“But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can’t prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What’s really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.”
“Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors.” ” Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
When I was hung up in Albuquerque, flailing around looking for someone who knew something about repairing a semi-modern Volkswagen, I needed to remember this Pirsig thing about getting “stuck.” If you just wallow in being stuck, you almost always find a way out of the predicament. If you don’t, you probably haven’t embraced being stuck long enough.
In retrospect, I didn’t get stuck in New Mexico until we’d escaped Albuquerque and meandered down to Elephant Butte. We were truly stuck in Elephant Butte. As in being on my own to solve the problem in a place that was comfortable enough to admit to being stuck, with the resources to get unstuck in at least a half-dozen different ways of varying quality. Once I had a couple of less-than-ideal options sorted out, going after getting the vehicle back on the road was less intimidating. Worst case, we sell the RV for a big loss, rent a car, and drive back home after enjoying a winter away from winter. Don’t get me wrong, that was a painful way out of being stuck, but it was a workable tactic that we’d accepted as a possibility.
Once the nuclear option was laid out, the other options were explored. Honestly, if I could have dumped the RV in New Mexico, found a decent 4L pickup with a manual transmission, I’d have taken a pretty big hit to the billfold willingly. Didn’t happen. No serious offers on the RV, other than the guy in Oklahoma who had $10k ready to go. No manual transmission pickups in any sort of shape. So, I kept messing with the RV bits until Victor (Big Victor’s Automotive) and I found the TCM’s hiding place, discovered the drenched connector with the damaged terminals, and started looking at the options for fixing that. It took a long time to find a workaround that . . . worked. Once the problem was exposed, solutions became more acceptable, less impossible/more acceptable and the hard part of stuckness drifted into memory.
A few weeks ago, I had the bright idea of tearing out a really ugly ceiling light in my porch. We’d been living with the damn thing for 18 years, but I’d never been able to figure out what do do in the hole that would be left when the old light was removed. Pulling the old light was the first step in getting unstuck. Once it was out and in the trash, I lived with the hole for a week before I came up with a design for the “fixture.” It took a while to convince myself I had a solution, a day or so sorting out the inner framework for the light. Once I had the frame, the cosmetic work went easily.
It’s worth mentioning that I suck at this kind of work. Visualiization is not one of my talents. Finish carpentry isn’t either. Usually, I need a picture to work from, but no such illustration was available in this project. Wallowing in stuckness is what got me this practical and decent looking light design.
I hope I can remember that the next time I am in a similar situation. Life is full of moments where the choice is stuckness or panic. Panic is a useless reaction. Panic is what leads an elk to lie down and suffer being eaten instead of attempting to kick his way out of death. It is a choice, panic or stuckness, Be clear about that. Panic is the useless, prey response and stuckness is a human, decision-making, problem-solving moment of zen. It can be a long, painful, frustrating “moment,” but as long as you are walking around the problem ticking through solutions you are still in the game. Maybe the real reason I bring a copy of Zen and the Art with me on most trips is to be reminded of how to appreciate stuckness.