Releasing the swan

Image credit: © 2012 ellenm1, from Flickr | used via CC-BY licensing

I’ve always had a particular fondness for the story of The Ugly Duckling.

When I was younger, it gave me hope that the fact that I wasn’t popular and didn’t fit in well with my high school peers wasn’t a situation that would last forever. I was convinced that somewhere along the line it would become evident to all that I was really a beautiful swan that they just hadn’t recognized at the time.

As I’ve gotten older and less concerned with fitting into the “in” crowd of any kind, I find hope in the idea that maybe what I currently see as flaws are actually raw material that would be transformed into something more valuable.

The last few years have been the kind of crucible period that has the power to either transform my dross into gold or to destroy me altogether. Despite all the challenges of this time, I have held tight to that hope that I would emerge as a swan in the end.

What I’ve been discovering instead is that I can’t always tell the difference between what is growth and what is destruction.

I am undergoing nearly constant deep shifts in my understanding of myself and my connection to the world around me. The self-identity I once had has been stripped away, and nothing cohesive has yet emerged to take its place. As you might imagine, it is not a comfortable place to be in, especially for such a prolonged period of time.

I find myself grasping at each shift as it emerges hoping that it will provide some semblance of a new self-identity to claim where I could rest for a while from this ongoing storm of change. Nothing has yet been solid enough to hold onto.

What I am finding more interesting, though, is how difficult it is for me to judge whether the things that are emerging are signs of positive transformation to be nurtured and cared for or whether they are symptoms of dysfunction caused by the prolonged difficulty that should be overcome and minimized by nipping them in the bud before they take root.

Part of the reason that this is so challenging is that part of my self-identity was wrapped up in my image of what this swan was going to look like when it appeared. I didn’t know the details, but the broad outline of what this should look like was deeply imprinted in every part of my being—and has been that way from my earliest memories.

But when I am able to step back and rationally and realistically look at the evidence and the feedback I’ve gotten, the truth is that every indication is that I am not becoming more like the swan of my imagination.

In fact, it appears that I am not a swan at all, at least in the way that I defined swan-dom.

I appear to be a different creature altogether. And while that creature remains undefined, it is clearly not a swan.

As I begin to recognize the contours of this new creature that I am becoming, my automatic tendency is to use swan as my measuring stick of whether something is growth or dysfunction. When I use that measuring stick, I find myself identifying more dysfunction than growth.

In the moments (rare as they still are) that I am able to lay down my swan-shaped measuring stick and simply observe these new contours as they are, I can see ways that they could equally as well be defined as growth—just growth in a different direction than I had imagined.

My challenge in this stage of this journey seems to be in letting go of my desire to be a swan altogether, and that has been harder than it sounds. With so much of my self-identity and my value system molded around the desirability of being a swan, it is difficult to find equal value in other possibilities for me because they all feel like settling for second best.

I still don’t have any answers about how to do this or where I am headed. I’m finding my way one step at a time, one day at a time.

I am just struck by how difficult it is in midst of intense transformation to be able to tell the difference between growth and emerging dysfunction, especially when growth is so narrowly defined.

I think it’s time to release the swan to allow space for what needs to emerge to take shape. But oh how hard it is to let the swan go!

Have you ever encountered times in your life when you have had difficulty telling the difference between growth and dysfunction when undergoing big shifts in self-understanding? If so, what helped you distinguish between them? I’d love to learn from others’ experiences with this!

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2 thoughts on “Releasing the swan

  • July 16, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    I suspect delineating growth from dysfunction may be a moment to moment task but I think that dysfunction may be a natural byproduct of growth. It is seeing what living is all about and some paths don’t seem to suit the longer we travel them. However, we chose in a moment to go down that path, we learned, and we go on to whatever is next. I believe that being human is a way for us to experience living on the physical plane, and when this human is no longer, on to the next experience. Whenever I get to feeling as you are in this post, I remember that life is impermanent even as I am experiencing the wonder of it. Very thoughtful post, Kenetha.

    • July 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      I like the thought that dysfunction may be a natural byproduct of growth! It reminds me of the idea of light and shadow being too intertwined to separate; they always appear together. Thank you for sharing that for it is a gift that allows me space to let go of self-blame for my dysfunctions and get back to choosing what is right for me in this moment.
      Thank you!!

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