Volume 18 Number 4 December 2007
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Standing Up in the Sandbox:
On Leaving the Sirenic World of Childhood
Part 1 of 2
Introduction: The Sirenic Seduction of the Ego
In the Odyssey, Homer tells the tale of Odysseus and the Sirens, those strange sea goddesses who with their "honey- sweet" voices lured sailors to their death, so enthralled were they by the entrancing songs that they crashed fatally on the rocks. This is how the blind poet describes the situation, in the words of the sorceress Circe, also Odysseus' lover:
You will come first of all to the Sirens, who are enchanters of all mankind and whoever comes their way; and that man who unsuspecting approaches them, and listens to the Sirens singing, has no prospect of coming home and delighting his wife and little children as they stand about him in greeting, but the Sirens by the melody of their singing enchant him. They sit in their meadow, but the beach before it is piled with boneheaps of men now rotted away, and the skins shrivel upon them.1
Since Odysseus insists on hearing these "enchanters of all mankind," Circe counsels him that the way to avoid his certain fate is to instruct the ship's crew to tie him securely to the mast, while they plug their ears with honey wax.
This wonderful myth is a telling metaphor for the ego's seductive calls, luring us to certain death that we can withstand only by binding ourselves to Jesus or the Holy Spirit , and thus remaining safe and secure under Their arch of forgiveness. No guilt or fear can ever touch us when we rest within the twin pillars of our Teachers and Their miracle. Yet like the Greek hero, we must first hear these sirenic voices; otherwise, we will never know what we wish to avoid, and why. The temptations to give way to the calls of specialness are so compellingly strong, we need to be educated by our "Sorcerer" as to the true nature of these sharp-edged children's toys (W-pII.4.5:2), which is where we begin our exploration.
The Sharp-Edged Children's Toys of Specialness
The lure of specialness is found in its lies, for it promises us peace, happiness, and fulfillment. While the malevolence of its call is quite apparent in substances like drugs, alcohol, and war, it is in our relationships with each other that the fatal attraction to the ego can best be seen, for we are drawn to it as moths to a flame. Choosing this insane thought as our teacher is tantamount to a Faustian pact with the devil. In the famous legend, which has undergone numerous variations in literature and music, Faust eternally enslaves himself to Mephistopheles in exchange for twenty-four years of pleasure, knowledge, and power. Thus do we all pledge our minds to the ego for a few morsels of transient joys, never recognizing that what we have purchased is an unending fate of guilt, pain, and death.
In order to preserve its existence, the ego develops a strategy of hiding from us what we really purchased from it. Despite the horrific effects of suffering that we all experience, without knowing its cause—the mind's decision for the ego—we can never undo the pain of our mistaken choices. What contributes to the ego's clever subterfuge that conceals its underlying purpose is the unrelenting emphasis on the body instead of the mind. Having chosen the ego as our teacher, we are condemned to follow its mindless journey to oblivion in which we willingly, albeit insanely, consent to play with guilt and specialness: the sharp-edged children's toys that can only hurt and kill. Indeed, it is impossible to make the body the focus of our experience without feeling the pain of guilt over having again chosen the ego over God, illusion over truth, separation over oneness. Twice in as many sections, Jesus tells us how seeking pleasure with and from the body is the certain recipe for pain, for it is the decision for the ego's littleness instead of the grandeur of Christ—our true Self:
The body does appear to be the symbol of sin while you believe that it can get you what you want. While you believe that it can give you pleasure, you will also believe that it can bring you pain. To think you could be satisfied and happy with so little is to hurt yourself, and to limit the happiness that you would have calls upon pain to fill your meager store and make your life complete.…For guilt creeps in where happiness has been removed, and substitutes for it (T-19.IV-A.17:10-12,14).
It is impossible to seek for pleasure through the body and not find pain.…the inevitable result of equating yourself with the body, which is the invitation to pain. For it invites fear to enter and become your purpose. The attraction of guilt must enter with it, and whatever fear directs the body to do is therefore painful. It will share the pain of all illusions, and the illusion of pleasure will be the same as pain (T-19.IV-B.12:1,4-7).
