"Our identity is like a kaleidoscope. With each turn we reset it not to a former or final state but to a new one that reflects the here-and-now positions of the pieces we have to work with. The design is always new because the shifts are continual. That is what makes kaleidoscopes and us,so appealing and beautiful."
- David Richo, How to be an Adult in Relationships
Is this true for you? Are you like a kaleidoscope? Can you sense yourself always shifting from one "design" to another that "reflects the here-and-now positions of the pieces" of your life -
thoughts, feelings, moods, attention, body?
Don't think about it. Look and listen, open and curious. What is your experience? What is true for you? Is there a fixed or final state of you? Or is there a shifting and flowing?
What is it like to witness, even smile at this experience - your kaleidoscope -- whatever design it is taking? Letting go perhaps of what it was or what it will be. What is it like in this moment? Is it "appealing and beautiful?"
We don't often recognize the inevitable, constant changing in ourselves or in others - let alone appreciate the "beauty" as we would a kaleidoscope. As a practical matter, we go through our days assuming a "me" or a "you" or an "us" of some former or fixed or final state.
Our eyes are as if closed to the pattern of the kaleidoscope in our midst in this moment, dreaming instead of a "freeze frame" we knew or loved or were wronged by in some other place and time. And so our understanding of what or who is here-and-now is imprecise, even distorted.
I remember waking up to this. My son was three, teary-eyed and wobbly as I knelt before him. It was Friday afternoon, and, as was our weekly tradition, we were having snack at the Village Grinder coffee shop and would then visit the Bookworm. We had done this hundreds of times before.
He stood on tippy-toes, nose resting on the counter, reaching for the cookie the cashier held out for him. He no sooner had the treat in his eager hand than it was gone, crumbs on the carpet. His lips began to quiver. I knelt. Took his hand. Found his eyes.
Then I saw. I wasn't looking, I was seeing. It was subtle, but I was struck. Before me was something new, born of familiar elements and yet more and different. This beautiful boy was morphing into some new design of himself continually right before my eyes.
I was seeing him as if for the first time, over and over again. The first time and perhaps the only time he would take this exact design.
It came to me. Let me remember the former design and hope happiness for the future ones, but let me not allow either to obscure my understanding of the one before me now. Let him be seen and known - and his unique design honored - in every moment of his life.
What would that be like for you? To be seen and known, really accepted, in every moment by yourself and others? What would it mean for your relationships ... your health ... your happiness ... your peace? What would it mean for you to offer this to others?
Here is how my story continues ... I was shifting too, coming out of mommy autopilot. I was able to see what was called for in that moment, rather than automatically reacting to the hundreds of moments and millions of former versions of my son and I.
We didn't hurry to clean up the mess out of embarrassment. We didn't buy another cookie to "make it better." We didn't hustle out of line worried we were taking time and space that didn't belong to us. We didn't hush our selves so as not to make a scene or disturb others -- we didn't need to. We paused quite naturally.
There was clarity. There was a slowing down, a relaxing into, an allowing for even the sad and unpleasant. Silent tears and holding each other, an outpouring of compassion for this little being and for all of us who find something we so want in pieces before us with no going back.
And then ...a smile, a brother's nudge, a giggle, a moving on, a new design. The kaleidoscope turning continually, "appealing and beautiful."
What would it be like to thoroughly pause and know what was needed, especially during times of trouble or chaos? What would it be like to be surrounded by family and friends who could do the same?
Goodness knows there were countless moments before that Village Grinder Friday and countless since when I forgot to remember that this "I" and "you" and "we" are kaleidoscopes, not fixed and final, but continually flowing from one intricate and singular design to the next. When I do remember, which is to say when I do become mindful, I am filled with curiosity and awe - and always astounded by what I learn.
It seems that the trick for many of us is in the remembering. Life is demanding, busy, distracting, exhausting and often traumatizing. Even so, can we remember to open to the kaleidoscope of someone - and ourselves - in each moment?
Can we remember to let go of or suspend the ideas and stories we attach to a person? Can we see that the kaleidoscope has turned and is turning -- and that we may miss our one and only chance to know it as it is now?
Any static picture we hold too tightly is obscuring our understanding. We get stuck and stagnant, walled off in many ways from the fullness of the precious, fleeting life before us now.
Perhaps it's easy to romanticize the beauty of our "kaleidoscope" when times are simple, people are easy and memories are pleasant -- less so when they are difficult. Very importantly, "appreciating the pattern of the kaleidoscope" is not about tolerating or condoning abuse or minimizing trauma.
First be safe. We can invite ourselves to see the "here-and-now" of a difficult person or experience from a safe distance in healthy doses (and if necessary work with the guidance of a therapist).
When we do, we may find that softening around a preconceived notion and seeing the here-and-now paves the way for an understanding or acceptance that lessens a burden, eases a pain, or allows for a healing forgiveness.
Here's an invitation for you. Consider greeting the next person or being you encounter - or even yourself - with a gentle interest in their "kaleidoscope designs" during the time you spend together.
Is there a fixed or final state? Or is there a shifting and flowing? May you see and know this being - and honor their unique designs - in every moment you share.
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