I love the fable of the Princess and the Pea. It captures the meaning of life in such a simple way. If you are numbed out, you cannot feel your pea, especially under twenty mattresses. I certainly could not – until I broke the toxic shame of powerlessness that froze my heart like an impenetrable ice cube.
In the sixth year of my spiritual journey, I became aware that I was in search of my “inner” pea. In the brilliant fable by Hans Christian Andersen, the king and queen were searching for a real princess for their son the prince. They knew that a real princess is so sensitive she can feel a pea even under twenty mattresses.
At that time in my life, I was numbed out and could barely feel a truck, let alone a pea. Fortunately, I had become self- aware of my emotionally-frozen state. How I did it and what to do about it was another story altogether.
My moment of awakening came through cigarette smoking. I had come to firmly believe that we always do things that serve us, even if destructive. How did smoking serve me? I puzzled over this question for many months, reflecting on the six times I started and quit the habit up to that point in my life.
One summer morning, I left my apartment to walk by Lake Ontario. I felt wonderful, breathing in the clean, clear air and basking in the warm, bright sunshine. Then the urge hit me. I wanted a cigarette. I was annoyed by the urge. However, I had already decided I no longer wanted to fight with myself. So I went with the flow. It was an experimental time in my life, aged forty and recently divorced after a long, tough separation.
I bought the cigarettes and lit one up. I inhaled deeply. My throat twinged in that raw whisky kind of way. As the drugs coursed through my veins, my head grew light. My wonderful feeling faded away like the onset of a dark cloud.
In that moment, I knew the answer. I smoked because the drug numbed out my feelings. I smoked because I could not handle the beautiful, intense reality of the present moment. I lacked the courage to feel my pea. Smoking was a thick mattress, one of many that helped me imprison the feelings aching to burst out from within.
I recalled the time when I was thirteen that I became frozen. My grade eight buddies had dumped me for being a big cry-baby – a suck. As the years went by, I layered more and more mattresses over it – work, money, sex and the all the trappings of a fake and outwardly successful person.
Thanks to therapy and my spiritual seeking, a time came when I could see a dark block of ice deep inside myself. It hurt to touch. It hurt to even breathe on it. In that moment, I knew there were no more mattresses. I was at my core.
My moment of truth happened that same afternoon. My ex-wife recently returned to work after her maternity leave. I called her to to ask permission to see our son for an extra two hours ahead of my normal hours from 4pm to 8pm, while she was at work. She refused. I hung up the phone and without warning, a dark rage exploded within.
For the first time in 25 years, I broke down, crying out racking sobs of pain that heaved from the bottom of my chest. I became piercingly aware of the present moment – the truth. I was helplessly powerless. In the next moment, everything I ever worked for flashed across my mind like a movie. The career, the money, the house, the possessions, the wife, even my baby son – all for naught. None of them eased my pain. I saw my helplessness. I saw my vulnerability. No earthly power could change my reality. Soon, I was spent like a balloon out of air.
The next morning, I saw my ice chunk again. This time it was much smaller. In the center, I saw very clearly a small, green pea. A warm peace came over me. I am lovable. God loves me. I love me. No one can ever take that away from me. I am a prince and I found my pea.