Book Review – The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck: How to emerge from and avoid the muddy middle

The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck- How to emerge from and avoid the muddy middle by Shimshon Meir Frankel

“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.” 

Shimshon Meir Frankel posits that this Antagonist (note the capital ‘A’) “does everything in its power to distract us and entice us into doing the wrong thing. When we start to identify ourselves with the negative messages that it delivers, we’re bound to start experiencing a heightened degree of discomfort, emptiness, pain and tension.” This leads us into the alliterative “muddy middle,” a very uncomfortable state of being and mind. Referencing concepts from our sages and their teachings, Frankel takes the reader from his own declaration of “I’m stuck” in his introduction, through patterns of our behavior during our “daily grind,’” to final, gratifying chapters on “creating shalom” and “building confidence.” 

My little grandson, like his cousins before him, loves to play with those ubiquitous plastic zoo animals- lions and tigers and bears and crocodiles ad infinitum- spilling them out of their wicker basket and then plunking them back into the basket, usually drooling and chewing on them before plunking to make sure all his senses are used! I hadn’t thought too much about the actual animals until reading this book, as Frankel delineates characteristics of those creatures (having eagle eyes, a lion’s heart, a deer’s legs to get us moving, a leopard’s unintimidated persona) to illustrate how to cope with life’s ups and downs and muddy middles. He cautions, as Moshe Rabbeinu did, that we should not be swayed by externals which might “cause us to go astray…. You desire it, you see it, you eat it.” Frankel uses the example of an enticing Cinnabon store in a mall, with its yummy window display and enticing aromas which permeate the air. I can attest to my own experience- a candy store in Los Angeles, near my hotel and my daughter’s then apartment, which filled its windows with chocolate covered everything. An avowed chocoholic, I always managed to desire, see, and eat my way through my visit, guilty of being swayed by those externals. (I realize, of course, that Moshe Rabbeinu had other ‘externals’ in mind besides my desire for chocolate, she wrote with a smile.)

Fortunately, Shimshon Meir Frankel, chapter by chapter, leads the reader to a new sense of self and confidence- “You’ve become wiser to your Antagonist’s whims and freed yourself from its influence.” Our problems always have solutions; we can become the best versions of ourselves; we can celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments. With guidance from this book, we can extract ourselves from the alliteratively mired muddy middle (or even that crunchy coated chocolate candy!) and become a wiser, more authentic self. 

Thank you to the author for guiding us, with Torah wisdom, gentle persuasion and those relevant analogies, to become a more confident person. Now excuse me while I clean off those plastic animals (with their new relevance!) for their next encounter with my sweet, drooly grandson.

Randy Rubinstein lives in Sharon, Massachusetts