The many faces of Cinderella – is Cinderella relevant to the men and women of today?

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”                                                                          – The Elders Oralbi, Arizona Hopi Nation

ENCHANTING.

That to me describes the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s  choreography of “Cinderella” last Saturday at the War Memorial Opera House, inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s darkly version of the fairy tale.  The project was co-produced by the San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet, and the first Cinderella by the SF Ballet company after more than three decades.*  It was also my first Cinderella ever since I’ve been going to the ballet.

After experiencing the spectacular Cinderella ballet last weekend, I was inspired to re-examine the universal human qualities embodied in the story.  But lest the men among my readers think that this is all about women, take note.  According to Wikipedia, the early versions of the Cinderella story were not all about a young female being harassed by two jealous older siblings.  In the Arabian Nights, some of the tales that dealt with the theme were about male characters. **  So while, the Cinderella archetype is about women, I will also talk about personal transformational traits in this blog post, which should be relevant to all regardless of gender.

The New Feminine Ideal

Most of us are familiar with Cinderella’s story, no matter what culture we come from.  We’ve heard it from bedtime stories in our childhood, or watched the Disney musicals that abound on TV or DVD.  The Cinderella story has existed in various versions in olden times, even before it was translated to ballet.  Cinderella may have a different name in many countries, but the feminine ideal of the “Maiden,” which the Cinderella archetype embodies, resonates with us across cultures.

The theme of the story is all too familiar – the beautiful girl who is abused by her stepmother and stepsisters and is forced to live in the soot (cinder) but shows kindness in spite of such cruelty; how she wins the heart of the kingdom’s ruler by conforming to the expectations of society’s ideal for an ideal woman and wife: obedient, kind, beautiful, works with no complaint. These traits are juxtaposed with the stepmother’s and stepsisters’ qualities, aspects that are frowned upon by society: pride, greed and vanity.  The story is woven around these opposites — for example, the stepfamily had to be cruel in order for Cinderella (and the audience) to understand the importance of her kindness; the stepmother sends Cinderella to task at the kitchen, unknowingly molding her into the “ideal woman” that society wants and thus preventing her own daughters to experience the same and fall short of society’s expectations by being proud, greedy, and vain. At the end of the story, Cinderella steps into her rightful “shoe,” and transforms from ideal maiden to perfect wife. The “waiting” is over.

To most of us in the western world comes this question – is this framework still relevant? Excluding those who come from religious and cultural traditions that still adhere to the conventional roles of women and men, most women in the western world have come a long way from being the subservient, self-sacrificing  type.  In this light, the Cinderella model may no longer be relevant when it comes to developing a young woman’s mind (not excluding the adult) in today’s world. Most man in the western world won’t recognize, maybe not even expect, this type to be common.  Nonetheless, we still seek an ideal picture of today’s woman, with the desirable traits of kindness, grace, generosity and humility still in the mix.

Nowadays, it is common to talk about the feminine and masculine parts of ourselves, the yin and the yang, the active and passive sides in us. If you come from that persuasion, it’s a matter of embracing those two sides and using them to our advantage.

How does one bring balance to all these in a world that’s changed and still changing?

Cinderella’s Many Faces – Across Genders and Roles 

No matter what one’s gender is, the demands of day-to-day living in today’s world are the same.  In today’s world, men and women have exchanged roles; they have even swapped clothes. The woman could be the main “breadwinner” of the family, the man the “homemaker and house-band. The lesbian partner could be the “man” of house; the gay partner could be the “wife with the traditional female role” in the partnership.  The single person earns a living; he/she does her own domestic chores (including mothering and fathering of children) without a partner, thus embodying the two roles. And in all these permutations, the hats could be exchanged at certain times, creating even more blur in the roles.  Which is not necessarily bad, as long as the parties are aware of the exchange and their boundaries as individuals. This is where we do the balancing act, where we need to be aware about what we do and what our needs are, in order to be flexible and always open to the way our lives and relationships are evolving.

