This Boy Blossoming

animal spirit family story

I didn’t know Dads missed their kids when I was growing up. The heartache I feel when my son is just away for the day at school still takes me by surprise. I want to hold his fierceness tightly, bury him in my heart until his hysterical laughter blows everything wide open.

If my Dad had feelings like mine, he never let on. His world was so big, sometimes when you put us kids inside it we were not always easy to see – sometimes we disappeared entirely. Now I understand Dads are not just breadwinners, they’re big overstuffed pillows to sink into when its time to process the day. They are warm-heart sanctuaries for us when our development outpaces our ability to be centered, to be here fully. Dads are one part of the forests we grow up in, they can be a beautiful part.

Sometimes when I journey to my fathers spirit I see him riding Dragons, something our ancestors may have been quite familiar with. As young men, we’re all born to ride Dragons, called to engage the primary powers of life and engage in some reckoning with them. Unfortunately, we don’t teach such things in our education programs, we leave the tending of our Dragons to our littlest ones. The results of parents and society not taking on the responsibility of helping us relate to these forces are predictable. The anger of not feeling met and contained becomes an explosive patter that can run rampant in the world. The Dragon consumes instead of illuminating.


Some deschooling advocates say that a child’s place is right by their parents side until they are quite mature. We need to live inside each other for a while, stand in each others hearts. My heartache is not only natural, its a message that we need to physically reconnect. If I can contain these forces, he learns how to by being with me. There are so many challenges.

Can we accept that there are market forces that drive our families apart? We can see that in so many of our immigrant families, the struggle to rise without being torn apart. Can we see thats happening to many of us at all levels of economic achievement and social integration? Can we see that texting and video games make for broken hearts? Our way of life insists we give more time to commerce, more time to mobility, more to a virtual world. Our inner survival-animal gets poked by the media a hundred times a day – we must compete or fall behind, run faster or perish, consume or die!

We start to take for granted the distance, the acting out that flows from it – all a part of the downward arc of happiness. I see many childhoods like that – an upward curve of happiness that evens out before beginning its gradual decline into adulthood. We expect teenagers to be sullen and lost when they should be breaking free of the nest and beginning the great adventure of life. We anticipate anger and distain at younger and younger ages, when interest and creativity should be blossoming.

I have lost too many friends to that downward curve. Some who managed to make it to mid-life were swallowed whole by a current of ebbing joy. We seem to provide our young with no clear path to a future in which their spirit can fully bloom. They are left as consumers, soldiers, corporate citizens or some mixture of the above. Whats the point of having children if you can’t teach them to ride Dragons?

Stephen Jenkins talks about the condition particular to humans, that we among all of the Earths creatures are the only ones that forget what it means to be ourselves. We seem to be born to lose track of what it is we’re supposed to be doing – of what it is to be human. Thats why, he suggests, most cultures have a process – “The Making of Humans“. Humans are people who have been made to graduate from their childhood into a genuine maturity, a way of being in the world where one’s responsibility to life is fully shouldered. Our schools and other institutions seem to have lost the ability to make humans. I think our main problems have to do with spirits.

My son and I talk about spirits all the time. His spirit, the spirit of the world, how he feels things and understands things. Sometimes he uses it to be fickle – “my spirit already knows that and doesn’t want to do what you want me to do.” Sometimes he uses it like a giant net to pull imagined experiences of the world close to his heart. Sometimes he just wants me to know that something I did hurt his spirit.

We have the cauldron of spirit to share between us. He understands that when I tell him he is in the center of my heart, its not just an idea or metaphor. There he is, in a beautiful open field, in all of his moods and complexities, surrounded by the light and love of my spirit. He knows thats real, he knows spirit can work that way. Some day he’ll know that I actually spend time, quiet time at night, closing my eyes and feeling his weight in my heart. I practice opening deeper to him so he can feel my presence like a bedrock beneath his feet as he looks out into the world. I wonder how the Earth feels about all of us? I wonder if a forest could ever love us as much. Perhaps.

We don’t think of our souls as tangible in the West, much less nature embodying the presence of spirit. If we think spirits exist at all they are ephemeral, etheric, belonging to whatever happens before or after life – and probably only human. Among cultures this is an aberration. It is much more common for people to understand spirits as being real and more widely distributed. The real human walks in a world of many different beings.

What if growing up is as much about the experience of the soul as the mind? What if souls require nature and all of its spirits to blossom? What if our confusion and depression and anger are not social ills but soul ills born of our distance from life? What if the soul food our generations are starving for are just the soul of the Earth in all of its dimensions?

A young man, Elliot Roger, recently went on a shooting rampage in southern California, his video clearly outlines his loneliness and desperation. Though I’ve never felt homicidal, as a young man one of the few things I clung to in my need for happiness was the possibility that someday, some woman might be my lover. I might feel safe, cherished and loved, and might find value in cherishing another. I might feel like I had some sort of real value in the world.

That adolescent desperation has a specific flavor to it, a youthful idealism that can all too easily be twisted into a black and white narcism. Elliot expressed those feelings so clearly: “This world is such a beautiful place, its such a cruelty that I’ve had to live such a pathetic life in it….” He goes on to blame humanity and specifically women. Add to his feelings misogyny, violence and privilege and you can see the results. That desire to feel wanted, to love deeply and be deeply loved still haunts me at times – I imagine it haunts so many of us. What small madness does it birth in us?

Elliot’s video focus’s on a golf course, the most peaceful nature he has access to, as the one solace for his beleaguered soul. He understands he has some value, that value seems to be embraced by that place. He is unfortunately catching only a hint of the healing and empowerment thats available to him there. Without a familial guide to shepherd him he cannot go deeper and hope to emerge a human being, a genuine gentle-man. Instead he chooses to self destruct, and take as many with him as he can.

I had a dream sometime ago, I was sitting in a circle of elders, one for each direction. They were initiating me into some important work, entrusting me with the responsibilities of being a human being. It was understood that at the end of the initiation one of them would stab me in my right hand with a dull butter knife. Though the knife was not sharp it would be plunged in so hard it would surely penetrate my hand. When my task was imparted, advice given, the knife finally slammed down as promised I shot up in bed wide awake. The pain was so viscerally real it helped me to bridge the worlds.

We need to rest within each other, and we all need to rest within the soul of the Earth if we are to be Human beings. When the spiritual can be made material for us, then the natural world can teach us, show us the way. We all have hard bridges to cross to get there, to those places where are our spirits become tangible to us. The opportunities of wholeness that await us all are abundant. See you in the woods, we’ll be learning to ride Dragons!

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