Self-made cages: The Lady Marmalade Conundrum

As I was checking out of my hotel on a recent trip to New York, I heard the porter at my hotel, a grown, large man, belting out Lady Marmalade in this magnificent falsetto. My favorite part of his rendition was as he exuberantly delivered the gibberish chorus with a fantastic dance to accompany it. Just imagine with me a grown man singing: “Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada (Hey hey hey), Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya here (here), Mocha Chocalata ya ya (oh yea), Creole lady Marmalade.”

I remember thinking how uninhibited he was. He was not at all embarrassed. I also thought about how I would not do that now. But, there was nothing stopping me should I want to sing this catchy song about Parisian cabaret. Then, however, I remembered a time when I was in college and I was once again in New York at Carnegie Deli and we saw Celine Dion there with her entourage. This was in the times of “Titanic,” the movie, and I reckoned singing, “Near, far, wherever you are, I believe that the heart does go on” for Ms. Dion was a smashing idea. So, I did. Celine seemed to think it was rather funny, but her husband and her bodyguards less so. What happened in the years between my solo for Celine and marveling at the porter’s brilliant rendition of “Lady Marmalade?” Perhaps, I can call this the “Lady Marmalade Conundrum.”

The experience with the porter was nothing earth shattering. If fact, it is a little bit trivial. However, in the spirit of this blog , since that day I have been cogitating on the ways in which I stop myself from progressing on things that really matter to me. And that’s the fundamental question, where I have I stopped myself? That’s the real heart of the “Lady Marmalade Conundrum.” Why do we stop ourselves from doing things that we really should do to be happier or make an impact (less about public displays of amateur singing). It is often easy to look beyond ourselves for the roadblocks and hurdles, but I submit we must consider how we stop ourselves from progressing. The image that comes to mind is a cage that I have fashioned myself for myself, or a self-made cage.

I have also thought a lot about why I have created this cage for myself. As I ponder that point, it becomes clear to me that in a way it was meant as a defense. It was meant to keep out criticism, embarrassment, and failure. If I criticize myself brutally perhaps that stops others, whose criticism would be even more final, damning, and immutable, from criticizing me. If I stop myself from trying something hard, where the outcome is anything but assured, then I won’t suffer embarrassment or failure. But, it does not take much to see how self-defeating all that is. In essence, that cage, which was constructed unwittingly to protect, only serves to keep me from the progress and growth that comes from doing hard things and taking risk.

The good news is that, as the creator of the cage, I hold the power to reverse its damning powers. That is, I imagine myself trapped in this cage, wondering how I can possibly escape. Then, rummaging in my pocket, I find something I did not know was there. What is it? It is a key. I wonder what lock it is for? Then, hopefully, I wonder, “could it open the door to my cell?” Inserting it into the lock and turning it, I find that the door swings open. I marvel for a moment to think that I had the key all along. But, there is a moment of trepidation where I wonder what I will find in a new world that is not defined by the barrier I created. Will it be scary? Will I just want to return to my cell, where despite its gloom, it is known to me. I think in some ways the obstacle I created through erroneous “facts” or narrative became something of a perverse security blanket. But, the reality is I needed for some time to escape it, and what’s more, to tear it down by clinging to truth as opposed to the errors that forged the bars that held me captive. I need to do the work of tearing the cage down, bar by bar, so there can be no return.

So, how do I plan to do this? I recently heard a set of questions from Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation teacher, that were powerful in their instructiveness and simplicity. Brach said, “What am I unwilling to feel? What am I believing that is limiting me? What am I believing that is keeping me small?” As I heard that, I knew that it was the key to solving the more substantive elements of the “Lady Marmalade Conundrum.” That is, it was on me to disabuse myself of the things that I hold true that are not true and that are holding me back. Upon reflection, I see many of these truths or narratives were not conscious choices to subscribe to any specific falsehoods, but rather sloppy thinking or mindless going with the flow of my own fears.

I sincerely believe the effort to ask the question about what am I believing that is holding me back will allow me to remove each and every bar of my cage. In so doing, there will be no return to my self-made cage. There will be a scrap heap of iron bars that it will be up to me to fashion into a monument to the freedom that is mine to claim. Then, with that freedom the sky is the limit. I could create a YouTube channel where I cover Celine Dion songs, but I must admit that holds no appeal for me as I am not much of fan, despite her considerable talents. But, it is a nice problem to be sure, what would I do if I did not hold myself back? Because, as I am now seeing, it is less about “what would I do if I knew I could not fail” and more about “what would I do if I left my self-made cage once and for all?” The “Lady Marmalade Conundrum” is, after all, about our choice to be happy and become what we want to become without fear of failure or criticism.

You can follow me at @cogitatively or Feel free to pass this along!

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