What Alice And The Hatter Have To Teach Us

05/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Move over, "Avatar!" After its first week in theaters, Tim Burton's new version of "Alice in Wonderland," starring Johnny Depp, is drawing record crowds. True, there's chit-chat about the good news/bad news of this rendition, and its 'Burton-esque' darkness. The fact is that this classic Lewis G. Carroll tale is an enduring story, as apt for our times as when it was penned in 1865. What makes this story timeless? While some are convinced Carroll's story was political, the deeper dimension has to do with identity crisis, something even our ancestors faced before each developmental leap

Falling Down the Rabbit Hatch
No matter what rabbit hatch finds us, we still have choice. Simply put: how do you choose to respond? Alice opens wide her senses, follows clues, wrestles with the unexpected. Ultimately, she risks becoming herself. Up 'til then, she's let her circumstances define her. We are not our circumstances, or present life events, despite the fact that the collective believes that we are. Whenever there's an evolutionary leap in human awareness, on either individual or collective level, we are challenged to redefine who we believe, and expand the box. But first, the tumble. You don't have to be a shaman to slip down the hatch. We all fall. In fact, this is the Fall. We fall from Grace, smack into the Dark Night whenever we invalidate our own true nature, pretending we are not inextricably linked to the rest of nature. But, then, it's human, and stories arrive for a do-over just in the knick of time to help us course correct.

"Who Are You?"
Initially, Alice is confronted by the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar: "Who are you?"
The fact is that neither Carroll nor Walt Disney studios have a corner on characters who challenge us to rethink the essential questions every day of our life. Our own 'caterpillars' come in many form. Maybe it's the news covering natural disasters like those in Turkey, Chile, and Haiti -- catalyzing our examination of whether we are 'our brother's keeper?' Or, do we 'check-out' and change the channel? When we read the fact that soldier suicides for January 2010 outnumber all the military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined for the same time period, what's our reaction? Do we simply shrug it off? Meanwhile, back home, who amongst us doesn't encounter some street person carrying a cardboard sign, while straddling a highly trafficked stop light? Two weeks ago, a man held his cardboard in front of my car that read "Needy." Last week, on 45th N.E. in the University District, a young woman's placard read: "Pregnant. Struggling. Need help." Were Alice to hold a sign, it might look like "Indecisive, self-doubting." The caterpillar's question is a question for our times.

What Sign Are You Holding? If you were holding an invisible sign that described you, what might it say? In the aforementioned, the sad thing is that we too often define ourselves as though we were our conditions. You are far, far more than this. In fact, when we see our identity as our life events, we box ourselves in, diminish, as the Hatter put it our "much-ness." No small wonder that the constant refrain in Burton's storytelling was this: "Who are you because you are not the 'real' Alice!"

A Significant Lesson for our Time.
Well, then, if we are not the sum total of our circumstances, what is the Truth? Who are we? Desiderata put it this way:

"You are a child of the Universe;
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here." -- Desiderata

Will the Real Alice Please Stand Up?
If our 'inner Alice' has a right to be here, along with the moon and the stars, who might we be today if we embraced our own "much-ness," if our real-Alice-ness stepped through our confusion and doubt? What bold act might you take? What adventure might be yours? Here's what poet Mary Oliver has to say:

"There is no adventure like loving the world,
Or some portion of it.
Or some spirit encased in some particular body.
This year I turn (I think, I don't keep exact count),
Every day my feet grow heavier, my spirit grows lighter,
I have been so blessed." Mary Oliver

Four Prescriptive Teachings:

1. Reclaim your 'much-ness.' Maryde, a 37-year-old gifted client's been hesitating to "do what she really wants, to open an orphanage," because she's afraid to give up the security of her C.P.A. practice, which leaves her drained, and confused ala Alice. Confusion comes when we break fundamental agreements with ourselves, to tell the Truth about what really lights our fire, rekindles the flame of our unique 'much-ness.'

2. "Get a bigger pan." Amazing composer/performer by the name of Karen Taylor-Good sings about a man who goes fishing, lands a beauty of a trout, throws it back, and is asked 'why?' Says he, his 'pan's too small.' Her solution? Get a bigger pan! How many times do we toss back into our depths our best ideas, deepest inspirations, greatest joys? We play too small. Do yourself a favor and check out

3. Clear away the clutter that obscures who you are. Meaning, decide to shift your story. Otherwise, we stay in permanent rabbit-hatch-mode that defeats the imperative of our nature: growth. What saved Alice is her decision to recognize her confusion, her ailing heart's delight, and she ran in the direction of her fascination: the white rabbit. While our lives are not brought to us by Walt Disney, there is a 'take-away' here. Follow the direction of what holds the greatest life, away from that which is stale.

4. Tame your dragon. Eliminate what does not rejoice you, pass on those e-mails and social network affairs that have nothing to do with keeping you moving in the direction that's vibrant, regenerative, and uplifting for your own Spirit. Retire the need for approval-seeking. Life's an adventure. Live it to the hilt. Says Oliver:

"When it's over, it's over, and we don't know
any of us, what happens then.
So I try not to miss anything.
I think, in my whole life, I have never missed
the full moon
Or the slipper of its coming back.
Or, a kiss,
Well, yes, especially a kiss."

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Meanwhile, what 'sign' would you prefer holding if you dared? What's the much-ness you'd love to reclaim? What dragon needs taming?