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What would Sid do: I’m stuck in a rut

posted by Lodro Rinzler

By Lodro Rinzler

Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who
attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it
might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How
would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the
workplace? What would Sid do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

Each
week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I
think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a
buddha, he’s just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a
spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way.
Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

————————————————————————————————————————————–
Hi Sid,
 
Lately I’ve been feeling really bored
with my life, like I’m kind of just stuck in a rut. I’ve been working at
the same job for a few years, living with the same partner, spending time
with the same people, and doing basically the same thing from week to week.
There’s nothing specifically wrong, but I feel like something is lacking.
Any suggestions?

-Bored



Dear Bored,

You’re not alone here. And if you feel that nothing is wrong, then you’re probably right. When I ran the Boston Shambhala Center people would come in all the time and say that they felt stuck in a rut and were hoping that meditation could help them shift something in their life. Oddly enough they wouldn’t say something solid like “I need to leave my boyfriend” or “I hope to gain insight into what sort of job I ought to pursue” but express a general feeling of boredom.

They would start meditating and after a few months I would check in with them. The interesting thing is that they would say they didn’t feel stuck anymore. I would ask, “Oh, what happened?” assuming that some great shift had occurred in their life. Often they wouldn’t have the foggiest idea but would say, “I dunno. Meditation?”

I began to contemplate what it is that makes us feel bored and why meditation was helping people get unstuck in their ephemeral ruts. I realized that it’s not that our life is necessarily boring. It’s that we are bored with the way we live our life.

If Sid was sitting on my dog-hair infested couch with me right now I imagine he would point out that all too often we lose ourselves to the speed and pushiness of our daily routine. We wake up in the morning and rush to get dressed, rush to school or work, then home or on errands, straight to the point where we just collapse in exhaustion at the end of our day. We give in to speed and efficiency at the sacrifice of taking time to appreciate any aspects of our life.

Meditation cuts through speed like a knife. There is a somewhat amusing Buddhist slogan that goes, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” The act of inserting even ten minutes into your day where you are doing nothing but sitting still and grounding yourself in your present experience is a foil to the speed and aggression that hounds our life.

In his book Myth of Freedom, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “As we realize that nothing is happening, strangely we begin to realize that something dignified is happening. There is no room for frivolity, no room for speed. We just breathe and are there. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about it.”

Imagine living your day in slow-motion. Getting up in the morning and greeting your partner with a kiss. Scheduling time for a cup of tea or coffee so you can wake up properly. Selecting your outfit with care and appreciating the fine clothing you own. Putting down your iPhonePodKindle and appreciating the silly child dancing for no good reason on the subway. These things all sound really nice and, frankly, are not that unattainable. We just need to learn to slow down and appreciate our life.

Meditation is one tool that allows us to take a step back from rushing through the habitual routine and appreciate our daily activities. Instead of just assuming you and your partner will order the same thing from the same restaurant you do every Thursday night you might find it worthwhile to reflect on whether that is something about your relationship you want to change. Take a step back from the way you always do things and evaluate what it is you appreciate about that situation. Just because you don’t want General Tso’s chicken anymore doesn’t mean you don’t want your boyfriend.

I would recommend a short contemplation exercise that can be done following basic sitting meditation. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has said that we are always meditating on something. It can be meditating on what we want for lunch or what the quickest way home will be after work but our mind is always being placed on something. For our purposes let’s meditate on appreciation.

After ten or so minutes of breathing meditation turn your mind towards the word “appreciation.” Roll it over in your mind. Let it marinate. If images arise in your mind as to what that means to you, great. When you find yourself drifting off into all the myriad things that bubble up when we meditate do as you do regularly: remind yourself you have lost focus and come back to the object of meditation.

After a few minutes bring to mind something you appreciate about your body. It can be your relative sense of health, the fact that you still have the use of your limbs or eyesight, whatever it might be that brings about a sense of appreciation. Focus on that for a few minutes.

Now bring to mind someone who you appreciate. It can be your partner, your co-worker, a family member, whomever. Think about the way they are, things they do that make you smile or feel supported, or a rich conversation you two have had.

After spending a few minutes on that turn your attention to something you enjoy about work or school, however you spend your day. It can be something tangential like the beautiful trees that surround the building or more direct, a certain task that you do that has become fun now that you know how to do it well. Focus on that for a few minutes.

To conclude drop the words and images and just rest in space and, ideally, a sense of appreciation for your life.

This sort of contemplation can be done as part of your formal meditation practice or on-the-spot. When our friend is telling the same story about how his old block in New York has been gentrified and Godiva Chocolatiers are everywhere instead of spacing out take a moment to connect with your situation. You are out with a friend. You are both able to take time to be with one another. Maybe your friend has seen you through some rough times. Find some way to appreciate just the experience of being with your companion. Even though you know the story by heart when you stay present and appreciative of your situation spending time with an old friend can feel fresh and new.

We can all try to gain a handful of moments where we cut through our speed and monotony with the knife of meditation each day, taking some time to taste our rich and joyous life. More often than not, life isn’t boring, we just skipped over noticing how wonderful it is.

Sincerely,
Lodro

Have a question for this weekly column?

E-mail it to this address with the subject line “What would Sid do” and your question might appear in a future post.



