It was hot that summer, hotter than four kids from the chilly Pacific Northwest could comprehend. Our dad had gotten a math scholarship for six weeks in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, so he and Mom had piled all us kids into the Volkswagen van and headed off cross country to a planet very unlike our own.
It was way too hot to play outside, so every day we escaped to the air-conditioned shopping center across the street. Malls were not yet ubiquitous, seemed jammed full of mystical treasures, and our parents let us go over unchaperoned! – the immensity of this freedom was almost inconceivable to us.
The most magical treat of all was right inside the front door: an aquarium that held six chicken eggs and a gigantic four-pounder from an ostrich. Listed on the pedestal below were the dates they were expected to hatch. It was only a matter of weeks, but in the time frame of children, forever. We waited every single day that summer for those eggs to hatch, and every single day we would run over to the mall to see if it was time yet. Waiting, waiting, we waited — and not too patiently.
The ostrich egg turned out to be a dud. But every one of us, my brother and sisters and I, remember the best day of the summer as the one when we arrived and the chickens were finally hatching. We city kids watched the natural miracle as they pecked their way out of their shells, all wet and squeaking. We found out it wasn’t all sanitized, Disney-fied as we’d been led to expect by the cartoons where adorable baby chicks burst out of their shells spotless and downy. It took untold effort for them to facilitate their own births, and one chick was all bloody from being cut by its shell.
I often recount this story for my patients who are grappling with why it all hurts so much. The way of personal and spiritual growth takes untold effort and is often ‘bloody.’ It doesn’t just spring out fully formed because you say a few affirmations or read shelves of self-help books. It’s a painful process; there are no two ways about it. “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” Kahlil Gibran wrote. Just as in the birth process of the chicks, the pain and struggle involved in the birthing of oneself is not an aberration, but the most natural thing in the world.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth