Genexhibitionst by Maya Dexter
HOLD ON TO your wallets, the season of rebirth is upon us. The Winter Solstice season is a time we look upon with varying degrees of anticipation and dread in this modern age. Dread of course for the mountain of consumer debt that awaits this season of obligation both of gifts and awkward and expensive visits with family members who are practically strangers to us, and who we sometimes suspect would reject us out of hand if confronted with who we really are. But at the same time there is an irrepressible innocence to these days that sweeps us away despite our reticence; at heart it's a time of wonder and cookies and generosity and, most of all, babies.
As you read these words, whenever that may be, a baby breathes it's first breath with a gasp as a mother lies thrilled, sore and exhausted, unaware that bearing the child is the easiest part of the journey of parenting. Within each of the 356,000 babies born to this planet every day waits infinite potential, the ability to be or do quite literally anything. In each child lies a sleeping Buddha, one whose choices could change the path of the world. It is impossible when you see one of these little wonders not to look into their clear eyes and ask, at least in your mind, "what will you do, how will you change the world?"
Nearly all of us have at some point made the sacred pilgrimage to look in on the newborn child of a friend or relative with hope and wonder. We know instinctively that each soul reaches fractally into this existence, touching each part of it in millions of tiny ways that subtly change its nature. Each of those things that have been touched by one's existence in turn change what they interact with, and so on; it is only natural that we are filled with awe at the potential of such a tiny and fragile being. But we sometimes forget that many years ago someone felt our tiny hand wrapped around their massive finger and wondered how we would touch the world.
The birth of the sacred child is a tradition that reaches far beyond Jesus. The rebirth of the sun god is depicted again and again in ancient mythology: Horus, Tammuz, Adonis, Saturn, and Mithra, to name a few. The story is nearly the same; the son of the great god is born to bring us into a new era. Most are celebrated at Winter Solstice, the time when the winter days are at their shortest and begin to lengthen once more as we head back toward spring the return of the sun. Although the coldest and harshest days of winter lie ahead, the hope inherent in the sun's return is celebrated worldwide.
Amazing isn't it, that this same story concept has penetrated the world for thousands of years? Sometimes you can see what happened, like how Jesus real birthday is supposedly sometime in March, but since the local pagans were accustomed to the solstice the date got co-opted for easy transition to Christianity. But other times it is really mind-bending to think that this same tale could have been all over the world since the beginning of recorded history, and perhaps before.
Carl Jung includes the child as one of the main archetypes of the collective unconscious, representing potential and creativity, and symbolized in the sun god myths, among other things. He said, "the world of the gods and spirits is truly 'nothing but' the collective unconscious inside me." It certainly explains why so many gods are so suspiciously flawed and human-like, doesn't it? My initial thoughts on this idea were embarrassingly superior, like I had had this great view of the cosmos because I understand what he meant. But that initial layer of condescension gave way to the possibility of meaning beneath that concept. Maybe we really are the gods. Maybe we have constructed these myths as a way to see into ourselves, beyond ourselves, to identify with others and use our commonalities as a path to mutual understanding and acceptance.
When you cut through it all, it seems like all this sun god stuff boils down to permission, via a grand projection, to celebrate our own potential, our own creativity, our hope for the future in a world where appreciating ourselves is frowned upon. We are not encouraged to genuinely admire ourselves or to appreciate what we have achieved or are capable of, for fear of being labeled egotistical or narcissistic. We learn early that our appreciation of self must always come through someone else. For some this transaction becomes the sole purpose of having a relationship. It's stunning, really, how much energy we put into jumping social hurdles like this. The need to belong is a deep-seated survival instinct and is definitely necessary in some circumstances, but when it manifests as a fear or loathing or neglect of self, it can become harmful.
But the good news is that all we have to do is look again, beyond what we were expecting to see and begin to notice what else is available to us. Hmm, that makes it sounds so simple doesnt it? Retraining ourselves isn't easy at all, it takes practice and a little frustration and a few false starts, just like learning to do anything else. But if a possible outcome of finding a new perspective is discovering what we are truly capable of, then it's worth it, right? The worst that can happen is that we're still where we started, no ground actually lost. But the more likely gift of that effort is finding that the creative force is something that lies within each of us, and is the thread that weaves us together, its tapestry manifested in the deepest roots of our mythology because ultimately it is us.
This means that each one of us is the cosmic child, and the reason the solstice season is so widely celebrated can be found in the steady pulse beneath the fanfare, that so subtly urges us to celebrate the rebirth of ourselves. It is our own return to innocence and divine potential that we seek to rediscover, buried like old leaves beneath the snow, that have fallen and dried in fritters and bits as we move through this life battered by the winds of its trials. The myth and the season remind us that we are not the leaves, but the tree; those leaves that have fallen nourish our roots so that we can create new leaves come spring to feed us through the growing season.
