In Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead's delightful middle grades book, Bob, Livy, or Olivia, age 10, returns to her Grans house in Australia, where she had befriended, when age 5, a little green creature she had discovered in the chicken coup. Early in the book, Bob and Livy refer to Bob as a zombie, but each comes to distrust that identity. Yet, neither she nor he knows who he is and where he came from prior to the chicken coup. They set out to get him back home, wherever that is and whatever he is. In an early dialogue between Bob and Livy about the chicken suit, which Livy had forgotten she had made for Bob...
“Is that a … chicken suit?” I ask. It doesn’t actually make him look anything like a chicken. In fact, don’t ask me how I even know it’s a chicken suit. He sniffs. “Of course. It’s THE chicken suit. The one you made for me.” He reaches behind his neck and yanks the hood up. It’s just some orangey cloth with glued-on feathers and an oversized red-felt chicken comb stuck on top of the hood. It looks like a little kid cut it out with bad scissors and glued it there. I point at him. “I made … that?” He tilts his head, and the red-felt chicken comb flops to one side. “Of course you made it! I didn’t even know what a chicken WAS before I met you.”
Yet, for the time and partly to mislead others into thinking Bob is a chicken (chickens belong in the human world, not little green creatures like Bob), whatever he is, Bob lives inside a chicken suit he had lived in for five years prior to Livy's return from the United States. Will Bob come to live outside the appearance of being a chicken? Will he find out what he is? Where his home is? Return there?
* * *
Like Bob, we are. As Livy made Bob the suit, we are provided a suit ready-made when we were born into this world of a vast array of suits. When we look closely, we may see all the suits are really patchworks of an assortment of suits, and some contradictory. One person can seem to be ... "lesbian American white middle-class politically independent socialist liberal feminist university graduate daughter of sister of half-sister of divorcee lover of engineer skier painter addict gardener realist existentialist diabetic yogi nature lover ...". We each wear our own chicken suit, and it changes over time with varied modifications: abandon that patch, add this patch, adjust this patch, integrate this patch with that patch or number of patches.... The suit remains nothing more or less than what it was, a suit, a costume.
We may see how persons get angry at anyone who questions any patch of the suit. Or how anger rises in us when what we see ourselves to be is challenged. We may see how hate, violence, and wars arise from defending costumes and attacking costumes. We may see how in our suit we can objectify and vilify another patch of another suit, like, "All Muslims are evil" or "Blacks are dumb" or "Whites are racist oppressors" or "Christians are stupid" or "Gays are perverts" or "Men are chauvinist pigs" or "Rural people are uncultured" ... This list goes on and on and on.
* * *
Like Bob, we can inquire, "Who am I?". Will we dare question the suit? If not, can we discover who we are? Where we came from? And return? Or do we wish to keep living inside our own individualized chicken suit, and one we were given, did not even choose?
* * *
Talking together after coming out of the weeks of solitude, in informal interview, something glides smoothly out of the mouth, for the first time a confession I never dreamed I would come close to speaking. No one who had known me as a younger man would have anticipated this in his or her wildest imagination. "I don't think I'm anything." The reply, "I don't think you're anything either." A big stretch, it appears, from the evangelical Christian I was raised to be and lived as into my late 40s. A big jump, some would say, but no jump at all, if anything, a move back before others decided for me who I am, and all that goes with it.
* * *
Sometimes, you cannot seem to hang on to who you thought you were ~ are ~, and you let go; better, it drops, when it is time for the drop, like a ripe fruit from the branch. Some identities hang onto us, then, gone. We cannot retrace from what appears there to here, then to now. We see nothing everywhere, a lovely nothing. We see nothings walking around everywhere, burdened with barnacles of "I am this" and "I am that" and "You are that" and "You are this."
* * *
Maintaining an identify as something, as anything, can be exhausting. A lot of energy is invested in such identity-maintenance. Then, drop! What happens? Possibly, fear. Surely, relief. If one looks backward, one will likely see the identity dropped before he or she was willing to admit it.
* * *
And here we are faced with a subtle trap. Joan Tollifson, in Bare-Bones Meditation, observes, "The trick is not to make an idea or a system out of this openness, a new dogma." See, this openness is who you are, who we are. Openness is not merely something that happens, openness is not a something at all.
This openness has no identity, no personality, no gender, no sexual orientation, no parentage, no ancestry, no religion, no spirituality, no social status, no citizenship, no membership ... simply put, no suit or suit made of suits.
* * *
So, to confess "I'm not anything" is not the beginning of a new identity. Being nothing is simply an inept way of saying no identity whatever. This does not mean you get upset that others see you as this or that. This does not mean you tell everyone or anyone, "Hey! Guess what? I'm nothing. Isn't that great?!" This is not another costume to celebrate and see as contrasted to others. Openness is openness open to all costumes. A suit or a suit of suits is not a problem, identity as such is what leads to so much of our human suffering. Openness can wear any variety of costumes, even as a face can shift into many different faces.
* * *
Openness means you have never been anything you were told you are, anymore than Bob the little green creature is a chicken. Openness means you can never be anything anyone would say you are. Then, the irony, you can move freely, in love, among all identities with the grace of unconditional presence. And, possibly, the recognition of being nothing is the beginning of growing into that knowing, so the learning does not end, only continues in exploring what is this nothing wearing this suit of suits. Possibly, Grace is enjoying the journey of discovery as you, me, everyone, everything. And is this journey not Love knowing Itself as Love? Love loving?
*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at firstname.lastname@example.org .
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.
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The Sacred in Me bows
to the Sacred in You