My son has reached the terrible twos, at 22 months, breaking down when I appear after he has spent 5 hours in daycare, flailing around and making mince meat of my too precious glasses, hooking his fingers into my mouth, pulling my hair, slapping my face. He is out of control, as he should be, awash with the sensations of rage, frustration, hurt, fear, overwhelm that is what we humans have to deal with every moment of every day.
Nothing has happened to him, as far as I can tell (and I am truly paying attention, more than I have ever paid in my life). It is just the now of this moment. It is just that he is building the basics of his self control, and just now, he has very little.
I bring him home to his safe room, follow him around while he rolls around, screaming. I try to use words, stop. I try to touch him, stop. And then he reaches for me, asks to nurse. And I lay down with him on the couch, and nurse him to sleep, where he sleeps still, as I write this. I am feeling grateful and sad that I am still nursing-- it helps him so much, and I fear it will keep him from finding his own solutions to his self control needs. But I'm not that worried. He is only 22 months, after all.
Just before I picked my son up from daycare, I was sitting in on a meeting about the importance of truly showing up for students. That the work of teaching is the work of reflecting the depth in us, and inviting the depth in others out into the air, to be seen and shared. I asked the question in our meeting today-- how do we support teachers in the work of going there with students, leveling down into the intense and real stuff that is truly up for them, and truly up for us? What tools can we offer for this difficult and vitally necessary work? And how do we then accept the gift of the depths of others, as we seek greater wholeness and justice in our learning and living community?
As the meeting progressed, I remembered a recent Process workshop experience where the group entered into open conflict about strategies for leftist organizing. In this workshop, I, as a participant, brought up the experience of rejection I had felt in the group some years back. The facilitator paused, took a breath, and said, This is what we call leveling down. The group work on the strategic and urgent questions of limitations in progressive/leftist organizing for broad based social change was informed by this admission, though it was not explicitly resolved in the group. Some of the leveled down truth of our work was about who gets to decide, who gets to name the beauties of our revolutionary vision, who is welcomed, who is needed. A member of the group stood and challenged the traditional leaders, asking to be invited in. Another small group gathered around the desire to stop resisting all together, to begin something different and not in thrall to the powers that be. Another group looked on, bemused at all the strife, remembering the long arms of earth holding us all together. We leveled down, through the lens of social transformation, to the real work of showing up for each other, for the world, in our various and necessary diversity.
My son, who naps in the next room, is all down level. He is all want. He is all feeling and sensation and awe. And I, traveling between these different places, see now more than ever that we are all seeking, needing to get back to a level where we all lived, at the beginning. This is not to say we should all be squalling children rolling on the floor. This is to say that we should all be seeking the deep and tender place where those feelings live in us, always. It is a vulnerable place, and it is where we can build from.
My son is the most powerful creature on earth, because he is channeling the all of his being so mightily. I am only lucky that he does not know it yet. There need not be any shame in my son's wailing, our brokenness, or in sharing with each other our depth and struggle. This power is in all of us, and I only hope I can aid my son, my students, my movements, and myself in straddling the fire of our beings and harnessing that fire for our common liberation.