AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS by Portia Nelson, 1980
1. I walk, down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. . . I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. . . it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
5. I walk down another street.
I’ve struggled for years with the question, “Do I avoid this or do I conquer it?” That question stemmed from my need to understand when to stay in certain situations, when to walk away. or when not to walk in at all. I’ve heard throughout life, “Choose your battles wisely, because if you don’t you could win the battle, but lose the war.” I understand the concept of that saying, but I don’t always know the difference between a worthwhile battle, and one that isn’t woth fighting. Often, I choose to take on the battle and wind up on the losing end.
How do we know when to change direction, or when to go forward, armed and ready to conquer a situation? Because it is easy to be seduced by the intellect and the heart, we have to find other means of knowing. I believe this is what wisdom is all about. By wisdom, I mean the growth we undergo when we pay attention to the results of our experiences. As we grow in wisdom, our ability to make sounder judgments increases, and it gets easier to know what to avoid and what to go after.
For most of my life I’ve avoided what I needed to face, and I’ve tried to conquer what I needed to avoid. It’s taken me years to learn the difference between what balances me, and what throws me off kilter. As I pay attention to outcomes and become more familiar with my wounds and how I got them, I’m learning to name those attractor patterns that make me go weak and into the darkness, and those that lift and contribute to my sense of well-being.
Due to my childhood experiences, I’ve carried the belief that somehow I am responsible for fixing everything and everybody. It’s been difficult for me to practice avoiding the pitfalls, because for years I didn’t know what they were. Flying by the seat of my pants and being driven by my need to “fix and control”, I tried to make myself available to all. Even if I was uncomfortable with people and situations, I stuck around hoping they’d change. I longed to make everything better, while not realizing that I was the one who needed to experience healing and growth. I’ve finally unfolded into a place in my life, where I know that if I’m making someone a fix-it project, the relationship is not based on mutual respect. That’s when I know for a certainty that I’m on the wrong street and I need to correct my course.
Seeing my own wounds and shadow side, plus being sure of what my truth is, helps me to more clearly see my motives for avoiding or conquering. I feel nauseous when I think of the times I’ve stayed in relationships with people or situations because I thought I was supposed to. I’ve spent so much energy engaged in sticking around in hopes that change would happen…but it never did because I was the one who needed to grow and correct my course, and I didn’t know it. I was always looking outside of myself for the change I wanted to see and it didn’t happen.
What have I learned to avoid? Those who try to shame me or put me on a guilt trip, and victims and martyrs who sigh a lot and who want to complain about the same thing over and over, but do not want anything to change. Those things which are destructive to humanity or to the planet rank high on my avoidance list. I withhold my energy from TV shows, movies, and other forms of entertainment or events that serve to destroy the dignity of individuals, the family unit, or of a particular group. The exploitation and abuse of anything elicits a feeling of hurt and anguish in my heart, so I avoid participating in any of it as best I can. Taking this stance puts me on the outside often, but I’m okay with that, because I have consciously made this choice.
I’ve also seen the wisdom in avoiding foods that are not conducive to a healthy body, not living a sedentary lifestyle, and ignoring signs from my body that something isn’t right. For years, I thought that if I denied that I was sick my body would obey my mind and I would be well.. I see how easy it is to pretend I’m not in a human body and therefore not subject to the same illnesses as other humans.
Some of the things I’m learning to face head on are my fears and my truth. Because some of my fears are deep, I occasionally would like to find a way to avoid them. But, I know that I can’t do that because to run from what’s present in my life is counter productive.
I am a work in progress, and I am aware of my propensity to fall in the same hole over and over, before my brain and spirit get that it’s a hole; it’s dangerous, and I could get hurt if I fall in. Wisdom eventually teaches me that I’m not responsible for that hole, nor can I fix it, therefore I need to avoid it. It’s easy to shy away from avoidance when I think there may be a slight chance that I caused the hole.
Learning what is good for me and what isn’t is a lifelong process, but the planet Earth is school, and life is the lesson and the teacher. When I pay close attention I learn quicker, and I make wiser choices about what to avoid and what to conquer.
I invite my readers to please take the following poll. I will post the results next week. Thank you.