Pinocchio: Father, whatcha crying for?
Geppetto: Because… you’re dead, Pinocchio.
Pinocchio: No! No, I’m not.
Geppetto: Yes. Yes, you are. Now, lie down…
Pinocchio: But father, I’m alive. See? And… and I’m… I’m real. I’m a real boy!
Geppetto: You’re alive! And… and you are a real boy!
A caterpillar is a fuzzy worm living a quiet existential crisis until finally embracing ego-death, releasing itself to ultimate transformation; unless eaten by a dog before finding a limb to go out on. That damn dog. Some of us are battling a whole pack of wolves. Regardless, I can’t help but wonder if we understood the transformation more clearly would we inch a little quicker to our good leave?
Most of my life I’ve worried about dying. When I was very young I’d wake in the dark not knowing where I was, sometimes unable to feel my body, yell or move. Later I’d learn this paralysis had a name which didn’t change the past but helped with confirmation; such are labels. Thanks doc. While paralyzed I’d try to control the only faculty within reach; my thoughts. I’d envision the bow of my father’s boat cutting across the streaming surface of the Atlantic ocean. Somewhere between the shores of Patience and Prudence the mind’s eye would evaporate along the seam of an orange and cobalt horizon into the Milky Way, through Orion’s Belt to a galaxy of silence and stars. No expensive passport required, this trip is accessible to anyone with baggage and a willingness to travel beyond sit-calm programming and other prescribed dis-comfort zones. Formless and being-less, the throbbing pain of a migraine would fade as my body no longer was into this weightless, spacious, far away safety. There between nightmare and dream was both containment and freedom. If left undisturbed by the tangible world, like twisted bed sheets or hunger, a larger presence would induct itself; warm, confident, reassuring light from all directions swaddling the remaining fragments of I until nothing remained but an awareness of love. Then I’d wake up, eat cereal, poop and get dressed. Concrete life has feet and shoes to fill, bodies to maintain or play in but how I saw it kept changing each time I went away to that place. When you’re a child there’s not much you can do with big understanding except use it to stay present or notice your own understated joy brushing the tops of munched grasses in a cow pasture while all the grown people continue their blind, loud ogre-ing. Fee fi fo fum. Dum, dum, dum. Yea, yea, yea. Eat me.
Sadly or not, none of the terrible things killed me but I didn’t yet possess the feeling of being truly alive. Do you know this half-life? Nibble, or not. Hide or wriggle through experiences where you feel vulnerable, voiceless, visionless. Can caterpillars see? According to a quick google search, similar to Jesus, they can only see light and dark but instead of pointing out good and evil, becoming wildly reactive for or against a particular perception, they humbly crawl towards transformation. The teachings of nature and faith are metaphoric miracles. The only difference between Christ and what emerges from a chrysalis might be the ways in which they remain safe. The larvae rely on escape tricks. If molested they simply roll into a ball and drop to the ground. Once transformed, butterflies protect themselves by fleeing, fighting or fooling. They attempt to remain anonymous, blend in, effect mild disruption, convince prey they’re tasteless or simply conduct the business of pollinating out of plain sight. Still others go very big, flailing painted wings so magnificent would-be haters are reduced to stunned spectators. Jesus did all kinds of great things but never took a selfie with the woman at the well or standing next to the guy he brought back from the dead. #savior
“First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Shining is our shame with the crust cut off. According to shrinks, there’s this phenomenon called triangulation which is essentially backing ourselves into one of three corners to save face and avoid danger. We triangulate when we are or think we are at risk of losing something; our life, love, attention, food, shelter, connection, credit. Something important or something we think is important. Until we understand why we’re doing it and learn a better way, we find ourselves in one of three roles; the Hurt Person, the Bully or the Rescuer. Each role has infinite variations and can often be found in fairy tales and families. This triangle was first identified by a man named Stephen Karpman who called it The Drama Triangle. It’s since been named and reclaimed a hundred times over because so many of us enjoy exploring all it’s possibilities. I’ve named and reclaimed it The Resolution Diamond. A triangle that explained the problems was a great start but it didn’t feel complete. Diamonds are crusty lumps of coal crushed into wholeness by withstanding years of pressure and heat. Instead of disintegrating under fiery weight, they toughen up into unbreakable, priceless gems. Resilient rocks.
