#5 Getting Stuck? What if there was no such thing?

When we feel stuck and can’t figure out the next step, what are we to do? Is there such a thing as getting unstuck, and how do we go about it?

Let’s join Paul and Pablo as they explore the surprising nature of our mental blocks and the simple understanding that dissolves them.

Paul and Pablo are in the garden again. They’re done cleaning the chairs and are enjoying an unseasonably mild afternoon playing a game of Uno. Pablo’s just won the first round, and while Paul shuffles the deck for their next game, his son sits back in his chair and takes in the trees and their bare branches with a few buds showing here and there.

“Dad,” he starts, “if we didn’t know it’s normal for trees to lose their leaves, we would think they’re dead, right?”

Pablo’s question brings Paul back to the previous afternoon. He was busy designing a new logo, and ran into a problem when he tried to customize it. If he changed the format of the wording, the picture got cropped instead, and when he restored the photograph to its original size, the text disappeared.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, Paul gave up: “I’m too old for this crap. It’s too technical. I can’t figure it out.” And as he always did when faced with tech issues, he called Etienne, his next door neighbor’s son. Etienne got to work on his computer at home, patiently walking Paul through what he was doing. To Paul’s surprise, Etienne’s way of going about resolving the issue was pretty much the same as his, a few minutes before. The difference was that, instead of thinking it was too hard or that he was no good at it, Etienne persevered, trying one thing after another, until the problem was solved.

He didn’t stop because the branches of inspiration were bare. He didn’t think it was too hard or pointless. He kept going, because he instinctively knew that spring — in this case another step — would appear. And it did. And he got the job done.

Paul, on the other hand, bought into the illusion that the trees were dead and forgot about spring. He took his lack of results very seriously and as a sign that he would not be able to fix the problem no matter how hard he tried.

“Dad, I think you’ve shuffled the deck long enough!” Pablo’s impatience startles Paul back to the cards in his hands.

“You’re right, Pablo,” answers Paul. “I’m sorry, I was thinking about what you said. I think people often believe the trees are dead. They forget it looks that way because it’s winter.”

“What do you mean, Dad?” asks our curious Pablo.

“You see Pablo, whether in winter or summer, trees go on growing. They don’t get stuck. They don’t give up. They don’t stop living because, for a while, there’re no leaves on their branches. We forget it’s the same with us. It’s not because we run out of ideas for a while that there won’t be more later on. It’s not because what we try doesn’t work that we won’t get inspiration for something new at some point.

“It’s like if babies decided, when they first start walking, that standing —and moving— on their own two feet was too hard, and they gave up. This is too much people, I’ll crawl for the rest of my life! Imagine! There would not be many humans walking the earth.

“We don’t get stuck because of problems or lack of ideas. We just forget it’s winter. We forget it’s temporary, and we turn it into a big problem, we…”

“Dad,” cuts off Pablo, “you’re right, wow, we’re like trees! We are unstuckable!”

Getting stuck looks very real when we forget that everything in life comes in cycles. Even when, like trees in winter, we feel bare and stagnant, we are still developing and moving forward. When we remember this simple truth, feeling stuck stops being a problem, and our mental blocks dissolve like snow in the spring sun.

3. Up The River, Back to Flow

[WRITTEN IN FRENCH BY ISABELLE CARATTI AND TRANSLATED BY ME. ALL PAUL AND PABLO STORIES ARE AVAILABLE FOR LISTENING ON SPOTIFY WHERE THEY ARE NARRATED BY LEXIE BEBBINGTON.]

When our thoughts start spinning out of control, what are we to do?

Let’s join Paul and Pablo as they sail up the river to the source of inspiration.

“Sometimes we just know, Dad. And we know we know because the feeling is different!” exclaims a triumphant Pablo.

“What do you mean by that?” asks Paul.

“Our teacher gave us a writing assignment yesterday: ‘Write about whatever you like,’ she said, with a big smile on her face.  I didn’t feel like smiling, Dad. I love writing stories, but deciding what to write about, that’s tough! I get tons of ideas. They all sound great, and then not so great.”