In order for our lives to evolve consciously, we need to be present with ourselves, in our relationship – which means being aware of what’s in front of us, at this very moment, enjoying what’s in the present, and living in the present moment. Yesterday has become now, so what we do today will be yesterday’s action and tomorrow’s dream.

Giving Ourselves Permission to Shift Our Perspective

For those who are still in the traditional model of the maiden archetype, or the traditional male-female model of relationships, only you can decide whether change is in the offing for yourselves. Change could be a dreaded word; some folks don’t even like to hear it.  But change is a phenomenon that has long been in the air, heralded by what’s happening in the world that we don’t have control of, and with fast speed, continues to transform events and people before our eyes every minute.  Consider these manifestations of change – in the way the weather that has been acting differently (hot weather has become hotter than we’ve experienced before and cold weather has become colder than ever), in the way we travel, in the way we exchange and handle information (via the internet, cell phone, video talk), even in the way we speak and communicate with each other (via texting, twitter, facebook).  Technology is transforming our lives in such a speed that even your child, one moment a baby, seems to have been transformed into an adult in what seems likes a fleeting moment. Many of us have grown older and notice that we are no longer as strong and as young as we used to be.  In the light of these external developments, I invite you to ask yourselves some crucial questions.

More often than not, the questions that we ask are more important than the answers to the questions.  Some of these questions can serve as a starting point for a small shift in perspective.

  • Where do I feel most uncertain nowadays?
  • What forms in my life need to change?
  • Where do I need to be open to looking at things from a different point of view?
  • In what areas of my life do I keep my peace to avoid confrontation or change?
  • In what area of my life do I need to speak my truth?
  • Where am I operating on outdated or past information?
  • Where do I need to be more responsible, and where do I need to draw the line?
  • Where am I ready to go to the next level?

The Waiting is Over

We’ve seen how the main protagonist (usually the female character) of the fairy tales that we’ve been fed when we were young goes through the process of waiting for that someone outside of herself to make changes in her life.  Princess Aurora, the sleeping beauty, waits for her Prince Charming to wake her up.  The damsel in distress from the Arthurian legends waits to be rescued by her knight in shining armor. Cinderella waits for the king to take her from being a slave in the kitchen to a queen.

Regardless of gender, who are we waiting for to make our dreams come true? Who are we waiting for to make us successful? Are we waiting for Dad or Mom to give us permission to be our own person? Who are we waiting for to give approval to what we want to do?

The Hopi Elders speak: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  A truth spoken loudly.

Another spin to this comes from Mahatma Gandhi:  Be the change you want to see in the world.

The fact is this – we are already creating our life and we are good at it. Every thought that we think creates our reality.  When we are fearful, our fears create the very things that we are fearful about.  When we are determined to follow a course of action and think the thoughts of success and visualize what we most want to accomplish, our dreams come true. We are the authors of our life, no matter how much we deny it.   When you become aware of how you are creating your life, you can make other choices from that point that can transform your life, in small as well as big shifts.

Creating Our Own Reality

There are many technologies out there that teach us about consciously creating our own reality by understanding how our thoughts and feelings create the results in our life and how to change those thoughts.  The Law of Attraction course is one of them. NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) and the Star’s Edge Avatar course are also good bets.  One of my favorites is the process taught by Psychic Horizons, the meditation seminary of the Church of Natural Grace *** where I trained in energy work.  In their meditation guide and workbook, the school says:

Sometimes we like what we are creating and sometimes we don’t.  The key to taking charge of our lives is to understand how we create.  What beliefs and patterns are you creating through?  Whose energy are you creating through? Once you begin to find answers, you can change your beliefs, pictures and patterns.  This leads you to create from who you are in the present rather who you used to be.  You can create from your own energy.” (from Create What You Want: Meditation and Workbook.  Check it out at http://www.psychichorizons.com/toolbox/Meditation_Guide.pdf)

Namaste.  If you like what you read, I’d like to hear from you. Let’s continue the conversation.

Alara

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To watch a preview of the ballet, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=x51X2Hl4di4#!