Such is the body—the ego's sinful toy par excellence, for its origin in separation is preserved and acted out each and every time we make the body real in our experience; a source or instrument of pleasure and pain. This is why Jesus continually addresses us as children, since the toys of specialness are their great pastime. Yet these toys can kill, for their goal is to maintain the separation from life. Nonetheless, they remain but toys of children who do not understand, for how can illusions hurt the Son of God?
You do but dream, and idols are the toys you dream you play with. Who has need of toys but children? They pretend they rule the world, and give their toys the power to move about, and talk and think and feel and speak for them. Yet everything their toys appear to do is in the minds of those who play with them. But they are eager to forget that they made up the dream in which their toys are real, nor recognize their wishes are their own (T-29. IX.4:4-8).
We can therefore paraphrase Shakespeare's famous line to read: "All the world's a sandbox, and all the men and women merely children." Jesus could not have expressed it any more clearly. Possessed with "the little wisdom of a child" (T-29.IX.6:4), we think the toys of sin—the sandbox games of specialness—will give us what we want: special love will lead to happiness; special hate will leave us peaceful. And yet these sand-filled idols are but shabby substitutes for the truth—wearying, dissatisfying gods that are blown-up children's toys (T-30.IV.2:1) that we insist on playing with, never realizing we are dreaming a world in which the toys of war rule and we are its slaves. The truth, however—we the masters and toys the slaves—remains hidden just beyond these dreams of sin.
Thus we but play at being children. Our decision-making minds are the adults, or the ones with the power, luxuriating in the ecstasy of individuality and ingeniously following the strategy of the ego thought system they have embraced. This strategy demands that we put on the clothes of children and play with their toys, magically hoping that in doing so we can escape the gruesome pain of our mind's guilt-ridden thoughts:
[The child] thinks he needs them [his toys] that he may escape his thoughts, because he thinks the thoughts are real. And so he makes of anything a toy, to make his world remain outside himself, and play that he is but a part of it (T-29.IX.5:8-9).
The true problem, therefore, is that we have made real the guilt in our minds, which in turn establishes that the sin of separation was an actual event, and so the world that arose from this thought must be real as well. As these illusions are accepted as reality, our individual, special selves become solidified in the lie with which we identify so strongly. For that reason, echoing St. Paul's famous passage in 1 Corinthians (13:11), Jesus urges us to grow up:
There is a time when childhood should be passed and gone forever. Seek not to retain the toys of children. Put them all away, for you have need of them no more (T-29. IX.6:1-3).
And he continues in the next chapter:
They [illusions] are but toys, my child, so do not grieve for them. Their dancing never brought you joy. But neither were they things to frighten you, nor make you safe if they obeyed your rules. They must be neither cherished nor attacked, but merely looked upon as children's toys without a single meaning of their own.… Look calmly at its toys, and understand that they are idols which but dance to vain desires. Give them not your worship, for they are not there.… [God's Son's] one mistake is that he thinks them real. What can the power of illusions do?
However, our ears remain closed to this exhortation, for we still yearn for the gifts of specialness, allowing ourselves to be lured by its sirens of seduction. To ensure that it is the voice of specialness we hear and not the Voice of truth, we enlist allies in our campaign. This is one way of understanding why, when the ego made the world, it provided so many opportunities for God's Son to arm himself in the shields of special relationships. Thus he is able to insulate his experience in illusion and protect his separated self from truth's "incursions" into the fortresses of judgment and hate. It is to these "qualified ententes" we now turn, the secret bargains that engender and inform all our relationships, beginning with birth, on through life, and culminating in the body's death—all pointing an accusing finger at our co-conspirators in sin, saying: "Behold me, brother, at your hand I die" (T-27.I.4:6).
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1. The Odyssey of Homer, Richard Lattimore, trans.; Harper and Row, New York: 1965; pp. 186-90; quoted here as prose.