Avatars and Skin Suits

friends and cousins

As a “parent” (i.e. someone who’s trying to do their best to care for some little piece of our world) do you ever feel like you’ve been cast as the bad parent in some cosmic play?

Do you ever feel that strange split in your psyche, where you are playing your part—holding limits in absurd power struggles about cookies, and then TV, and then driving, etc. while a part of us just wants to break character and look at the audience and say, “Can you believe what I’m dealing with here?”

A parent recently told me about their teenager, packing to go away for a couple of nights, calling her up to say, “Where are my socks?”  The mom reminded the kid that they were on the bed, and added in, “Don’t forget to take your cell phone.”  The child’s eye-rolling was practically visible through the phone as they said, “Mom, I’m fifteen!”

So while our work as parents is rife with contradiction and paradox, it is also true that the Divine is to be found in the very confluence of the opposites (which is part of why parenting is such a great, and yet at times impossible, path toward enlightenment).  

The origin of all art, music and theatre was about talking to God across the transoms of our human souls.  Somewhere within us, either deep down for the pragmatist, or closer to the surface for the artist, we feel the great mystery of the cosmic playwright wanting to be flesh and blood within us, our lives and our relationships.  Being both flesh and spirit is a confluence of opposites that every one of us mundane and transcendent beings embody and are challenged to “play” like a role in a vast and living drama.  

Long ago, the Greeks put on masks to evoke the gods, and the Greek term for mask is “persona.”  This  came to be a term for the face we show to the world, the ego-self, and yet we all know that this is not truly who we are.  Our modern day equivalent to the persona is the avatar, in which our kids, and us parents as well, role-play warriors, city planners, lovers, caregivers, etc. in a virtual world—a “web” of interconnectedness where we can shape-shift and try out loving and killing without “real” attachment or “real” loss.  We try on different roles for size, and yet we are often scared and confused, unsure of who we truly are, much less whether our foggy and confused avatar-selves are good enough.

Our very first ego, or sense of self, is the skin-ego; our birthday suit is our first “self.”  And for you new parents, or soon-to-be parents, there is research that shows that newborns who get a daily gentle massage are easier to calm, and get less colds, than equally well parented kids who got no massage.  This makes psychological sense, as newborns have a sense of “where am I?” about them, and touch helps orient them into their “skin suits,” calming them by helping them start to differentiate where they begin and end.  Never underestimate the value of that, as under extreme enough stress, even grown-ups can fragment and psychologically go to pieces again.

As we further develop, spiritually and psychologically, in our roles as parents, we again feel at times like we too are parents-as-avatars (treated, and seen by our kids, as maids, punching bags, toilets, short-order cooks, chauffeurs and therapist/life-coaches—not to mention that we are generally under-tipped by these entitled guests in the respectable, even luxurious, establishments at which find ourselves the Inn-Keepers).  Yet, if we manage to play our roles with sang-froid (or perhaps sang-Freud) and with authenticity, we find freedom in the world as theater.

In parenting it is generally good to lose the drama, but when drama comes all the same, it’s good to stay in character and keep it real.  However, when we get off work, and meet in our sangha, we get to be poets, athletes, entrepreneurs and all manner of things once again.  Our deepest and best Selves are infinitely more than just parents, but in our role as parents we can discover the nuance and richness of the authentic Self.  There are no small roles, only small actors.

Perhaps “life” is one big experimental play-space where we learn to practice non-attachment through endless experiences of attachment and loss, and perhaps with enough repetition, time and freedom, we naturally awaken to compassion, gratitude and true presence to this ever-eternal moment; to the paradoxical Truth that we are all every avatar, from angel to devil, and that this dark and light world truly is one world.  Right now.  Imagine.  

We think that when we have enough (money, power, validation, love, etc. we will be free—and then be our best Selves, starting foundations, loving life, relaxing, creating, loving; but, perhaps, it is the other way around:  if we simply realize that we have enough already, then we discover that we are free.

Let’s dedicate today to the authentic living of our lives, trusting the cosmic central casting that has placed us in our roles as parents (and every other role).  Let’s play our roles well and with all heart, soul and physicality.  Let’s be true to our characters, and trust that our children, and neighbors, are authentically playing their roles too.  Make your motivation be to love the work, this invites the transcendent into every living moment.

I sense this helps make it a more fun and interesting and alive world, and this benefits all of us and all our children.

Namaste, Bruce

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3 Responses to “Avatars and Skin Suits”

  1. Laurie Says:

    Perfect post for end of school year. Thanks so much for this Bruce.

  2. Chris Sorgi Says:

    Somehow today I was able to be in this spaceand it certainly makes life easier.

  3. Carolyn Says:

    That was excellent!!!!! LOVED reading it! It really made my day!

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