Getting to Ordinary: in memory of Sonia March Nevis

Getting to Ordinary
In memory of Sonia March Nevis

Gestalt trainer, wise woman, practitioner of the art of ordinary

Rabbit

One rainy day when going to the playground was a no go, I read The Velveteen Rabbit to our five-year-old granddaughter. It had been a long time since I’d read it to my children and I liked it a lot better than she did–so much so that I’ve searched for ordinary words to say why getting to an ordinary kind of real is so important.

Do you remember the story? A velveteen rabbit was given to a Boy on Christmas. “He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white; he had real thread whiskers and his ears were lined with pink sateen.” The Boy quickly forgot about him, so he lived in the toy cupboard where, because he was “only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him.”

The cheaply made and nameless rabbit wondered what Real was. A wise old Skin Horse whose coat had worn off explained that “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” The lonely rabbit longed to belong to a child, to be loved, and to become Real.

“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit. Like most of us, he longed to become Real without too much difficulty. The Skin Horse explained: “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt…It doesn’t happen all at once…You become. It takes a long time.” The plus is that “once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts forever.”

One night the rabbit was chosen to sleep with the Boy. The Boy rolled over on him, which was decidedly unpleasant, but then played with him daily. As time passed, the happy rabbit failed to notice that his velveteen fur was getting shabby and his tail was coming loose. The unique marks of love wore away manufactured perfection, and one day the Boy pronounced the rabbit Real.

It is plainly so: getting to ordinary starts with an initial awakening into a self that feels Real. Only another’s devoted attention enlarges being and brings meaning: we matter to someone. It takes two to create one who feels Real. Although I would wish everyone this magical awakening, which is supposed to get a running start in childhood, we also know that Real that depends on another cannot last–either for Rabbit or ourselves. We must achieve a separate sense of self.

In stories, this hard and necessary separation is often imaged as a farewell to the other. In this story the Boy gets sick and Rabbit, along with infected bedding, must be burned. Forlorn, mourning the never-again days with the Boy, and accepting his fate with simple sadness, Rabbit feels a real tear trickle down his dingy little face.

Tears are part of the inevitable sorrows of life. We will lose our innocence, some of our beliefs, our faith in forever, and beloved others. Tears are how we let our hearts break. When Rabbit feels utterly bereft…

…the nursery fairy appears. She transforms Rabbit from Real to real. The fairy—symbol of the discovery of an indwelling self—doesn’t create a unicorn or even an eagle, but an ordinary rabbit. He can twitch his ears, nibble good things, and find real rabbit friends. It turns out that real life is gloriously ordinary, and I hope all of us get there.

So I have to get hopping now. We’re almost out of milk, I need to pick up the mild green olives our granddaughter likes, and get winter sweaters to the dry cleaner. Biscotti at the Italian bakery, maybe a gelato (as long as I’m there), and a birthday card. It’s an ordinary day.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She trained with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Westchester Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and sits on the board and faculty of the Gestalt International Study Center on Cape Cod. Previously, she trained as a Gestalt therapist at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She can be reached at http://www.DeborahCStewart.com

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Sleeping Beauty: a Wake-Up Call

thimble

I have been thinking about Sleeping Beauty lately—remember her? She was never one of my favorites. I felt on early reading that she was rather a twit, stumbling upon the one and only spindle left in the entire kingdom and then pricking herself with it. Surely, at age 15, she should have developed more hand-eye coordination. This unlikely occurrence—how sharp could a spindle be, anyway?—caused every living being in castle to fall into a coma, even the flies. I mean really, SB.

As a child, I resonated to tales of ego strength: Jack, after his initial bad bargain (trading the family cow for a handful of beans), climbed the beanstalk and polished off a giant. Cinderella had the chutzpah to go to the ball and was rewarded with a prince. Hansel and Gretel roasted the horrid hag in her own oven—gotcha. SB, on the other hand, zonked out for 100 years, and was then awakened by a prince who happened to show up at just the right moment. If there was a life lesson in this story, it wasn’t apparent to me then.

But let’s get to the Evil Fairy part: EF wasn’t invited to the celebration of SB’s long-awaited royal birth, so she crashed the party and cursed SB, which turned into the fateful spindle-prick and 100 comatose years even for flies, not to mention innocent citizens. All this because SB’s parents were royally witless. In one version of the tale, EF wasn’t invited because the king and queen ran short of gold dinnerware. In another, they thought EF was dead, and didn’t bother to check.

Neither did they explain the evils of spindles to their daughter in case the burning and purging they had decreed missed a few. Or, the minute SB turned 15, assign a bevy of bodyguards to fend off any spindles that might be stalking her. Instead, the king and queen went on a trip, SB went poking around the castle—and guess what? There was a spindle right there in the castle—duh!

With everyone out cold, plant life sprang into action: a Trump-tower high hedge of thorns grew up around the castle and entrapped any would-be hero trying to get through (what a way to die). But on the exact day the hundred-year curse was up, the malevolent hedge opened to Hero Prince, who was visiting the area and was curious about the rumored castle avec princess. Of course HP found SB even though she was up in a remote tower with that terrible spindle. Everyone in the castle came back to life, now very unfashionably dressed, and HP and SB got married, code for Problem Over.

What I found frustrating about this tale was its lack of human agency, and along with it, assurance that I, like many a hero and heroine, can overcome even the most daunting difficulty. Feckless parents are a common occurrence in fairy tales, but even dummlings like Jack could finagle a way out of a situational jam. SB, however, totally checked out, only to be rescued by a prince who was mostly in the right place at the right time—no clever effort, brave feat, or lofty love.

From a Jungian viewpoint all the characters in a fairy tale can represent aspects of an individual psyche. We can recognize parts of ourselves in SB’s clueless parents, an innocent princess, and the fury of a disdained fairy. What an unappealing cast of characters—I mean characteristics.

But what I have found most irritating in this tale is its fatalism: sometimes you-know-what happens and we just have to wait in situ until a savior arrives. But no worries: when the time is right (even if it feels like a century), a hero-prince-rescuer will show up. Life and energy will then be restored without anyone having to make much effort. This is hardly a heartening message.

But wait: the fateful chain of events began when the king and queen excluded the 13th fairy. Because they were unable to engage her darkness, the shadow she represented became actively hostile. The royal couple had hoped to ensure their daughter a rosy life, but her life, and ours, must necessarily include shadow.

Conscious and unconscious must have it out with one another, a process Jung likens to that of hammer and anvil. Two sturdy opposites are required for psychic life and conscious individuation. Otherwise, as we see in the tale, collapse and stasis ensue.

The king and queen’s denial of shadow illustrates one of Jung’s famous dictums: When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate—which, as we know from the tale and from life, exacts a high price. Because everyone except the late and lucky hero falls unconscious, resolution resides outside human agency.  Redemption is left to the archetypal realm as fate.

We can, of course, mitigate fate: “We have to discover more consciousness, to extend consciousness, and the more it is extended the more we get away from the original condition.” (CW 11, p. 967) Perhaps that famous, fateful spindle can prick us into the value of ever more conscious engagement in our lives.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Certified Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and a co-creator of This Jungian Life podcast. You can reach her at http://www.deborahcstewart.com