This weekend my girlfriends took me to dance to celebrate turning 51. (My birthday had actually come and gone but I’m all for dragging out the celebrations).
The theme at dance was outgrowing the shells that contain us. While our facilitator, Michael Skelton, took us through a process of feeling the shells we are living in that are too tight for us, and pushing through the boundaries to expand ourselves, he read David Whyte’s Sweet Darkness. Whenever I read or hear this poem, the lines that touch me most are:
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.
After dancing we went for lunch and talked about the class. We shared our different experiences of what it felt like to be contained in a shell we’d outgrown, the calling of something more expansive, and the courage to move into that bigger shell.
Being a cancer, I took the whole shell analogy quite literally and couldn’t stop thinking about hermit crabs and their complex movements to bigger shells that must happen for their growth.
Our human requirements for growth are not nearly as complicated, but in the comfort of these friends who love me and support my growth, I felt the ideal conditions for slipping into a bigger shell.
Here are Five Ideal Conditions for Growth:
Create them for yourself. Offer them to your clients. Share them with your loved ones.
1. Awareness: It takes a level of awareness to even notice you’ve out grown the shell. You must be awake enough to notice that what use to enliven you is now too small for you. The tight fit can feel comfortable for a long time, and before you know it, it’s squeezing you in, so that what once suited you, now confines you. This happens subtly over time, like gaining a pound or two every year. It sneaks up on you, until you’re busting out of your jeans. Paying attention to your own life and how you feel is critical.
2. Aloneness: When you are daring enough to grow and change it can frighten people. Even the ones who love you most may want to hold you back. Because when you change, the relationship changes. And change scares people. Sometimes you need to pull back from the world, drop all the distraction of the other voices and listen to the one that matters. There’s a nascent period of growth that is for you alone.
3. Courage: It takes courage admit you’re living in a shell too small – whether it’s a relationship, a career, or a way of getting along, holding your tongue and playing it safe. It takes even more courage to step out of it, unsure of where it will lead you.
4. Vulnerability. Stepping out of the too small shell and into the next size up can leave you naked for a while. It’s exploration and experimentation and a willingness to fail, that leads to the bigger shell. Vulnerability is powerful and it takes great courage.
5. Support. You can grown on your own, but it sure is easier with support, especially from others who’ve been where you are. In the video of the hermit crabs you see that the growth of one crab supports the other. As one crab moves to a bigger shell it makes room for others to move up in size. When we grow we lift others who are willing, to grow with us.
Like my girlfriends at lunch who wanted to hear about my “too small shell” and supported my desire and willingness to live in a bigger shell, we need people who cheer on our growth, inspire us to take risks and love us when we try and fail.
I’d love to hear in the comments section, if you’re feeling the calling of a bigger shell, and which conditions would support you most right now.
Here’s to your growth, and the growth of those you love,
If you’d like to support someone’s growth, please share this with them. We all grow together!