Lessons from The Velveteen Rabbit
You know I believe that our messages and lessons from Spirit are everywhere. We just need to be open to them. And sometimes, we have to hear the Lesson a few different times in different ways.
Our ‘masters’ come in a variety of forms too. It’s not just the Don Miguel Ruiz’s, Marianne Williamson’s , and yes, J.K. Rowling’s of the day that have a message for us.
So, it should be no surprise to you that there are many lessons in many ‘children’s’ books, including “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.
I became interested in children’s books through a friend of mine who made a point of having a collection of them and added to it from time to time when she saw something that caught her eye. The collection was for her, as she did not have children of her own, but did interact with them.
I don’t recall children’s stories as a child, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, I just don’t remember having them read to me or having books about the house.
So, let’s explore this classic. The actual title is “The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real). The book was first published in 1922.
As the story goes, a stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen is given as a Christmas present to a small boy. The boy plays with his other presents and forgets the velveteen rabbit for a time. The presents he first plays with are modern and mechanical, and they snub the old-fashioned velveteen rabbit, and put on airs of superiority.
Because of the behavior of the other toys, the poor little Rabbit was made to feel very insignificant and commonplace, and the only ’person’ who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The wise Skin Horse, tells the rabbit about toys magically becoming REAL due to the love from their children.
The author calls the Skin Horse a ‘person’ because he has made the transition to REAL through the love given by the boy’s uncle when he was a boy.
The rabbit is awed by this idea of becoming REAL; however, he feels, his chances of achieving this wish are slight because of his treatment from the other, ‘modern’ toys, making him feel inferior.
One night, the boy’s Nana gives the rabbit to the boy to sleep with, in place of the usual bedtime toy that was misplaced. The rabbit becomes the boy’s favorite toy, enjoying adventures in the playroom and yard, and picnics with him in the spring; and the boy begins to regard the rabbit as ‘REAL’. Time passes, and the rabbit becomes shabbier but happy.
One day, the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, and the rabbit sits with him day in and out as he recovers. The doctor declares the boy well, and orders that the boy should be taken to the seaside and that his room should be disinfected—all his books and toys burnt, including the velveteen rabbit.
The rabbit is bundled into a sack and left out in the garden overnight, where he sadly reflects on his life with his boy. The toy rabbit cries, and as a real tear drops onto the ground, and a marvellous flower appears.
A fairy steps out of the flower and comforts the velveteen rabbit, introducing herself as the Nursery Magic Fairy. She says that, because he is old and shabby and REAL, she will take him away with her and “turn him into “Real” – for everyone.
The fairy takes the rabbit to the forest, where she meets the other rabbits and gives the velveteen rabbit a kiss. The velveteen rabbit changes into a real rabbit and joins the other rabbits in the forest.
The next spring, the rabbit returns to look at the boy, and the boy recognizes his old velveteen rabbit.
From the book:
“REAL isn’t how you are made…” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are REAL you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are REAL you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand…”~From “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
So what are the lessons that we can learn from this story? Many, my friends, many.
The first, very obvious lesson is about the word R E A L. Look at how many people are treated. Much like the velveteen rabbit by his fellow toys. Many, more modern, often mechanical toys had airs about them; making themselves above other, not so modern seeming toys.
But what happens when the rabbit is loved by his boy?
What happens to you and I when we are loved by another? When we are accepted for the people we are? When we love and accept ourselves? We become R.E.A.L.
The toys–and people–become real through the wisdom and experience of love.
Here is how one blogger put it… Love causes wear and tear on us all, but it’s worth the pain b/c of the joy love brings. We all need to love, be loved, and belong.
That if you love something strong enough-it becomes real to you. It touches your heart and soul. And no matter what – it stays with you. Even when you are told you have to let go. Others can’t understand what you feel and see because they don’t feel the love you do. Loving someone or something can hurt when it’s time to say good bye.
For something (the stuffed rabbit in this case) to become real it must be released (parted with in the fire).
Applies to anything in our lives – letting the kids grow and leave to become their own persons – etc.
That love can make all things real and beautiful.
And another easy Lesson is, looks do not matter…”little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.
It’s when we are worn with years and the insults that have been flung at us and we have been cautioned to shut up and sit down and wait our turn and no you can’t have that and don’t be silly, get a real job, something that will help you survive. That’s when we start to see this definition of REAL.
Taking the example from The Velveteen Rabbit: Being Real sometimes hurts. The alternative to being real, however, is unimaginable.
