The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck
Rabbi Shimshon Meir Frankel
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
“You are the author of your own story. You’re the main character and, as you know, a compelling story always has the main character come into conflict with an opposing force. This force is your Antagonist.” With these lines, clinical psychologist Rabbi Shimshon Meir Frankel’s opens his self-help book, “The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck.”
Right from the start, Frankel describes our opposing force, which does everything it can to distract us and encourage us to make poor choices. Combining Torah wisdom and psychology, Frankel guides the reader through a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. The book is well-structured with six sections, providing practical, bullet point take-aways at the end of each chapter, and a comprehensive appendix at the end of the book for easy reference. Frankel pulls from varied sources; from Tanach, Pirkei Avos, Rav Shlomo Wolbe, and Rabbi Chaim Friedlander to modern psychologists like Dr. Fritz Perls, the developer of Gestalt therapy.
The first section defines the adversary, what it looks like, how it makes someone get stuck in the ‘muddy middle’ – a point where nothing is clear, where there are more questions than answers.
The next section “Clever or Wise,” is based on Yehudah ben Teima’s teaching in Pirkei Avos: Be strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven (Pirkei Avos 5:20). Here Frankel points out we can utilize each animal’s strength to fight our Antagonist, for example, when we are stuck we can be like a deer and move quickly; our legs get us moving and leave negativity behind.
In the next section, “The Shmutz,” Frankel describes the grime that covers our eyes – the negative way we might see things and how this affects our interaction with world, as well as blind spots and jealousy. He fittingly brings the blessing we say in the morning, when we thank Hashem for removing slumber and sleep from our eyes, showing how each morning Hashem wipes the soot clean from our eyelids and provides us with a “fresh start and a new perspective.”
The next section, “Your Whereabouts” begins with the idea of “being myself;” what it means to “be myself,” and the intriguing concept that when we are not being ourselves, it is still us – we’re just being the part of ourselves we don’t like; Frankel encourages the reader to embrace even that part of oneself. In this section, Frankel discusses approaching life from the inside-out, rather than the most common approach, that of ‘outside-in.’ Working from the inside-out starts from using our heart to guide our eyes in a positive direction, awakening healthy desires and values. The outside-in approach (that of Western culture) looks to externals such as appearances, movies, fashion industry, and uses those images and values to rate ourselves. He writes, “Negative outside forces are quick to usurp our personal ambition and misdirect our unique energies.” This section leaves the reader empowered to trust herself and her intuition; much-needed chizuk for the times in which we live. Frankel also scrutinizes our patterns in this section, explaining how they come to be and delineating tools to stop negative patterns. One personal favorite is using the imagery he recommends to “cut the chain” of negative actions with a huge pair of “ethereal mental clippers.”
The next section “The Daily Grind” confronts the ‘bear-like beast’ in all of us, wanting to satisfy our cravings. What we really crave is attachment – to others, to the Infinite. Here Frankel gives many practical tools to deal with our hunger, including doing acts of kindness. This section provides a refreshing discussion on the individual’s power to choose correctly and then relying on Hashem to be with him as he goes down his path. It closes with a powerful reminder – keep things simple. One great point among many Frankel makes is from Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt’l; to take care with the small details of one’s life, and ‘light’ mitzvos. Frankel encourages us to improve the things we are already good at, as starting from there promises more success than taking on a brand-new goal.
The book ends on a strong note, with the last section called, “Walk Your Own Path.” It is chock-full of examples from clients Frankel worked with, showing how they were challenged by their unique Antagonists and offering ways to sign a ‘peace treaty’ with one’s Antagonist. The dialogue between client and therapist is engaging, giving the reader great ideas about how to enter into a conversation with her Antagonist.
Also fascinating in this final section is Frankel’s “Benefit Theory,” the theory that one is somehow benefiting from an issue she is carrying around. Frankel provides helpful exercises for journaling about what those benefits might be and becoming conscious about how holding onto this issue might not be working for us anymore.
Throughout the book, Frankel’s wise, sincere and often witty tone encourages us to move past our negative side, take charge, and become the person we wish to be. Once freed from the muddy middle, we get to write our own story and walk our own path, unencumbered by the Antagonist’s wily ways.