I laughed out loud at the story Sylvia Boorstein shares in her book Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake, which sprang from a talk on meditation that she gave to her grandson’s 6th grade class. One boy, Robert, was particularly fascinated by her assertion that, based on the tales of people she trusted, she believed that some people could walk through walls.

Weeks later, she got a fat envelope of thank-you notes from the class, including one from a curious boy named Robert. He wrote: “I’ve been thinking about the woman who could walk through walls. And I’ve been wondering: What if she got distracted in the middle of walking through the wall? Would she get stuck in the wall forever?”

Funny question, right? And Boorstein, of course, saw the vivid metaphor in his question. How easily do we get stuck in the wall? How often? How long do we choose to stay stuck?

When we’re stuck in the wall of past disappointments, we’re trapped by our feelings of helplessness and cynicism. Our ability to see the benefits of changing, learning and growing, are blocked by the drywall. A wall of fear keeps us trapped in resistance and anger. A wall of resentment keeps us stuck in blame and bitterness. In a lifetime, we likely  build enough walls for a downtown skyscraper.

“Only when I remember that the walls are the habits of my mind, that I build them and they will continue to exist as long as I insist that they are real, can I stop building [the walls],” Boorstein writes. “Then… I can see clearly. I see that the walls are empty and walk right through them.”

Walls also keep us from having authentic conversations. Our ability to understand each other’s points of view gets muffled and distorted by our inability to break free of our walls.

How can we get unstuck?

One way is to get clear on our intentions:  I want to have authentic conversations with others and create relationships I can believe in.
The next is to continually practice the behaviors that align with our intentions: I will tell the truth as I experience it with goodwill, and argue other’s points of view so we both know it’s been heard and understood. This will require me to work on my listening skills.

Walls can certainly be useful — in buildings. But in reality and metaphorically, nothing good comes from getting stuck in one.