One of my favourite books as a child, and as an adult, explains in beautiful depth and detail what it means to be real. The Velveteen Rabbit, explores the world of a little boy, his relationship to a simple stuffed rabbit and the rabbit’s relationship to all the shiny toys around him. Ultimately, the boy and the rabbit establish a strong and real bond although the rabbit goes through a painful and transformational process as he learns what it means to love and be loved; what it means to be real.
The rabbit learns from the wise, old skin horse about this transformation from a toy into something the Skin Horse calls Real. “Real is what happens when you become your true self–not a contrived, shiny, pretend thing–and are loved despite, and maybe even because of, your imperfections.”
We all long to be loved, truly and deeply and unconditionally; however, most of us think that being who we are, with all of our foibles, is somehow not enough or perhaps shameful. And so, we parade around wearing various masks that disguise our true selves. The price we pay is living an inauthentic life where we become enervated from trying diligently to keep everything in check, in control. When we live a straightjacketed existence, trying to fit in, to belong to a society that tells us what we do is who we are, that filling up with things will satisfy a hunger only sated by developing our purpose, we end up dissatisfied and sometimes depressed.
Pouring huge amounts of energy into moulding ourselves into what we think others want us to be, into fitting in–we objectify ourselves. We worry what other people think of how we dress, what we look like, what car we drive, what social circles we run with, where we eat, what we eat, and on and on it goes. These objectifying social forces are woven into the very fabric of how society functions. They become invisible and taken for granted.
The rabbit must go through feelings of shame that he is not shiny and flawless like the other toys. Shame makes him feel isolated and alone and rejected. Shame is used in our society as a means to funnel people into the world of objectification.
We pay a price for abandoning our Real selves. The rabbit pushes through his shame, faces it and feels it and learns from the Skin Horse that being Real and expressing his uniqueness is what matters.
In describing what it means to be Real, the Skin Horse tells the rabbit, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept.”
Being Real happens over time. It is the process of discovering who we are by defining our values, our purpose, and creating a life in synch with these values. Being Real is about living without masks, about celebrating our uniqueness and being compassionate, to all parts of ourselves.
Becoming Real is not an easy journey. It takes time and patience and questioning of what we assume is “normal”. Sometimes there is pain involved but ultimately to return to how we were born– knowing instinctively what matters, living without fear holding us back, living with purpose–is a journey worth taking.