Peeking Out of the Cocoon
Hello Mill Valley Book Club! Happy Holidays! As I write this, I feel a chill in the air and a sense of disbelief that 2013 is drawing to a close! For me, December is always a time for taking stock. How about you? As I look back on 2013, I’m startled to see what’s come into focus for me this year. I’d sum it up in one word: transformation.
Now I’m not implying that my transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is complete. This is the path to wholeness, so change (and hopefully growth) is a constant feature in our lives. But this year I’m amazed at the quantity and intensity of transformation that I’ve experienced.
I’ve written on my website and in various blogs about my quest for inner peace – the desire to attain that peaceful ground state from which to operate in all aspects of my life. Bruce Lipton calls this being like a noble gas – entirely stable on one’s own and not needing anyone or anything else to complete us. Then we welcome loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc. into our lives from a position of want, rather than need.
I’ve concluded, by reading many books and by looking within, that inner peace unlocks the door to experiencing all the joy and beauty life has to offer. I hold this to be one of my highest and most meaningful truths. So this notion of seeking inner peace has deeply crystallized for me this year.
I’ve also realized recently that, for me, my process of transformation (which began almost five years ago when I was 41) has been like a second childhood. I’ve awakened this year to find that in many ways, I still feel like a child. Obviously, I’m a 45-year-old mother of two, so I must be fairly grown up. I graduated from law school all those years ago, developed a successful career, got married, and am now raising children. So how can I possibly still feel like a child?
Of course in many ways I’m grown up and functioning normally in this big, wide world. But in some ways, I’m still working on growing up. I believe this is true for most adults, though some people are more consciously aware of it than others. And this is where transformation comes in. It’s the ability to look at a situation in an entirely new way, to shift one’s perspective quite dramatically, and therefore to reach a new outcome.
So now I find myself examining what it truly means to be an adult. I’ve been learning to develop a different kind of musculature and fitness than I’ve previously focused upon – an ability to look at myself through a different lens.
It’s almost as if I discovered in my early 40’s that the house I’d built for myself (my inner self) was perched unsteadily on sand. Looking back, I see that I needed to allow that house to crumble, by questioning all of my beliefs and attitudes in a somewhat chaotic and not-so-graceful process guided by intuition, and learning to rebuild my house on rock. Those closest to me know what I’m talking about here, and I’m so thankful that their steadfast love saw me through some difficult times.
So far, my experiments and experiences tell me that truly becoming an adult means:
- Refraining from viewing myself as a victim and accepting the responsibilities I truly have for the situations I find myself facing
- No longer allowing the good or bad opinions of others to influence me
- Learning the art of forgiveness, both towards others and myself
- Practicing the art of allowance (accepting what is) and refraining from judgment, both of others and myself
For me, these have been very, very challenging mindsets to adopt; but at the same time, when I get them right, I feel how beautifully tranquil my life can be. Those moments of peace, and the joy they lead to, motivate me to work harder and to continue to raise my awareness in all present moments of the opportunity to make better choices.
I’ve also observed that adopting these mindsets has been incredibly humbling. I’ve been shocked to turn a mirror on myself at times and find arrogance or judgment or pettiness. We’ve all been there, right? Of course, we wouldn’t choose to act in these ways, but until we look upon ourselves and our own actions, being willing to own the roles that we have played and the problems we’ve contributed to, I believe we have not yet begun the march toward true adulthood. Yes, it’s humbling.
Lest you think my 2013 has been nothing but humiliating self-realizations and hard inner work, I’ll share that there have been so many wonderful moments of joy, too, with loved ones and friends. Those are the times when I can look back and see how far I’ve come, how much more aware I am now, how much more deeply and sincerely caring I can be, and how much more capable I am of inhabiting, truly inhabiting, a present moment with another person or myself.
So why would we choose to undergo what can be a painful process toward growth? Because by learning to make better choices next time, we eventually move beyond life’s most difficult challenges and unlock the door to inner peace. We learn how not to create new messes by acting without love towards others, no matter how justified we may feel. I won’t say that I’ve arrived, but I’m on the path. And for that, I am deeply and profoundly grateful. It’s like finding the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. So for me, 2013 was a very, very good year! And 2014 is even more promising!
So this month, I’ve chosen to feature Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. It tells a breathtakingly beautiful tale of transformation, of learning to see the beauty in our lives that should be so obvious, but which, somehow, we cannot see or experience meaningfully. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, only after an epic journey filled with adventure, terror, companionship, courage, and love does she discover that she had exactly what she needed all along in the ruby slippers on her very feet. Without taking that journey, and learning lessons along the way, Dorothy would never have believed in the power of those ruby slippers.
I encourage you to treat yourself over the holidays to just the few hours it will take to read and reflect on this month’s book selection. And just to whet your appetite, here’s a brief excerpt from The Alchemist:
A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.
Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention.
The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.
“Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”
The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.
“Well,” asked the wise man, “Did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”
The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man. “You cannot trust a man if you don’t know his house.”
Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.
“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man.
Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.
“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”
What did this little excerpt from The Alchemist mean to you?
As the last days of 2013 expire, consider asking yourself: What are my hopes and dreams for 2014? How can I look at old situations in a new way? How can I release the parts of my life that aren’t serving me well, and how can I bring more love, joy, and beauty into my life? These are the questions I’ll be pondering between now and December 31, mixed in with a lot of light-hearted fun, too! I’m ready to peek out of my cocoon.
In closing, I wish you and your loved ones much joy, good health, and fortune. But most of all – peace!