Caught in the Same Old Rut?

Jessica Macbeth

Sometimes it seems like the same issues come up in our lives, over and over. We try to learn the lessons we can from them, and we think we are moving forward, but we look around and see that we have somehow fallen into the same old trap - are facing the same old issues yet again and learning the same old lessons. It seems obvious to us that we must not have got it right before. It can get frustrating when the same things crop up again and again in our lives. We might even feel that we are not getting anywhere - that we don't understand the question, let alone know the answer.

So, naturally, the question arises, how can we figure out what the lesson actually is?

I can't answer this question directly, but four things come to my mind that may be helpful.

First, this is where it is a great benefit to have an ongoing relationship with a teacher, guru, lama, master, whatever—someone who knows you and your issues well. Then, they can ask the questions or set the tasks that help us to find insight we are looking for. I don't have such a relationship at present myself, but I do have knowledgeable and supportive friends/peers who help me that way. This is an important aid to the path of growth—knowing when and who to ask for a helping hand when the cliff seems too steep to climb by ourselves.

Second, when my record gets stuck, repeating itself over and over, I keep asking myself. "What do I need to learn from this?" And then I listen—really listen. In the days and weeks to follow, answers to my question may come from many sources. The person standing behind me in the checkout line at the supermarket may say something to someone else that is relevant to my situation. I might pick up a book in a shop and, in glancing through it, come across something that speaks to the issue. Someone might tell me a joke or a story that makes a point I need to consider. The trick here is to focus on the world itself as a teacher—a teacher who can be a little cryptic at times, but who nevertheless is trying to pass information to me, if only I'll listen. This kind of listening is a special skill and requires that we pay attention to what is going on much more than people normally do. Listen for the messages everywhere—and then use discrimination about what is a message and what is irrelevant.

Third, meditation helps. There are special meditation and visualization techniques for this very purpose. Lots of them. Find and learn them. Or if you are experienced enough, create your own.

Fourth, don't get discouraged by the fact that you are bumping into the same wall or falling into the same pit over and over. Sometimes, an issue comes in many layers and teaches many lessons, all related, and each essential to understanding the whole. Each time we "get" a layer/lesson, we come closer to the time when we will finally understand the core of it. But it takes time, and there is not any set time for this process. It takes as long as it takes. I just finally got something the other day that I've been working on for years. All of the other lessons I've learned from that issue are also valid, but I hope this is the real core of it. If not, well... a kindly universe is certain to provide me with another look at the issue again, from a slightly different and probably deeper angle.


May each of us learn what we need to learn
as quickly and gently as possible.

Copyright © 2002 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This essay may not be republished on the web or reprinted anywhere without written permission from the author.