What Do You Need To Shed, To Grow?

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The other night at dinner, Jessie reminded me of the time that she came home with a container of Hermit Crabs that she and her dad had bought at the mall.

“You were so unhappy about it,” she reminded me, laughing.

I was.

(They belong on beaches, free. But, that is not what this posting is about.)

“Remember how we’d go and buy them lots of different shells to move into?”she reminisced.

I did.

As hermit crabs grow bigger, they outgrow their shells, and need larger homes to move into for comfort. As they grow, their shell sizes need to expand too, so we always made sure they had choices in multiple sizes.

In this BBC clip, they even seem to do so in cooperative, sustainable and interdependent ways - (for the most part!)

I find myself marveling at hermit crabs who don’t seem to get attached to their shells.

As they grow into their next right thing, they release their current right thing with grace.

They live in the present moment, attending to the next right action.

I am not like this.

I tend to approaching letting go and dropping my attachments with inner conflict, self doubt and resistance. More like Anne Morrow Lindbergh when she writes in Gift from the Sea,

“I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.”

Neither does mine.

Instead, I have ideas about how the world should be. About how I prefer it to be.

  • I have ideas about how I want the people in my life to be and how I think they should be.

  • I’d like summer to last longer and winter to be shorter.

  • I’d like to have red trees all year long, not just for a few precious weeks.

  • I keep various unused items in storage, just in case I might need them one day for something.

  • I have Expectations. Preferences. Attachments.

  • And when reality doesn’t match up to the images I carry around in my mind, I suffer.

Truly, I’d like to live more like a hermit crab.

  • I like the idea of having a lovely hard shell to wrap myself into whenever I am feeling particularly introverted. Which, by the way, is very often.

  • I'd be at home, everywhere at anytime.

  • I could line up with a bunch of other crabs - like in this video - each passing on what it no longer needs to someone who needs exactly that. No waste.

With this thought, I find myself recommitting to decluttering my email inbox, my computer folders, my garage ... to donating things I no longer need, and to buying things secondhand and used.

I remind myself that used is beautiful.

Just like a hermit crab shell.

And, then there are all the intangible soul-cluttering attachments that I want to drop and let go.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects,

“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of ego.

Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach living; one's pride, one's false ambitions, one's mask, one's armor.

Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it?

Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!”

Contemplating the trees shedding their leaves this Autumn, let's reflect:

  • What are we attached to these days?

  • What things are we outgrowing?

  • What do we find ourselves seeking out or moving into?

  • What are we ready to shed in order to grow today?