A little thing about stories…
A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello, and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.
“What’s that terrifyin’ sound?” asks the friend.
“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”
“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies:
“Doesn’t hurt enough yet.” ***
***Excerpt from “The Art of Asking”, by Amanda Palmer.
I have told this story with a variety of accents and characters – with voices and theatrical movements – A few times, I’ve retold this story, tearful and trembly with the heaviness of the tone in a session. This is one of my favorite lessons, because it hits so many of us with the yelling message of:
“WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE FOR THINGS TO CHANGE?!?!”
So often we wait and wait. We see the struggle in others and get annoyed with their lack of commitment to the change we want for them. We have pictures of things we “should” be happy with and struggle with our own feelings of change and fear of what may lie ahead – frustration in all of its least comfortable forms – depression, lack of motivation, anxiety, isolation. The point of this story, of course, is that the consequence of inaction has to be personal and worse than whatever monster we can dream up that represents the unknown. When it becomes unbearable to stay where we are, that is when we take our first steps.
In terms of other people, this story emphasizes our helplessness in forcing change in others. You can yell at the dog – call it names – threaten and stomp, but the dog is immovable. Moving is inconvenient struggle. The dog can anticipate and react to what this feels like, but who knows what moving would create.
In terms of our own changes, we avoid the painful things by withdrawing and hiding from things that scare us more – the unpredictable things, until we’re forced in to it by things like losing what we value most. We don’t take risks easily and often sit in what feels familiar, even if it is hellish. “Better the devil that you know than the devil that you don’t.”
We can look at this story and say, “Hey! Get off the nail. The farmer can pull it up and you can lay back down without hurting”, but we’re on the outside and know the progression. What would be valuable enough for us to take that same advice? It’s not always productive to look for a guarantee or planning. It is sometimes most effective to just leave the nail and trust our abilities to navigate the next one. It is important to ask yourself what nail you might be sitting on in this moment and what is so scary about stepping off. Often these fears tell us more about the truly important things in our lives that we are afraid to let go of or lose. These important things are our values and are helpful in navigating what direction your steps can take. What is worth trying, even if you fail?
Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking” will be our next therapy book group choice and will take place this summer. Details will be soon posted on our website. www.greendoortherapy.com/groups
Brooke Madera, LCPC, CADC is a clinical therapist and co-founder of Green Door Therapy. She supports individuals experiencing anxiety, addiction, and life changes. She is located in Villa Park, IL.