A Lament for Childhood
On one hand, I can count the number of times I’ve cried as adult.
Does that seem odd? We are surrounded by a constant bombardment of misery, suffering, and pain, and yet I’ve only been moved to tears a handful of times.
I wonder – does it speak to my inability to feel emotion? Or the success of the unreality…the banality…of the violence around me?
In 2005, after completing a 10 day Vipassana retreat, I arrived home. After 10 days without external stimuli, without even speaking, I was suddenly thrust back into the world, and coincidentally, Hurricane Katrina.
I watched as stories poured in of the destruction; homes flooded, bodies buried, families torn apart. Yet it wasn’t until I saw a rescue worker interviewed on CNN telling the news anchor about an elderly woman left in her hospital bed as the waters rose. She couldn’t escape the facility herself, but had access to a phone. The rescue worker, visibly shaken, related how he kept in contact with her over the phone. “Someone is coming,” he told her. “We will save you.”
As the rescue worker broke down, the news anchor shifted uncomfortably. “No one came to save her…” said the worker, now in tears. “The water came and she was alone. No one came to save her…”
The anchor abruptly ended the interview – unable to give acknowledgment to the pain of tragedy. No…far better to move on to the next story. The next tragedy.
I wept in his place.
Today I cried again. Today, I realized another great tragedy, what Charles Eisenstein calls The Great Robbery:
The anger of the teenager is the indignation of the dispossessed. The Great Robbery is first and foremost the pillage of their childhood. Childhood is supposed to be a realm of exploration in which we discover our passions, our selves, our life purpose. What we get instead is enslavement to schedules and obligations.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of play. And what is play? Play is something far different from what we, in a degenerate age, call fun—the consumption of entertainment.
Play is supposed to be nothing less than practice in creating the world. Its highest expression is “deep play”, the kind which unfolds over days and weeks.
In deep play, children create entire worlds of the imagination, in which toys are but props. In so doing, they prepare themselves for an adulthood empowered in the divine function of world-creation.
An equally grave loss is the loss of our passion and purpose. Bereft of the chance to explore our inner world, we grow up not truly knowing what we love or what we want to make of our lives. In the absence of a passion, we easily accept the range of available substitutes. I might as well be an engineer. Maybe I’ll major in finance. That might be okay. I’ll get a good job at least. Ask someone thus dispossessed what they really love, what makes their heart sing, and they won’t even know.
If you accept that the purpose of life is indeed merely to get by, to survive, to get a secure job with benefits, get married, have kids, retire securely, grow old and die, then perhaps this result isn’t so tragic. But if the adolescent intuition is true, that we are indeed here on earth for a magnificent purpose, then the cutoff from our passion is a terrible crime.
What does your heart tell you?
I cried because my heart tells me this is the truth. I see it in the pervasive mechanisms all around me – friends without purpose, surrendering their spark for an insidious lie.
Here is the right message—and it applies equally to the suicidal teenager as well as to the commonly resentful. The message is that what you have always secretly suspected is true.
The world is not supposed to be like this. Your intuitions of something more beautiful are valid. You are meant for an amazing, divine purpose. You are brilliant, possessed of unique gifts just waiting to be discovered. And—very important—anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Worse than lying, they are stealing from you.
Much has been stolen already, but there is one thing no one can ever steal (though you might put it aside, temporarily) and that is your soul knowledge of the message I have just related. What’s more, it is possible to recover all that has been lost. It might take time, but no one is a helpless victim.
All we need is to reconnect with the power we already have.
It is the power, first and foremost, to say no. You have been exercising that power all along, in fact, but when you begin to see the source of the betrayal, when you begin to see through the lies that construct the lesser life and lesser world that most of us have grudgingly accepted, then that power is multiplied a thousandfold. You have the power to withdraw, not through the unconscious mechanisms of laziness, depression or suicide, but consciously, mindfully.
And then, in the empty space that you create for yourself, begin to play. Begin to do what you enjoy, without having to justify it to anyone. From this starting point you will discover meaning, passion, and life, and you will become indominable.
What does your heart tell you?