Being Loved sometimes hurts. Although we do our utmost not to deliberately hurt the ones we love, the truth is, we inadvertently hurt the ones we love (and they hurt us), because our hearts are exposed the most to one another. What greater way is there to communicate and to exist, than to live wide openly and authentically Real with one another?
In the words of Melissa Etheridge, “I want to live my life pursuing all my happiness. I want a fearless love, I won’t settle for anything less.”
This wisdom is explored with warmth and depth by psychotherapist and social worker Toni RaifenD’Antonio in her book, The Velveteen Principles: A Guide to Becoming Real. In it, she translates the lessons learned by the Velveteen Rabbit into 12 principles that create a guide to becoming real.
She describes the difference between living in the land of Objects and being Real. “Once we accept the pervasive messages of the Object culture, once we believe that we should be perfect, we start to feel shamefully inadequate. No one, after all, can ever attain the Object ideal. As a result, we tumble into a never-ending cycle of struggle, self-condemnation and flailing attempts to ease the pain through money, power, drugs, sex, food or purchases…Just think about the process of abandoning your Real self. You let go of a dream here, a feeling there. Elements of yourself fall away so quietly that you don’t even notice. But something inside of you feels the loses
Briefly, Let’s look at her 12 Principles:
Principle #1: Real is Possible – The first principle reassures us that Real is possible. Just as the Velveteen Rabbit felt in his little bunny heart that he was Real, that he had the potential to be Real, and undertook developing those qualities that he needed to in
order to live as Real.
Principle #2: Real is a Process – This is the wisdom of the Skin Horse? “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept.” We begin to become Real when you begin the process of discovering and defining yourself, and we become more and more Real as we grow and mature and refine what matters most to us.
What can support this process? What can help us feel more real? Close relationships make us feel more Real. Work that matters makes us feel more Real. Creativity and growth make us feel more Real. Teaching, nurturing and caring for others make us feel Real.
Principle #3: Real is Emotional – Principle 3 speaks to the importance of being emotionally available and intelligent. When we’re Real, we honor our feelings and express them maturely and responsibly. We don’t “stuff” our feelings or project them out on to others.
As we become more aware of our own emotions, we learn to respect and appreciate the feelings of others. We recognize that not every feeling needs to be acted upon. This isn’t being real or authentic, it’s being impulsive. Important distinction! And this emotional intelligence leads to the fourth principle.
Principle #4: Real is Empathetic – The mechanical toys in the nursery had a very hard time relating to the feelings and needs of the other toys. Their constant need to be superior hid feelings of insecurity and shame. Their missing paint and broken parts their lack of perfection – created an insecurity that was out pictured as judgment. In contrast, the Skin Horse is very comfortable in his own skin. The Skin Horse is Real and not interested in being perfect.
Principle #5: Real is Courageous – Brene Brown wrote that, “Courage is telling who you are with your whole heart.” Real feels the fear and does it anyway. Real is willing to take risks. Real does the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Real isn’t afraid to fail, and sees every failure as a learning experience. Real knows that Failure leads to growth; New beliefs are powerful. Courage comes with experience.
Principle #6: Real is Honest – The only toy in the nursery who is honest, who tells the truth, is the Skin Horse. He likes who he is, so he doesn’t need to posture or pretend to be something he isn’t. He’s not perfect and doesn’t need or want to be. He understands that:
– Perfect is arbitrary. Think about how body image standards have changed over the years. What was considered beautiful 100 years ago is not what we consider beautiful today.
– Perfection is boring. Isn’t it our flaws, our idiosyncrasies that make us interesting.
– Human perfection is ultimately impossible.
When we’re Real, we’re comfortable in our own skin, just like the Skin Horse.
We say what we mean, and mean what we say. We walk our talk, and practice what we preach. This is inherent in Jesus’ teaching of letting your yea’s be yea’s and your nay’s be nay’s. No drama, no posturing, just being real.
Principle #7: Real is Generous – Real expresses a spirit of goodwill and encouragement, a generosity of spirit. Real supports others joyfully and is affirming. When we’re Real, we understand that there’s enough to go around, so we don’t hold back our gifts. We don’t buy into the common misperceptions about competition, and someone needing to lose in order for us to win. Real looks for win/win solutions. Real understands the Law of Giving and Receiving, that it is in giving that we receive. Real knows that sharing our light doesn’t diminish it, but allows it to grow ever brighter. Real understands that we are all One, that we are inherently connected, which makes generosity natural and even logical.