For the past year I’ve been using the diamond in trainings. I begin with a question which is also the answer to every question. Would you agree that all behavior is motivated by a desire to be loved and feel good? Then I draw a red heart in the center of a white board while we each consider all the ways we’ve ever behaved and agree it was our pursuit of love and not attention, revenge, proving our pain, point or some other ego-quest, which made us do it. One man come in the name of love. One man come and go. One man come he to justify. One man to overthrow. You too? Yes, we’re called humans. Welcome to life. Extending out from either side of the red heart are two opposing points: The Bully and the Rescuer. I liken them to the dance of addicts and codependents, rich and poor, elephants and donkeys, fat and thin; contrasting expressions of the same desire. Love. On this battlefield of needs, our arguments are fueled by fear, anger, skills and understanding we’ve not yet learned. Inevitability one of us loses the fight and ends up at the bottom point of the inverted triangle in the heralded role of the Hurt Person, or who I call the Very Important Persecuted, V.I.P. Because again, until we learn a better way, playing these roles are our only experience of power, safety, care and connection. We like our V.I.P role because at some point most of us can remember a time where we really did get hurt and someone showed us temporary compassion or the ways in which we’ve been hurting our self provided us with brief relief. Best of all when we’re V.I.P we have zero fault or responsibility for having to clean up the spilled milk. In a world with a history of hurt and a present-day full of conflict and confusion, having zero responsibility sounds awesome. Sign me up. Right? It’s like the home-spot in tag. Now you can even take a DNA test to prove what percentage of responsibility isn’t yours. 23 and Me. My jaw dropped watching the last South Park episode. The problem with avoidance is there’s always some new problem in the form a Bully or Rescuer trying to hook us up and out of the spot they want to be in. Remember the caterpillar? He’s vulnerable to attack but wouldn’t be if he could just find the courage to own the larger possibility within him. Problems past and present in the form of people or paradigms pick at us in our little un-safe corner till they get us to say or do something that makes us leave the V.I.P spot so they can slide in. The truth is, none of these roles get us the full feeling of secure love and efficacy we’re wanting. Just temporal, short-lived relief.
For instance: Bully dad comes home drunk and slaps you. You’re now the Hurt Person and retreat to your spot. Rescuer mom swoops in to console you, makes dinner and gives Bully dad his other favorite drink known to bring out his preferred ‘gentle drunk’. Everyone feels ‘loved’ but it’s love that’s all upside down and standing on it’s head wondering if there’s some kind of better way. A few days later Bully dad come homes drunk and this time slaps mom. Mom is now the Hurt Person. You could stay in the Hurt Person spot with mom and cower together pointing out how terrible Bully dad is; sometimes we do this for a long time. Just look at social media from this morning. Bully! He’s a terrible bully! Look how terrible awful he is! Why doesn’t he stop. I made this insightful meme. Ugh! He’s so not getting it. Eventually something hooks us and we decide to jump up to the Rescuer spot, give Bully dad a talking to, console mom, make dinner and fix them both the drink known to bring out their preferred ‘romantic drunks’ so they’ll kiss and make up. This is our hurting hero attempt to save the day. You made me so mad and hurt I’m wearing a pink cat on my head. Take that mister! If that fails we take it our on our self with merciless efforts to fix it, us or get a fix of some thing. I used to hand out agendas at family events, binge on cake then run mini-marathons. The relief is temporary because everyone is still reacting from anxiety, depression, jealousy and dirty secrets that’ve pilled up in the laundry room. As soon as someone realizes they don’t have a clean shirt, shame and blame come knocking. Funky old junk gets dug up from the big, unsorted pile. You said, he said, she said! Yea but remember when you, he, she did that awful thing?! Why can’t we just be like Norway! If you loved me you would! This family sucks! And around we go till someone decides they’re sick and tired of the game and wriggles off to find their wings.
Not so fast, Madame Butterfly, in this house we’re fuzzy worms! Maybe in your family being a fuzzy worm means becoming CEO of your own company, graduating with a sports scholarship, hating a particular group of people, marrying a certain kind of person, getting plastic surgery on your 16th birthday or having your first kid at 15 to start contributing to the household income; all real spoken or unspoken expectations we might attempt to live up to as a way of securing our place in the tribe. Other ways we might stay stuck crawling on our bellies are things we do to our self in response to feeling powerless or being hurt. Somewhere along the way we got the idea that whoever or whatever we thought we might want to be wasn’t possible so we trade in our hopes of V as in Victory for V.I.P, Very Important Persecuted. Our culture reinforces divisions, shame, guilt and limited ways of understanding ourselves and those who are different from us. We get sold ideas and beliefs in our family, through media and various forms of repackaged faith-products; Royale McJesus wit Holy Cheese or The Secret King; have it your way Mr. Destiny! Getting real is worth everything we give up.
Vastly Infinite Possibilities
In recovery we’re awakened to a need within ourselves to become more than love-starved creatures seeking hollow gratification. We’re born with an inherent urge to continually transform. Lady Gaga is proof. Conducting this business of becoming amidst various obstacles and assumed responsibilities is hard; the noise and pressure of a modern world invested in securing our subscription regardless of the cost. Get with the program, weirdo! I’d rather Get Real. Authenticity comes with a price too, though it’s not initially what we might’ve thought. Not what I thought anyway. We can buy plane tickets and True Religion but our purpose is only found through pursuit. It’s a chaotic process, yes, but with each small change we get closer to our next best possibility. Whatever you decide to call it, Love is the safe limb from which we can secure ourselves, let go of the past and emerge renewed. Love is the line between dark and light; a flexible path to our good comprised of forgiveness and grace. The tools for redesigning our identity from what we’ve been handed to what we choose to create are unique to each of us but have some basic shared principles. I’ve narrow it down to three; believe, be willing, be.