When I was in my early 20’s, my then-roommate showed me how to prepare and cook a fresh artichoke, first washing it and trimming the pointy-bits, then steaming over rosemary water and finally, dipping each steam-tenderized bract into melted butter before eating it.

Prior to this, I had only known artichokes through their presence in dips.

Working my way through the layers to the sweet, tender heart at the center, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Only decades later as I was peeling away my own metaphorical layers, did I see how much the artichoke is a metaphor for the human journey of healing / transformation / becoming who we are here to be.

Here’s what I mean:

The outer layers of the artichoke are tougher, taking longer to tenderize. The outer layers humans present to the world, especially when those layers are built from unconscious self protection, can be thicker, tougher, in order to shield the tender stuff below that surface.

Eating an artichoke, I start with the outer layers and work my way around the ‘choke, pulling each layer off before going to the next, more tender layer.  I don’t strip just one side or segment all the way to the heart and then turn to the next side or segment.

But with humans in a growth journey, we’re often working our way down through the layers in a specific area with a tighter focus.

For example, when you start exploring self care, your focus and deeper diving into your layers maybe primarily oriented on self care.

The same is true for old beliefs you’re rewriting or fears you’re working to transform.

Within this metaphor, if you see yourself as the artichoke, what this means is you may have a narrow strip excavated all the way to the core with thick outer layers still in place for other areas.

Also, we may work on/in layers close to the surface for some time (years, decades, lifetimes), metaphorically removing old layers from all sides, going deeper in some areas and remaining nearer the surface in other areas.

People who carry a lot of trauma – whether  personally experienced or inherited – may have difficulty going deep in areas related to the trauma because inner defenses won’t allow it.

If you imagine an artichoke stripped at different levels in different areas, you may see, as I do, that  we’re not merely like artichokes, we’re like messy, unevenly stripped artichokes.

The tender heart may be exposed in some areas and deeply shielded by tough, layers in others.

Just as you can use a sharp knife to slice an artichoke open, immediately revealing the tender heart, I think Life, at times, slices us open to expedite the surfacing of hidden, inner tenderness that otherwise, may have taken considerably longer to access.

What does all this mean? How do you use this metaphor to support yourself in your personal journey of exploring all your layers?

  • Care for your layers as you explore them, buttering them generously with compassion.
  • If circumstances of Life do a sharp, quick reveal of previously hidden tenderness, allow yourself to acknowledge the tenderness and any pain accompanying that sudden reveal.
  • Allow your layers to be uneven, with more heart visible in some areas than others. Transformation can be a messy process and messy may be exactly the kind of perfection you need at the moment.

One more way you an use this metaphor:

Just for fun, the next time you enjoy an artichoke, hold the intention of actively working the metaphor.

You may have a current focus you’ve been “working,” like getting to the heart of why a recurring emotional reaction persists, why your freeze response still shows up in certain situations, or why it’s so difficult to set a specific boundary with a specific person.

Hold your focus in mind with the intention that you are working on the healing / growth process as you eat the artichoke:

  • Work your way through the ‘choke, beginning with the outer layers, bringing all of your senses into the act of removing each layer.
  • Practice being fully present with the experience of tasting, chewing and digesting as part of the process.
  • Savor each morsel along the way.
  • Trust the deliciousness waiting for you in the heart of it all.
  • If you find a tougher piece or even stick your finger on a sharp point that didn’t get trimmed during prep, don’t make yourself wrong.
  • Stay in the metaphor, asking yourself: What is the tough stuff I’m “chewing on” right now? What feels sharp, barbed, painful?
  • Acknowledge and appreciate yourself for your willingness to be in this journey of exploration, and to practice being so deeply, fully present with yourself.

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If you’re in the process of exploring your layers and don’t want to go it alone, or if you know it’s time to do some sifting through the layers (but would really rather not), here’s how I can help:

  • One place I see people not diving into the layers to get to the good stuff underneath: Conversations on behavior and performance. Seriously, these conversations are huge missed opportunities for building trust and connection, so I’ve created an e-book on how to shift these conversaions from blah to brilliant. Let’s start a movement: Get your free copy here.
  • The Pit Stop for Busy Women Leaders is a group coaching experience for women actively involved in exploring their layers. We laugh, we share, we learn and grow together because that’s a big part of what Life is calling us to at this time: Transformation in community. 
  • Need to explore layers with your team? The Evolving Teams or Leading in Chaos program may be just the ticket, offering a combination of online program content and live group coaching sessions. Let’s talk  to sift through options, approaches and desired outcomes to see what will serve you best.