My mentor and analyst once told me that the most essential aspects of our ‘Self’ would have to be stolen, grabbed, would never be given. He was not speaking of the essential commons, like air, water. Those elemental essentials are the givens of life even if, (as most of us understand by now), they is threatened at this time of human history.
My analyst was talking about waking up, of opening our eyes, of seeing, of feeling, of the hard work of becoming human, the hard work of “individuation” from our family of origin, or from collective assumptions. The exploration arose in response to a dream I had and shared with huge embarrassment. In the dream, I stole a beautiful pair of diamond earrings from my mother. I was mortified that I, who had a lot of identity tied to and dependent upon ethical integrity, would steal. We spoke in depth of diamonds and of stealing, it’s necessity and value. Within the context of my personal associations and the archetypical interpretation, diamonds relate to the Self. They are forged from the earths inexorable pressure on the common dark matter of carbon. Pressure being the transformative agent, from a base element to a diamond.
The stealing had to do with a willingness to wake up. This is never a given and seldom taught. It is taken, like manhood or claiming the deepest feminine within ourselves. In the context of my dream and the issues at that time of my life, it pertained to a willingness to steal my own version of what it is to be a human. to lead a meaningful life and to appropriate my own values. Even if it meant a radical departure and break from all that had originally forged me through pressure, assumption or expectation.
I mulled this notion for a long while, worried it like a sore tooth, till I began to see from the perspective of my own life, what my analyst may have been referring to. The courage it takes to ‘steal’ life awake from the armchair of habit, the complacency of comfort, the collapse of defeat, fears around the inevitability of death, even sometimes, and this is my particular brew, the seduction of beauty.
To steal the apple from the tree of knowledge is our first western moral myth. One we are all taught has terrifying consequences. But what does it indeed mean to be thrown out of Eden? To be thrown out of the first undifferentiated state of merged awareness, is to be born, is to be shocked into a whole new life with eyes wide open and the potential to see. When I was a child of 12 my parents moved the family from South Africa to Ireland. The shock of that radical cultural, eco and weather shift was for me like a slap in the face that woke me up, shocked me into radical unhappiness and disorientation, but more alertness and curiosity. Cold to the bone for seven years in that dark and damp place but the world had sprung alive, not happy, but alive. That is when I started painting, reading like a banshee, and reflecting, because the shock of the new made an unwitting witness of me.
The rewards of eating from the tree of knowledge, of biting tart, is like being ejected from the cocoon of projected safety and order, propelled into a world with sharp bright edges, with the knowledge of having a finite life and the potential to experience harshness, cruelty (of some sort or another) and maybe great mystery too. That is the truth of expulsion. It is being thrown out of our first home and it is the call to find the true home within, which will surely be more inclusive of the good, bad and the ugly.
Self knowledge arises as we loosen certainty about who we are. As we wake to ourselves, we come to know that we contain the universe and all that it contains, the carbon and the diamonds. With this comes the question of what else we may be, be capable of, given the right circumstances.
What a rare luxury it is to live in a world that does not force us into atrocious acts or deeds, that we are not at war, we are not fighting for the last drop, or morsel for our families. Yet part of self-knowing, part of the light of awareness includes anticipating the full spectrum of our capacities. It’s so easy to imagine a high moral standard, when nothing in life is forcing another hand, another side to surface. I live in Boulder, Colorado, a city with lots of spiritual pretension, often by the very folks who least suspect that they too would pick up the pick axe against a neighbor to save a grandchild. Their grandchild.
Unlike the velveteen rabbit who did not have to leave the nursery to became real, we do have to leave the nursery to wake up. We have to wake up to become real, and we have to become real to become whole. Even as that involves confronting within ourselves the full potential of all that we are, not just the good stuff. It is a hard work to become a human and I suspect it may take an entire life time. Best start early, not wait till the deathbed for that lesson, it would be far too late.
We steal the apple, take the seeds, plant them to create new apples in the orchard which in turn the children may come to steal. If we are truly blessed, we will grow more humans and more apples.
May it be so.
…..I began a few years ago to try to make space in my reckoning for the marvelous as well as the murderous…..Seamus Heaney, 1995 Nobel Acceptance Speech.
If murderous is what we are then what of Schindler
who dared his life, risked his children every day
to save a thousand more.
If marvelous is what we are what of the Hutu men
who bolted the church doors, lit the fire, heard the
screams, danced till the embers cooled.
If cowardly is what we are, then what of the time
you lay naked with a snake, to overcome the terror
of being so afraid.
What of my friend the doctor who left his cozy home
donned a hazmat suit, and walked headlong into an
Ebola unit, if fearful is what we are.
If cruel is what we are then what of Mandela
who buried the blood soaked hatchet, left
his tormentors un-avenged.
If kind is what we are then what of the way
I spoke so roughly to the women on the path
who had done me no harm.
And what of Bruni
who knew the risks of seeing round when
flat was earth’s designated shape.
If arrogant is what we are, then what
of our not knowing
what any of us are
truly capable of?