Courage for when the bridge is down

David Whyte has had a fascinating life. He grew up traipsing through the moors of Yorkshire, England and was pulled into the world of travel one day as he watched Jacques Cousteau on television. David’s work as a marine zoologist took him to the Galapagos Islands, and his curiosity took him  to the Himalayas where he explored temples and Zen Buddhism.  David uses all of his experiences when he writes poetry, even those that scared him.

The bridge you need to cross
The bridge you need to cross

How many times do you come to a place in your life where you are afraid to move forward? Where you’d rather do anything, no matter how difficult, than take that next step?  What resources can you call on to take you over that bridge? In this poem, David invites the reader to share his experience of an impossible bridge in the Himalayas. I hope you are inspired with the way he handles his challenge.

THE OLD INTERIOR ANGEL
by David Whyte, from Fire in the Earth, 1992

Young, male, and
immortal as I was,
I stopped at the first sight
of that broken bridge.

The taut cables snapped
and the bridge planks
concertina-ed
into a crazy jumble
over the drop,
four hundred feet
to the craggy
stream.

I sat and watched
the wind shiver
on the broken planks,
as if by looking hard
and long enough,
the life-line
might spontaneously
repair itself,
–but watched in vain.

An hour I sat
in silence,
checking each
involuntary movement
of the body toward
that trembling
bridge
with a fearful mind,
and an empathic
shake of the head.

Finally, facing defeat
and about to go back
the way I came
to meet the others.

Three days round
by another pass.

Enter the old mountain woman
with her stooped gait,
her dark clothes
and her dung basket
clasped to her back.

Small feet shuffling
for the precious
gold-brown
fuel for cooking food.

Intent on the ground
she glimpsed my feet
and looking up
said, “Namaste.”
“I greet the God in you”
the last syllable
held like a song.

I inclined my head
and clasped my hands
to reply, but
before I could look up,
she turned her lined face
and went straight across
that shivering chaos
of wood
and broken steel
in one movement.

One day the hero
sits down
afraid to take
another step,
and the old interior angel
limps slowly in
with her no-nonsense
compassion
and her old secret
and goes ahead.

“Namaste”
you say
and follow.

Unstuck, On the Edge, Just as I Planned

  When I give expressive arts workshops, one of the main themes I hear over and over again is that people have something they really want to do—write a memoir, change careers, finish a project they began years ago — but they stop when they get stuck. Below are a few tips that I reach for again and again to keep myself moving when I am stuck or stymied.

  1. Set a goal and stick with your plan. Adjust as you move along the path.

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At first my goals were simple, like writing a few poems about incidents in my childhood. But after getting a few poems published, which was great for my wobbly confidence, there were several rejections. I was a little discouraged, but I knew that the rejections were inevitable, so I used them as fuel. I knew I needed help, so my new objective involved working on my craft, finding critique partners, and taking classes with a mentor. I reworked my poems until they reached new levels. All the while, I moved forward as long as I kept writing.

  1. Slow the process down.

Several years ago, I worked with a coach who helped me to launch a very short-lived business. He often engaged me in role-playing, where we would practice my pitch to prospective clients. One day I came to him with a very promising offer that I needed to develop in a few days in order to submit a proposal by a deadline less than a week away. Over and over, he advised me to slow the process down. Now I use that slogan all the time. I used to be very impulsive and would jump as soon as I got enthusiastic about an idea. Over the years, I’ve realized that I need time to reflect and I do better in giving and asking for feedback if I have at least 24 hours to think about something. In this day of real-time communication, asking for 24 hours to consider an idea or an edit may seem like a luxury, but doing so has saved me endless apologies for things that may have sounded good, but just needed more time to germinate.

  1. Believe in yourself enough to take risks.

I can’t even tell you how many times I heard David Whyte, a renowned poet and conference leader, talk about walking on the edge and overcoming fear. His stories involve cantilevered bridges over deep valleys in the Himalayas and bicycling into the fierce winds of the Ayran Islands so you can stand on the sliver of a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. I may never see those kinds of wild, physical edges, but after hearing his stories about twenty times, I realized that that very act of writing from your heart and submitting your work to a stranger constituted an edge experience. As does trying a new lesson in the classroom. You risk failure, just as surely as the hiker staring at the wobbly bridge. And I could hear David’s description of Beowulf as he sat on the edge of the lake contemplating diving into the dark waters to go after Grendel’s mother, and I’m paraphrasing, “Men have died on that shore because ordinary courage will not take them to the depths.” And that spunky, fearless little girl who thought she could sing like Haley Mills would push me into the light so that over and over, I was willing to risk rejection for the sake of my doing something I believe in.

As plan your week ahead, consider these three tips to enhance your creativity. Let me know what you’ve done to get unstuck and slow things down. While you’re at it, take a little walk along an edge that scares you a little. Maybe that means submitting your work. Or providing honest feedback to a critique partner. Writing about a difficult subject, which you’ve been avoiding. Forcing yourself to be savage with your word choices. Have you tried any of these tips? Let me know what. worked for you and how you tweaked things to suit your needs. We can all help each other!