Getting Unstuck: Part I “Take Your Pause”
I love the story “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.” Pooh bear gets stuck in the tunnel leading out of his friend Rabbit’s house. Christopher Robin comes to help and declares that Pooh is thoroughly stuck. He’ll have to stay there, perhaps for about a week.
“But I can’t stay here for a week!” Pooh cries.
“You can stay here all right, silly old bear. It’s getting you out which is so difficult.”
(from Winnie-the Pooh by A. A. Milne; p 30)
And as silly as this little of Winnie-the Pooh story is, it revels the essential reality found in countless mystic revelations and self-help manuals. When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging. When you are losing your temper, count to ten. When you discover you are lost, stop and look around. Whatcha gonna do when you don’t know what to do? Stand still (from Stand Still, performed by Shirley Caesar.) “You can stay here all right, silly old bear. It’s getting you out which is so difficult.” It’s all right there in Winnie-the-pooh.
Each year, at the beginning of the year, the Board of Trustees creates a covenant together. This year, the phrase I have as the title “Take your pause” turned up in our Board covenant. Pat Kissick teaches stress reduction and she introduced us to this phrase. “Take your pause,” meaning: You’re are not expected to jump onto each exchange, there’s no rush. We, as a Board, decided there is a value in reminding each other that a thoughtful, reflective response is more helpful than a snappy one.
There have been, as you may imagine, some moments during this year’s board meetings when we the board has felt stuck, or if not stuck, at least in a tight place. Have you ever felt yourself to be in a tight place? Have you ever felt stuck?
The worship theme for May is Creativity. Often, we think of creativity as a function of artists. So, maybe feeling stuck is like writer’s block or creativity block. But if you listen our first story from Edgar Allan Poe (Descent into the Maelstrom) it doesn’t really translate as a story about writer’s block. It’s more like a story about anxiety – crippling anxiety – or fear that sucks us in and stops us from being able to live our full lives.
There are some people who live with extreme cases of this, but everyone – as some point or another, to some degree or another – has some familiarity with the feeling of being stuck in this sense conveyed by the Poe story on the whirlpool. Maybe it was meeting your future in-laws, worrying about a school project, or stressing over an ambitious, new portfolio at work. It’s overwhelming. It’s like being trapped in a whirlpool and your boat is going around and around. You’re stuck.
Whatcha gonna do when you don’t know what to do? Stand Still. Of course, there is more to it than that, right? It’s not that ‘standing still’ is wrong, there’s just something about how you stand still, something about the intention. Do you remember what the man did in the story about the whirlpool? He lashed himself to an empty barrel and jumped off his boat. He had noticed that the lighter objects fell more slowly, while the heavier objects dropped more quickly.
Maybe this is a better way of talking about it. Maybe when trouble strikes the goal is not to do nothing, not to – in effect – simply remain stuck like silly old Pooh-bear. Perhaps it is more accurate to say our goal is to lash ourselves to the lighter things in our lives, metaphorically speaking. To let go of the heavy anchors in favor of the lighter objects that will keep us afloat.
What would that look like in your life? What are the lighter things to which you could lash yourself? I think of the things that bring me joy: the people I love, the activities that make me smile, actions I can take that make other people happy. In the Winnie-the-Pooh story, Christopher Robin read Pooh a ‘Sustaining book’. What helps you stay afloat? Take your pause. You’re stuck anyway, you might as well breath while you’re there.
And remember: This is part I of my homily this morning. Part I of getting unstuck is the calm before the creativity. It is: lashing yourself to the lighter things that you may stay afloat when the world around you is spiraling.
It is, in a sense, embracing the empty page, the blank space, the uncarved block. When the storm hits, it is reasonable to pause. When any manner of difficulty arises, it is reasonable to take your pause, to welcome a moment of emptiness, to allow your first response to be a light one.
Getting Unstuck: Part II “Unstuck and Uncovered”
I want to mess with you for a moment. I hope you will help me with this. I need everyone in the room now to get up and move to another seat in the sanctuary. Look around first, find the most opposite seat from where you are now. If you’re by the window, find a seat by the wall. If you’re in the front, move to the back and vice versa. If you have mobility issues, take it easy on yourself. But if possible, humor me, move to as opposite a seat as possible in the room. I’ll give you a count of 15 to move around in. …
Author Scott Russell Sanders offers this perspective in his book of essays entitled Earth Works (2012),
Since Copernicus, we have known better than to see the earth as the center of the universe. Since Einstein, we have learned that there is no center; or alternatively, that any point is as good as any other for observing the world. I take this to be roughly what medieval theologians meant when they defined God as a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. If you stay put, your place may become a holy center, not because it gives you special access to the divine, but because in your stillness you hear what might be heard anywhere… All there is to see can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look. (p123)
I share this quote with you to admit that you did not need to move around the room to get a different perspective. But it helps. Take a moment and notice the room, the feel of how things are in your new seat, to appreciate the shift. It is a way of seeing.
In the Broom Master story, which we heard as our second story this morning, Chundra felt stuck. He could not memorize the Buddhist lessons, he could not learn them. Chundra tried to be like the other monks but he could not read or write or memorize. He felt stuck.
Sometimes the solution is in stepping back from your expectations, in taking a pause, allowing yourself to be stuck when you discover you are stuck. Lash yourself to something lighter and look around. A new perspective shows new possibilities and new connections.
Chundra let go of the heavy anchor, the idea that he had to be a monk the way all the others were monks, with reading and writing and memorizing. The Buddha advised him to “sweep the inner dust and dirt from [his] mind”. He told Chundra he was clinging to old ways of thinking… like a sailor clinging to a sinking boat. Sweep that dust and dirt away.
Getting stuck in our anxiety or our circumstance can sometimes show up in our lives in the way we think there is only one solution to a problem. When we lash out lives to the lighter things around us and within us, we allow ourselves to change perspective, to see new possibilities. “All there is to see can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look,” Sanders tells us. Sometimes a shift in our seating helps us remember what we already know deep down.
The pause, the calm before the creativity, allows space for insight and new perspective, for connections. Of course, the pause is just Part I of getting unstuck – a key part – but only one part. Remember, it was the inventor Thomas Edison who said “Genius [is] one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” He also said, “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” It is not just the pause, it’s about what you do while you wait and then how you respond. Sweep the dust away. Uncover the way forward that has been within you all along.
When you are stuck, stand still and see where your next move can be – even in an unexpected, unanticipated possibility … then sweep the dust away and get moving again.
In a world without end, may it be so.