What’s Keeping You Stuck in Your Dung Pile?

by Marsha Hughes-Rease

I love the Buddhist stories because there always seems to be a truth that I can relate to. I recently found this wonderful little story about two monks who lived together in a monastery for many years; they were great friends. They died within a few months of one another. One of them was reborn in the heaven realms and the other monk was reborn as a worm in a dung pile. The one up in the heaven realms was having a wonderful time, enjoying all the heavenly pleasures. But he started thinking about his friend: “I wonder where my old mate has gone?” So, he scanned all of the heaven realms but could not find a trace of his friend.

Then he scanned the realm of human beings but could not see any trace of his friend there, so he looked in the realm of animals and then of insects. Finally he found him, reborn as a worm in a dung pile… Wow! He thought: “I am going to help my friend. I am going to go down there to that dung pile and take him up to the heavenly realm so he too can enjoy the heavenly pleasures and bliss of living in these wonderful realms.”

So he went down to the dung pile and called his mate. And the little worm wriggled out and said: “Who are you?” “I am your friend. We used to be monks together in a past life, and I have come up to take you to the heaven realms where life is wonderful and blissful.” But the worm said: “Go away, get lost!” “But I am your friend, and I live in the heaven realms,” and he described the heaven realms to the worm. But the worm said: “No thank you, I am quite happy here in my dung pile. Please go away.” Then the heavenly being thought: “Well if I could only just grab hold of him and take him up to the heaven realms, he could see for himself.” So he grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging at him; and the harder he tugged, the harder that worm clung to his pile of dung.

This story very poignantly reminded me that all of us can fall victim to being comfortable in our own “dung pile.” And not only are we comfortable… we actually resist or reject the notion that we might be happier if we left the pile. The worm actually believed he was happy in the dung. As humans, our dung pile can be our beliefs.

Research has shown that 90 percent of one’s belief system is formed by age 12 and it undergoes a “final lock” at age 20. I would imagine you can add or subtract a couple of years on either side of this belief continuum formation but the point is, most of us have an intact belief system by the time we reach adulthood. These beliefs are the result of our unique experiences during the first twenty or so years of our life along with how we have been socialized based on our family of origin, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. Our belief system then results in unconscious but predictable adult behavior patterns which usually have been reinforced by what we rewarded or punished for.

These well entrenched beliefs are changed only by some significant personal life event such as death of a loved one, birth of a child, marriage, loss of a job, not getting a promotion, or a not so personal events such as 9/11, the civil rights movement, or the 2008 recession or maybe we have a sudden realization (usually with the help of significant feedback) that some of our behaviors resulting from our belief system are actually self-defeating or have a negative impact on others.

Certain types of stressors or maybe a friend or coach can certainly help motivate us to change. However, we often rush to change without examining our current beliefs or assumptions that may be actually competing with our desire to change….competing to the point that we are more committed to staying in the dung pile then actually changing….even good change! We may need to stop and examine how our beliefs or assumptions are keeping us stuck in our dung pile before trying to make a change. This is not easy especially if these competing commitments are usually unconscious.

What have you done lately to surface and examine how your competing commitments are keeping you stuck in a dung pile?