A Good Juicy Paradox
Since the birth of my daughter Persephone, life has been very interesting to say the least. That comes as no surprise, and yet it’s a huge surprise at the same time. Contradict myself much? I do love a good juicy paradox.
It’s no surprise because, after all, it’s blindingly obvious that having a child will change one’s life. On top of that, and despite it, I was warned repeatedly that this would happen, as apparently every parent-to-be is, as part of the hazing ritual. Welcome to the club. Thanks a lot.
Yet even though I knew I should expect some fairly massive changes, I couldn’t know what changes to expect. Nor could anyone else tell me what to expect. All I could expect was the unexpected. And, yes indeed, that’s what I got. For me, it was so subtle and so gradual and so (gosh darn it) unexpected that it crept up on me without notice. As recently as a year ago, I still claimed to feel more continuity than change.
I was in denial, stubbornly refusing to put two and two together. I could tell some fairly wonderful things were happening in my life, but I didn’t recognize them for what they were. I didn’t want to admit it. Change can be frightening after all. Even good changes can be scary if they run deep enough.
Even now, it is difficult to describe.
It’s been a process of unfolding, of opening, of becoming receptive, of waking to subtle realities. I have found myself more interested and excited about meaning, purpose, values. My interest in religion and spirituality has burgeoned, because that is the domain where meaning and purpose and values are most directly engaged. This has had direct impact on my personal and professional life, on my relationships with others and my experience of day-to-day life.
My life has changed forever.
And yes, I am surprised.
Maybe I should also take pains to explain what I am not experiencing.
Also, I don’t want to instrumentalize the procreation aspect. Having a child does not automatically propel everyone on the same journey; not every parent will experience what I have. Conversely, it is not necessary to have a child to have such an experience. I suspect that what I’m trying so ineptly to describe is universal and available to us all.
Clearly I had certain predispositions and proclivities, and my life was at such a point, that the birth of my daughter acted as a trigger or catalyst. After all, we decided to name her after an ancient Greek goddess, a symbol and archetype of transformation, before she was even born. That’s indicative of being primed and ready for something, I think.
Furthermore, other events might have triggered the same reaction. In fact, they kinda sorta have, in the past. Twenty-two years ago I had what I can only describe as an ecstatic experience. Such experiences can’t really be described, so I’m not going to bother trying, nor am I going to dwell on how it happened or what it meant to me at the time or even what it means to me now. Suffice it to say, it rocked my world. That was a soul-shattering experience, an almost complete disjuncture of the personality. What’s happening now is much gentler and slower. Yet it seems to me they are the same experience at the core.
And what is that core? It’s hard to say. I hope to return to this question later.
After much dithering, I labeled the experience of these last few years as an awakening of sorts, though the trigger wasn’t entirely clear to me. I was still in denial. I still didn’t want to admit that all the people who had trotted out that tired annoying cliché were so very right. It’s not easy being a know-it-all.
The person who really nailed it for me was my boss. At the end of the last school year, she made a comment that I’d been on something of a spiritual quest since the birth of my daughter. Suddenly I reframed everything I’d been feeling. It made sense. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can impart a sense of wonder. Nurturing a life more important than your own can foster humility, which is a prerequisite to reverence.
(To expand briefly on that last, I learned about the “gateway of humility” and the “path of reverence” from Arthur Zajonc in Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry. Obviously procreation is not the only way to humility. I’m reminded of my friend’s divorce, which forced him to “accept the smallness” of his existence.)
My boss went on to theorize that my quest might be something of a survival mechanism. Since the world can be a scary and threatening place, perhaps a shift in perspective is necessary to countenance bringing a child into it.
That made some sense to me as well. And yet something of the magic went out in that moment. I don’t blame my boss for that. I’d been coasting on a free ride for a good while. It had to end eventually. Suddenly I had an explanation, and it seemed vaguely disappointing. Is that all there is to this?
The natural momentum of my “awakening” had diminished. I was tempted to call this “the sleepening.” Some of the liveliness I’d been fortunate to enjoy was draining away. Life was becoming a bit more mundane. Maybe it’s only right and necessary and natural.
But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s possible to keep living in this same mode, to keep the magic alive. And this is the realization that is currently buoying me along: If I want to keep this going, if I want to keep this development developing, I will have to do so intentionally.
I still haven’t gotten around to specifying those intentions. I guess that will have to wait until after the equinox.