Autobiography in Five Chapters – A Poem

By Paul C Pritchard on Wednesday May 22nd, 2019

The Power of the Written Word

Often when I am in a funk, some internal conflict or a gnawing complaint about the world, I have the awareness to recognise that I’m not in contact with my truest self. The true self that cannot be effected by the ebb and flow of my material life. The part of me that is always okay. It’s a deeper knowing that even in what appear to be imperfections in this human condition that there is nothing ‘wrong’. It’s just life and the whir of the human condition inevitably playing out. In a purist expression, I am Love. When I am not feeling that love, there’s a benevolent invitation to address the loss of connection, an open invitation back to my truest self.

There are times when my mind is exacerbating the suffering by trying to work it all out, fix it or philosophise my way out of it. I know there’s no real release through my mind. So full of strategies, all well-meaning, and all quick fix Band-Aid solutions.

One of the ways I reflect is turning to an expression or voice for empathy and resonance. It helps me feel not so alone in the illusion of separation. That there is a way through … not out.

Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Chapters always makes me smile and shines a beautiful light on the power of my choices and taking responsibility for the whole of my life. Realigning me with my longing to come home, to come home to the truth of who I am.

Autobiography in Five Chapters


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


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


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


I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it


I walk down another street

by Portia Nelson


We’d love to hear your resonance with this poem and how you were moved by it. And we’d love you to share any poems that have supported you back to the awareness of your true self. Any pieces that you keep coming back to. Feel free to share in the comments.



How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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An Artist’s Journey from Trauma to Healing

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38 Responses to Autobiography in Five Chapters – A Poem

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and
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  4. For all the mundane things I do
    Awareness beautifies the view

    Trees and Flowers and Fields of green
    A loving flowing endless stream

    For the mundane things today
    Awareness beautifies the way
    -Mark Smith MD

  5. I have in front of me Portia’s book: There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk which was written in 1993.
    Portia and I became loving friends as we followed the teachings of Spirit. Her book, as is the poem, is the simpliest, clearest map to self-awareness. She referred to it as the “romance of self discovery.” Her song: This Life is another one of Portia’s gift. She was a wonderful actress, cabaret singer and friend.

  6. Hours, days, months; years have wrapped around
    Gathered me in like a comfy and familiar overcoat
    Intent to warm me against the chill of growing old
    Something so eventually known by every one of us
    With at best, quiet reluctance or a great resistance
    Such is the nature of being that we all know so well

    Like interwoven threads that make up layers here
    Soft-strata-like days to years, cloak and entwine so
    All I know, carry forward, to the future of my days
    For my time here, in some ways, feeling so filled up
    Although some days I feel I have very little to show
    There is so much I’ve grown to know from the years

    And as yet, I’m only part way through my journeying
    Sometimes struggling, other days, flying so very high
    Leaving random notes on the wall of this life so lived
    I’ve been giving all I can and then maybe some more
    Sometimes, I know like never before, by weight of it
    And I begin to feel a reach of personal limit at times

    Onward then, with the new challenge that presents
    It appears there are some things we cannot control
    Like health conditions that afflict a small percentage
    Here now, to hamper my journey, impede the layers
    Make this overcoat less comfortable to wear along
    It’s time to be strong like never before now, I know

    I will drive roads to their ultimate, as once promised
    Despite the hampering of the wheels on line and tar
    I feel to have burned too brightly, perhaps, by years
    Like a match that’s quickly spent, needs another one
    Needs to be extinguished too before it burns a finger
    Yet I would linger on sometime with a slower flame

    I turn the page in experience and memory, reiterate
    Unwrap the layers that comfort to look for reasoning
    Feeling amid the warm reassurance, for that wrong
    To cast out to air, for these things no longer serve me
    I would release, renew myself and rejoice in who I am
    One man who cares so for the world and for our time

  7. Dear Friends!

    I love this poem which I read first quite a while ago. It is so true and wonderful!

    I love feeling the truth in words, I love learning (and teaching) by poetry. It is a kind of free offer to take out of it what you like or can “digest”.

    My mum writes wonderful poetry (inspired by the water) and there could be a great deal to share with the uplift team and readers. Would you be interested?

    If yes, let me know and I’ll choose 1 or 2 poems and send them to you to publish.

    Lots of Love,

  8. The simplicity and repetition of the setup I find very Zen, one of those that every time you read you find a new layer of meaning, no wonder she keeps going back to it.
    Following is something I wish to share with everybody and of course comments are welcome.

    — WHAT IS —
    by Bodhivata Dharmashanti
    written in Brooklyn on the 14th day of February of the year 2016

    When you look at it
    it’s white, black or yellow,
    short, tall, skinny or fat,
    young or old.

    At times it’s under the ground,
    just a little thing.
    Then it opens up in beautiful colors
    to give our eyes life.

    It can grow very tall
    trying to reach the heaven
    and hug our planet.

    When you are hot
    it gives you shade.
    It flows too
    from high to low.

    Rushing to the ocean,
    or trickling in the backyard
    to quench your thirst,
    feed your hunger.

    It always shines
    to allow life unfold.

    It rests to give her a chance
    to illuminate the night.

    I have seen it sing,
    or run fast,
    at times going with the flow
    or crawl, or stand still.

    When I look up
    I see it painted in many shapes
    always changing,
    never resting,
    galloping the wind.

    People call it many names
    depending on their flag colors


    when I wipe my mind clear,
    only one thought remains.

    Love is great.

