• Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

The Importance of Being Stuck

Recently, my daughter, my son, and I decided that we wanted to mark off Sugarland Mountain Trail from our list of the GSMNP hiking trails. We've always liked the idea of parking up on Clingmans Dome Road and then hiking a nearly completely downhill trail (then getting a ride back up to the top).


A nearly completely downhill hike: how lucky could we be?!


Fast forward to the day of the hike-- to a good 4.5 miles into the trail-- as I sat with my daughter and son on the trail surrounded by tall, thick briar bushes, with my daughter's face in her hands as she said, "Can we even do this? It doesn't feel like the briars will ever end. How many more miles of this? Can we just go back up? The sun is so hot, and my cuts are burning from all of the sweat. This is not what I thought it would be like."


Her words echoed many of my own thoughts. We were scratched up, hot, sweaty, and tired. Tired from the crumbling, eroded trail. Tired from the relentless sun. Tired from the briars and brambles clawing against our legs and arms. Tired from the flies buzzing around and landing on our open cuts. And at some point, amidst the six-foot briars and burned trees, we started feeling isolated, alone, trapped, and lost in the unforgiving world of new forest growth.

We were feeling stuck.


As we sat there discussing our options and assessing the situation, we explored the reality of our hike. That this was the trail we chose. That this was our path for the day. That this was a trail that we would undoubtedly finish. That this was a challenge that we were capable of handling.


And after our discussion, exploration of the (fairly limited) options, and a bit of a pep talk, we moved farther down the trail and into the territory of acceptance. Acceptance of where we were. Acceptance of the situation at hand. Acceptance of the flies and sun and cuts and briars and sweat and trail.


This hike reminded me of a greater life lesson I've been exploring lately: the lesson of Stuckness.

Stuckness happens throughout our life times (not just on hiking trails), and it moves us through difficulty and into growth. You might have experienced this Stuckness before, especially if you've ever found yourself saying any of the following:


"I've hit a dead end."


"The best laid plans..."


"This is not what I was expecting."

"I had everything planned out. But then I got the door slammed in my face."


Stuckness shows up in a variety of ways. Maybe you just feel stuck. Or maybe you feel bored with life or feel like days are running together. Or you feel like it's been a while since you last felt the excitement of new personal growth. Maybe you feel disappointed or like things did not go the way you were expecting. Feel unmotivated, frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed, or indifferent towards internal movement. Maybe anger and resentment are showing up. Perhaps you feel stagnant and unchanged. Or you feel "Bleh." Maybe you want to give up and feel directionless. Or maybe you feel unsure of where to go next.


I was recently talking with some friends about Stuckness. We talked about how it's all about the journey (that's a lesson I've heard before, universe!), and we explored how Stuckness is often necessary for growth. How Stuckness is sometimes exactly where we are supposed to be. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if it's not what we had planned.


Even if we are cut up, scraped up, exhausted, and isolated. Even when we are wondering when this will end and if we are even capable of getting through it. Even when we are saying to ourselves that this isn't what we had planned.


And isn't that what Stuckness is? Unplanned. Not what we had in mind. Not where we were planning on going.


Stuckness is, in and of itself, an archetype. It spans different cultures and is an idea that is relatable, no matter your cultural, religious, or geographical background. It's the feeling of being Stuck. Sometimes shows up by different names, such as Trapped or Imprisoned. Kim Krans calls it The Dead End in her archetype deck and book, and she does a great job of summing up this archetype by exploring the light/shadow aspects of the archetype. In it, Kim states:


Contrary to what its name implies, The Dead End is very much alive. It is a force that stops us from moving forward as planned... It is natural to resist its very resistance and struggle even harder to make our way, to prove our point, to hold on to what was. In this way we fight life itself. From a mythic perspective, The Dead End you face is very much a beginning. There are doors opening all around you, just not the one you planned on walking through."


Through hiking Sugarland Mountain Trail, talking with my friends, and reading up on The Dead End archetype, I've spent this past week pondering the importance of Stuckness. And I've come face-to-face with the reality that Stuckness is indeed a necessary place for us to be.

Why? Because it is through that Stuckness that we dig deeper. It is at The Dead End that we explore who we truly are, where we are truly going, and what we truly want. It is through this state that we discover opened doors that we would have never planned (or even dreamed) that we would be going through... and yet we end up in a far more satisfying, empowering, and enlightening place. We find internal strength and motivation.


So, what do you do with Stuckness? How do you move through it? How do you find the value in it? First off, you begin by cultivating acceptance around this state. There's no use in fighting it, ignoring it, or cramming it. Accept that it exists and give it a place within your psyche. But remember: acceptance is the first step, the last step, and every step in between during the entire process. It's not a one-and-done type of action. Acceptance is a constant challenge for us.


Cultivate acceptance, and then begin working on it. Begin processing the Stuckness. Figure it out. How?

First, ask yourself some of these questions: Why is it there? What events lead you to this stuck point? What door closed that you weren't expecting to close? Where exactly is The Dead End that you are facing? What emotions come up when you think about the Stuckness? Are there any emotions that you have crammed that need to be processed, aired out, or explored? Are they contributing to The Dead End? What are the thoughts around the Stuckness that you are experiencing?


Second, explore the answers to those questions on a deeper level. The purpose is to feel the underlying emotions that come up as you focus on the Stuckness. You could journal about the Stuckness. Or do some Medicine Wheel work around the Stuckness. Or meditate on the Stuckness. You could discuss it with a friend, family member, or therapist that you trust. Maybe take a breather while regrounding yourself and inviting in acceptance and emotion. Explore the Stuckness while jogging or running.


Whatever it takes for you to process the Stuckness.

Follow your intuition on how you can best process and move through past that Dead End.

And remember: the goal is not to cram/ignore/run from the Stuckness. The goal is to accept it and engage it. It is through acceptance and processing that the other doors begin to open. Side doors that we weren't expecting. Doors that only open once we have dealt with The Dead End.

Stuckness teaches so much about ourselves: what we can handle, how we can adapt, and where we are going. While it feels like the end of the world, it's just another new beginning. It's just another way to lift ourselves up towards empowerment. It's just one step closer to who we are meant to be.


So, welcome those slammed doors. Accept those hot, sweaty, scraped-up moments amidst 6-foot-briars. Embrace and explore those moments where you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Because at the end of the day, those experiences are pushing you towards becoming who you are meant to be.

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