In my dream, I live in a big airy house with a skylight-roof. A young golden eagle flies erratically just below the ceiling, swooping and turning, and screeching. I am afraid–for both of us–but I walk upstairs to a balcony and speak to her in a comforting tone. She lands beside me, all skinny and blazing eyes. She’s a handful. Is she hungry? I find some meat for her and she snatches it from my hand. Up close she is majestic, ravenous. She regards me with her incredible eyes, matter-of-factly bestowing her company. I am glad she is in my big, airy (eyrie?) house. No longer afraid of her, I feel tenderness and determination. I will feed her until she is strong enough to fly away.
My dream is an instruction manual for how to (re-)parent an extraordinary being—a “freak.” A freak like me. Relative to my environment, I was an unusual child—wild, sensitive, spiritually perceptive. Not what my parents expected. Mistakes were made. (That’s a different instruction manual: How to Traumatize a Gifted Child.) I became wounded, feral, suspicious.
Now I am a grown woman. I am completely responsible for myself. How do I re-parent this skinny, hungry, ferocious eglet?
Perhaps it’s easy to (re)parent an eagle if you yourself were raised by eagles. My parents did not have the capacity or community to raise an eglet. The home I grew up in had little room for expansion or expression. I was stifled and cramped. Violated, and never allowed to fight back.
So I need an instruction manual. My dream instructs me that it is crucial to acknowledge the nature of the being in front you. Then you matter-of-factly meet the needs of her species. If you are not used to such a handful, you get support. You learn. Above all, you cherish your raptor friend. In the dream, I love her hungry eyes and her insistent need. I love that she requires specific, special care to flourish. Not just regular, run-of-the-mill eagle care. Extra tenderness for a long-neglected, mistreated bird of prey. In the dream I am delighted to meet her needs.
How do you raise an extraordinary, unexpected child?
Andrew Solomon’s book, Far From the Tree, about parents struggling to raise exceptional children, is also instructive. What are the potentials and limitations of a child born with Downs Syndrome or dwarfism? How do you raise a child born of rape, or a musical prodigy? How best to love and protect autistic, transgender or Deaf children? This book is about parents gradually falling in love—wrenching, gritty love–with their unique children.
From their stories I learn more about how to re-parent my feral eglet: You meet your children where they are. By paying attention, you come to understand their nature, and the kind of supports and limits they need to thrive. You acknowledge their complexity, and make room for your own complex emotions. You ride a steep learning curve and–hopefully–find your feet. You let loving your children transform you. Reading these stories, I don’t envy my parents. But I still grieve for what might have been.
Looking back at pictures and remembering family anecdotes I see a wild-animal girl, a visionary, a mystic. Introverted, with an acute sensitivity to unfairness. I was curious, engrossed in insects and trees and bumblebees and the stars and the wind. I loved all of it. I was a messy, radiant, rough-and-tumble little blonde girl who growled and bit people, especially my siblings.
My family could not accept or accommodate me. My mother could not handle my biting, roaring, laughing, wildness, the same way she could not stand the chattering of our budgie. She covered his cage to silence him. My father viewed my animal vitality as sexual. He violated me, teaching me shame and secrecy. Little by little, I learned to stifle and conceal my aliveness.
I loved and hated my self-absorbed parents with a passion, the same way that I did everything. Until my flame was snuffed out. Until I learned to keep it snuffed out.
By grade one my light was almost entirely hidden. I still saw and felt everything around me. I despised the power of the strong over the weak. But I could not growl or fight. I could only be the quiet, contained little white girl that my family and church expected me to be.
I still talked to the snow fairies hidden in the snow bank when I was alone. They sang comforting songs to me. I looked out my window and told my troubles to a particular blue star until I was all cried out. My celestial friend sang wise, reassuring things to me until I could sleep.
Among people, silence was my only way to roar. My eyes spoke my contempt. Is it any wonder I developed contempt for my family and community? Is it any wonder I became profoundly arrogant? As an adult, I have denied, and been ashamed of that arrogance. As a kid, I needed its protection.
When I was little, I talked with God. At Sunday school, I was told I was not allowed to—I must pray to Jesus, and he would talk to God for me. I was enraged. Heartbroken to give up my intimate relationship with God.
It got worse. At eight I was finally old enough to join my sister and brother at bible camp. Unlike everyone else at camp, I was not yet “saved.” My camp counselor frightened us girls one night with vivid stories of Satan and his demons. She focused on me, telling me that if I didn’t “accept Jesus as your personal savior and lord” Satan would get me. The other girls stood with her. I resented the pressure; I knew I was not ready to make that commitment. And I was terrified.
