Don’t mind the mess: great wisdom amongst toddler faecal matter.
“But the law of the universe dictates that peace and harmony can only be won by inner struggle. The little man doesn’t want to pay the price for that kind of peace and harmony: he wants it ready-made, like a suit of manufactured clothes.”
- Henry Miller
My friend Kate is a mother of two young beings under the age of three. She hasn’t taken a dump alone in three years. Often, she finds actual shit on her face. She says parenting two children is literally torture. Two small creatures Mum-Mum-Mum-Muming non-stop. Constantly touching, invading your body, energetically in there, pulling, needing. She says life with young kids is like being dragged behind a speeding horse by a rope around your ankle. You’re constantly trying to pull yourself up to at least get on that horse. You never do. When her youngest was teething, she wouldn’t let Kate put her down for moment. Kate said it was like water torture, but worse.
But Kate says all of this with wide open eyes, staring at you as though she has her own private stash of wealth down her pants. “Richness isn’t about ease or happiness, but depth of experience,” she says. “Stripped back to your rawest self, sleep deprived, supporting your partner, loving your kids, your best comes out. Amongst the mind-blowing irritation it dawns on you that you’re caretaker for two little lives, and that feels like an immense privilege, to be here to support them to be themselves in life. To be here, opening up the world for them.”
I’ve known Kate since she was thirteen. I remember her family household as a ramshackle parade of multiplying pubescent brothers sticking out of couches with the vague lingering sourness of farts. Life was a pungent weather-beaten affair. She grew up surfing the dark wintry waves of Albany’s more deserted beaches and her own moods rode the same currents. Kate learnt to collapse into her inner darkness. There in her well-weathered house she was allowed to. No one held her back or hollered panicked words of caution. So she went in, she sank into it. “There is richness to be found in darkness. You miss out if you run from it. You never find out what’s behind it.”
At thirteen, I wasn’t like Kate. Nor at twenty. In my third decade I finally feel I might be heading in the right direction.
I seemed to have missed the message she got, and approached darkness with the kind of caution that keeps you at all times ten feet away. Dissatisfaction, despair, depression— well D is a fail right? I was more of an A kind of student. Other emotions that seemed worth avoiding included terror, anxiety, rage, and even great joy and excitement because these might tip over to mania, silliness, or, heaven forbid, great disappointment.
Now, in our civilised world we have a perfect catalogue of goods and services I can consume should these emotions hassle me. Perk-up products like perfectly packaged holidays, shiny movies with pre-chewed plots to make them easier to swallow, yogalates, lattes, spa appointments with all manner of fruit flavoured wraps. Unresolved grief? I simply need a new kind of therapy and probably lots of it. There’s a new hypnotherapist in town and it should compliment nicely the shamanic primal scream course I completed last summer to exorcise my pain. Marriage on the rocks? There’s always date night, sex toys and tantric workshops. Whatever the pathology, there’s a cure. So long as I’m proactive and responsible I’m sure I can balance myself out.
We love balance. It’s so neat, steady and sanitised.
Of course, there’s one fine detail I seemed to have missed when I ruled my lines on a page and wrote out my carefully restrained, balanced life: The majority of the universe is actually made up of dark matter.
Kate says that every day of parenting she thinks she's reached her limit, only to discover she’s still walking three days later so it mustn’t have been her limit. That’s the thing about pain, darkness, or any big emotion; There’s an endless depth to move into. And while I thought pain was something to shield from, it was actually always a huge gaping doorway. Pain breaks us open, brings us to our knees, then the floor gives way and we discover it’s the sky. Which turns into another floor, which turns into another sky, tumbling ever onwards through dark matter until we fall into the infinite and discover we are limitless beings of unconditioned love, compassion, joy and equanimity. Pain is in fact the only doorway to unconditional love and true compassion for others and also towards ourselves. It’s also the only doorway to true balance.
At some tender point I realised this: Fuck caution. Fuck balance.
Life doesn’t need to be weighed and balanced, but can be lived with cells wide open to wind and moisture, tears and sweat. Both the ecstatic highs of joy as well as the inevitable deep trenches of exhaustion and despair can be lived. True balance isn’t making sure you never fall over the edge, it’s tumbling and tumbling, realising that this motion is living and discovering equipoise within.
By cutting myself off from a whole gamut of my emotional experiences, I trapped myself out of much of life. Then I wondered why I was always so thirsty, as if there were some deep stream in life I wasn’t getting to drink from.
Living is intimately, intricately, and beautifully woven in the darkness. Just ask Kate, she’s glowing with it.