Mental Blocks and the Art of Getting Unstuck, Part 1: Being Stuck



Teaching art is teaching people to think and act creatively. After a lifetime of doing this, I see creativity as really nothing more than thinking and acting in ways that are not simply repetitions of previous thoughts and actions. In other words creativity amounts to the ability to not get stuck…

In a global sense then, getting stuck is the problem with our minds.
We get stuck in certain ways of thinking and nothing new is going to happen until we can get ourselves unstuck. The inability to solve problems is the inability to get unstuck from old ways of seeing in order to see a new solution. Mental illness is getting mentally stuck in loops and scripts that either have no useful relation to appropriate realities or getting stuck in thoughts that reinforce negative patterns of behavior. Emotional illness is getting stuck in emotions to the degree that we are simply overwhelmed with feelings we can not bear to experience without constant pain.

Getting stuck in patterns that guarantee defeat and create self-fulfilling prophecies is the bane of our minds and the ruination of our lives.

The place to start with remediating this tendency to get stuck in repetition is to pay some attention to what is going on in the mind during brief intervals of daily life – an endless jumble of chaotic activity occurring, seemingly all at once.

There is a long and voluminous history of psychological models for understanding the activity of observing one’s own mind, from ancient Vedic and Oriental methodologies through various schools of Western psychology to new age revelations and modern neuroscience. It’s not necessarily helpful to exclusively follow any single particular pre-determined path and dismiss others. Instead, for our purposes, a more synthetic and self-observational approach can reveal much.

Any individual may simply take some time to look at the way his or her mind seems to work on a typical day. This is illuminating enough to yield some useful insights without the need to check with an expert at every turn.

What typically occupies our thinking minds? What kind of thoughts are we processing? We are continually reviewing a series of culturally produced memes – views we have been carrying around since childhood. There’s the to-do list, the list of things we should have done, the list of regrets, fears, desires, and the list of people with whom we are inextricably bound up. We’re reprocessing many manipulative media-induced messages – from old song lyrics to the latest movie or TV show we watched. There is also the incessant turning over of self-critical messages that we have accepted from the criticism of others and newer ones that we’ve added ourselves, frustrated desires, endless wishing for fulfillment, the complaints, the blaming others for our plight, etc. Observing this makes one wonder how anything practical, productive, or rational can hold itself together long enough to gain any momentum in our consciousness.

Rather than get lost in the minutia, for now we’re just looking at the repetitiveness of it all. A lot of it does seem to repeat itself in a sort of endlessly looping way. That’s what we’re looking for – the most tenaciously gripping scripts that refuse to stop no matter what you’d like to do about them. If we’re angry about something, for example – if you’ve ever been depressed or are depressed now, you know about the endlessly negative messages we can harbor and how unrelenting they can be…

It can be helpful to simplify what is perhaps the most complex subject of all – getting some insight into how our minds work. There is no reason why it has to be a matter for experts alone. We have the most complete subjective experience about ourselves. We are very close to grasping the most obvious solutions to our problems. They are right with us – inside us every day.

Our distressed thinking is the source of the distress in our lives. Rescuing ourselves from this situation is a matter of unraveling the thinking process strand by strand, thought by thought, pattern by pattern, script by script. We have all of our days – our whole lives to accomplish this.

We talk to ourselves constantly, internally. The state of our internal monolog sets the stage for the state of our minds. The state of our minds sets the stage for the state of our lives.

We have an opportunity to take a look at the state of our minds every second of every day. The paths to resolving our problems follow from these simple observations.

Next time: Working toward the solution: getting unstuck.

Image: “Mental Blocks,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.


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