pleasure or pain. Or pleasure and/or pain. If we gravitate too much toward the comfortable, or we associate our sense of identity too much with emotional pain, that's another way of getting stuck.

So these are all, like, ordinary ways that almost everyone gets stuck in at some point or another. And by stuck, I mean that your options for relating to things close down.

So here are some ways that we get stuck as practitioners. And by getting stuck, I mean that we sort of stay in one place with one set of feeling, expressive possibilities and not being able to respond to what's really happening. We're kind of in our own shadow play with our own body, energy, and mind.

So a lot of the ways that we get stuck as practitioner have to do with the fact that we live in a very competitive culture. And, of course, that competitiveness has deeply sunk into our way of approaching spiritual practice.

I cannot tell you how many students I've had who have fantasies about being teachers or fantasies about taking over from me when I die. People who have barely practiced, or even people who hate to do practice, or... [laughs] But still that fantasy is there. I mean, it's kind of fascinating.

We have ideas about what it means to be a good practitioner or a bad practitioner. And so we're always in some sort of conflict about, 'am I a good practitioner or am I a bad practitioner? Was this a good practice or a bad practice?'.

This is a way to really tie up a lot of energy and get very stuck. Instead of just entering into the practice with no expectations of it and encountering whatever you encounter and just going day by day, you're trying to evaluate yourself.

And you'll try to think that you're a good practitioner, even if you don't do a lot of practice or you hate it or something like that. You know, everyone wants to think they're a very good practitioner. Or they'll use proclaiming what a bad practitioner they are to kind of just get out of doing practice.

So all of this is just a way of being stuck. And the fact is that no matter how many times I say that there's no measure. You just do the practice day by day and whatever happens happens, everybody comes in in a different condition, there's no way to measure yourself against other people— most of the people that are busy measuring themselves against other people have no idea what other people are doing. It's all completely made up.

I've also heard many times over the years, everyone else in the community is practicing more than I am. Or everyone else in the community is a better practitioner than I am. How would they know? How would anyone know that? It's just a fantasy.

So we really want to just dump any ideas about what is a good practitioner or a bad practitioner, or where we should be, or where other people are. None of this is of any use whatsoever. This is all just tying up your energy in something completely and utterly useless.

The only thing that matters is that if you want to do practice, then you do it. That's it. Day by day, whatever happens happens, and there's nothing else to really say about it. It's actually quite boring because being competitive and thinking you have a measure for our intellect is more interesting than just actually doing it and not measuring.

And then a corollary to that is having fixed ideas of the goal of practice. 'I've been doing this mantra for months and this hasn't happened', something you read in a book. None of that matters. You don't know what the goal is until you get there.

Of course, we hear descriptions of what happens when you do spiritual practice, but we really don't know. It's like looking at a map. Right? Not everything is on the map. You have to walk the road to know everything on the road.

And then we have a lot of ideas about spiritual life, what it means to be spiritual, what spirituality is that we come into practice with, we come into spiritual life with. And sometimes these ideas can really get in our road.

Acting spiritual is not actually spiritual practice. You might have heard me say that before. Wearing a certain color clothing or having a spiritual tattoo or pranaming to people in the supermarket or whatever it is. [laughs] Sitting in a certain way, wearing certain beads, talking in a certain tone of voice, measuring your words, trying to pretend you're equanimous when you're not, and thinking you know what that looks like. None of this is actually real. I mean, it's a real fixation, but it's not anything about spiritual life.

So sometimes we have these ideas about spiritual life, or we think it's dangerous, especially here in this country now with good reason. People are afraid of spiritual teachers. There's a lot going on that's to be afraid of. But that can also block us from getting teachings from good teachers, too.

I was wondering if you might talk about, or if any other students might talk about, like, relating to other students and, like, ways that we might get stuck there and ways of getting unstuck.

Well, spiritual community, in part, is for being in a microcosm of the world because you're just thrown together with a bunch of people that you didn't choose. So there are going to be people that rub you the wrong way and all kinds of other things, doing things that you don't like or making you feel certain ways or another, being mean or whatever they're doing.

One time somebody said to me, they didn't know if they wanted to be in a spiritual community because they just didn't want to be around any mean people. I was like, well, we got some mean people. I don't know what to say about that. This is just like a microcosm of the rest of the world. And there's no way I can guarantee that you'll never have anyone be mean to you at Jaya Kula. [laughs]

But the whole point is that we are, in general, going in the same direction, and that's extremely supportive. And then, that we get to notice and reflect on how we respond to other people. We get to notice more, what are our fixed karmas around relating to others?

And this is a great function of spiritual community that in a container that's held by people doing sadhana, you get to notice and experiment with old ways of relating and new ways of relating.

And eventually, I think, if you keep doing sadhana and you have some degree of spiritual maturity, which means you are being self-reflective and you kind of understand what's going on, then eventually you're going to find that you love people that you didn't like before and that people aren't as annoying as you thought they were, or that they don't hate you or some— whatever it is that you think. [laughs]

Eventually, you're going to learn to love everyone in that community. And then, of course, that's a gateway to being open-hearted towards everyone, regardless of whether they're practitioners are in your community or not.

