I was reading Melody Beattie’s “The Language of Letting Go” some time back and came across a section where she spoke of how we try to protect ourselves from this cold and harsh world. We wrap ourselves, she says, in defensive layers as if we were wearing a blanket. Yet, these blankets don’t protect us. They suffocate us, woven as they are of shame, fear, anxiety, and all the unhealthy ways we try to muddle through life.
Beattie’s metaphor is useful, as the only way we can be made well and whole is to cast these diseased blankets aside – to stop hiding and denying – and let the warmth of love heal us. This reminded my of Aesop and one of his more famous fables:
The North Wind and the Sun were in a skirmish over who was the strongest. The Sun saw a traveler below and offered a showdown to settle the matter once and for all: “He who can strip that traveler of his coat shall be declared the winner.” The North Wind agreed and went straight to work.
With all his cold strength he howled against the traveler, ripping at the coat like it was a flag shredded in a storm. But the harder the North Wind blew, the tighter the traveler clung to his coat for protection. At last, the Wind had to relent and stepped aside as the Sun took his turn. With gentle, welcoming beams the Sun burnt away the lingering effects of the North Wind, so the traveler unfastened a couple of buttons on his coat.
As the Sun intensified, the traveler rolled up his sleeves, removed his hat, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Finally, he threw his coat off completely, and using it as a pillow, he lay down to take a nap under the shade of a tree. The North Wind conceded, the Sun celebrated, and Aesop concluded that, “Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.”
From a spiritual perspective, Aesop’s conclusion remains as true today as when he first catalogued this story more than twenty-five centuries ago. No one is converted by ranting argument or bravado. No soul has ever healed, and no heart has ever opened, by means of coercion or threat. It is light and warmth that does the trick; love and grace; what the late Rev. Gordon Cosby called, “Being seized by the power of a great affection.”
We all have family or friends who are hiding beneath their blankets and cloaks, doing their best to protect themselves. If we try to force them to open up – to change – we are only ripping at them. “This only makes them colder, and makes them wrap themselves more tightly,” Melody Beattie says. And then she offers a better way: “I’ve learned the best thing I can do around people who are wrapped in this blanket is to make them feel warm and safe…then, the more able they are to drop their blanket.”