Some Assembly Required

“Some assembly required” is a familiar phrase that can mean a tweak here or there, or a long session of hair-pulling frustration. Lots of things come in boxes emblazoned with a picture of the promised product, and in very small print the warning, “some assembly required.” Sometimes we even have to read the directions.

A recent Frank and Ernest cartoon, by Bob Thaves, shows Frank and Ernest looking at a pile of poles and lumber. Nearby are a box of tools and a sign that says “Ladder of Success – Some Assembly Required.”

I thought about that. Ladders are symbols of upward progress, whether in school, the corporate world, society, or the spiritual quest. I’d always thought of school as a series of ladders. We start on the bottom rung in kindergarten and climb up to the top rung of that ladder in about sixth grade. The achievement is short-lived, though, for soon we must step sideways to the bottom rung of the middle school ladder and work our way up that. Then come the high school ladder, the college ladder, and so forth. We enter the work world on the bottom rung and slowly climb up, trying not to fall or get kicked off.

Ladders come to us as spiritual metaphors, as well. Jacob’s Ladder is an example. When the Biblical Jacob fled after cheating his brother Esau out of their father Isaac’s blessing, he saw in a dream a ladder stretching from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:10-19). Angels climbed and descended the ladder. Jacob’s Ladder also represents the overlapping layers of the Kabbalah Tree of Life, with its physical, psychological, spiritual, and divine levels.

Metaphorical ladders come to us in fairy tales. In Jack and the Beanstalk, the ladder appears in the form of a giant beanstalk that Jack can climb, overcome trials, and return to earth with the prize. In the story of Rapunzel, the ladder is the captive princess’ own golden hair.

In each story, the ladder illustrates the possibility of communion between lower and higher realms. Representatives of the lower realms may climb up to receive blessings, and blessings from higher realms may be brought back to be shared. This is the same principle as the Hero’s Journey in myths and in the labyrinth: the hero leaves on a quest, receives a gift such as courage or wisdom, and returns home to share the gift with others.

Each rung on a ladder represents a stage of initiation. Moving from one rung to the next calls for a rite of passage. So often when we reach a new rung we’re already focused on the next. The rite of passage can be as simple as stopping to breathe and acknowledge the accomplishment. Pause on that rung, take it in, before reaching for the next. As we climb, the rungs seem – or maybe are – farther apart. It takes more focused effort to climb to each succeeding rung, and we can get stuck. We’re only allowed to climb to a new rung when we’ve done the work required to prepare. That applies to the spiritual journey as well as the school and work worlds.

When the going seems slow, it helps to remember that it’s all process, one step at a time. Each person’s climb is solitary, although we may have companions on nearby ladders. Sometimes we have to build the ladder as we go. The key is to keep going. The ladder requires some assembly – your effort. Ascending each rung requires greater effort, internal and external. Pleases treat yourself kindly in the process.

What ladder are you climbing now?

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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