Chambered Nautilus, the icon at the top, is the idealic symbol for McFadden's philosophy. This sea creature continues on its life journey by continually moving into a new and larger chamber. Oliver Wendall Holmes writes of the Nautilus: "He left the past year's dwelling for the new . . . Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more."
Into the Next Chamber
Recently, because of a life-threatening disease and my advancing age, the image of the Chambered Nautilus, poem and shell, has had a particular and powerful significance.
The living Nautilus is fascinating! This sea creature repeatedly continues on in its life’s journey by moving into a new and larger chamber. Oliver Wendell Holmes writes of the Nautilus: “He left the past year’s dwelling for the new … Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.” Holmes continues: “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul, As the swift seasons roll, Leave thy low-vaulted past.”
What a striking and challenging metaphor! In each moment, in each day of the years of our lives, we build a new chamber. We initiate the next step of our journey by courageously moving into that new unknown promise.
Our life experience can be in moving ahead, not in staying behind. If we do not build a new chamber, and we try to stay in the old, we become fatally locked into that “secure cocoon” and eventually are so chained and shackled that we are eventually squeezed to death by the confines of the past. Perhaps not a bodily death, but certainly a spiritual death.
On its journey into the next chamber, the Nautilus moves on ahead and does so in order to survive. For any of us, moving into that new chamber is a matter of survival—and it is risky. We leave our security behind. We leave what is safe and familiar.
Following a recent hospitalization, I wrote in my personal journal:
“Now is the time to move into the next chamber. There is a necessity—a healthy necessity, a need, a desire, and an energy, to build and go into the next chamber. It is not simple. The new chamber is not already there. It has to be built; created. That takes some energy, risk, valor, and time. Actually, it will be created without my knowing the end-result. All I know is that I will move into it. It is one of life’s continuing adventures.
It is also true, as a friend pointed out to me, that the Nautilus in the transition into that new chamber—that new space—is taking a risk. The Nautilus becomes vulnerable to its predators. Its very flesh is now out there for its enemies to see and attack.”
It is also thought provoking that for the Nautilus, the past is always present—there on its back. However, that heavy shell’s chambers are filled with air. A tiny hole in each chamber allows this cephalopod to adjust its buoyancy by osmotically pumping gas and fluid into or out of the past chambers. The potentially heavy home of the past can become almost weightless. This is an excellent reminder that the past does not need to be a burden: the memories of the past, of joy and suffering, help to define our lives not only now, but also for the future.
We may not live up to the spirit of the ancient Nautilus, but the challenge is there: lead off into a new and yet unexplored space. Risk the unknown future.
A poet friend, Martha Bartholomew, wrote “On the Beach of Possibility”:
Have we been long enough
in the belly of the whale,
in darkness without light,
Jonahs who would not,
but then, like he,
finding himself—finding ourselves
spewed upon the Beach of Possibility
near the suburbs of Nineveh,
or progeny of Moses, an early
“Hell no! I will not go”
near a bush afire with promise?
Are we long enough in the belly of the whale? Long enough in the old chamber? I ask, “Is now the time for me at my age to be challenged by a new chamber?”
Yes, it may be the time for me to consider and initiate a move into a new chamber. This new chamber is one we approach not with dread but with anticipation: a daily rebirth in our lives, a renewing in each moment of the spirit of life.
In this sometimes chaotic world we must venture on with expectation: holding our breath, being dismayed that we are able, and that we have the audacity and courage to do so.
This new and risky behavior is always spiritual work: in-depth soul-searching, with intense and quiet listening to the spirit that leads us into our new, uncertain, and challenging chamber.
I do not know what the next chamber is for me. Like Jonah, it can be the reality that despite the risk, I must be vomited out of the belly of the whale and be “spewed onto the beach of possibility.” My soul speaks out to me, “Consider your next birth. Envision your next chamber. Celebrate and anticipate that future.”
We initiate the next step of our journey by courageously moving into that new unknown promise. Moving into that next chamber is a matter of survival—and it is risky.
“Spewed upon the beach of possibility” is not only a challenge, but also a promise.
“On the Beach of Possibility” used with permission
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