I went to see the “comedy”, This Is 40, written by Judd Appetow. All comedy is born of tragedy, and tragedy describes the state of marriage as it’s portrayed here. What is played out is the dilemma of what Ken Wilber calls the postmodernist disease of boomeritis revisited upon the Gen Xers. Every couple in the film is functioning from the level of ego, trying to parent children who act as mirrors for their own galloping narcissism—effectively children trying to parent children. This selfishness extends to the main couple’s respective fathers, who themselves have started their own families as sixty-somethings. One of them, hilariously and tragically played by Albert Brooks, got attracted to a younger woman, agreed to have a child with his new wife, which morphed into in vitro triplets, and there he is, a sixty something man, in debt up to his eyeballs, at home doing his pathetic best to parent triplets, whose names he can’t keep straight. He does not want to be there. Almost makes you weep.
The film ends on a feel good note, but there really isn’t any foundation for the optimism. There is no spiritual development in any of the couples, very little integration of new insight, and no sense that there might be a transcendent point to parenting (or marriage for that matter).
This is a portrait of affluent North Americans trying to figure out what the hell marriage and parenting is all about. We continue to turn out kids, even though the planet needs fewer, not more, humans at this point. We are unconsciously driven by a biological script written by our DNA, teaming up with a cultural field of attraction telling us that we can have it all. It’s a mess. The film, even though it’s a little over the top, does a pretty good job at showing the exhaustion, creeping resentment, fantasies of escape, and general malaise that results in the divorce statistics we see today.
My own parents started having their children in the 1950′s when there was a sense of mission following the devastating effects upon nations of WW2. The nation was rebuilding, bringing children into the world and providing a “good enough” environment to help them reach adulthood and hopefully repeat the process. It wasn’t exactly a high calling, but it was imbued with an honest recognition that it would require sacrifice. They ended up with six of us little buggers. I know that they wouldn’t have traded us in for all the gold in the world, but they didn’t expect it to be fun. They couldn’t have it all and they knew it. Today, their grandchildren take for granted a level of material comfort and expect a standard of living that is beyond what my parents achieved in their entire lifetime. Progress? Perhaps materially. But that game is good and truly over. Earth can’t sustain it, and the soul isn’t interested.
In the 21st century, our motivation, intentions, and enactment of parenting needs to be in service of a higher purpose. The new evolutionary impulse for parenting is about giving birth and creating the conditions for the emergence of a new kind of human. This doesn’t mean that we need to be perfect parents (Perfect Madness: Motherhood In An Age of Anxiety), but it does mean that we need to be purposeful parents. And this means, in turn, that we see our role as parents as a sacred vocation.
This needs to be enacted with a mellowness of heart. There is too much earnest parenting going on as it is, too much focus on the child. It is the souls of the parents that are screaming for attention. This narcissistic wound gets salt rubbed in it by the unrelenting attention that children require (or at least which society says they require). In truth, what infants and children need is to connect cleanly, joyfully, and unambiguously with the soul of another who loves them.
“Helicopter parenting” (parents who are physically hyper-present but psychologically and spiritually absent) may be an overcompensation for our own neglected spiritual life. Katie Roiphe, writing in Slate, says that overparenting “is about too much presence, but it’s also about the wrong kind of presence. In fact, it can be reasonably read by children as absence, as not caring about what is really going on with them, as ignoring the specifics of them for some idealized cultural script of how they should be.”
For 2000 years we may have missed a central point of the legend of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph receive their inspiration “from above”, from angels, from the divine Source, from holy priests and priestesses, and from intuitive cousins, informing them that what they were being called to was to enact is the birth of a new kind of human being. (This is couched in the messianic language of Judaism and Christianity, naturally). By bringing this child into the world they are portrayed as knowingly participating in the enactment God’s will—this one was born to transcend the ethnocentric and religious identity of any particular tribe. S/he would bring light to all the nations and to the ends of Earth (Isaiah 49:6). The new human would be fully human, fully divine, and give his life to liberate humanity and fulfill creation’s longing. This is not a calling that our ego (early, biological self) can even hear. “Such knowledge is too high, (we) cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). It must be heard at the level of soul.
Imagine that this story is one that we are called, not merely to believe, but to embody. The legend was born in the place where all sacred myth arises, from the interior depths of its writers, representing an externalization of what was coming in from higher planes of consciousness. The Christmas story is meant to activate a higher level of consciousness around birth—the motivational shift from procreation to conscious co-creation (this includes, of course, but is not limited to, children).
Our planet cannot bear the weight any longer of unconsciously increasing our numbers out of early biological and cultural scripts. No, I’m not talking about us raising little Messiahs. Each child we bring into the world will ultimately be responsible for their own destiny. We need to learn to lean into the wisdom of nature and our essential Nature, and get out of the way of the One coming down and into this magnificent adventure of becoming, through these unique expressions who are our children.
The best that we can do for our children is to refine the instrument of self and the quality of our relationships so that we resonate with deeper, more subtle energies of the soul and spirit. We can prepare for a new birth as though what is involved is an allurement of the right soul to the right time and place. Villages in Africa do this to this day. Upon conception, the village gathers to discern the song of this particular soul, a song that will be sung to her throughout life’s transitions.
For those who are beyond this life stage or choose not to have children, it goes without saying that we are charged with the responsibility, the privilege, and the joy of raising our own cosmotheandric soul to full stature.
(By the way, the film is actually very funny.)
TIP: If you go, stay for the credits.