In a Rut (or a Hole)? Need Inspiration? Read this Poem

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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 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 this 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 … but,

                        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.

 

–Portia Nelson, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,” There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk

I love this poem. I find it simple, true, and relatable to our individual and collective struggle to become ourselves and to really thrive in spite of our shadow sides. In the sense of the meaning of the poem, I find Portia’s depiction of the experience of being in a rut and playing out useless patterns in our lives to be a very real description. When we are stuck, we are really stuck. We cannot help ourselves, because we do not take responsibility for our actions.  However, once we start to notice how such behaviors and thought patterns are serving us (or not), we can begin to make small changes that will greatly impact our well-being and our personhood. My two main takeaways from this poem fit perfectly with Mandala Reflections’ focus on the self and the greater community.

“My” sidewalk vs. “Our” sidewalk

1) My sidewalk. Take personal responsibility and avoid avoidance. When I read this poem, I couldn’t help but think about the metaphor of changing streets to avoid the hole.  I recognize that Portia was not intending her words to be taken so literally and that part of changing streets requires us to recognize or “see” the holey sidewalks we attach ourselves to, yet, I still wanted to point out the imagery, because I think our society has a tendency to avoid matters by simply changing directions, (I know I have). At the same time, her poem still affirms that often times we really need that time spent sitting in the hole. When we sit in the hole and really see, we understand ourselves and situations better, we recognize and accept it all with greater ease, and we can move to influence change in our stories and our surroundings.

2) Our sidewalk. Mend the BIG holes together. Sometimes you just can’t do it on your own. Rather than just avoiding it and walking down another street is there a way that allows us to repair/mend the hole that we are falling into? What if this hole is not a shadow in your psyche or family history, but is a bigger societal problem that affects the greater community? Just mending your own hole won’t be as easy if it is not you who is causing the problem. Fixing this kind of hole can only be done with the collaboration and cooperation of many concerned individuals. To effect change on this level will require you to build relationships and connect with others in a way that is meaningful.

 

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