Thursday, March 03, 2011

Children Give Birth to their Parents

By Brian George

“Initiation destroys the self-centered world of childhood, at least this is its primary intent. The adult produced by initiation is a person whose self and entire life is defined by a center outside of him or herself.”—Evan V. Zuesse, from “Ritual Cosmos”

“Some palm nuts fell, and the duiker said, ‘Father Hate-to-be-contradicted, your palm nuts are ripe.’ Hate-to-be-contradicted said, ‘The nature of the palm nut is that three bunches ripen at once. Then I cut them down, and when I boil them to extract the oil, they make three water pots of oil. Then I take this oil to Akase to buy an old woman, who comes and gives birth to my grandmother, who bears my mother, who in turn bears me. When my mother gives birth to me, I am already standing there.’ The duiker said, ‘You are lying.’ Then Hate-to-be-contradicted took a stick, hit the duiker on the head, and killed it.”—R. S. Rattray, from “Akan-Ashanti Folk Tales”


In her comment on “Notes on Kundalini and the Ticking of the Biological Clock”—an essay which explores, among other things, how my attitudes toward parenthood changed in my mid-30s—Linda Viens wrote, “No wonder need be relinquished; no delight abandoned in embracing our responsibilities. Only the rich texture added of life deeply lived, which comes to us relationally most of all.”

Although it may not lead automatically to maturity, I suspect that many people would not grow up at all if they had not decided to become parents. It is one of the key things that shatters the eggshell of our persistent adolescent narcissism. Now that 30 is the new 18, and adolescence seems to be lengthening into a several-decades-long project, having a child is one of the few things that informs us that time is passing.

The sky has been separated from the surface of the ocean. The egg’s inhabitant has seen his image in the water, but, quite strangely, it looks less and less like him as he studies it, and its movements do not always imitate his own. A revolt has taken place at the heart of the Great Year. The Above and the Below tilt, as an Aztec’s knife divides the right side from the left.

A new theatre has been prepared for its enormous central actor. And you, the first parent there ever was, have been scheduled to withdraw yourself. That act is over, and the shadows ask that you should take your place among them.

Your life can then be divided into BC (Before Conception) and AD (After Delivery). It makes little difference if you are or are not ready, for whoever really is?—: You must do whatever is needed; you must grapple with the ultimatum posed by having helped to bring a new life into the world.

In any case, becoming a parent—at least potentially—rips your attention away from your own navel and roots it in a center in the outside world. Your own needs become secondary. Another’s well being becomes more important than your own. When a baby cries, it focuses your attention on the present moment, as on the breath, in a way that is just as demanding as the protocols of a 10-day Vipassana retreat.

You must breathe with another’s breath—and the exercise is not over in 10 days, or even in 10 years!

Directly perceiving the interdependence of all things, the Bodhisattva vows to stay on this side of Nirvana: He must find a way to bring all creatures with him. So too—perhaps unconsciously—parents act out an everyday version of this vow.

Let us say that we are already fully “enlightened” beings, who exist at some indeterminate point in the future or the past, or at the still center of a kaleidoscopic sphere. If this is true, then to put on the roles of “parent” and “child” is a service that we have volunteered to perform—each in his/her turn. For even the gods need navels if they are to function on the Earth.

My sense is that things exist on many levels—which do not, at first, appear to be related. Our use of both the full and diminutive versions of first names, however, would suggest that we know more than we’re saying.

For example, my daughter is called “Elizabeth.” Broken one way, the name appears to come from “Eli,” the abbreviation for “Elohim”—the powers of god. This combines with “sheba,” which means “seven,” or with “shaba,” which means “oath,” “swear,” “adjure.” Thus the name could be translated as “God’s power is an oath,” or “The powers of god are seven.”

On the other hand, my daughter is sometimes known as “Liz”—which could just as easily be “Lizzy” or “Beth” or “Betsy.” Hidden in plain view, this use of multiple names is our way of acknowledging both the vast and tiny aspects of ourselves.

To be born is a miracle, if a common one—perfected over an infinite number of past versions of creation. You would almost think that we had chosen to be here!

Here, and in no other place—for where else is there, really?

Being grounded is not at an opposite extreme from being spiritual, and I think that this is one of the secret gifts of parenthood. It is, indeed, a kind of initiation, which makes no sense at all to those who have not undergone the experience. Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that it allows you to examine your present stage of life from any number of simultaneous angles. This could be seen, perhaps, as a slow-motion version of what takes place in a NDE review.

By becoming a parent you also become a parent to yourself. As your child grows, he/she reawakens your own sense of wonder, which had been deactivated at the end of the previous World Cycle, when you were sentenced to 1st grade, and the doors to the school clanged shut.

By means of looking out for another you have once more learned to see, and you can relive all of your own childhood discoveries and traumas—both from the inside out and from the outside in. The present is no longer the mute victim of the past—a landscape made from shards of broken glass that was left by competing tribes of black magicians. No, the Earth is young, and she is happy to parade her wealth before us.

Again, we will meet at the wish-fulfilling stone, where some but not all requests born from necessity will be granted. There, standing in a circle, we will meet with those we love, and there will be none among us who will be able to determine the other’s age. We will show each other our scars—laughing, as we draw lots to project ourselves towards death. For our golden bodies were designed to sustain much wear and tear.

(Illustration: Brian George, Mother of the Species, 1991)


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