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Why do we grow up and lose our child-like wonder?

January 29, 2007

This question was posed at Dropping Knowledge. This struck me because I had been pondering this the last few weeks, ever since starting a snowball fight in front of school. At my first snowball zinging past their faces, I saw disgusted winces, but by the third snowball to the back of the head, I found myself lifted into the air and thrown into a snowbank with another in tow stuffing snow down my shirt, all of us giggling like 5 year olds. Immediately after, the others brushed off the snow, grabbed their backpacks and proceeded as normal. I looked for my next fight, which was much more difficult to start. Other than the snow Katie shoved up my nose, I had to settle for romping around with my puppies.

Since then, I’ve been taking notice of the serious lack of silliness. The lack of happiness. And damn it, the lack of closeness. I’ve found myself very isolated in many ways. I can count on one hand the number of people I hug regularly. Same for the number of people who seem to enjoy what they are doing, or who I could call up right now to take off half an hour to play. You hear me, PLAY. When did we stop playing? When did we take on the whole idea of being an adult means I’m mature now, none of that funny business? One might say play doesn’t interest us anymore b/c we’ve developed our mind and thus need more stimulation than that, or some shit. But the look on those friends’ faces during the snowball fight tells me otherwise.

Patch Adams reported that there have been countless studies done on the beneficial effects of humor and friendship, but none have found any benefit to be serious. “Play” has kept him young and helped his patients more than anything. Hell, thats why he runs “clowning trips” not medical missions to other countries. I hope one day to go on a few of those.
Yes that is Patch’s actual fork. He gave it to me at a presentation a couple months ago.

Anyway, this was one of the answers put forth w/ a few side notes from myself-

As we get older we are taught to develop our intellect and our body, but few people recognize the importance of developing a healthy relationship with one’s emotional self. They think the heart is capricious, that it doesn’t remember and that it is like a pet to just feed when it’s hungry, leaving him at home alone the whole day because we are too busy with other things. We do adopt others’ values for our own and we forget the importance of our own emotional truth. We think we need to have careers, be smart, win competitions… and while all of this does contribute to our development, the deepest, truest and most enduring part of ourselves is left ignored and underdeveloped. We even are ashamed to admit sorrow or pain, because we perceive it as weakness, and even when we do express those feelings, they are often misguided: they are directed toward some scapegoat and not at their real deep origin, because we have lost our ability (or willingness) to carefully listen to our emotional memories and find the true root of that emotional truth. (SN: This could not be more true for me. I can’t tell you how many times I have started bawling in my life for reasons unknown. When my grandfather was dying, I honestly thought the next day in school when I started crying, that it was b/c I might have a staph infection.) As children we ARE in touch with ourselves and we are much more perceptive to the world around us. While we may not have a great ability to interpret what we hear, we LISTEN a lot more than we do later on. In fact, later on we learn to “control” ourselves in many ways, but we are all too often told, in essence, to ignore our feelings instead of really understanding and managing them healthily. This is because often the people who are educating us (typically our parents and teachers) are the very ones whose loss of touch with their OWN interior selves causes our very anger or sadness, etc. by their insensitive behavior. And by their inability to listen to themselves, they cannot listen to children, not least since they themselves “learned” as children to ignore their own feelings in order to “listen” (obey) adults. (Organized religions have much responsibility for this “moral” legacy. For example, the 4th commandment in Christianity says, “Honor your Father and your Mother,” which has at least been interpreted as blind obedience to one’s parents as a way to fulfill God’s will.) So they do the same as adults with their own children, repeating the cyle of ignorance (in its truest sense) of ourselves that makes us apathetic to the wonders of the world within and around us. We “learn” to build a wall between our minds and our souls, so that we may not hear the needs of our souls. Those would be love, care, appreciation, and a host of other things that, in the end, can simply be called love. Since every person has had love deficiencies as a child (or even later on), perhaps because no one is born a parent and it is difficult to truly understand a child’s needs when he or she is so unable to express them verbally or anyhow at an intellectual level, every person then still has deep-seated emotional needs that, once adult, he or she chooses to ignore instead of fulfilling. The reason is perhaps that breaking the wall of silence (as Alice Miller puts it) can be extremely painful, and we have a sense of that pain even before we really do look inside ourselves. But if we never have the painful but cathartic experience of liberation that derives from finally recognizing who we really are in our innermost depths, we will never be completely free from our negative emotions and they will emerge eventually, like a covered boiling pot spurting steam, and we will be left with the constant background noise of our emotional instability, which we do, in time, stop hearing because of our selective emotional ears. (SN: I have not always been a silly yet bitter person, you could say I’ve had some trauma that has opened my eyes. I’m glad they happened if only b/c I found me. I just wish it could have been done another way.) But while we shift emotions into the unconscious and still suffer from their negative spurts at times, the lingering inner restlessness does hinder our ability to truly be at peace with ourselves and fully develop ourselves even in intellectual and physical ways. That is because we are one human being, and our threefold identity is but one identy: everything is connected. Thus the discipline and constancy required for any great progress (even in mind or body) will be affected by our emotional instability, just like our body will shake and even faint when we don’t have enough glucose, or our mind will forget notions and lose logical ability when we stop trying to memorize information and exercise our brains.(SN: Mind, body, spirit- thats all I’m gonna say) But since the emotional one is the deepest and most enduring part of ourselves, its subtle power to influence the other aspects of our lives is greater, albeit less patent, than the mind’s or the body’s. For it is possible to be happy though crippled or not very smart – but being athletic and bright does not make one automatically happy. Thus we see how the real cause of conflict (as the expression of unhappiness) rests not only on causes harming one’s physical or mental integrity, but most importantly on one’s emotional health. We lose our child-like wonder because that wonder would make us conscious of the pain and difficulty of recognizing and fulfilling long-standing and deep-seated needs, and it is in our nature to swing between taking the easy path and making a conscious effort to climb the mountain and reach the top. On the whole, however, as Scott Peck has pointed out, human evolution runs counter to the universe’s force of entropy and it has made great progress – and the very fact that we are sensitive to the issue of a lost awe or child-like wonder shows that we are growing (in the real sense). I think we are still largely unconscious of the existence of our emotional self, much less of the need to really understand it and develop it honestly and healthily, but once we are able to do that in a more complete and lasting way, we will make a conscious effort to climb the mountain and be better than we are, because that is our nature. And as we climb, we will slowly regain, among many other things, our child-like wonder, and this greater sensitivity will only help us to be more swift and coscious of our climb and of other things we may have lost besides our child-like wonder, always striving to be a more complete human being. The more we discover about ourselves, the more we realize there is so much more to discover: as Socrates already pointed out some 2400 years ago, he realized that all he really knew was that he didn’t know anything at all, and that the way to arrive at this or any other realization is this: Know Thyself. To understand what he meant we only had to truly listen; and our hearts would have found resonance in his words.

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