The onion is often used as a metaphor for self-discovery. I first heard it used that way in 1979 during a conversation with a social worker. “Just as I think I finally know the essence of who I am, I discover another layer. It's like peeling another layer from on onion.”
I’ve often pondered this metaphor through the years, considering that at the center of the onion, there is nothing but . . . more onion. Is that all there is? I wonder. Just more onion? More “me”?
A small matroyshka doll sitting on a shelf in my office recently caught my eye. I bought a bag of them from a street vendor in St. Petersburg a few years ago, and haven’t paid much attention since. I picked the doll up and gently twisted her open, removing the smaller one, and another, and . . . five dolls in all, the center one about the size of a dried pinto bean.
Now that’s a better metaphor, I thought. Each doll is similar to the one it nests inside, but each also has a distinct personality. There is something new to discover as I continue to open the dolls.
Whether you think in terms of onion, matroyshka dolls, or some other metaphor, I encourage you to explore the colorfully complex layers of your life and memories.
There is no magic formula for this. The best way I have found is to ask myself questions as I write in my journal.
Typical questions are “What does this mean?” and “What else could it mean?” Or, “How do I feel about that?” Or, “What can I learn from this?” Keep asking this sort of question until you run out of answers. You’ll be amazed at the thoughts that spring to mind! The process works especially well when you follow the freewriting guidelines: keep your hand moving and never let your pen or pencil leave the page.
This intuitive exercise has at least two layers of benefits. First, you’ll make fascinating discoveries about how you think, and what you believe is True. Your thinking and understanding will become more clear, and you’ll also get juicy material for your stories.
Just one caveat: if your Inner Critic tries to intervene, send her to her room. Don't let her deter you from following this trail through to the end.
Write now: grab your journal, some scratch paper, or you keyboard and write about a memory, preferably a succulent one that still puzzles you. Use one or more of the questions above to explore the situation in depth, striving to uncover several layers of thought about the matter.