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Hide and Seek

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“It’s a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.” —D.W. Winnicott

As children, we are vulnerable and know it. We hide from bullies, from punishment, from mockery and scorn. No matter how loving our parents, our lives are not in our control, and so we hide to stay safe. But we also hide in order to have our hiddenness acknowledged and respected. I remember running up to my room after some perceived slight, hoping that my mother would notice and worry over my disappearance, but not necessarily that she would find me and force me to talk about my feelings.

 

We hide our treasures, objects whose significance no one else would understand, stand-ins for our sense of ourselves as precious and special. And then there is the diary where we rail against all we can’t control. Of course we label it boldly “Private! Keep Out!” We want others to know that we have something worth cherishing. We may even hope that the right pair of eyes—someday— will want to open the cover and read. 

 

These fears and desires follow us into adulthood, and find their way into our myths. In the tale of Cupid and Psyche, Cupid, god of love, is ordered by his mother Venus to punish Psyche by making her fall in love with a monster. When he himselffalls in love with her, he spirits her away to a secret castle and comes to her under cover of darkness, forbidding her to look on him. This way he can both hide and be found, enjoying an acceptance that bypasses the implications of his divine status and his mother’s commands. 

 

But his secrecy is so provoking (like the label on the diary) that it drives its own discovery. When Psyche dares to steal a glimpse of him by lamplight, he flees, abandoning her. Yet, after many complications, he returns and forces the gods to accept their union. Hiding, but hoping to be found, he finally gained the strength to stand in the light.

 

Buddha, confined by his father within the walls of a palace, escaped to a hiding place of his own choice—the forest and spiritual practice. And who found him as he sat in contemplation, close to the insight he sought? The demon and challenger Mara, who not only saw Buddha, but claimed to see through him, judging him an impostor to wisdom.

 

Buddha’s memory of childhood joy had convinced him that happiness and compassion were innate to human nature, hidden in the heart. Now, in the face of Mara’s attack, he reached out from that secret place and touched the earth, in a gesture of child-like trust that in itself won him the support of the Earth Goddess. He was completing the process of finding himself in relation to a world wider than palace or forest. He was ready to go forth.

 

The game of hide and seek we all play moves us through the fears of childhood to its wisdom: the knowledge that we carry something precious inside us. The game ends when our hiding has given us the courage to share ourselves with the world. It ends when we are ready to be found.

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 
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