“So what did you do?” inquires Paul.

“I decided to draw a picture instead,” answers Pablo.

“And what did you draw?” continues Paul.

“It wasn’t really me,  my pencils did it,” replies Pablo.

“And what did your pencils draw then?” smiles Paul.

“The blue pencil drew a stream high in the mountains. The water there was cool and clear. Then down the river, there was a factory. The factory where the pencils were made. Bins of colors were rinsed in the river. Sometimes wood chips got dumped in the water too, so my brown pencil drew dirty water,” describes Pablo.

Paul is now glued to his son’s story: “Go on, Pablo…”

“Well, when ideas spin in my head, it’s like the water by the pencil factory. It’s a big mess. And I get scared,” explains Pablo.

“Yes,” nods Paul, “when you don’t feel great, it’s what’s spinning in your head that causes it. You had so many ideas and you didn’t know which one to choose.  All of a sudden you started to draw. I bet you didn’t have much thinking when that happened!”

“That’s right!” replies Pablo, “I just knew to do it!  And I felt better.”

“Yes,” continues Paul, “You gave the factory a chance to slow down. Instead of playing with dirty water, you actually went back upstream where the water’s clear. You got closer to the source, where the water was uncontaminated­, well before it got polluted by too much thinking.”

“Wow!” (that’s really all Pablo can come up with at this point.)

“You see,” pursues Paul, “when ideas spin out of control, our best course of action is to take a step back. We take a minute or two to settle, and our fear starts to subside.”

“I’ve decided to tell a story, Dad,” shares an excited Pablo. “The story of how drawing a picture’s helped me find a topic I like.”

“It’s going to be a cool story, Pablo,” concludes Paul. “A story about where ideas come from and how to know which one to follow. I can’t wait to read it!”

When lost in the muddy swirls of our mind, all we need to do is slow down and remember the source where clear water –and inspiration- stream from.

PAUL AND PABLO 2: WHO/WHAT TO LISTEN TO IN THESE TROUBLED TIMES?

THESE STORIES ARE CREATED IN FRENCH BY ISABELLE CARATTI AND NARRATED BY LEXIE BEBBINGTON. ENGLISH TRANSLATION BY YOURS TRULY.

HERE IS THE SPOTIFY LINK TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO: https://open.spotify.com/show/7iqfs1jkQKTuazKMUspQjO

When confusion reigns, when opinions and ideas get thrown around like confetti, who do we listen to? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who holds the truth?

Today, Paul and Pablo discover that inner wisdom — or common sense is built-in and readily available to all. Let’s join them as they explore how to find it and hear it, before doubts and personal beliefs cloud its clarity.

Paul’s having a hard time today. Life in a pandemic is limited in a way it’s never been before, and even though he understands it’s for the greater good, he’s growing more restless and frustrated by the minute.  Luckily, Pablo, who never runs out of questions, has one at the tip of his tongue.

“Dad, my friend Nick says we need to stay away from people so no one gets sick. He says it’s like when Napoleon invaded Russia was invaded by Napoleon, just wait it out and nature will take care of it. My other friend, John, says we should do all we can to kill this virus, that sitting at home doing nothing is silly. Who’s right?”

“No one knows for sure,” answers Paul, “and that’s what’s hard. People prefer to know, you see, they want to have a clear picture of what they’re dealing with. So they make up stories and try to figure out what the problem is and how to solve it.”

“I love stories, Dad,” replies Pablo. “It’s my favorite homework. So fun!”

“You’re right,” agrees Paul, “making up stories is not a problem. But when we start mixing up fiction and reality, things can get messy. It’s good to remember a story’s a story and not the truth. When we forget this, we start believing our story is the right one, and then we want to convince others so they start believing the same story. We get into arguments or even fights. And it’s all downhill from there.”

“How do we know who or what to believe?” asks a curious Pablo.

“We keep an open mind,” continues Paul, “never forgetting it’s a story. When we do this, we don’t lose track of the little voice inside that knows truth from fiction. It’s the voice of common sense, or wisdom.

