Friday, April 20, 2012

Asking for Directions

I recently heard for the first time "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson (who played Sister Berthe, the nun with car mechanic skills, in the movie The Sound of Music). This prose-poem (which I have copied below) really resonated with me, as I had always been taught that wisdom and maturity would help you out as you encountered similar situations over and over during the course of your life. Changing routes entirely was not mentioned -- you were supposed to deal with whatever came your way, not just up and change your route.

However, there have been times in my life when I felt as though I were speeding down a metaphorical freeway in the wrong direction. Either I had missed my exit or I had just gotten turned around entirely. The longer I went without changing direction, the farther I would be from where I intended to go. Going faster wasn't going to help, it would just get me to the wrong destination sooner. No, what I had to do was to exit the freeway as soon as possible, find a place to stop, and hope that I could either find a map or find someone who could give me some directions. At the very least, I could look around and see what direction the sun was coming from or maybe spot a familiar landmark. If it was a relatively familiar neighborhood, I could find a detour route that would put me back on track. Otherwise, I would have to get back onto the metaphorical freeway and go back the way I came until I could locate where it was that I had intended to go.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist's Way, notes that just when you have decided to make a bold change in your life, The Test seems to come. In my case, I had decided to leave my job and support myself on my savings for a year. I had even decided when I would turn in my notice and tell my co-workers. Right about that time, I received a promotion and a raise at work. I was grateful for the hard-earned recognition, but I sensed that staying in that job at the new level would be like flooring the accelerator pedal and heading full speed in the wrong direction.

So here I am, checking my map and getting helpful advice (or not) from friends and strangers. Little by little, I am getting a sense of my surroundings. I am taking it on faith that if I take it slowly and check my directions often enough, I will find myself back on track. Walking on a sidewalk with no holes (or at least different holes).

"Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost ... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

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.

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.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

1 comment:

  1. “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
    If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” C.S. Lewis
    (I keep this on my bulletin board at home.)


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