The alchemists of old spent years working out how to transform base metal into pure gold. I, of the modern dream alchemist variety, spent four weeks working out how to transform a ripped, mouldy lampshade into something beautiful enough to stand in the corner of my friend’s room and shine a golden light. Now, this may be something you know how to do, but all I had was a vision and the feeling, once I got the lampshade frame home, that I had taken on a task way beyond my capability.
It was a standard lamp, but not your average standard shape. It was vintage, 1920’s I guess, a dome shape with scalloped edges and a fringe.
“You choose the fabric and fringe,” I told my friend, “and I’ll recover it for you. It can’t be that hard!”
I should watch the words I speak. “It can’t be that hard,” instantly impresses the word ‘hard’. Either I knew it would be hard, or it became hard because I spoke the word.
And then there were those other words, “I’ll recover it for you!” Perhaps I should have watched those too, I thought, as the challenge lay in pieces before me, seemingly impossible. I could have said, “I’ll get it recovered for you.”
My vision was simple: the old fabric had been applied in two halves, so all I had to do was cut two halves, stretch them over the frame, join them up, and sew on a fringe. I soon discovered the fabric didn’t give that way, and the old fabric had been glued, not sewn. Glue, for a complete beginner in the lampshade covering arts, was not a good plan. I needed to be able to undo my mistakes.
I cut smaller templates that failed, I Googled how to cover a lampshade and learned that for this particular shape it was best to get a professional to do the job. I contemplated giving up, sending it to a professional or just buying a replacement, but a strange thing happened.
Each time I contemplated giving up (and there were many), a solution presented itself. Sometimes the solution was instantaneous, and what had just seemed impossible was suddenly fixed. Sometimes the solution appeared as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, presented by a puzzle-solving dream.
The process seemed familiar, as I leap-frogged through the work, alternately making progress, meeting a seemingly impossible bit, contemplating giving up, receiving magical solution, carrying out the next step. It took me back to several times in my life when I felt overwhelmed by challenges far bigger than covering a lampshade, times when I felt like giving up, times when solutions suddenly appeared. I realised all those past challenges rewarded me with personal and spiritual insight. Looking back, I see they opened doors and led to places that would otherwise have remained closed to me.
The more I thought about this, the more I realised that in those past challenges and in the making of this lampshade, I didn’t actually give up. I let go. I released the old way (or vision) and opened to seeing a new way. I surrendered.
And when you surrender, miracles happen.
Even little miracles, like finally, over the Easter weekend, finishing the lampshade and delivering it to my friend.
As the alchemists of old knew, it’s not about whether base metal can be turned into gold (given the present state of technology, it can’t), it’s about what you learn about yourself – personally and spiritually – along the way. It’s the old, ‘the journey is more important than the destination’ thing. Life is such a journey.
My challenge had been infinitely smaller and entirely due to my complete novice status, but it presented me with a perfect reminder of the value of surrender and trust.
It may be my first and last lampshade recovering exercise, and I’m sure my big mouth will present me with further challenges from time to time. I hope, next time, that I say, “it’s easy” rather than “it can’t be that hard”, but if I forget to choose my words, I will remember to surrender to life’s alchemy to hold up a lamp to light my way.
What have life’s big and little challenges taught you?