Indelibly embedded in our collective consciousness is a huge psychic scar, the result of the litany that began with the savage events of 9/11/01. Many of us are left with a low-grade emotional infection that never quite goes away. The constant potential for further acts of terrorism - vague, nonspecific, and unpredictable - has engendered a hypervigilance which corrodes daily life. The probability of war with Iraq has created divisions among friends and families caught on opposite sides of the debate, worldwide.
And now, sadly, the Columbia Shuttle disaster has added another dimension to the cumulative levels of national and international pain and anxiety. It’s like we’re flailing in the ocean, and every time we get our emotional heads above water, another wave comes along and buries us again. We need a break. A break that we cannot really afford to take. But it's time to lighten up a little - maybe let down our hair, without letting down our guard - just for a few moments.
So just for fun, I will tell you about a piece of self-help jargon that always struck me as odd, until one day I restated it to suit myself. In the personal growth universe, people often use the phrase, "like peeling away the layers of an onion," as a metaphor for the process of looking for their own true selves hidden within the wreckage of their pasts, and with obvious reference to the tears that often accompany this task.
For years I would hear people say that line, and I’d watch as others nodded in agreement with the implied conclusion that revelations of immense self-discovery would soon follow. But it never felt quite right to me. Clearly I could understand that peeling an onion makes you cry and self-examination can provoke great sadness, but what was left at the end did not match up to any goal that I could imagine trying to better myself. I kept fighting the cliché, until finally one day while speaking up in a public forum of like-minded people, I said something that I felt made more sense. "To me, the actions I take to improve myself are not like peeling an onion, but are more akin to eating an artichoke. Although pulling away the leaves of my past is painful, what is left is my heart."
I managed to take a pause in my speech, a not-so-easy task for me, and let the comment sink in with the audience, and even to observe some heads nodding in agreement. It was a nice moment, one that I took to bed with me that night with a sense of having truly shared, which is what one tries to do in those environments. In thinking about this topic, I looked for some of the thoughts others have written and found a profound statement:
"The only thing is that when you get to the centre of an onion you find that the layers ARE the onion and that there is no centre."
I could not find the name of the author so he or she will have to remain anonymous for now, which is quite apropos. However, the spelling of the word "centre" indicates the author might be English, should anyone desire to make a search.
Speaking of searches, many people never go on a search to find their centre. Some are afraid to, some aren’t aware that they could or might, and some are perfectly fine the way they are and have no need to go looking for something or someone they never lost. Oh, how I envy that latter group. Of course I haven’t met a whole lot of them. They tend not to show up at the places where us seekers congregate. And outside of those worlds, they are not liable to be braying about how the world done them wrong, which in their cases, it hadn’t.
All in all, onions have their purpose, peeled or otherwise. And the noble artichoke, which valiantly tries to shield and protect its heart, makes a case for benign self-protection. Even the lowly cabbage, which becomes romantic with the French phrase, mon petit chou, adds to the lore of the vegetable genre. And we mustn’t leave out the old carrot and the stick. So in the end, it appears as if vegetables have purposes beyond nutrition - they feed our souls, our spirits, and our metaphors, as well. Which brings us to the real questions - Can chocolate be reclassified as a vegetable? And, if so, can it be peeled, and used for our own betterment? Would more people abandon their therapists in favor of finding their "centres: in the middle of chocolate soufflés? Now there’s some food for thought.
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