The Joy of Eve
A reimagining of the ancient story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, part 2 of 3
Feeling our being
A child, slouched on the couch sucking on a bottle and needing a diaper change, can be the same child thirty years later sucking on a beer and needing a shave.
How does that work?
And not just people, things. Grandad’s boat you went fishing in as a kid, when you’re as old now as he was then, might still be ‘grandad’s boat’ despite the tree growing through the hull in the backyard.
We take it for granted that the separate things of our world are the ‘same’ separate things no matter that the qualities defining them have changed, even dramatically. How does that work?
Simple. ‘Things’ are abstractions, just as we are.
They are concepts made up in our heads that have no real currency in the real world. The ‘tree’ in the ‘backyard’ isn’t growing through a ‘hull.’ There is simply life being life.
That’s how our metaphorical Eve might have looked at it, as life being life. She knew her children by smell. By look. By ways of acting. She knew them by feelings, and she responded to those feelings in the same way she responded to the smell of an apple as good to eat, the feel of water as good to drink. She responded to the smell, the look, the feel of her children as something to nurture and care for.
But they weren’t for her ‘things.’ They were feelings that didn’t have an existence separate from her. There was simply…feeling.
That’s all she knew. Feeling.
Ultimately that’s what’s life is! The only way we know…anything…is via feeling. Our senses, vision, smell, taste, our emotions, they are all feelings of one type or another. Even thoughts and memories are feelings, felt in the mind. We feel our world in various ways. We interpret those feelings and call them things like baby, apple, and tree.
But to Eve, before that strange idea of ‘separate’ entered her head, her baby wasn’t a separate thing. It was a smell, a look, a feel that she responded to in a nurturing way.
Once the idea of ‘separate’ came to her, the smell that provoked the nurture response was no longer simply life being life. It was baby’s smell. It was something possessed (another new concept) by that abstracted thing baby. Over time, the smell could change, the look, size, weight, the behavior could all change, but her baby remained, always, her baby.
I read ‘Eve’ as a metaphor for all ‘womankind’ (am I allowed to use that term?). And there may well have been, once upon a time, a kind of tribal/institutional memory of our ancestors, perhaps over generations, learning to understand our world in this new way, with the story of Adam and Eve told to teach this history not as myth, but allegory.
Having learned to parse ourselves apart from the world, we also learned to parse the world apart from itself. And having learned that, we were able to name the parts. (In the Bible, Adam named each ‘living animal of the field and every bird of the air’ before Eve came along, but reimagining here!) The field could have grass. The forest, trees. The river, water. There could be a river, a forest, a field.
It seems obvious, now, but to pull ‘water,’ for example, apart from the feeling we call a ‘river’? To understand that water could still be ‘water’ in a silent pond, a burbling stream, a surging brown river, a sparkling blue lake, a white-capped ocean, all tasting different, all smelling different, all feeling different, cold and warm and frothy and dirty and salty, but…all ‘water’? That’s high abstraction indeed.
We’re taught the notion of ‘separate’ from the moment we’re born. It’s implicit in the way language works. The very structure of language acts to reinforce and perpetuate the idea of things, including ‘me,’ existing as their own things. To define a thing is to make a thing separate and distinct from other things and concepts. But to not be taught the concept of ‘separate’? To have to step-by-step work it out?
It’s like removing the smile from the Mona Lisa.
To even consider that the smile could be separate from the face is a perspective that changes everything. Because if a smile is its own thing, shouldn’t you be able to change it, without changing the rest of the picture?
You can’t, so the smile really isn’t separate. But that doesn’t stop us, somehow, from thinking there is a smile, and a face, which in our minds are each their own thing.
But other than ‘self-awareness,’ what did this new perspective gain us? What did we get out of it…?
The good, the evil, the joy
It’s called the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Scholars often take this to mean the tree of all knowledge or ‘knowing’ in a grand sense. But I think we need to give the old storytellers credit. They knew what it represented. If you can’t separate the good part of something from the bad part, well, there is no bad part. And no good part either. The good and the bad are the same ‘part.’
Expand this to include all the world, and there is no good, or evil. There is just life being life.
Still, it might seem silly to say that before Eve became self-aware, there weren’t bad things in her world. Lions and tigers and bears, for example, small realities of existence in the wild. Oh my.
But no. ‘They’ weren’t evil or bad. It was life being life.
And then Eve learned this new idea. Separate. She learned to draw those lines in her head differentiating one ‘thing’ from another. And that particular fear she had when, say, a cave bear entered her immediate world, was no longer just life being life. Instead, her fear became attached to a particular part of life, to the cave bear. The cave bear became, for her, a bad thing.
Feelings aren’t bad. Feelings ARE. Things can be bad.
Our Eve, having separated herself from her world, could now look upon it and feel the joy of it. The joy of caring for her child. Of the sweet taste of an apple. The grandeur of a sunset. Our Eve could know life in a way she never could before. Her eyes…they could light up!
…on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil — Genesis 3:5
Life was still life, but now she was part of it! And from there blossomed an entirely new understanding of our world…