S E P T E M B E R
Sometimes our usual understanding of things can get us stuck. We might hold a belief or desire about how things should be, but others disagree and block what we long for. We might feel at a dead-end in our work or marriage, or we might be caring for an aging, grumpy parent and feel trapped in the role, or perhaps be suffering from an illness or physical condition that limits us and makes us feel that life has lost its promise. In circumstances like these, the logic of our complaints can feel utterly convincing. The more we obsess about the constraining situation we are in, the more our beliefs about it seem to be proved.
Once when I was learning how to rock climb in Thailand I found myself stuck about a hundred feet above the ground, clutching onto a vertical rock face. I couldn’t move. There were no other handholds I could reach, and my fingers and arms were burning with the pain of trying to hang on. I was desperate, frightened of falling; even though I knew the rope clipped to my belt would catch my fall, I also knew if I lost my grip I’d plunge a dozen feet or so before that same rope would slam me back against the sharp karst rock of the cliff.
My heart was pounding, my face pressed against the karst. Michel, my French friend and instructor, saw my desperation and shouted up at me, “Move your feet!” Where? I couldn’t see or feel any place to move them. He shouted again, “Move your feet!” I felt around with my right foot for a new foothold, but quickly drew back. Impossible!
But then I found that I could shift my right foot just a few inches along the ledge I was on. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to allow my left foot to move slightly, which gave me room to shift my whole body a few inches. Now I could extend my right arm further, and I caught a new hold. From this position I could swing my foot up far enough to catch a small crevice where the toe of my shoe could grip. And so I climbed out of there.
Since then, “Move your feet!” has become a joking reminder in my family when things feel stuck. It points to how a little shift can change one’s whole perspective. “Move your feet” when you don’t think you can, when you don’t think there’s any way out of your conclusions about yourself, your life, or the state of the world. “Move your feet” when you judge or blame others. “Move you feet” when you’re afraid or lonely.
The hard part is letting go of your belief that your view is absolutely true. That’s the castle of the ego and its walls are dense and protective. To walk out of the castle is scary, since you don’t know what may happen. It takes trust — but in what can we trust? On the cliff I had Michel’s voice to guide and reassure me, but when you’re holding on to the storyline of a grudge, or anxiety, or depression, or loneliness, how can you let that go?
I would say, when all else fails, pretend. If you don’t feel you have enough trust to step into the unknown, pretend you do. You will find that a more heartfelt trust soon comes to you. For example, if you’re lonely or depressed, you might take the step of doing something for someone else (as I’ve said elsewhere — When you are in need, give.) Taking that step is hard because you have to trust there’s something beyond your way of seeing things. Just pretend there is. Do it. Tell someone you love them. Bake a pie for somebody. Or simply do something nice for yourself — have a massage, wade in a creek, climb a tree. Break the spell! Move your feet!