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Lessons from a Lobster
by Stewart Blackburn

Like all of us, there have been times in my life when IÕve said to myself that I wanted to change everything in my life and start over. Sometimes IÕm merely frustrated with the current situation and sometimes it simply feels like itÕs time to seriously growÉ like a lobster does.

I used to live on the coast of Maine in a town where most families were involved in the lobster trade one way or another. I became fascinated by the lives of these delicious creatures and made a small study of them. One of the things that I found particularly interesting was their way of growing.

A lobster has an exoskeleton, that is, its form is defined by the shell that surrounds all its body parts. The shell doesn't grow, just everything inside it. So when the lobster has grown as much as it can it its shell, it must shed the shell and grow a new one.

ThatÕs easily said, but when you think about it, it's a monumental task. For one thing, when the lobster steps out of its shell, it has nothing to keep it upright. It is extremely vulnerable at this point--no armor, no claws, no way to even move.

So the first thing that a lobster does is to find a place where it will be safe to go through this process of transformation. That, in part, is why the rocky coast of Maine is ideal for lobsters. There are lots of places to hide out for this process.

The second thing a lobster does is to pull as much calcium out of its shell as it can. And then it uses its muscles to pump water into the area between the shell and the body. This is like filling up a tire, only with water. By flexing its body as it does this, it creates enough pressure on the shell to crack it open. With a great deal of difficulty, the lobster then climbs out of its old shell and lies limply in its hiding place to recuperate.

It will eat as much as it can when the new shell starts to form, often eating as much of the old shell as it finds useful. It can walk again after a few days but remains very vulnerable for several weeks.

Many of us let the fear of going through our own growth process scare us out of letting the process happen naturally within us. We're going to change; there's no way around that. The question is whether we do it the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to just relax, allow our world to dissolve a little and then, as gracefully as we can, start putting the pieces back together in a way that works better for us. The hard way is, of course, to fight the process every step of the way. We may not want everything in our lives to change; we may be very attached to the way things have been. But fighting the change is to fight life itself. When we use this change to create our lives in even better ways we can manufacture even more joy and happiness.

So the lesson I get from the lobster is to recognize those times when I need to change in major ways and to find some quiet place and time to let that process happen. If I don't find those quiet spaces, then things around me seem to go wonky. The disturbed vibration I am in while these things are going on produce disturbed experiences for me, and for those around me while this is going on. Better to just get away for a short while until my energies normalize again.

Once I am in that retreat or cave space, I can let go of who I have been. I don't need to be who I was yesterday. And I don't need to be tomorrow who I've been today. I can accept that I am changing, I just need the time to get to know the revised me before I share that with anyone else.

Giving myself permission to change has been one of the most empowering things I have done for myself. Sometimes that change happens so fast that I feel overwhelmed. And thats another good reason for lobster time.

That process doesn't have to take a long time, although it might. The important thing is to recognize the need for it and to make it happen. A young lobster will go through this challenge as much as 25 times in its first 7 years of life. Mercifully, it doesn't happen to me that often. But I am always a much happier person when I get my lobster time.

Copyright 2016 Stewart Blackburn

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is:; email:

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