Okay, so what does all this mean? It's a lot of pretty talk, a nice theory that makes you feel good for a little while, but then what? It reminds me of how in my hometown my friends would hold rituals during this time of year, and one of them would always walk around the circle and look deep into each of our eyes and say "you are a perfect child of the gods." And for that moment I believed him with every fiber of my being. Then I inevitably walked back out into the world and got lost in a sea of traffic and responsibilities and the message always slipped away. I guess I'm looking for a way to apply it more permanently.
I thought on it for a while, and all I got was this image of a newborn George W. Bush. I sort of sat there for a little bit and meditated on that strange picture. As a baby he's a sweet little guy, harmless and just as full of innocence and creative potential as anyone else. Somewhere in there he still is. And maybe therein lies the practical application I'm looking for. What if we started acknowledging that potential beyond the first couple years of life? What if, in spite of our lost innocence, we continue to put faith in each other to create anything under the sun? The change in our daily interactions would be phenomenal. It's a long way from the mindless "how are you?" "fine, and you?" that leaves us feeling so empty. And maybe it doesn't have to be anything as drastic as a soliloquy extolling their inner virtues. A meaningful look would probably suffice -- one that acknowledges the river of creation and emotion that flows within. It is so easy to get caught up and forget that everyone "out there" feels as deeply at any given point as you do; it is easy to allow them to become props in your own drama. But we are all worth so much more than that. Acknowledging these energies at the heart of everyone is just one way to acknowledge it. In these times such a simple thing as that is a giant step toward intimacy with the community at large. And it sure beats the heck out of fear and suspicion.
We're a judgmental lot. We tend to observe the world through our filters and slam our internal gavels declaring right and wrong, while disregarding the total subjectivity of any such declaration. Is this realistic? There will always be someone out there who believes the exact opposite of what we do, just as whole-heartedly as we do. Can the best we can do really be to declare a winner and a loser through a rigid attachment to our own values, praising those who are like us, and condemning those who aren't? I'm not so sure that it is. The problem is that nobody sees themselves as wrong or bad when they are acting; nobody wants to be seen as wrong by anyone else and will invariably struggle against such an accusation because thats not our intent. And with so many perspectives zinging around we are bound to be wrong to someone, no matter what we are doing. It's no wonder we all walk around with our hands poised and ready to pass the buck. We are caught up in a vicious cycle of blame. It's no wonder we have been so wary of each other.
Mistakes happen -- illusion and justification do cloud one's perspective from time to time. But looking back on your own mistakes can you see that you actually meant any harm? Of course not. We all try to act for the best, and only when those actions mingle with others' do we find out if it truly is for the best, if it's possible to find out at all. There is no beady-eyed cartoonish villain that slinks out of bed each morning wringing his hands and wondering what havoc to wreak today, not even Dubya, for all that it sometimes seems that way. Life is not so simple as that.
So I had this idea. You know how when you have to speak in public and you're nervous it's supposed to help if you picture everyone naked? It's similar to that, except that when people do things that you don't understand, or they make you angry or whatever, you picture them as a baby, eyes full of that clear light and potential. We all have unquestioning faith in that potential, but we tend to forget that it doesn't go anywhere once experience has set in and we've had a chance to get hurt and make mistakes. Or even better, what if we go beyond trying it just when we're reacting, and walk down the street and look into the eyes of random people to see this light within them and hold it up for them to see. If someone smiling at you on the street can change your whole day, imagine what it could do to feel that you were really seen, if only for a moment. That is the work of the messiahs and buddhas among us, and each of us holds that potential within us, where it lies waiting to be awakened.
It's just a theory. I'm still experimenting with it. It worked when my boss snapped at me today, but I have no idea how to balance that with sustaining the action needed to incite change. Seeing the good in someone won't stop them from logging or dumping toxic chemicals. You can't ever expect to change anyone -- it's not your right to choose another's path. But it's still important to speak out about what isn't right for you, to shape your world as best you can. You have to follow your own path too, and do what you do because it's what you do, not for the outcome, which is a poor judge of the worthiness of an action anyway. A baby doesn't care what it will become, it just is and is happy. In those gentle moments when you are caught up in a sunset or holding a baby, you know exactly how that feels.
This season may you give birth to your creativity, your hope, your dreams, even in these dark inward days of winter. Feed them, anoint them and love them well beyond this season of celebration, and they will grow into a light that illuminates and nourishes more than you can imagine. You are the sacred child we have waited for. Happy birthday.++