A Lesson from a Lobster

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I was talking here the other week about change, how we hate it or tolerate it.  About how hard it is to undergo (and it IS hard!).  But the hardest changes we face and resist perhaps most strongly are not those that come upon us from the outside, but those we go through within ourselves as we grow and mature.

Reflecting on that, I was drawn to consider the humble lobster. You may know that a lobster as it matures must shed its spiny, hard shell to make room for the inner life to expand and grow. It’s called molting.  I watched on YouTube a video of a pet lobster shedding its hard outer shell, and let me tell you it’s obviously a struggle. It looks painful, a lot like re-birthing.

At the end of the struggle the lobster literally pulls away from and out of that hard shell that was its protective covering all its life, and lands on the soft sandy floor of its watery home. What you see is that inside the old shell a new shell had been forming. As it formed it must have created intense pressure because the hard outer shell wasn’t made to accommodate the new one. This old shell must have constricted and constrained the growing lobster inside until the creature had to undergo the tremendous struggle to get free.

Freedom and expanding life come with its price, of course. The time just after the molting and before the new, soft shell has hardened is a time of great vulnerability for the lobster. Waves and currents wash over and batter it; predators can more easily assault it. But the new shell allows the lobster to grow.  If the creature didn’t let go of the old shell it would likely die within it.

As for us, unlike the lobster that lives with its strong protective skeleton on the outside, we live with our “shell” on the inside. If you think of the lobster’s shell as a metaphor for the interior structures of protection and stability we have built up in our lives, then we are a bit like the lobster, aren’t we. We build up an interior shell against the outside world: ways of deflecting pain, of coping with challenges, ways of perceiving people and events, ways of judging, ways of thinking, and beliefs to make sense of life. They harden and for a while seem to serve us. But in the end they may come to constrict us painfully. Then we will feel the urge and the need to grow beyond them. That’s when courage is needed.

I’ve been thinking about all this in light of the story I’m trying to write. It’s about two headstrong people and their relationship with each other.  I think of all their self-protective ways and the challenges their relationship thrusts upon them. Will they be able to shed the hard shells they’ve built up within them, the shells they’ve built against vulnerability? Will they be able to grow and mature as lovers as they risk new ways of being, risking intimacy and trust? Will they grow into a more expansive life, or wither within the old shells that have hardened against that possibility?

It has been said that there are only three reasons people will change: when they hurt enough that they have to; when they learn enough that they want to, and when they receive enough that they are able to.  I would say this: we dare to change when pain and desire combine to create the urge to live more fully and the urge has become too strong to resist.

What is the urgent call you may be feeling now to grow, to let go of the old protective ways of thinking about and relating to the world, to risk living a new way? It’s a struggle, for sure. I hope and pray that you will be able, when it is your time, to change, to live a more expansive life, and that you will have courage for the struggle.

Author: Linda Robinson

Writer, Christian contemplative, concerned citizen.