I thought it might be fun to follow-up on last week’s article, The Waking Sleep, by carrying it a step further. Specifically, I’d like to further the point that inner purpose is the same for each and everyone one of us.
Inner purpose: To wake up. And then to learn to stay awake.
The Acorn Story
Author Cynthia Bourgeault tells this story in her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing.
Once upon a time, in a not-so-far-away land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were midlife, baby-boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.
One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped ‘out of the blue’ by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he said, “We… are… that!”
“Delusional thinking, obviously,” the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” he said, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground… and cracking open the shell.”
“Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.”
Pretty good, huh? Beatrice Chestnut included this story in her book, The Complete Enneagram, which I mentioned last week that I’m reading. I’m quite enjoying it. The Enneagram and I are old friends, and we are rekindling our friendship.
Waking Up and the Personality
What does the story have to do with “waking up?”
To wake up means to become conscious of who and what we truly are, which is a total mystery to most of us. Don’t we know who we are? No, not really. Like the acorns, we are fully identified with our shells. So identified with our shells that we think we are the shells.
The shell is our personality. But what is personality?
‘The personality is a “false self” that develops to allow our vulnerable and young “true self” to adapt, fit in, and survive among other humans. Personality is thus a “defensive” or “compensatory” self whose coping strategies developed to help us fulfill our needs and reduce our anxieties.’ (paraphrased from Chestnut’s book)
Another way of saying this is personality is total identification with our thoughts, feelings, and doings. Total identification means we are not conscious of them at all. They are driving everything, yet we have the illusion that we are “awake,” making decisions, driving the show, being really productive and polished little acorns, you know. That’s the “waking sleep” we talked about last week, you and I. The waking sleep is acorns believing they are their little shells.
After telling the story, Chestnut provides her take on the acorn story:
Before we do the conscious work of self-development, we are the seeds of what we may become. To transform from our “acorn-self” into our “oak tree-Self,” we must traverse our underground territory — allow our defenses to crack open and break down — and consciously integrate our disowned feelings, blinds spots, and Shadow traits so that we can shake off the limiting outer shell of our personality and grow into all that we are meant to be.
But, how? Excellent question, my friend, and I anticipated that you might go there. Your question reminds of something quality expert W. Edwards Deming once said:
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”
I enjoyed the way Chestnut describes the process, as it is very similar to the approach I use. So let’s stay with her description of the process.
The Path, In A Nutshell
Here’s how she describes the process at a high level.
“By first remembering to observe the things we do; then inquiring more deeply into what and how we do the things we do; and eventually actively working against our old habits and toward our higher aspects, we initiate an ongoing learning process focused on knowing ourselves better to the point where we can make more conscious choices more regularly.“
Let’s look at what she’s covered above in more specificity. (Below, I am chunking down and splitting out her more detailed descriptions.)
Step 1: Observe + Dis-identify
“The first step along this journey of inner growth is about self-observation as a path to dis-identifying from your personality. Self-observation is about creating space. When you can observe your personality’s patterns in action, you make room inside yourself to see what you think, feel, and do from more of a distance, with more objectivity. This allows you to witness your key habitual patterns as they are happening.”
Step 2: See the Root Cause + Consequences
“The second step along this growth path is to look more deeply into what you are doing through self-inquiry and self-reflection. Self-inquiry is about understanding both the root causes and the consequences of the patterns you observe.” (Consequences means the negative impacts of our patterns on others, ourselves, and life. This is what we blind ourselves to because it is so painful to see. So we kind of gloss over it.)
Step 3: Not-Doing
“The third task connected with the model is self-development. Self-development involves actively working to achieve change. (In my work, this is where I actively use Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s “Immunity to Change” model, which you can read about in Chapter 6 of their book, An Everyone Culture.)
There you have it. A process. Now you know what you are doing. You can describe your personal development as a process.
And you now know you are actually the oak tree.
Now, grow up.
Make it a wonderful week. I’ve enjoyed being with you just now.