  9. i can really relate to that poem….i will share one of my poems now….hope it hits home for someone

    #200 3/15/19 THERE ONCE WAS A GIRL

    There Once Was A Girl

    There once was a girl, her name was Vicky Lynne
    She was lonely and frightened, she was paying for her sins

    She didn’t understand that it wasn’t about her
    It was about many things in the past, most of them a blur

    Sometimes in this life we pay the price for someone else’s deeds
    Things have away of repeating themselves from previously planted seeds

    The past comes back to haunt us, in a myriad of ways
    The past effects our future, it helps to write our days

    I didn’t have the power then to stand up for myself
    I had to deal with what came my way or hide it from myself

    Denial is a way to cope
    Sometimes it is your only hope

    I’m older now and I see things I didn’t see before
    I am lucky and I will do better, I long for something more

  10. This poem has been hanging on my wall for so long that sometimes, like a crack in the ceiling, I don’t notice it. Today I needed to see it.

  11. I am so moved with the poem though I readily said to myself after the 2nd chapter, why is she not avoiding the hole, she must be stubborn and not learning.

    I realized that I was so judgmental but reflection on it, the person walking down the street was ME!

    Thank you Portia Nelson.

  12. I learned of this poem from Amy Saltzman, my mentor, and creator of The Still Quite Place which is an MBSR-based curriculum for children and teens. This poem is offered as part of a lesson and then referred back to in various ways. I enjoy giving a copy to kids to keep in their mindful toolkits.

  13. Hello,

    thank you for for the thoughtful article. I agree in finding your true inner self. Each and every day. Thinking, acting, and feeling out of Who I Am It is a task, and a joyful one, if I choose it to be so 🙂

    Still, one thing that I like to add about the authorship of the Poem:

    I don’t know Mrs Nelson, but I do know that this “Autobiography” was inspired by The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1992. It is a presentation of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol. I am not a Buddhist nor do I belong to any religion or other spiritual group. Yet I like to see a way of respecting the origin of texts, music, art, whatever…….”Oh this cake tastes great!” “Yes, isn’t it – It is a recipe of my Grandmother – and she was such a good cook….and such a lovely inspiring person…..!” I really hope you get my point 🙂


  14. Hi wonderful beings, Thank you so much for all the inspiration 🙂

    I can share a poem on connectedness and intuition that I wrote. Enjoy 🙂

    = The Inner Voice =

    I know exactly what to do
    And what next step to take.
    An Inner Light is shining through,
    When I’m fully Awake.

    This means I need to be at ease
    To hear that inner call,
    To take a break and calmly breathe,
    And to slow down at all.

    That Silence I appreciate
    And happily connect
    To the Big Source, which can relate,
    What I grasp and detect.

    It may appear risky to trust,
    But when you know the Sound
    All doubt can vanish into dust
    And Good Things can be found.

    Matthias the Happy Poet (der Frohpoet), 2018.

  15. I smiled after this poem. And I copied it into my daily texts. One poem out of these:
    „If U R depressed,
    U R living in the past.
    If U R anxious,
    U R living in the future.
    If U R at Peace,
    U R living in the presence.”
    Lao Tzu.

  16. Wow! It feels like my life! At present, I am in the fourth phase of the autobiography stated here – walking on the same street, but this time, being cautious of the hole and walking around it. But, I need to change the street though! What an irony! I know I need to change the street, yet I am walking the same one. Not for long. Will change. Thank you for this hard-hitting eye-opener. Bless you.

  17. I Am Not I (Juan Ramon Jiminez)

    I am not I.
    I am this one
    walking beside me whom I do not see,
    whom at times I manage to visit,
    and whom at other times I forget;
    the one who remains silent while I talk,
    the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
    the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
    the one who will remain standing when I die.

  18. “If nothing changes nothing changes”. I recently realized the emotional pit I have been in was of my own making. My own “fault”. It is up to me to walk around it. To take a different path.

  19. My immediate resolution to the problem was “walk around it” I continued to read, what a wake up message. THANK YOU 🙏

  20. Whirling Moment (by Ellen Swanson)

    Once upon a time, long long ago,
    For a fleeting moment
    I knew.

    I knew for a fleeting moment,
    That creating was sacred –
    A Process.

    I knew for a fleeting moment,
    That my body was a privilege
    Not a commodity.

    I knew
    For a fleeting moment
    the Divinity of the Feminine…
    Whirling humanity back to Source.

    I glimpsed
    For a fleeting moment,
    The consciousness of an ascending Union…
    Whirling humanity back to Source.

    I fathomed the depth
    I soared to the height
    In that fleeting moment.

    Then – Along came “Jones”.
    Big walking, big talking
    The Jones of my father and forefathers
    The bones of my mother and foremothers
    Whirling humanity away
    Away from the depth
    Away from the height
    Away from the sanctity of the Union.

    Oh grief! Through you
    The lost has been found.

    Oh tears! Through you
    The tainted has been cleansed.

    O anger! Through you
    The external has been purged.

    Oh persistence! Through you
    The internal has been recognized.

    Oh Love! Through you
    The Eternal has been born.


    Whirling humanity back to Source.
    Whirling humanity back to Source.

  21. A hand reaches out to me. To pull me out? To lead me through? I grasp the hand unknowing. Yet the contact thrills me to the bone.

    • I was given this poem by a friend many years ago and have shared it with many at workshops I have presented
      It’s a wonderful piece that is very profound and helps people realise they are responsible for their own actions in Life

  22. I heard this poem in a workshop 20 years ago and use it in class settings myself. Very profound and still as potent as the first time I cam into contact with it.

  23. This is a poem that is shared quite often in the Recovery world. It is indeed a wonderful reminder that when we want different results, we have to make different choices! Thanks for sharing🙏🏻

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