“It’s inside all of us. We can hear it when we stop listening to the noise in our heads, or at least, when we stop taking it so seriously.

“This little voice doesn’t feel fearful or urgent. It’s clear and peaceful, and it helps us see the difference between what makes sense and what doesn’t. It’s always talking to us. We can count on it to be there when we listen. It’s the default setting of humanity.

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Getting overwhelmed by the confusion around us in not a problem, it’s an invitation to slow down and listen to the voice within.  Pay attention, you’ll find it. It will never lead you astray.

THE CHRONICLES OF PAUL AND PABLO

I’m so excited to share with you a new project that’s been brewing for a while:

https://open.spotify.com/show/7iqfs1jkQKTuazKMUspQjO

Paul and Pablo are a father and son duo exploring life and how to flow through it with more ease and understanding.

The stories are written in French by the brilliant Isabelle Caratti and translated into English by yours truly.

Lexie Bebbington does a fabulous job of bringing Paul and Pablo to life on these recordings on Spotify.

A new story will be published every Friday

Enjoy and share!!

For those of you who prefers reading over listening to a recording, here’s the first story:

Uncomfortable emotions: When our brain overheats

When the going gets rough, what about uncomfortable emotions? Is there anything we can do so they won’t get in the way?

Let’s join Paul and Pablo as they look at how it’s possible to be at ease with feeling uneasy.

Schools have had to close due to the pandemic, and Paul, who loves to fly, decides to take Pablo for a ride in a small airplane. For Paul, there’s no feeling quite like rising up into the air, zooming out from the reality on the ground, and watching as mountains turn into molehills.

Pablo steps onto the plane and marvels at the dashboard full of buttons and tiny traffic lights boasting their reds, yellows, and greens.

Before turning on the engine, Paul runs through his preflight checklist. Pablo watches as green lights turn red and then green again. Paul turns on the engine and the plane comes to life. They taxi to the runway, gather speed, and rise into the sky. The dots of cars on the road make space for treetops and meadows. Human concerns fade away as nature takes over. The green lights on the dashboard echo the green on the ground, and for a moment, father and son drop into a space of reverence and awe.   

A few minutes later one of the lights on the dashboard turns yellow. It stands out in a field of green and all Pablo wants to do, like his dad before takeoff, is to switch the yellow back into green. He starts feeling uncomfortable. Something has to be done! He glances at his dad and sees that Paul is not happy either, but he’s surprised when he realizes that Paul is actually turning the plane around and preparing for landing. Why is it not possible to turn the light green again like before takeoff?

As soon as they land Pablo asks Paul: “Why did we have to land? Before takeoff you simply turned the red back to green. Couldn’t you do that again?”

“You see, Pablo,” answers Paul, “it’s a temperature gauge. When it’s green, it means the engine is running well and not overheating. If it turns yellow, it’s time to land and let the engine cool down. If I had changed the color of the light to green, I would have tampered with a reliable safety mechanism. I would not have known that the engine was overheating, and we would have kept on flying until a more serious issue came up. It would not have been safe.”

“You know what, Dad? It’s like all the times you sent me to my room! No more flying, go to your room, Pablo, time out!”

“Yes, you’re right, Pablo,” continues Paul, “It’s the same with our emotions. When they enter the yellow or red zone, we feel upset, sad, helpless, angry even. We feel uncomfortable. When we feel this way, it’s a signal that our brain is overheating. It’s revved up from too much fear and upset thinking, from too many doom and gloom what-ifs. These yellow or red emotions invite us to land and turn off the engine. When we feel urgent or needy, it’s a sign it’s time to slow down and pause. When we look to artificially return the red to green, by thinking positive for example, we are misunderstanding the role of our emotions. We are ignoring the warning light whose function is to bring us feeling better.”

When we mess up with the warning light, we head straight into emotional overheating. Ignoring the red light of our emotions is like taking off with an overheated engine and expecting a safe flight. It doesn’t work that way