Once an egg has been cracked the pieces of shell are fragile, and yet while it is still intact the form is strong. It is surprisingly difficult to crack an egg by squeezing it end to end, through the long axis, and it is even possible for an adult to stand on a tray of whole eggs without breaking them.
Hazrat Inayat Khan uses the image of the eggshell when he speaks about the crucial first step in the spiritual journey, that of unlearning. From infancy, we acquire information about the world around us, gathering knowledge that we need in order to live. But we also accumulate a thick layer of preconceptions, inherited opinions, prejudices, conventions and dogmas that make the direct perception of Truth most difficult. That is why the awakening to our true nature cannot be accomplished by further learning, but only by unlearning: the freeing of our consciousness from that which encases it.
Hazrat Inayat compares unlearning to the struggle of the chick in the egg to break free. No doubt the eggshell serves a purpose, protecting the infant bird while it matures, but there comes a moment when it is no longer a help but a hindrance. The chick is not meant to remain confined in the shell; like the soul, it is made for freedom. Therefore with muscles it has never used it must start to peck at the wall that surrounds it.
We can sympathise with the unhatched chick, for unlearning all our concepts seems like a daunting task. We discover that supervising our every thought, impulse and attitude is overwhelming. But chicks do hatch, every day, and human beings also manage to free themselves from their narrowness.
That which drives us forward in the process is our dissatisfaction with our present condition, and a hope for something better. In Vadan Gamakas, Hazrat Inayat says :
How did I rise above narrowness?
The edges of my own walls
began to hurt my elbows.
Becoming aware of our walls is like the first small crack in the egg. Then the way begins to open, and sooner or later we struggle free of the shell, leaving it forgotten behind us. That is not the end, of course – it is only the beginning of a new, much freer phase of life, but one for which we were destined since before we were born.