So the idea is that the community is a gateway to everyone else and everything else. Training wheels. And within that crucible of sadhana, there's a lot that can be examined and worked with and experimented with.

I'm wondering if you can talk about commitment and maybe, like, the benefits or drawbacks of how it can contribute to spiritual life?

Well, commitments can structure body, energy, and mind and set things in a direction and different kinds of commitments at different stages of spiritual life. So, for instance, taking vows or following precepts are major ways in many different kinds of spiritual traditions that people make commitments that, from the perspective of this kind of tradition, are functional, not ethical or moral commitments.

If we make a vow or follow a precept, it's to functionally organize our body, energy, and mind to go in a certain direction so that we can have more fruit from our practice. Those are very great practices to follow, those kinds of commitments.

And then if you're talking about commitments to others, that can also be functional at a certain point in someone's spiritual life. You make a commitment to a teacher, or you make a commitment to a dharma partner, or something like that.

Another thing that can happen is just simple, ordinary commitments of everyday life, kept and followed through on, can also help organize your energy, seat your prana, and help you to have more fruit of your practice.

So all those things could possibly contribute to having a more fruitful spiritual life. Right? Because they're basically balancing our doshas, right? When put in an ayurvedic terms.

At the same time, we never make commitments, or we never keep commitments that aren't pre-made. And what I mean by that is, it's my experience and observation that any commitment we make of any sort is made because we already desire to do that thing or not do that thing, and that the real crux of the matter is desire. And it's the only thing that keeps our commitments for us.

So I may say, till death do us part, but, mm? [laughs] Who knows? My desire might not really be in that direction. Or I might say, I'm going to do an hour of sadhana every day, but four days later, I've completely abandoned it. And this is not because I'm a bad person. It's because my desire is not strong enough.

So from my perspective, desire is the only thing that really keeps commitments, and it predates or precedes the actual moment of taking of a commitment.

For someone who is at a very different place in their spiritual life, none of these things are necessary. Or if they were done, it would only be in a playful way. There would be no sense of the seriousness of a commitment or of the appropriateness of any commitment because the only commitment, really, is, at that point, is following wisdom. And that could lead you anywhere to anyone or away from anywhere or anyone.

But most people are not in that condition. You know, most people need to have a different kind of container to help balance their body, energy, and mind, seat their prana, etc. so that they can functionally have more fruit from their practice.

So that's my take on commitments is they have to, in some sense, already be there before you take them in order to be able to keep them or to have them be real commitments.

I wrote a poem about it once that said— this isn't exact words, but, the only commitments that are real are the ones that take you, not the ones you take. The commitments that are real are the ones that sweep you away, not the ones that you agree to do.

So what I was hearing you say was, like, that there's not enough desire behind it.

Yeah, you could make a commitment, but then it'll just sort of fizzle out at some point.

At the same time, desire is absolutely the most powerful force in all of creation. And—absolutely—and if desire were stronger, you would do whatever it takes to get that clear vision. If desire were stronger, it would force you to be very resourceful and persistent and not taking no for an answer and finding a way.

And there are lots of reasons why our desire often doesn't rise to that level. [laughs] Right? Like, today, I'll say I'm never drinking coffee again, and three days from now I'll be drinking coffee. That is pretty much a staple of human experience. Right? [laughs]

But when desire is very strong, there's nothing that can really stand in its way. Most of the time when we say I can't, it's just, I don't want to, is actually what's going on. [laughs]

That's like Rahu, right? Desire steering you eventually into greater clarity?

Rahu is smoky. [laughs] So, yeah, Rahu is the desire, but without clarity. And eventually, through stumbling and getting into the difficult places, the smokiness eventually leads you into an inevitable rebirth into clarity. That's true.

This is just, like, what's happening. The desire, stumbling and, like, getting clearer and clearer. Is that kind of, like, the life process?

Or the lives process.


Yeah, we have to think very, very long-term because we always think, well, you know, I'll be confused for three months, and then it'll all clear up. Right? But, but it could be [laughs]— it could be like, it could be like three lifetimes or 30 lifetimes.

Sometimes we're in a deep trough of confusion for a long time or taking a big detour. It's all being orchestrated by wisdom, and eventually something will clarify. But then there's not really any overarching progress. These are all just narratives within a Self that isn't actually evolving because it's already just wisdom itself. So it can't really evolve. There's nothing to evolve. There's just all these stories being told.

We have a sense of a journey. That's part of our dualistic embodied experience. We have a sense that, you know, we're going up and down, and stumbling and recovering, and things are moving towards clarity. That's the game that is being played through our body, energy, and mind.

But the bigger picture is just the game. Like, if you were playing a game app and you were victorious in the game app, there's nothing that actually happened, right? Like, if you look at the larger sphere of the game, the game was not victorious. Right? The game just had built into it infinite forms of victory and defeat. Right? [laughs]

And we're not really doing this to accomplish something, although it often feels that way. It's happening because it's fun. It's happening because it's magical. It's happening because it's a self-expression of God.


Photo by Torbjørn Helgesen


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.