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For some reason, I’ve been running into quotes from The Velveteen Rabbit this past week, which made me stop for a moment and read the old story again. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Margery Williams wrote The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922; it is a book about a stuffed animal rabbit who desires to become real. While the book was published as a children’s story, its underlying messages are still as profound and meaningful today as they were almost 100 years ago (and in my opinion much more suited for the adult reader).
The content of the story touches on insecurity, jealousy, wisdom, ego, and judgment. It deals with those who pretend to be something they aren’t and try to impress, and those who are wise enough to know what is really important. It speaks of dreams versus reality, of wishing and wanting, and of things that happen by chance. It addresses the dynamics of believing in oneself.
The Rabbit’s quest to become real starts with a conversation he has with a stuffed animal called the Skin Horse, the oldest and wisest toy in the nursery. When asked by the Rabbit if becoming real happens all at once, he says,
“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
WHOA, Margery Williams. I’m pretty sure we’re not really talking about toys. Underneath the child-like theme of toys becoming real is a strong case for authenticity – being real – for people; a strong case for the importance of becoming resilient, kind, and not too high maintenance. For being honest and not pretentious.
It’s a great lesson. And in a current society where media seems to teach us that immediate gratification, aesthetics, and ruthless competitiveness are rewarded, it’s no wonder that being “real” would not come naturally to us, or just happen because we know it’s supposed to be a good thing.
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
Who likes being hurt? No one I’d guess, but what the Horse is saying here isn’t really about being fine with feeling hurt; it’s about understanding that the possibility of being hurt is a part of being authentic, which is way better than shying away from that because you might get hurt.
“…once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.”
Yep. Those people who don’t understand – those are the ones who are going to say and do ugly and hurtful things. But if you are truly being real, if you are courageous enough to explore what it means to live within your most authentic self, a strong sense of security and self-awareness accompanies that. And because of this, those hurtful things are, well, just things. They don’t affect us in the same way as they would if we were not secure in ourselves.
“Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
While it can be easy for us to lose our way sometimes and to get caught up in things that are not important, one thing is for sure: once you know something to be true you can’t unknow it. You can’t pretend you didn’t find out. And once you know what it feels like to be authentic, anything less than that feels like substandard living. That’s why I don’t think there has ever been a truer saying than “ignorance is bliss.” It really is – once you’ve been made aware, you can’t go back. Once you know, there is a responsibility attached to that, and here’s where dreamtime and reality catch up with one another.
People are taught to dream, to be inspired, to reach for the stars…and also to be honest and real. When it comes to life goals, does it have to be one or the other? So many choose to live in the state of dream-like ignorance, not realizing or wanting to know how many hours of time are required, how much money will have to be invested, and how many sacrifices will need to be made. Some think that being honest and real consists of dealing with life circumstances that inhibit the dreams from becoming a reality – not having enough money, not getting enough work, not having enough time, etc. – while those things might be a part of one’s reality, should they determine one’s ability to be authentic as a person? Should the fact that there are “ugly” things about life mean that the dreams we have are not realistic and therefore not attainable?
The merging of dreams and reality begins with authenticity. Knowing who we truly are, what we are capable of, what we have the courage to try, and what we really don’t want to do allows us to move toward our dreams in a way that’s highly productive instead of wishing our dreams would happen or bemoaning that they aren’t. Being authentic starts with what lies within. And from there it must grow out.
As the Horse said, it doesn’t happen all at once and it takes time. Being Real is HARD! It’s much easier to be lazy about it, to worry what others think, to shy away from things that would take great amounts of courage, to not put in the hours and hours of time, to complain about what we don’t have and what’s unfair… Being true to ourselves takes constant work, and we live in a society that doesn’t encourage it. And so it makes complete sense as to why an artist struggles deeply to find authenticity, even when being begged to do so by a teacher or director, since it goes against our survival instinct to blend in. And yet it’s the highest form of living…
If you’re truly authentic, people might laugh at you. And yes, you might get hurt. But I would wager that the fulfillment received from being the most genuine you far outweighs the struggles faced because you are doing so. Ultimately, there is no greater measure of success.
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