When we are born, if all goes according to greatest hopes, our first experience of eye contact is in love. She beholds us with blood, sweat and tears. And in that moment, our body does not yet know that we are separate. If the environment is tense, loud… we cry. If the environment is soothing, we are soothed.
We take our first steps. It is the beginning of our awareness that we are separate. I can run away from you! I can climb those stairs if I’m fast enough! Drunk on independence, we still look back every time we fall. Am I ok? Did that hurt? Is this safe? Is that person nice? We have begun to understand ourselves as something not quite separate, not quite connected.
Over the years of childhood we stretch this tether. We go to school. We go to camp. We go to practice. And eventually we begin to recognize: I and thou. You are over there. I am here.
We no longer find ourselves in the eyes of the parent. Instead, we seek to determine our own personhood. Ironically, we do this through trying on other peoples’. Does your coat fit me? How about your jeans? Do I like talking this way? Do I enjoy this activity? This music? We no longer find our personhood in the liquid pool of a loving mother. Instead, we find it through group identity. I am okay because my peers tell me I am.
We grow older, and we leave childhood. We leave behind “peer pressure”... except now we try on coats of a different kind: career, industry, production. I am an artist. I am a lawyer. I am an athlete. I am “finding myself”. We expand once again: beyond the first embrace, beyond the circle of close peers. Now we seek to know who we are from an even wider circle of input. What is my village? What is my community? What are my values? What do I want for my life?
We partner. We pair off. Some of us then become parents ourselves. Lost in the pool of reflection for our own children, the cycle repeats in them.
But there is an interesting thing that we don’t talk about: the space beyond this perfect circle. Because you see, we still see ourselves in reflection. We may have expanded the mirror- but it is a mirror yet. It is fragile. How do I know? Because when the mirrors crack, it sends us into a great cataclysmic collapse.
We suddenly don’t know who we are. We are lost. A child without a mirror cannot find themselves. They have no sense of self: no I, no thou.
There is a collective collapse right now. We have lost our many mirrors. The co-workers. The yoga friends. The community. The grocery clerk. In a vacuum we cannot hear our own voice.
The losses mount. The grief turns to anger turns to despair. We lament the loss of things. Then we ultimately lament the loss of self. The desolation feels crushing.
If this is you right now, listen to me. Dear sweet child. You were born of blood and sweat. The moment of your birth is at hand once again.
This time it is not birth through another. This time it is not a self understood in a reflection pool.
Oh no, this is much more. This defies words. But let me try:
Have you ever seen fire in your own eyes? Have you ever known your own tenderness, so sweet you could only cry with relief? Have you ever felt heat melt your bones from the inside? Leaving behind molten lava? Have you ever thought you would die? Split in two and never live again? Have you ever felt sure that you could not go on. Not. one. More. moment? But then you did?
But then you did?
But then. You. fucking. DID.
Have you ever felt sure you possess alchemy inside of you? Magic in place of bones? Fire proof?
Have you ever felt the space inside you that is unbreakable?
That is what you are birthing now.
Don’t you dare give up, dear one. You must be your own midwife here. You must be unafraid. Or you know what? Screw that. Be afraid. Scream. Be angry. If you must thrash, then do it. But oh you must keep going. Because this is your undoing.
Every role you’ve ever called yourself. Guess what? It was bullshit. You are more. So much more. You are ineffable. You are indescribable. You defy coats. You defy mirrors. You are only truly your own in this life. That is it.
And once you know that. You are reborn.