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Comments read comments(12)
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Jon Rubinstein

posted January 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm


this is lovely. thank you very much.
“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” – Thich Nhat Hanh



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Tom

posted January 23, 2010 at 11:11 am


Hello: nice to see you continuing to engage in a meaningful way; Good show and good luck. Tom



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Anan E. Maus

posted January 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm


The first thing with problems like this is to actually take a step back and make sure nothing medical is going on.
Boredom can just be boredom, but it can also be caused by a variety of medical problems…for example, blood sugar….but there are also more serious possibilities. So, a good medical exam is in order, of course telling the doctor about the symptoms…and particularly if the boredom also includes low energy, and if there is a history of depression in the family.
So, that is that. And lastly, with medical problems, if the physical health is fine, beginning a more vigorous exercise program is certainly one excellent way to bring back energy level, endorphins and many positive forces that can help kill boredom. Once all the medical symptoms have been ruled out or dealt with, then work on the spiritual issue can begin.
Some boredom does not represent a deep spiritual problem. It can be more of things that would normally fall into the realm of personal (psychological) counseling. And there can be great benefit in exploring that realm.
If both the physical realm of medical problems is explored…and the realm of psychological counseling is explored…and the boredom does remain…then, indeed it is most likely purely a spiritual problem. Of course, a good counselor will include some spirituality in the therapy.
I would think that while pursuing therapy, one could, at the same time explore spirituality.
The Sufis talk about overcoming spiritual dryness or boredom by “falling in love” – that being a romantic metaphor for falling back in love with life. Since I am personally no expert in doing so, doesn’t seem right to comment upon it, but I think there is great wisdom there.
But, some spiritual dryness is actually a real spiritual calling. It is a recognition that the outer world holds nothing for us…that our real goal is the inner spiritual life. If our outer life is not fulfilling the divinity within us, that divinity will call out for change…and that can include the divinity shutting down our joy in the outer life.
So, while maintaining spiritual practices daily will always help, it would then be quite advisable to take a spiritual retreat in a monastic setting. Get away from all the corruption of daily life and completely re-connect with your spirituality. By all means take some time to talk to members of the monastic community and the abbot/roshi. If that does start to significantly change the mood and one is engaged well…then I think that would be a good start.
I would continue taking regular retreats at the monastery…even once a month if that is possible. And also try and spend long periods alone….walking, jogging, hiking. That will help re-connect with yourself and your real spiritual needs.
gassho



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Ed B..

posted January 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm


Wow! Just your raising the issue is a miracle in itself. This is an issue that arises in all lives, no matter the age or lifestyle again and again. And as you pointed out, the opposite of boredom is not necessarily some other activity.



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Ed B..

posted January 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm


And hey, Anan. Your comments were right on the money as well, especially if the boredom is cronic and/or accompanied by low blood sugar.
Thanks



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GA

posted January 25, 2010 at 6:55 am


“I know people in a RUT who are going to STAY in a RUT! Why? I’ll tellya why! Because they DON’T have the ability to GET THINGS DONE!”
Dale Carnegie flashback…



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Your Name

posted January 27, 2010 at 6:51 am


Dream and Fantasy makes me feel like i get stuck in a rut,because my dream is the impossible dream of all,lol.



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Abambagibus Fortasse ...

posted January 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm


What if ‘to be in rut’ were simply to believe ‘in the rut’ which we believe our selves to be in, if we were in it. To believe in our selves as a substance of ‘reality’, as we logically are prone to, while believing that the rut is a substance of reality as well, is to believe that we and the rut are substances of the same reality thru which it is communicable, …which is to say, thru which it can be communicated to us, with ease if we are not careful. So at ease in our selves without the rut, when not in it, and the rut, so uneasy to be with, or rather ‘in’, have the substance of our belief so in common that the rut, in effect, is a disease, so easily communicable, but only if we neglect our spiritual hygiene.
If the rut is a joyless chasm, so empty of feeling as to impress us with the feeling of the sadness of being empty, then the rut might be the impression of the weight of our desire for the kind of a joy which we truly believe would make us at least joyful enough to realize that we are no longer in the rut. With the insistence of persistent belief, such a desire persists as long as we so believe. The trick is to realize that it’s all an illusion. The Buddha was one of the few magicians who could do it, and the Christ himself as well.



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The Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO

posted January 27, 2010 at 9:54 pm


Boredom arises from not believing in anything.
When you believe, you smile. You are happy, eager to explore and discover. You have something to do.
When you disbelieve, you frown. You are unhappy because there is nothing you can do with that which you don’t believe. You are bored with nothing to do.
Believe, and be happy. Disbelieve, and be unhappy.
What sort of numpty chooses to be unhappy?
“But I don’t want to believe in what isn’t truth,” you say.
What is truth except that which you believe in?



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Justin

posted January 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Great post. What would Sid do? He would do whatever worked. At times you do just need to stop and Listen to the Expansive silence of the Universe. That is always there when we choose to stop and pay attention. Meditation will bring you the answers you are seeking.
Then there are times when you know what to do but you just don’t do it.
Sometime you do have to get off your butt and take action. The mindstate you hold in meditation can carry over into your life and life becomes a meditation. Then it is anything but boring. Approach life as you do meditation. With the infinite possibilites and endless wonders that exist, how can you be bored? Life is the great teacher.
From the movie Wanted:
“Insanity is wasting your life as a nothing when you have the blood of a killer flowing in your veins. Insanity is being shit on, beat down, coasting through life on a miserable existence when you have a caged lion locked inside and the key to release it.”
I’ll let Sid have the last words…
“It is better to live one moment in the moment of the way beyond the way.”



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Ambagibus Fortasse

posted January 31, 2010 at 3:32 pm


If ‘the truth is what you believe in’, as someone asserts heretofore, then theoretically there are as many truths as there are people capable of believing in whatever it pleases them to believe. Very interesting.



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SusanR@freeebooks

posted January 4, 2013 at 10:40 am


Its weird but I’ve found that when I start to feel depressed or have that stuck in a rut feeling, its usually because of a lack of physical activity or poor eating. That or I’ve been roped into a lot of negative conversations with friends and family. Once I change these, I start to feel better instantly. I hope this helps someone.

All the best,
Susan



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