Giving up privacy

It’s not that I really mind, having someone else doing our dirty dishes or running after Freya with a toothbrush. I mean, it is my job to earn the money, Yohann’s job to spend it, and our caretaker’s and nanny’s job to clean and to care. This design of our life is as clear as my conscience.

We gotta shape up, now we have eyes watching us practically every minute of every day. Any moment, a person could come to ask something important or enter a room to do something useful, so we should at least try to appear reasonably clean, civilized and busy. Quite an effort for us as I know you know. But you may not know how much we have been practising shaping up the past years, nor that we realised how much it relates to giving up. In fact, I’d not hesitate to say that there is a direct relation between the two (quite a bold statement uh? See, haven’t changed a bit since I left).

More than we imagined, having household staff means giving up privacy (do you also hear a pity violin?). Because there are people around the whole day, there is no place to hide and indulge without being noticed. Believe me I tried. And paid for it. Our caretaker still cannot look me in the eye since the day he stumbled into my room while I was hopping around with my head and arms stuck up a tight dress like a sausage. Or the day I tried to sneak the last biscuit, but after a “mama, wat doe je?” coupled with a pair of stern-looking nanny eyes, ended up baking a tray of cookies because the whole house wished to share in the pleasure, thank you very much ma’am.

Giving up privacy means becoming exposed: not only my love letters, tampons, ‘afkickbeugel’, and old underwear, but also my related shame, guilt, indulgences, and self-centered habits. Already hiding all this stuff became a bit tricky when Yohann moved in, and even trickier when Freya was born, but now we’re promoted to a whole new level.

The thing is: we want to give up privacy and ultimately, we will. Just wait until we have to give birth, fall ill, become old, or die. But we want to give up privacy before life does it for us, because we know that when we do, life will become more wonderful.

It already did in the past. Ever since I ceased worrying about the way my body looks and stopped busying myself with covering up, for example, I am having much more fun with it (and others too). Or since I quit harboring secret thoughts about being the Best Person to raise Freya and worrying about the (in)abilities of our child care providers, I am enjoying with Freya discovering new personalities, new ways, new languages. And me knowing what’s new in your lives can partly be attributed to the fact that I have, each time someone enters the room, stopped flipping neurotically from Facebook back to the Outlook screen.

Fostering pretensions, secret thoughts, and private worries ate up a lot of my time and energy. They also inhibited my ability to have fun, appreciate surprise, and be concerned about others. Instead of avoiding my caretaker’s eyes, I can learn from him that in Nepal, if you do not wish to be offensive, you should lock the door when getting into a straitjacket. And instead of strategizing and fantasizing about the last biscuit, I can bake cookies for everybody, brush Freya’s teeth, and even wash the dishes in about the same amount of time (see where I am going? Shaping uh-up…).

Now, there may be occasions where peeing in public or walking around with a garden on your face actually is an expression of shaping up, as in working with other people’s notions of privacy, but let’s save a discussion about Others for another moment, will we? I am already pretty busy with myself here, as you see.

Alors, La Grande Conclusion: Inherent to the concept of privacy is a dualistic view of reality that perpetuates self-absorption and suffering: holding on to private territory costs effort and disengaging from it is uncomfortable, because it requires letting go of fussing about myself and minding other people instead. Fully giving up the notion of privacy means not having to cater to this dichotomy, means having nothing to disengage from, means less suffering, means having more space for others. Having more space for others, tends to lead to shaping up. And vice versa. We are pulling into the wonder, my friends.

“When are you going to open up, for real?” Chögyam Trungpa asked years ago. “Right now!” I said. Turns out I sortta tend to forget about it (too busy looking busy). Many thanks to our household staff for the reminder! There is no place to hide. That’s as clear as… well, the empty cookie tray on our kitchen sink.

Jeannine Suurmond
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