Meet the Beast

I am a Gemini. I have always known my soul is faceted, my spirit fragmented in many parts. I am the twins. I am the wise child and the simple son. I am the one who succumbs and the one who resists. I am also a product of a childhood built upon Disney and Tolkien: there is good and there is evil, and they are disjoint and easily distinguished.

And yet, as an adult, I now wonder: how different are they? And am I not both?

In my head, in my heart, I have always fought the good fight: I shall be a champion of goodness and slay evil in every incarnation. I saw the stirrings of darkness in my soul as a child, the anger and fury that spurred undifferentiated rage: the times I yelled and screamed at my parents and siblings, the times I threw things across the room, the times I contemplated suicide and violence and then cried myself to sleep.

I vowed to be good. I vowed to conquer the monster that was myself, to tame the beast within. It became a fire that welled up from the foot of my soul, a conflagration with indiscriminate affect: all it touches shall burn, and I shall rejoice in that destruction.

My beast became the shadow: always present, unable to be obliterated even in the brightest light–and did not the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows?

What can oppress I suppressed within myself: the power to cause harm, the will to fight, the arrogance and anger, the fist and the fury and the endless fire.

And when those shades spoke up, when the shadows slipped through my fingers and darkened the light I fought to uphold, I felt shame and pushed it all deeper.

Sometimes I imagine burning. Feeling that fire erupt from within and engulf all the things around me. The warmth of a summer day and heat of the sun beating upon me.

Sometimes the shadows swell like the sea and I am drowned. And sometimes I swim and swallow the salt and feel the icy depths beckoning me downward. I yearn to sprout wings and spread them, take to the skies and fly to escape the depths of my soul.

And yet, lately, a lot lately, I’ve wondered if I’ve done more harm than good. As Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb emotion: if we hide the pain and anger, we hide the joy and love it comes from. But can I not dull the violent urge without dropping the power of conviction and authority that underlies it?

Last week there was some concern over students cheating on our online supplemental math program. I did a spot check and talked with the students, but none admitted any wrongdoing, and what I could pry from them didn’t give any clear indications either. So I explained to another math teacher that I would let them each take a knowledge check (a periodic test of the topics they’ve learned) and see if it suggested any dishonesty.

The other teacher called me a mushy noodle.

I didn’t disagree.

My first two years of teaching I had a challenging advisory of 18 boys who I couldn’t manage. My practices were inconsistent, I couldn’t demand the respect I needed to be authoritative, and no matter what I tried, my attempt at being firm yet warm only appeared strict and unforgiving. I destroyed more relationships than I built.

For a long time I simply said I was conflict averse, so challenging discipline issues were hard to deal with because I couldn’t bring myself to engage with the present conflict. Or I said I simply favored natural consequences: if you don’t do your work, you don’t pass your classes, and that failure is worse than any punishment I could provide.

Now I wonder if all those years I spent suppressing one side of myself is the reason I’m so inadequate at classroom management: I have pushed it down so far I’m scared of letting it rise up, scared that being strict will cause this dam of shadows to break and all these years of withheld flames to surge forth and destroy the things I love.

It’s the fear of shame, the shame of making mistakes, of not being perfect. It’s the fear that if I try to draw upon the power I’ve pushed down, I won’t be able to control it. Rather than becoming firm to build relationships and support my students, my firmness will only further isolate and belittle them. My intentions will not match my impact.

I’ve been reading a lot about BDSM lately. In some way it seems like if I can understand how power dynamics can be established in healthy, consensual ways I can apply that to my practices in education. And reflecting on what I’ve read, I’ve realized despite my urge to take control and be the one in charge, my dominant side, I’ve trained myself my whole life to be subservient and submissive. Was it a perversion of my years engaged in service learning? Was it a manifestation of my anxiety and low self-esteem as a child? Wherever it came from, switching from sub to dom is a change I find difficult to make.

I’ve also been reading a lot about Kabbalah lately, and it’s ironic how these two things parallel each other: The Bahir, the book of Illumination, describes the creation of the world: that in order to properly give, we must be able to receive; and in order to receive, we must be able to give. Dominance and submission are two sides of the same coin, two sides of the same soul, the same spirit that lies and struggles with itself inside me.

I am a Gemini. I am the twins. I am the dominant. I am the submissive. Yet I struggle to be both. When I’m in control, I’m afraid of losing control–not by becoming submissive, but by acting recklessly and destroying what stands around me. And when I’m not in control, I cannot find my footing and rather than standing upright, I crumble.

It’s a tenuous balance, a tightrope I’m tirelessly teetering upon.

My beast is fire. My beast is fury. My beast is power, pure, raw, unadulterated power. And drawing upon that power scares me. But it’s time I let the beast breathe. It’s time I take my two sides and become whole. It’s time I take the pleasure with the pain. It’s time I take the light with the dark. It’s time I take the fire with the water and find the breath between them: I shall be the wind, the smoke and clouds of fire meeting water.

But where do I begin?

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