* For a review of the SF Ballet’s Cinderella performance (2013 season), go to:  http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/SF-Ballet-review-Cinderella-charming-4490182.php

**  For more on the versions on the story of Cinderella go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella

*** For a chance to try a one-minute meditation and more on creating your life, go to: http://www.psychichorizons.com

of get-away bags, and the wisdom of children’s books and stories

 

Of all the 36 alternatives, running away is the best.                                                                  – Chinese proverb

We all have ran away from something, someone, or some place at some point in our lives, and the reasons for “running away” and the tales of our “escape” could take as many shades and hues as the colors spun on a tapestry.

 get-away bags

This blog post is inspired by a 40-something friend of mine who now lives with her parents after years of living alone. Lately, she confided to me that she has secretly packed a get-away bag for those times when she could no longer take what’s going on in the house.

Whether young or old, the urge or dilemma to run away seems not to be age-bound or time-bound.  Having a get-away bag ready for such escape is truly a wise strategy.  I told my friend that running away of this sort could be healthy, a kind of retreat to get a new perspective, and a catalyst for change, whatever form that may take.  I also revealed that I too own a get-away bag that’s stashed in the trunk of my car, packed with travel essentials for my unplanned, spontaneous overnight escapades. When I was single and living alone, my get-away bag had been witness to  many capers, the ones that I took to escape from routine or boredom, to leave the ordinary in search of the extraordinary in my life, or just for the plain excuse of escaping. Since I got married, my get-away bag has been gathering dust but it’s still in my car, for those just-in-case moments.  After all, I’m a girl scout at heart, and I live by the motto, “Be prepared.”

the wisdom of children’s books and stories

After giggling over our “get-away” bags with childlike amusement, I decided to re-read the story of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid’s running away adventure in the beloved children’s book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler penned by E. L. Konigsburg (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c 1967).  I first read the book when I was still morphing into adulthood, but no longer as young as the book’s characters. I told my 40-something friend I am giving her a copy of that book as a gift and a reminder to be childlike and adventurous in the ways of the world.

I so love to re-read children’s books and read the ones that I didn’t get to read as a child, and ruminate in the wisdom they contain.  If I understood the book’s message when I was a child, I would get a sense of another flavor as I re-read them as an adult, depending on where I am in my journey in life.

We all get caught up in the pressure cooker that seems to describe the days of our lives that we forget the simple things that made our hearts flutter when we were young.  Such as the character in our favorite book, the one we lived and breathed with while reading under the bed covers with a flashlight, or the one we couldn’t part with until we learned what happened to her or him next, so much so that we had to give up precious recess time in favor of reading.  As Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling once said, “the stories we love best do live with us forever.”

As a young reader, I identified with Claudia Kincaid, a twelve-year old straight-A sixth grader and “English grammar police” who feels unappreciated at home. She recruits her younger brother, Jamie, to run away with her because Jamie is good with money and has a stash of saved money, a miser at best in contrast to her love for comfort and penchant for spending on such comforts. Like her, I also love to go to art museums and elegant settings. As an older reader, I recognize the corporate president Claudia in the making, her executive ability to recognize and use talents and resources to achieve an end.

Claudia is also an astute planner.  She planned their get-away to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, where they can be run-aways settled in a comfortable setting, a place of elegance and importance.  Their get-away bags were a result of careful planning too. If I were to run away from home at that age, as she and Jamie had done, I would have planned the escapade as organized and well–thought out as she did. Of course, a sidekick like Jamie would be a welcome bonus, like a Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. I thought their tactical operations were amazing: hiding in the bathroom at closing time to avoid the museum staff who inspected the rooms to make sure that all the patrons have left; blending with the perfect school groups on tour to escape detection and learn at the same time about the exhibits; and bathing in the fountain, whose “wishing coins” provide them with spending money or “income.”  However, I didn’t particularly relish the idea of “sleeping in an antique bed.” For some reason, even at my age then, I shied away from getting enmeshed with other people’s “energy” and smell, and shivered at the thought of sleeping with the bed’s owners who have long been dead.

