Where am I stuck?

by Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel

If you really want to practice Zen, not just know something about it, a good first question to ask is “where am I stuck?”

We may think, ‘I’m not stuck,’ or ‘people fall into two categories: some are stuck and others are not, and I myself am [or am not].’  What I’m suggesting is that the question is not “if” I’m stuck, but “where?”  Assume that every step of the way, as soon as we put one foot down, say the left foot, the left foot’s stuck, and the right foot is free  Then we put the right foot down, and the right foot’s now stuck and the left foot’s free. We’re just stuck, unstuck, stuck, unstuck, and back and forth.

So you can ask yourself that question, but it’s not so easy to answer.  Here’s an easy exercise you can begin with.  First, visualize somebody you can’t stand. This shouldn’t be too hard.  Take a minute, think of somebody you just hate. Then think, what is it about that person you can’t stand, and you’ll notice that there are other people that have those qualities, and you hate them too. Then you’ll know you’ve just hit on a part of yourself where you’re stuck, a part of yourself you have disowned.

This is where the Big Mind process can be very helpful.  Let’s say I hate prejudiced people, people who are prejudiced against a particular creed, religion, nationality, race, whatever.  In other words, I hate people who hate other people. Well, then, that’s disowned in me, the one that’s prejudiced is disowned in me. So what I would do is look at, or hear from, that disowned voice in myself.   “OK, I am the voice of prejudice, and I’ve been disowned by him, by Genpo. Well, how do I feel?  Actually I hate him for that! I hate Genpo for disowning me, because I want to be prejudiced. I want to like the people I like, and hate the people I want to hate. And there are certain people I hate, because they’re not like me.”

By letting that voice speak, by letting it out, what we start to see is how, when it’s disowned, or a shadow,  it will come out in covert ways, leak out sideways, and affect our life. So maybe I’m in that camp where I hate all prejudiced people, I just hate them. In fact, maybe I’d like to kill them all. You know, that’s a lot of hate, a lot of prejudice, against prejudiced people.

So I start to look at the effects of being disowned by Genpo.  He hates a lot of people he puts into that category. He stereotypes them, calls them all kinds of names — rednecks, bigots, he can go on and on and on.  He’s judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, ignorant, all the qualities he claims to despise.  In fact, by disowning me, he disowns a whole part of himself, which is prejudice.

Now he can begin to look at what it would be like if he accepted this, if he owned me, as prejudice. Well, the more Genpo can own me, the voice of prejudice, the more I can stop being so perverted and immature, or hostile, and in a way destroying his life.  The more he owns me, or any other disowned voice, the less stuck he will be.

When we get to the place we’re actually owning the voice, we transcend it.  All of a sudden it becomes discerning wisdom.  Yes, there are certain people I don’t like very much, and there are other people I like a lot. There are certain people that I appreciate being with more than others, and I’m able to articulate that, and to say, yes, I would like to do this with you tonight, or no, I would rather not go out with you. Whatever the reason, you can own it with the wisdom of discernment, and say yes, I want to be around these kinds of people, and I don’t want to associate with those kinds of people. It’s not a hatred anymore, it’s not coming out sideways, it’s not anger or rage, it’s just discerning wisdom.

When I say ‘all of a sudden,’ what I mean is that the realization is always sudden, immediate.  But the assimilation of this realization into our life takes time.  You can’t ignore that things take time. The awakening is outside of the realm of space and time, but to integrate it into your everyday life is always going to take time.

22 thoughts on “Where am I stuck?”

  1. Thank you. I never considered myself prejudiced until I read this. When you suggested I think of someone I hated I couldn’t think of anyone. Then I read on and knew that I hated bigots, rednecks, republicans, etc…I had really disowned that voice and now will let it speak to me. I am sure I will be opened up by this. Thanks again…Karen

  2. “Your shadow is your candle …
    Your boundaries, your quest.

    Thanks for your contributions to the Wisdom Teachings!

  3. Thank you for your wisdom and guidance. I appreciate you as a person and what you have given to me through your talks and inspiration. Ive got your back Gempo!

  4. great article. direct, pertinent and unpretentious – rolls up the sleeves to get to work. would it be possible to include Google + as a “share” possibility! its a great social network in which to share matters spiritual with a select group of ones friends, in my case, people from the sangha. thanks again, these posts are excellent.

  5. There’s a local morning radio presenter that gives me the gloops – annoying accent, hopeless attempts at being funny, never stops talking etc. I don’t hate her. I just find her irritating; very irritating. And I can’t tune her out because it’s the only local classical music station I can get. I don’t have a category of such people to hate. Come to think of it I don’t hate anyone. There are lots of people, and types of people to whom I am indifferent and even dislike their behaviour. But I don’t have strong feelings about them. Maybe I’m missing something here.

  6. I love these little bits you leave every now and than. They just hit the spot and it’s great to hear how you edeavour on the path of the human being! Please keep it up!


  7. thank you so very much for beeing there, helping other people, like me, to struggle and cope with and enjoy life…

  8. I enjoyed this article sooooo much. Thank you Gampo for this as it got me back to thinking about my shadow and some disowned parts of me that I’ve forgotten. Now you helped me remember. Thanks and keep them coming.

  9. Genpo,

    What if we no longer hate…what happens when we get bored with life…tired of the suffering? But even more tired of trying to get unstuck? Where do we go from here?

  10. My stuckness sometimes screams at me! Works so hard to get my attention ! and then, leaks out sideways, dripping onto the rest of my life, until I must claim it, examine it, and roll it in my hands. Ah, there is the nugget, the pebble irritating my spirit. Named and claimed, owned and loved, this pebble/truth is a gift. Loving myself, I can love another who walks with this same pebble into stuckness.

  11. My mind has been racing for the last few days manifesting competitiveness, posturing, fear, protection, etc. and I just wasn’t able to ( or didn’t want to ) absorb this teaching. But I decided to read it again and put it into practice and now I’m calm and still. I’m thankful for these weekly insights that deeply touch my ordinary life. Thank you for helping steer me back to my practice.


  13. Read your article while still participating in a month-long class. There was a gal from my least favorite city in the class, and she had a face and manner I disliked immediately. A visceral reaction. Having been with you thru voice dialogue, I insisted on examining WHY I disliked her so. It’s that she reminded me of disowned parts in me – she’s unattractive, socially awkward and looks arrogant. I get it. I’m working on this. Thanks, again.

  14. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh being stuck! mmmnnnnnnnnnnn! does that resonate with me? Hell, yes! This time I have decided to openly face it and grow through it. My mantra at present is that seeds germinate in the dark. I know there is a bud in me waiting for the right moment to flower. Thank you Genpo.


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