Courage and Not Being Stuck

By Kathy Goodman

Here is the  poem “Autobiography In Five Chapters” by Portia Nelson, taken from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche.

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.

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’m 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 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.

Strive for courage.  The first step might be to acknowledge any fear that blocks your fulfillment, any repeated patterns you do that waste your time – that spin your wheels in mud.  Do not burn up energy going nowhere. Do not try to back your car into a too small parking space. It will not work. Try not to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  If you find yourself doing that, at least see that you still haven’t learned and forgive yourself.  Stop, when “stuck” and regroup by quietly reflecting on a simple question “what do I need to do to move forward?”  I have always asked this question most successfully while retreating to a warm bath and dimming the lights. You may have to back up, change courses or simply wait.  Sometimes there are no “solutions” at hand and the best plan is to stop seeking solutions and just stay open to opportunities.  Try not to play the “blame game” of it being someone else’s fault and you are the “victim”…this is, in my experience, a total waste of time and weakens you, diminishes you.   It is likely you are responsible, since it is your perception of the situation. In the meanwhile, life itself is passing you by.  Just remain “awake” to life itself and not your little momentary problem. Do not get becalmed.  Catch the wind in your sail: if there is no wind, wait for it and enjoy the view.  Everything changes all the time, it’s the nature of life itself.

Sometimes it is the exact same thing in my work as a conflict resolution professional.  In my field, we need to be first and foremost, courageous and unafraid.  We need to truly want to help.  Simply put: we don’t want to find ourselves repeating fruitless patterns with our clients.  If, at the moment,  there is no apparent solution, sometimes we just have to take a break and wait…wait for the wind to change and fill our sails.  Or wait for a change in the mood in the room, a shift in the relationship of the disputants. A different day!

Sometimes I go about pitying myself
and all the time
I am being carried on great winds across the sky.

Ojibwe Dream Song

I present the following little tale because it fits in with the topic of courage and not getting stuck.  It is also about motivation and being clear on intentions.  

From the novel, SIDESHOW by Sheri S. Tepper: 

Once upon a time, there was a turtle who lived in a pond: gray reeds and gray mud and gray moonlight falling, which was what turtles see who cannot see color* Not for her the glory of the sunset or the wonder of the dawn. Not for her the flash of a hummingbird’s throat or a butterfly’s wings. For her the liquid sounds of water moving, the slosh and murmur of the stream, the wind in the trees; for her the difference between shadow and darkness. She was content, as turtles are content, to be deliberate in her habits and slow in her pace, to eat leaves and the ends of worms and suchlike fodder, and to think long, slow thoughts on a log with her fellows, where she knew the sunlight was warm though she did not know it was yellow.

But a time came on an autumn evening, gray leaf and gray thorn and gray mist rising, when she sat overlong on the log after the sun was well down, and the swallows came to drink and hunt on the surface of the pond, dipping and dancing above the ripples, swerving and swooping with consummate grace, so that the turtle saw them as silver and black and beautiful, and all at once, with an urgency she had never known before, she longed for wings.

“Oh, I wish I could see them more clearly,” she murmured to the bullfrog on the bank. “That I might learn to fly.”

“If you would see them clearly, you must go to the secret sanctuary of the birds,” said the bullfrog in a careless voice, as though he did not take the matter seriously.

And when the turtle asked where that was, the bullfrog pointed westward, to the towering mountains and told the turtle the sanctuary was there, among the crags and abysses, where the birds held their secret convocations and granted wings to certain petitioners. And this made the turtle think how wonderful it would be to go there and come back to tell the bullfrog all about it.

And on the next night, she asked again where the birds went when they left the pond, and the owl pointed westward with its talon, telling her of towering peaks and break-back chasms in a calm and dismissive voice. And again she thought of making the journey and returning, and of the wonder the bullfrog would feel, and the owl, to hear of it when she came back.

On the third night, she asked yet again, and this time it was the bat who answered, squeaking as it darted hither and yon, telling of immeasurable heights and bottomless canyons. “No one dares go there,” the bat squeaked, and the turtle told herself that he dared even if no one else could.

So, for three nights the turtle had watched, each night her longing growing. And at midnight on the third night, when the bat had spoken and the swallows had departed, the turtle went after them without telling anyone good-bye, slowly dragging herself toward the great mountains to the west.

She went by long ways and rough ways and hard ways always, first across the desert, where she would have died of thirst had not a desert tortoise showed her how to get moisture from the fruits of a cactus. And then across the stone, where she would have died of hunger had a wandering rabbit not given her green leaves to eat, and then into the mountains themselves where she would have given up and died many times except for her vision of herself going back to the pond to tell the creature there of this marvelous and quite surpassing quest.

“They didn’t know,” the turtle told herself. “They had no idea what it would be like. They made it sound easy, but when I go back to tell them what it was really like…” And she dreamed the cold nights away visualizing herself telling her story to her kindred turtles on the sunlit log, and to the bullfrog among the reeds, and to the owl and the bat, all of whom would be admiring and astonished at her bravery and her perseverance.

And so, sustained by this ambition, she went higher and higher yet, gray stone and gray cliff and gray rain falling, year after year, until she came at last to the place the swallows danced in the air above the bottomless void.

When they saw her, they stopped dancing to perch beside her on the stone, and when she saw them there, silver and black, beautiful as a night lit with stars, she was possessed once again by a great longing, and she told them of her desire for wings.

“Perhaps you may have wings, but you must give up your shell,” they cried. And even as they told her she might have wings, she seemed to hear in their voices some of the carelessness she had heard in the voice of the owl and the bat and the bullfrog, who had told her where to go without telling her the dangers of the way. She heard them rightly, for the winged gods have a divine indifference toward those who seek flight. They will not entice and they will not promise and they will not make the way easy, for those who wish to soar must do so out of their heart’s desire and their mind’s consent and not for any other reason.

And the turtle struggled with herself, wanting wings but not wanting wings, for if she had wings, they told her, she would no longer be interested in going back to the pond to tell the creatures there of her journey – that comfortable telling, the anticipation of which had been, perhaps, more important to her than the wings themselves. So, she struggled, wanting and not wanting…

No one knows the end of this little story. The message is that it’s hard to not want wings if all you have is a shell.  Having wings and not knowing where they will take you has its own problems.  If the “telling of the journey” is the whole reason for the journey, then wings are beside the point.  My message is understand your own intentions before setting out on a  journey for the wrong reasons. When we make a decision, we need to be clear on why we are making that choice.  That requires courage on our part.  Courage to look more deeply into ourselves.



Kathy Komaroff Goodman is an experienced mediator with a deep interest in the role that emotional and cultural intelligence plays in a mediator’s ability to address the underlying needs. She mediates privately and in the courts. Kathy specializes in family business, start-ups, and partnerships disputes. She is a founding Principal at ACCORD, a collaborative of conflict management and resolution specialists serving individuals, families and businesses. Kathy is the founder and CEO of a family business, Katherine Komaroff Fine Arts, Inc and former vice president of the James Goodman Gallery. She is a graduate of the Masters of Science program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University.