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Thoughts & Reflection on "Autobiography In 5 Short Chapters"

by Portia Nelson

This poem is used as part of the course teachings for the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, usually as part of the second session, to illustrate the change in thinking & behaviours that can occur through adopting a regular Mindfulness practice.

Image of a hole in the street

Chapter 1. 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. Chapter 2. 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. Chapter 3. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is 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. Chapter 4. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. Chapter 5. I walk down another street.

Copyright (c) 1993, by Portia Nelson from the book "There's A Hole in My Sidewalk".


In my view, this poem is about the habits that we have (unknowingly) formed, the thoughts patterns that have become ingrained and the fact that, oftentimes, we find ourselves on auto-pilot....not thinking, not being aware of where we are going (either physically right now or perhaps in our wider life, including how we react to everyday situations that occur).

It's also a reminder that we have a choice. We have the opportunity to change, to think, to behave and act in a different way (chapters 4 & 5) - a way that better supports our life and the lives of people in our circle of friends & wider community.

Change the way I act.....easier said than done, right?

To some extent our brains are hard-wired to use that auto-pilot function. It's a way of easing the processing load. It has been developed to enable us to become more efficient and quicker at getting things done. But here's the thing....

.....not everything in life should be done in the most efficient and quickest way possible. It's not a race to the end!

Should a tasty, home-cooked meal be eaten as quickly as possible while watching the latest episode of your favourite box set (it would certainly be efficient to do so!). Or would you get more enjoyment from mindfully eating the meal...perhaps with some good conversation thrown in, and then watching the box set afterwards, fully-absorbing yourself in the storyline.

It might be quicker to review your favourite social media feed while simultaneously having a conversation with your partner. It's probably not the most enriching way to hold a conversation.

With a regular mindfulness practice - one that's fully integrated into our lives - we can improve our ability to become more aware moment-to-moment, more 'involved', fully engaging with our experience that's unfolding right now. There's a tonne of research out there that indicates that not only does this increase our enjoyment right now, it also means that we're not thinking about the past or worrying about the future - resulting in lower overall levels of stress & anxiety.

Being 'in that moment' might mean different things to different people. For me, it includes being fully present when I'm out in nature, appreciating the sights and sounds around me. It also includes really listening to whoever I'm having a conversation with and trying to resist the urge to 'do something productive' at the same time.


Why not try the following today...

Sit down in a quiet space for a few minutes, and just let this one simple question rest in your mind:

"What's one thing that I usually do on auto-pilot that, instead, I could do mindfully and with full awareness".

Make a commitment to do that activity mindfully and try setting yourself a reminder each day. It might even help to journal your experiences so you can reflect on how much more enjoyment or enrichment you got from making the change....

How did it feel in your body?

How did it feel emotionally?

How does it make you feel now, reflecting on the event in hindsight?

If you'd like to discover more about how Mindfulness & Meditation can help to support and enrich your life, please check out our 8-week MBSR course. Or if you'd simply like to get in touch and chat this through further, please either email or use the Chat function on our website.

Take care.

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