The counselor interpreted my tears as a conversion experience, and insisted I get on my knees and “accept Jesus into your heart.” I did, all the while hating all of them and myself. When I got up I was bombarded with saccharine approval. The next day the cool kids embraced me. Back home, my best friend’s missionary family approved; I was finally invited over for sleepovers.
I felt so far away from God. I was guilty, knowing I had made a sacred commitment from an insincere place. God would know and forsake me; Satan would “get me” for my hypocrisy. More shame and secrecy contaminated my relationship with Spirit.
I never spoke to anyone of the visions and mystical conversations I had as a child. In my Baptist community, experiences outside of their version of Christianity were seen as satanic, demonic.
When I was fourteen, the Goddess Kali Ma seized me in a dream, claimed me for her path, and dictated a long poem which I wrote down while asleep. I shared the poem with only one person, my thirty-five year old creative writing teacher who I adored. He told me that I had seen Shiva. Then he told me he was attracted to me, and wanted to date me.
As my spiritual trauma thaws out, there are “pins and needles.” I grieve for the lonely girl that I was. The lonely, secretly-freakish teenager. At home, at school and in church, I had no place to rest my head. No spiritual or shamanic mentor to reassure and guide me. Instead, I grew more secretive, more arrogant.
It’s no surprise that when I experienced an abrupt kundalini awakening in my twenties,
I told almost no one. On and off for eleven years, I was immersed in states where material reality–including my body–became a dance of intermingling particles, endlessly forming and dissolving, like an impressionist painting. I oscillated between Bliss and Terror as I dissolved into everything. I felt blessed, grateful, and terribly lonely. I was a freak again. A freak without sanctuary or community. By that time I was wired to not trust anyone unless I was desperate.
HEALING THE DAMAGE
Re-parenting myself has meant cleaning up the damage: healing the attachment, abuse and oppression traumas of my childhood and youth. I had to go back and complete missing developmental steps, introduce supportive structures into my daily life, and learn how to take care of myself physically, emotionally, and financially. And learn how to trust people.
After decades of clean up, I am finally well enough, whole enough to ask a new question: How do you raise a spiritually gifted child? The kind of child I was.
The child that I was needed someone to steadily nurture (not malign, demonize, exoticize or inflate) my unique gifts. Eglets need flying and hunting lessons. I needed meditation instruction, competent spiritual guides to model generosity and humility, and opportunities to cultivate my intuition and compassion. I needed empathy and structure to enable me to belong and contribute. That is the kind of upbringing I needed, and what I must now give myself.
I am healing, thawing out with the noisy disruption of a late spring river. I am a handful.
I have often longed to live in a shamanic culture that could hold all of me: see my ordinariness and channel my extraordinariness into contributing and belonging in community. Instead, the humans around me wounded my spirit. So I have looked to non-human models to heal my spiritual trauma. Nature has been a kind ally. Especially birds.
The Bird of Paradise, that beautiful, unearthly, improbably alien creature—lives an ordinary life. Like other creatures, he eats, defecates, sleeps, and tries to impress the ladies.
I live with a gorgeous budgie who is unaware of how extraordinary she is—she is: goofy, serene, cheeky, brave, humorous, joyous. She needs ordinary things like sleep and food and companionship, love, comfort, and “extraordinary” things like a tree to perch and play on, seed to eat, toys to chew and shred, tunnels to dig, safe space to fly; other birds, vast skies and clouds to watch. Every day she shows me how to embody both the special and the mundane.
FOLLOWING THE DREAM
Following my dream’s lead, I acknowledge my nature. I am a mystic who needs boundaries and routine to ground me so I can thrive and contribute.
I see myself. Like that eagle, I am a handful. I claim all of me—the wounds from abuse and neglect. The habitual secrecy and the stump-sized chip on my shoulder. Like that ravenous eagle, I snatch up my aliveness. I claim this body, this personality, this life. I scoop this supernatural, ordinary, feral child into my arms.
I am learning to nourish my ordinariness: to steadily give myself warmth and sweetness, to rest and play. To eat moderately and well. To pace myself and to insist on spaciousness and balance. To enjoy the repetition of eating, sleeping, cleaning, cooking, and caring for my business.
As I am learning to nourish my extraordinariness: to work with wise, loving teachers. To write with courage and heart, to allow my exuberance and “intuitive effervescence” to infuse my teaching and healing work. I am learning to be bold. To fly with precision and Grace.
That dream-eagle is finally being seen, loved and nourished. She is discovering her voice and her wingspan. And she is so hungry. I feed her and watch her slowly mature, stretching out those long-stunted wings, focusing those laser eyes on her prey, practicing tricky landing maneuvers in windy conditions. Vast, daring, goofy, eagle play is what I was born to do.
And I realize: the more I see and love the “freak” within, the more I delight in the inner and outer diversity of others. As Michael Franti says, “All the freaky people make the beauty of the world.”