Velveteen Rabbit Revisited

I am writing this while Mercury is Retrograde, and I am going to use the opportunity to re-publish a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, and add some comments on how it relates to the ongoing theme of Saturn as feminine and Old Crone.

The name of the original post was,

Second Saturn Return and the Velveteen Rabbit.

I just had my Solar Return last month; I turned 63. I am just starting to seriously move into the part of my life where I increasingly deal with the reality of aging, decline, and eventual death.

This is a post-second-Saturn-Return kind of process.

Our youth-oriented culture has very few or no good role models for navigating this part of life well. Too often aging is a dirty secret that is denied, kept hidden or unspoken for as long as possible. Old people become increasingly invisible – I can see and feel that already. And death… people don’t die anymore, they make their transition, or go home, reunite with God or the Soul – anything to avoid admitting the stark reality of the cold, dead body lying there in the bed.

I think I found a useful metaphor for a graceful aging and death. It is from a children’s book called, The Velveteen Rabbit.

The book came up in an email conversation with my good friend Kate Petty. She quoted this section from the book out on Facebook, and that helped me see it in a whole new way.

Here is the quote.

“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 the 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.”

There is a concept in Jungian psychology called Individuation, which I understand as becoming a whole person, accepting all of who you are, and all of the parts of your consciousness. It is a useful concept but kind of vague, it doesn’t have a lot of feeling content.

I think being Real is pointing at the same process as Individuation, and the Velveteen Rabbit quote gives me a more concrete and feeling-based metaphor.

So what does this have to do with aging and the second Saturn Return?

Second Saturn Return and becoming Real.

I’ve heard the second Saturn Return referred to as focusing on your legacy. For me that is not quite it. I think it is where you harvest the essence or perfume of the life you have lived. If you accept a reincarnation model, it is that essence of this life that survives death and goes forward into future lives.

With the first Saturn Return, if you do it right, it points out your strengths, your weaknesses, what you need to work on and take responsibility for. Doors are still open, change can still be made.

By contrast, the second Saturn Return and the years after are about accepting and loving all of who you are, including the sore spots, the broken spots from early life that may never completely heal – or if they do heal, it is a healing that takes the wound with it.

It’s not just growth and progress anymore; a lot of life at this point is dealing with decline. A lot of doors are closed.

It is funny to think about Saturn and self-loving, but part of Saturn concerns accepting limitation. You can’t love and accept yourself without accepting your limitations, your failures, the things you can’t and won’t do, the time you are rapidly running out of.

This is my life, this is what I have made of it. Some of it is wonderful, some of it is a train wreck. Many, many things I had wished to do will never happen; many, many options are never open.

There are ways I have hurt or failed other people that can never be made right – they are dead. I can keep beating myself up over those failures, or I can accept them and move on.

There are ways other people have badly hurt me. I can nurse those hurts and continue to blame those people for the life I didn’t have. Or, I can accept and forgive them and move on.

I feel like I still have a lot of work to do, but much of it is inner, and much of it is change work that involves simple acceptance.

A gracious self-acceptance and self-loving. Not perfection but completeness, and completeness includes the wounds. That opens up the ability to love and be loved by others in a whole new way.

I want to finish this meditation with part of an email I sent to my friend Kate, thanking her for posting the quote.

That quote from the Velveteen Rabbit –

I think you gave me the secret of aging well.

Have you noticed some people, when they age, just turn sour or bitter, like fruit that never ripened?

And some become sweet – that is the best word I can think of, sweetness of soul.

I think that quote gave me the missing piece – they become Real.

Why? Because they are unafraid to let out their love, and unafraid to let themselves be loved.

I turned 63 last month, and I am just starting to see and feel real signs of getting old. I’m getting a bit ragged in the joints, a bit shabby, my hair has lost its color, I’m starting to lose flexibility…

But, I am also learning what it means to love at a whole new depth and in a whole new way, and learning how to share it much more widely.

I am also, finally, just starting to learn how to love myself.

I am becoming Real.

I think I’m just a bit less afraid of getting old now. I have an idea of what I need to do.

Here are a few thoughts added now, when I am two years older.

I think that the critical piece that I would like to relate to Saturn as Crone, is the development of a deep sense of compassion and acceptance, of oneself and of others.

I don’t think I began to get a sense of what compassion really meant until I had to stare death in the face, and just accept it. When you are younger there can be the feeling that somehow the worst of things won’t happen to you, that you are immune. Being forced to really accept death and limitation was when I realized that, no, I am not special; no, I am not immune; and yes, it can happen here, and it can happen to me.

Really accepting means completely giving up blame, or complaining, or self-pity, or the sense that one has been unfairly treated. If you think about it, all of those negative traits are related to the delusion that you are special, or exceptional. It just ain’t true.

One you realize that you aren’t special, that is when you really start to understand that we are all in the same boat together – even though the boat is leaking, and gradually and inevitably sinking – and that is where real compassion can begin. For me that is part of what Saturn as Crone can mean.

You have to give up the illusion of being special before you can become Real.

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