Principle #8: Real is Grateful – Gratitude flows when we are able to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Developing an attitude of gratitude opens our eyes to the beauty around us, and to the infinite possibilities that surround us always. Real associates gratitude with awareness and appreciation. Real takes the time to be aware of our surroundings, to observe our lives, and those that share it, without judgment, to appreciate our journey and those that share it. Gratitude is the gateway to grace. When we’re willing to be in gratitude, we invite grace into our lives and experience unexpected blessings.
Principle #9: Real can be Painful – As the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen
Rabbit, sometimes becoming Real can hurt. The more we tell the truth about
ourselves, the more open and vulnerable we are, the more risks we’re willing to take,
the more possible it becomes that we could be hurt. We might not like what we see.
But being Real means we keep looking, that we’re willing to accept ourselves, and others, warts and all. We start to care more about contributing, about being of service, than we do about the opinions of others.
Principle #10: Real is Flexible – Real is adaptable and able to adjust quickly to change. When we’re Real, we hold ourselves lightly, not taking things personally, or ourselves too seriously. Real goes with the flow. Real understands that:
– Change does not equal disaster.
– Change is natural. The I Ching teaches that “life is change.”
– Change does not mean we failed.
– After a big change, we are not going to be the same. Real understands that change
is necessary for growth.
Principle #11: Real Love Endures – In his book of Toltec wisdom, The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz teaches that: “We can talk about love and write a thousand books about it, but love will be completely different for each of us because we have to experience love. Love is not about concepts; love is about action. Love in action can only produce happiness. Fear in action can only produce suffering. The only way to master love is to practice love. You don’t need to justify your love, you don’t need to explain your love; you just need to practice your love. Practice creates the master.”
Thus my signature on my emails…Loving is the answer.
Principle #12: Real is Ethical – “The process of becoming Real eventually makes us calmly content with ourselves, which means we no longer feel overwhelmed by self-consciousness and self-doubt. We are so comfortable in our worth as human beings that we are able to act according to our highest values in a way that is practically automatic. Almost without trying, we begin to act in ways that are consistently ethical.” What I call living in your integrity.
Real understands that our actions have consequences, a ripple effect, and so we become exquisitely aware of our effect on others.
We live the Golden Rule, not because it’s a “rule” but because it has become an extension of our Realness.
Real happens when we are willing to see that we are exactly as God created us to
be, we stop apologizing for who we are, and embrace who we are.
Something interesting happens when we’re willing to be real, to be vulnerable, to know the truth about ourselves and others, to focus on love, to be genuine… all of a sudden, we start to see things differently. Because we’re no longer interested in pretending, or trying to be something we’re not… because it’s so much easier to just be who we are, all of a sudden we have more energy, more enthusiasm for life, more ideas, more joy. This is not magic. It’s the result of freeing up all that energy we used to spend keep the mask in place, all the energy we used to spend hiding, more interested in our fear and our stories than in being real.
Toni speaks to this:
After he became Real, the Velveteen Rabbit looked upon the world with the quiet wisdom we acquire when we have grown enough and learned enough to understand what Really fulfills and sustains us as unique individuals. To put it another way, we know what gives our lives true value and meaning. This is the ultimate goal we reach as we mature as Real people.
The hunger for a sense of meaning – for true value – is universal and as old as humanity itself. We all want to feel that we have a purpose and that our presence on this planet matters. Many times, this desire is dismissed as impractical and even frivolous. But when you are Real, the quest for meaning is central to your life. It leads you to nurture your own values, interests and passions and to connect with others in empathetic and positive relationships. This doesn’t happen without some effort.
A Real life demands your active participation. It doesn’t happen to you. You design it and then create it. Real doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect at anything. It means that you’re willing to grow and learn through experience. And as a result, you know that you always did your best.
Besides saving us from regrets, a life conducted in this Real way creates a beautiful and unique story that becomes our legacy to the people we love and, perhaps, to people we never knew. This is the greatest reward of living as a Real person. It’s not stuff or power or achievement, but rather a sense that you are using your time on Earth well, that you are connected to others and that your life matters.
Once you are Real, and you know that everything you say and do matters, you can also understand that we each leave a mark on the world that remains long after we’re gone. Whether we recognize it or not, we all create a legacy…. If you become more Real in your own life and bring that to your relationships, you are practically guaranteed to leave behind an inspiring example for others. Your life’s message will encourage everyone you touch to live with a sense of wonder, curiosity and openness, rather than cynicism and fear. It will say, “I was Real. And you can be Real, too.”