becalmed instead of stuck; drawn instead of driven

My friend, Kelly, was just lamenting about being stuck. In fact, we hear this often from creatives or from people who feel they aren't making enough progress on their goals or their life lists.  I think the idea of being stuck is wrapped up in a faulty metaphor that we buy into without even knowing it.
"Everyone in the modern West has taken up Freud’s vocabulary, even if they’ve never studied psychology. We ask, “what is driving me to do this?”—usually not realizing that the origin of this way of explaining things is the Viennese originator of psychoanalysis, who said that we had within us certain drives (for example, a sexual drive) that maneuver us around. We claim, with this question, that there are these forces within us, both known and unknown, that are having us take action (or in some cases refraining from taking it).

Yet no one has ever seen “a drive.” That’s okay because no one has ever seen “happiness” either. We grew up learning these words in a particular culture, and when we observe certain behaviors, including how people speak and describe their experience, we say that a “drive” or “happiness” is present. The trouble begins when we forget that these words are descriptors and are not pointing to freestanding phenomena such as a mountain, a river, or a tree."

~ James Flaherty

Why did Freud use the word drive?  Because the definition fit his theory - drive means "to push from behind" as in a team of horses; as in a car.  We are immersed in the metphors of a car culture.  We sing about life being a highway, we talk about running out of gas and putting the pedal to the metal, we publish amazing books on the importance of intrinsic motivation and erroneously title them Drive. (yes, I'm looking at you, Dan Pink.) And this is why we think we get stuck. We think there is some unknowable force that needs to push us. Or that we need to push ourselves.

Stuck is an extension of our metaphorical drive thinking, it implies a linear process. Imagine a car stuck in the snow or mud - what do you do?  You spin your wheels, you try to force it out by pushing from behind. You gun it, pressing down on the gas pedal as fast and as far as you can.

There is power in the words we use - the way we talk can bring us freedom and open us up, or it can close us down. To quote James Flaherty again, "Please start to notice when you begin speaking in a way that ties you up in knots, that leaves you with few options for action, that leaves you estranged from others [or from yourself- L], that leaves you distraught."  I think that's what happens when we talk about being stuck.

I'm proposing an alternate metaphor to describe this state/process. In sailing the term used when the wind dies down such that the boat stops moving is becalmed. Becalmed. Be. Calmed. Whoa, how cool is that? That's a world away from stuck. Completely different energy in that word.

And what do sailors do when their boat is becalmed?  Well, first of all they recognize that it's a partnership - the boat is not completely under their control - it moves due to a partnership between the wind and the sailor.They have techniques for ensuring they can make the most of any light wind that comes up, for allowing themselves to be drawn, rather than driven.

1. Lighten the weight - the heavier the boat, the more drag.  What's weighing you down?

2. Move towards the centre of the boat.  How can you move closer to that which moves you?

3. Seek the ripples - little ripples on the water tell you where the slightest wind is. What is making your heart flutter?

4. Minimize unnecessary movements - they rob you of momentum. Rest.

5. Use the current.  Where is the deeper flow that you can tap into? Create rituals and routines that can act as your  current.

6. Keep all movements slow and steady - quick, jerky movements keep your boat from gliding. Small steps.

7. Remember that even on the calmest days, a slight breeze always comes up as the sun begins to go down.  Don't panic.

Tell me where I'm wrong.

Read More