Earlier this evening, I decided to drive north on Colorado Boulevard during rush hour. I had to run a few errands along that route and didn’t think twice about the time. Soon enough I was crawling up the street, brake lights illuminated, stoplights changing before enough cars could make it through.
I have things to do at home. I really should go to the gym. I need to look into a work problem. I haven’t finished my Christmas cards (yes, I realize it’s January 19). Laundry. Groceries. Lesson plans. – These are all thoughts that raced through my mind, exacerbated by the fact that I was stuck.
Those things were going to have to wait and it was completely beyond my control.
Last Friday, I drove to the mountains to ski for the day. It was an incredible day – blue skies, great snow, short lines. It was the first day I skied black runs since my ACL tear and surgery. I skied with old friends and a new friend. We raced down the mountain with very little fear and a whole lot of adrenaline. I was on top of the world – literally and figuratively.
Then we got in the car to come home…
Traffic was mild until we started climbing toward Eisenhower Tunnel. Dead stop.
I have this funny alarm in my quirky car that sounds every 30 minutes. It’s a seat belt alarm, but it isn’t accurate. You can be securely buckled and it will still ding repetitively for 90 painful seconds. It doesn’t always go off, but when it does, it is strikingly punctual.
As we sat on the west side of the tunnel, the seat belt alarm went off twice. Thirty minutes. One hour. Brake lights glowing. Stuck.
I probably wouldn’t make it back in time to go dancing. My friend would likely be late to dinner. And it wasn’t looking good for him to sneak in a pre-dinner nap.
Over the past few years, writer’s block has reared its ugly head on more than one occasion. It typically strikes at the perfect time. Story due. Deadline approaching. Pitch needed. Stuck.
But writer’s block, like traffic, isn’t always a bad thing. Brake lights and stoplights aren’t the problem. Other cars have just as much a “right to the road” as my idiosyncratic alarm-sounding silver SUV. Writer’s block can serve a very specific and worthwhile purpose – it provides the necessary time and space away from a project; allowing the words and ideas to germinate and emerge when better developed.
We have two choices when faced with a block of some sort, be it in a car or in our own faculties. We can get frustrated; we can think of the endless things that will be enormously compacted upon the moment we get un-stuck. Or we can let it go, disperse our thoughts into the universe, into a place where they are better served outside of our beings.
When we do that, when we make room on the inside, we can invite a new emptiness and a new space. That new space can then provide the foundation for a new idea, a creative moment, a peaceful prayer or simply a time to give thanks. We can use our moments of stuck-ness to become beautifully unstuck mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
When I let go of the racing “to-do” list on my drive home tonight, I heard a new song on the radio and I listened – really listened – to the lyrics. When I accepted that my friend and I would be on the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel for quite some time, we came up with all kinds of goofy promises and ways of solving the world’s ailments. When I can set aside a story that is terribly troublesome, one that just won’t come together in that moment, I can turn my attention toward another creative outlet.
The things that cause us to be stuck are not things to ignore indefinitely – they likely need attention – but they are things we can set aside in a moment of acceptance. We can pause in the midst of break lights to create something beautiful in our own hearts or in the company of a friend. We have been given the opportunity to be at rest, just as our Heavenly Father calls us to be at rest (Psalm 116:7).
So, the next time you are driving and the break lights seem endless and the stoplights poorly timed, and you want to shout at the top of your lungs, “Traffic sucks!!” stop for a minute and think. Does traffic really suck? Or, in this moment of stuck-ness, can you accept and delight in a few moments of being beautifully unstuck in the deepest parts of your being?