When people would ask poet William Stafford, "When did you become a poet?" he'd reply, "That's not really the right question. The question is: when did you stop being a poet? We're all poets when we're little, and some of just keep up the habit."
The reason I've been mulling over this Stafford quote is not because I'm considering poem writing, but because I've been contemplating these questions: What are we born with? What do we lose along the way? And, what can we return to?
There's a child theme running through many spiritual teachings, and it is, frankly, one I have difficulty understanding.
"Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." [Matthew 18:3, NIV]
And ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said:
"Can you keep your soul in its body,
hold fast to the one,
and so learn to be whole?
Can you center your energy,
be soft, tender,
and so learn to be a baby?"
I like those quotes, but their meanings seem beyond my reach.
When I think of my childhood, my mind sometimes lands on second through fourth grade, when I was teased pretty relentlessly, especially on the school bus. The "reasons" for the teasing seemed to be:
a.) I was abnormally tall.
b.) I was a "new kid" (we'd moved across the country at the end of first grade)
c.) I cried incredibly easily.
Not the best combo for scaling the elementary school social ladder.
I took to reading at the bus stop, reading as I walked to my seat, and reading during bus rides, cheek against the window.
Still, the teasing persisted. I have a distinct memory of standing up at my stop to go home and finding that, when my face had been in a book, someone had crawled beneath my seat and tied the shoelaces of my shoes together. I found this out because I nearly fell over when I tried to walk. I put on my backpack and hobbled down the aisle, flooded with confusing, pervasive shame. Everyone, it seemed, was laughing at me. I think I was about eight.
I drew the conclusion there must be something innately wrong with me. Something definitively not right at the core of who I was. Surely, if I were "right" and "normal" then I wouldn't be the go-to girl to tease on the bus.
During that time, I remember nice classmates with exceptional clarity. One boy in my second and fourth grade class was consistently kind to me—a dim light in my periphery reminding me not all boys were cruel.
After college, this boy married one of my best friends from high school and, this past Friday, I got to hold their newborn baby girl in my arms. She was sixteen days old, the youngest baby I've ever held. (With the exception of my two little sisters when I was a child.) Long after I gave her back to her mom and drove away, I could still feel her pure energy on my chest, where she had curled up against me.
Some observations: Babies are magic. Babies are miracles. Babies are perfect.
Also: Babies are not innately wrong, flawed, or evil. I know this won't win me points with the Pope, but I reject the notion of "Original Sin." I just don't buy it. Hold an infant and tell me: where is the inclination toward evil?
And if nothing is wrong with babies, and I was once a baby, then maybe that idea I formed in elementary school—something is wrong with me—is, actually, what's wrong.
Now it wasn't just bullies, society certainly encouraged me cling to the concept of my inherent wrongness. How could the global $445 billion so-called "beauty" industry keep growing if people weren't convinced there's something wrong with their skin, faces, or hair?
Capitalism essentially drives on perpetually reinforcing this core idea: there is something wrong with you, and money can fix it.
There are countless iterations: Something is wrong with your house/wardrobe/body/relationship/etc., and money can help fix it. [See: the fast fashion industry, the $60 billion U.S. weight loss industry, reality TV elevating opulent lifestyles, etc., etc., etc.] [Also see: almost any ad ever.]
Everything is wrong; money is always the answer.
But what if there is actually no problem?
What if you risked acting on the assumption that nothing is innately wrong with you?
What if to change to become a little child, you simply had to accept the idea that you are enough? Right now. Today. Just as you are.
Because here's the thing: I know that sweet baby girl I held against me did not think anything was wrong with her; she knew she was perfect.
You were once sixteen days old. Had I held you in my arms when you were an infant, I would've told you: You are magic. You are a miracle. You are perfect. Of course, I wouldn't have had to tell you those things, because you would've already known.
Isn't there a chance it's still true? Isn't there a chance our innate selves are not depraved, but, instead, miraculous and full of Love?
Isn't there a chance we don't need to buy anything to save us, rather, we simply need to return to who we already are?
"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."
Maybe, you're born with it. Maybe, Love is innate.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. This week's (predictable) book rec: Rumi The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing translated by Coleman Barks.