Jackstraws: Untangling A Complicated Life

by Golnaz, BSc, London, UK

Have you ever played a game of jackstraws (also known as pick-up-sticks), where you start with a tangled pile of thin sticks and the players attempt in turn to remove a single stick without disturbing the whole pile? Moving just one stick tends to disturb the whole lot and, sometimes, odd sticks will fall away from the pile making them easy to get to.

I have created a complicated life for myself that resembles a jackstraw pile.

The multitude of sticks are perfectly colour coded to me, representing:

  • ideals of how things should be – expectations I put on myself, others and situations
  • beliefs about things – creating a blindness to any alternative possibilities
  • protections for past hurts – even long after the hurts are forgotten
  • loyalties towards institutions – some of these not even consciously chosen.

The list goes on and on, deeper into the stack.

Looking around me, everyone has their own pile going. People seem more comfortable with others of a similar pile, even comparing and admiring each other’s sticks. Often in relationships two or more piles seem partially linked and when one person moves one of their own sticks, the other’s sticks can wobble and at times cause upset.

Recently I have witnessed people who have a very simple way of living, with piles that have become small and tidy. And then there are also a few individuals that don’t even seem to have a pile to negotiate life through. Wow – now that is something my heart feels is worth exploring further: the possibility of a small or even no pile.

I was inspired to begin to detangle my pile stick by stick. A ‘stick’ I chose first was my living environment, which for some time now I have felt has not been in keeping with the current me. Yet every time I had started to make a change – started to pull that stick – I stalled: at times I even got so tired I fell asleep, then abandoned the task and instead numbed myself to the niggling knowing that all was not well… removing sticks can be tricky. I decided to call in reinforcements ­– a friend to assist with this intense process.

Major panic and apprehension came before the arrival of my stick removal assistant. At different stages, while I examined my unconscious relationship with items in my home and considered letting them go, I felt overwhelmed by what was going on in my body. This overwhelm had stopped me many times before and it was an immense support to have someone lovingly nudge me along, supporting me to keep drawing that stick out of the pile.

Oh my word, I could feel all my sticks during this process. It was surreal but I noticed whenever the pile was about to be disturbed, I felt rigid, as if I was pinned down with the force of my sticks.

As sticks started to wobble in the pile, I had the opportunity to see more of their colour and energy and start to remove them too. A few significant sticks so far have been:

  • My ‘other people’s reactions’ stick – I was holding on to many objects because I did not want to upset another person. These included items that once belonged to another family member, or had been a present. By holding on to these, I was in effect withholding my true feelings from everyone.
  • My ‘old identity’ stick – these objects were connected to past praise and admiration. For example, I used to make pretty, colourful cards – although I mainly use e-cards now, all the unused bits and pieces for making coloured cards had been carefully stored. I knew I was not going to go there again, but somehow had not been willing to close that chapter.
  • My ‘just-in-case!’ stick – I may need it later. This stick does not even belong in my pile. I have never been in a position where I lacked anything physical, so there is no logical reason for it. My parents however, lived through a world war and have every excuse to hold this belief. This is one of my parent’s sticks!!! But I have been running with it in my pile for all these years.

So far I have taken a few baby steps – considering the size of the project at hand – letting things go from my living environment. But words cannot express how huge each baby step has been, what I chose to face in each step, and the massive free space it has created within me – a space far greater than the one created in my home.

152 thoughts on “Jackstraws: Untangling A Complicated Life

  1. I loved reading the simplicity of this blog. That within everyone of us have sticks that we hold onto, until it becomes one big pile of mess that isn’t necessary and burdensome.

    What I love is that once we make the decision to free ourselves, it is truly freeing of the entanglement that have held us prisoners for so long, and yet it wasn’t necessary to place ourselves in that position in the first place.

    The other thing is that there is always support, and receiving that support is saying that we truely are not alone. That there is always someone out there in the world that will be the appropriate person for us whilst we are going through this phase. And then, the next will be given for another stick to be removed…

  2. It is interesting how we can decide it is time to do something but then obstacles will come to stop us from going for it – we feel tired or unwell or foggy in the head etc etc. This is a form of self sabotage to stop us from clearing out the old (that which needs to move on) and embracing the new (that which is needed to support us next). And yet we know we cannot open the next door without having closed the first one behind us!

    1. I agree Henrietta, everything occurs in cycles, just like the seasons. That cycle needs to be complete in order for the next to unfold. How else does a toddler run, when it needs to take its first step to crawl, then walk and off we go. Life is no different…

  3. There are things that I too have held onto as I don’t want to hurt another person by throwing out or passing on the item to another – I feel like they might feel rejected, hurt, unappreciated etc. and so I hold on and allow a stagnancy when I know that this is not what is needed for either party.

  4. Golnaz, I love how you have allowed an exploration of the “why” we hold on to things and allow them to accumulate. We can feel it is time for the things to go, and yet a part of us still holds on, like a contract that says you cannot let go of it….And yet once the contract has been seen and shredded, it is the most freeing of situations to allow oneself to let go and dispose of what was really meant to go anyways.

  5. This is a brilliant blog I feel we do have a tendency to take on other people’s ideals and beliefs as though they were our own. These beliefs can then blind us to any other possibility because Dad, Mum, School teacher said so it must be true.

  6. This is a lovely analogy of the mess we can create in our lives, and how we have a choice to examine this and let go what is no longer what we would now choose.

  7. Thank you Elizabeth, it is such a beautiful point yo have made “Nobody else but us created our pile of sticks and it is only us who can transform the incarcerating energy of the pile.”. This is a brilliant reminder about why we can’t carry others or take on their responsibilities, no one can truly unravel another’s pile of sticks, we have to do it ourselves.

  8. “Often in relationships two or more piles seem partially linked and when one person moves one of their own sticks, the other’s sticks can wobble and at times cause upset.” This is a great way to explain relationship dynamics and how when one person makes changes the reactions can come because it can shift the other person out of their comfort to expose what they need to look at as well.

  9. Thank you Golnaz, as sticks go we can also be a stick in the mud!!! As we grow roots we can then get our heads out the quagmire and then like the Lotus berth a new existence.

  10. Looking at my pile today, I am recognizing the loyalty sticks that I was not even aware of, I thought it was called responsibility and I can still feel my confusion there, but what is clear is how that’s sitting on top and stopping true feelings to be honoured.

    1. Fumiyo looking at my pile today I recognise sympathy for others, there has been a slight shift with this, a stick has wobbled as I realise that the last thing someone actually needs is sympathy because it can make everything worse. For example if I go into sympathy there are two of us in the mud not one pulling the other up and out of the mud.

  11. “As sticks started to wobble in the pile, I had the opportunity to see more of their colour and energy and start to remove them too.” When we disturb one of our ‘comfortable’ sticks it can rock the others – loosening them so that others can be removed too – and so we can grow and evolve.

  12. Love this analogy. We can invest so much energy into holding our stick pile stable, so it doesn’t fall apart, all under the illusion that we are doing well and have got it together or at least worked out. Yet underneath it all is the tension and exhaustion from the constant effort and management. I also love how you shared there is greater space for us to be ourselves when we do let go of the ‘sticks’ that we think are defining who we are, as who we are within, love, is what truly represents and holds us steady like no other.

    1. Awesome Carola – for the sticks are a distraction from the Love that is within, the true holding power in life.

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