Lessons from an Onion

Lessons from an onion

Have you ever tried to peel an onion, layer by layer to its core? Firstly you’ll find it very difficult to do without using a knife or some such sharp implement. You see, the onion is very firmly held by its roots. So to allow the layers to come apart, one must first remove the roots. This takes away the onions ability to hold firmly together. Next you remove the hard, dry outer layers and you will most likely notice that you begin to cry – the acid will unleash the tears from your tear ducts. Incidentally, these tears have an entirely different chemical composition to the tears that you cry when you are sad, angry or joyful. As you peal back layer by layer and move towards the core you will find that, unlike an apple or a pear, there actually is no core to the onion. The centre is just another layer waiting to be unfolded.

So what does the onion teach us? In Coaching and Reflective Practice / Supervision, we often describe developing awareness and new learning as pealing back the layers of an onion. The onion teaches us that it is whole and complete just as it is. Its roots anchor it in the earth that nourishes and sustains it as it grows and develops. Even when it is mature and removed from the soil its dried roots still hold it firmly together. There is no one core or centre to the onion. There is nothing to be learned or discovered from peeling the onion back layer by layer. Its essence is contained throughout the whole. The onion grows from the centre outwards, continually producing new inner layers throughout its growing life. Once it has finished its growing life and is removed from the soil, some of its outer layers become thin, dry and tough to protect it and seal in the moisture and goodness within. Removing these dry protective outer layers is enough to reveal the goodness and nourishment within.

Knowing that there is layer upon layer of goodness underneath is enough! They do not need to be surgically dismantled with a sharp object. Together the layers work to produce beautiful flavours. So like the onion, I am a complex being consisting of many layers, mind, body, spirit, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. These layers, however hard I try cannot be separated out. To peel back my onion layers would require separating me from my roots, from the soil that nourishes me, mind, body and spirit. To disconnect me from the richness of the soil which is my life source. To peel back my layers is to deconstruct me in an attempt to discover a core, which I can never find – it does not exist. My core being is my whole being interlinked, interwoven and wanting to be discovered in unison.

We would never think to deconstruct the orchestra, because we know that it produces the best music when each instrument plays in harmony with the others. Achieving unity and harmony between all the parts is our purpose.

Just knowing that you are an onion is enough!

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