Re-read your beloved children’s books.  You’ll be surprised to find other gems there that you might not have discovered before. Or simply relive those happy days of reading from a child’s eyes.  C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

the case for running away

While adventure is intrinsic to the concept of “running away,” our reasons for doing so could be as minor or as major as we choose them to be.

In the case of Claudia Kincaid, she wanted to feel different when she went back home.  As the story progressed, she also wanted to solve the mystery of who created “Angel,” the statue that the museum purchased at an art auction: Angel was believed, but not proven, to have been sculpted by Michaelangelo.  Claudia and Jamie research on the statue at the library and end up in Mrs. Frankweiler’s house, the wealthy previous owner of the statue. Mrs. Frankweiler recognizes them as runaways from a newspaper article and sends them to research the Angel in her long row of file cabinets containing her mixed files. Through Claudia’s wise approach to the research, they discover the angel’s secret. Mrs. Franweiler cuts them a deal: in exchange for a full account of their adventure, she will leave the decisive file to them in her will, and send them home in her Rolls Royce.  The story goes well and ends well. Claudia is transformed; she would go home “changed” after all and she now has a secret to treasure and keep. Another possibility also surfaced: Mrs. Frankweiler’s impossible dream to have kids could come true: Claudia and Jamie plan to visit her in the future as if they were her own grandkids, but of course, they won’t tell her that; it will be their secret.

What might be a reason for running away at this time in our life?  Perhaps it’s the boredom or routine of our everyday life. Or our lack of courage to express what we would like to say for fear of burning bridges or hurting other peoples’ feelings. Or could it be that we want to break away, temporarily or permanently? Perhaps we just need a breather, so we could look at what seems to suffocate us. Or, might there be a missing piece in us that needs finding?

the missing piece

“The Missing Piece” is one of my best ever children’s books by Shel Silverstein. (Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., c 1976).  It’s one of those children’s books that I read as an adult.  Actually, one might consider Silverstein’s children’s books as poetry for the adult.

The story is about a round animal-like creature that sets out on a grand adventure to find its missing piece.  Imagine a slice cut off from a round cake; our main character is like that incomplete round cake with an empty wedge.  Our creature-character goes about seeking for its missing piece while singing and enjoying the scenery; for instance, it would stop to talk to a worm or smell the flower as it rolls slowly. Finally, it meets the exact wedge to fit it, but soon finds out that now that he has the perfect piece, it could no longer sing (no more mouth to the round shape), nor roll slowly to enjoy the sights.  So it gently releases the missing piece and continues on its way, happy again.

For me, the story is about finding answers to the quest for happiness and fulfillment, and that perhaps we don’t have to find the answers all the time, that it’s okay to have loose ends and embrace our rough edges.  When an artist stops painting, he doesn’t really “complete” the painting.  It just pauses in interesting places.  Life can be that way, too.

Our life can be perfect in its imperfection. We need only to pay attention to the moment at hand, to stop where we need to pause and re-think, feel and breathe, maybe linger at the stop, and then move forward again.  When we take a breather, we allow movement and space, so we can see with new eyes. And maybe we are able to find some missing piece that enhances our view.

As usual, I leave you with these thoughts:

Take the time to come home to yourself everyday.” – Robin Casarjean

Him that has control of departure, that has control of coming home, return, and turning in, that shepherd do I call.” – Atharva Veda

The most effective way to cope with change is to help create it.”  – Anonymous

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please leave a comment.  Let’s continue the conversation.

Namaste,

Alara

P.S. If you are curious about what happened to the missing piece in the story above, I invite you to read “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O,” Silverstein’s sequel (Harper and Row Publishing, Inc., c 1981).

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Note: If you are a young person reading this blog, living in the U.S. and are in a situation that provokes you to run away from home, or have already ran away and ready to come home, or have a friend who wants to run away, call 1-800-RUNAWAY (the National Runaway Switchboard) or contact The National Youth organization at http://www.nn4youth.org for help.