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Nothing in Nature is Linear, Yet We Push and “Ready” Children Along Straight Pathways

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

“(A) study, titled ‘Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,’ compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art.” ~ The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids | Erika Christakis, The Atlantic
“In the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens. Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used. In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally.” ~ Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm | Peter Gray, via Psychology Today

Children don’t think, speak, move or dream in a straight line. It’s deeply unnatural for them to do so. For it is the ancient, unpredictable, wild impulse of life they still feel, one far from linear.

Children are “closest to God”. They are closest to Nature, to Life.

They bounce, skip and jump down sidewalks, tugging our arms this way and that. They insatiably twist and turn in their sentences, jumping from one idea to another, squiggling from this wide-eyed desire to that fanciful dream. And they do so for very good reason—they, in their pure hearts, are wild and free, not bound by the decorum of straight lines, but liberated as spontaneous expressions of the wild, non-linear nature of existence.

They still feel it

… until they don’t.

Tell me… what is one thing in Nature that is linear? Leaves? Nope. Flower stems? Nope. Tree trunks? Nope. Rivers? Nope. Galaxies? Nope. DNA? No, again. They all move in twists and turns, just as children do—in ancient spiral patterns. The blood that flows through our veins does not travel in a direct, linear motion, but in a spiral fashion, just as water moves down a drain, for that is the most efficient way for these liquids to move. The air that graces our lungs also propels itself in a spiral motion; hence respiration—we are literally re-spiraling air into our lungs with each inhale.

Nothing in our natural world is linear, and yet, in the West, we just love to “straighten kids out”. We make them linear in body and mind, and against their very nature.

We are feeling creatures that think, not the other way around

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.” ~ E. E. Cummings

“Readying” is one way we sequester kids to the tight rope. We usher them along fast tracks of A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s. We unnecessarily ask them to gather in straight lines, to sit neatly in rows and raise their straight arms in the air in obedience and conformity. We expect them to learn through didactic, uninform, standardized, developmentally inappropriate pathways. The excessive ways we do this go against what’s intrinsically true to their spirit, and the spirit of life.

Let’s not forget that the right brain develops first. Yes, that non-linear hemisphere much more interested in the unquantifiable aspects of feeling, empathy, intuition and imagination develops by the age of 4; yet the linear, logical, calculating, analytical mind doesn’t come online until the age of 7.

Take that in for a moment, because it has significant implications.

The right brain is primary in our development for a reason: Our immeasurable essence and interconnectivity, which the right brain bridges us to, is the seat of our existence. Logic, or linear thought, is secondary. It is meant to serve that state of being, not be the master. Thinking is meant to serve feeling, or felt-sense.

We are human beings, not human doings. It is our unbounded being that the right brain intimately knows.

Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was the quintessential analytical left brain scientist. But one fateful morning, her strong proclivity for rational thinking would dramatically change. As she explains in her inspiring book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Taylor, in 1996, while in her mid-thirties, and at the peak of her career, had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Within a matter of four brief hours she observed a complete deterioration leaving her unable to “walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of (her) life.” She became heavily imbalanced in her cerebral processing towards the right hemisphere.

With the rapid dissolution of left brain capacity, Dr. Taylor, as she knew herself to be, was emptied into a cosmic sea of consciousness. “I was not capable of experiencing separation or individuality”. There was no compartmentalization of us and them, this cup and that chair. “Everything in my visual world blended together, and with every pixel radiating energy we all flowed en mass, together as one.” She was the ocean, the fluid and mysterious body of existence, and was no longer the individual wave. She was the grand picture of life, rather than a single colorful pixel of its own distinct image. “I sensed the composition of my being as that of a fluid rather than that of a solid. I no longer perceived myself as a whole object separate from everything. Instead, I now blended in with the space and flow around me.”

She went on to say that an “unforgettable sense of peace”, “euphoric nirvana” and “loving compassion” pervaded her whole unfathomable being. “Life! I am life!”

Let’s take our understanding of feeling and non-linearity a step further.

Via the Vagus Nerve, 80% of information travels from the viscera to the brain, and only 20% of information goes the other direction. In other words, what you feel—those intuitive, instinctive impulses—in your heart and gut is real. They are always communicating to your brain via afferent nerve fibers, much more than your brain is communicating to your viscera. Indeed, the heart and gut are brains in their own right, deeply intelligent organs that gather, process and emit vast amounts of information.

There is truth in feeling. I regularly ask my participants the very rhetorical question: Who here loves their children? Of course, those with children all quickly raise their hands. I then ask: How do you know? Do you believe you love your children, or do you just simply know? They all know. Knowing is not about thought, however. How do you know? They point to their viscera—their heart, their gut—and say, I feel it.

For them, there is no doubting this felt-knowing or felt-sense that is much deeper than emotion. Children don’t doubt it either. How many young children say, “I believe…”? It’s rare to hear those words come out of a child’s mouth. Rather, they just speak their truth. They, in their embodied state, rely less on belief to make sense of the world, and more on felt-knowing. And that’s because they are good at feeling. They trust their heart and gut.

Feeling is intrinsic to our nature, and it is what matters in our dying breaths—did we love, did we offer kind compassion, did we listen, did we connect—all feeling functions the right brain and body help us process.

We are not “thinking creatures that feel”, Dr. Taylor reminds us, but rather, “biologically we are feeling creatures that think.” Again, feeling is primary. We are born feeling deeply and we die feeling deeply, often in regret.

It is from the non-linear domain of feeling that our greatest treasures arise. Logical / linear thought serves to make those feelings practical and turn them into form. It concretizes the unseen, turns it into visible, usable parts.

Logic is not the “bad guy”; it’s just not primary in our nature. Imagination and intuition have existed since the beginning of time, yet reading, which logic handles, has only been around for 6000 years. We’re naturally wired to feel and dream, not read.

Albert Einstein stated that, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” He also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

The right brain takes us places the logical mind cannot fathom; it takes us beyond the limits of form. It senses the intelligent space between, which is where creativity emerges from, and reveals the nuance of life, the deeper ground from which all things emerge and where all things unite. As Dr. Taylor reminds us, the right brain is “not capable of experiencing separation or individuality.”

Young children know that space intimately. It’s why they gaze into a stranger’s eyes and so easily lose themselves in a leaf. They feel something we have forgotten, that space between that doesn’t separate you from I.

“Walking to the library this morning, I passed on the sidewalk a little child, maybe two years old and his mother”, wrote a friend of mine. “As I neared, the child looked at me, his eyes so alive and present, and when I said ‘Hi’ he stooped and picked up a soggy leaf from the ground and handed it to me. Oh, the abundance and beauty of this world!”

For a moment, this child reminded my busy friend of our indivisible nature, and the joy and “loving compassion” inherent in it. He temporarily woke my friend up from the slumbers of separation and mentation.

“Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.” ~ Ritu Ghatourey

The presence of children that connects them to a leaf, to you and me, to mystery, is still reverberating in their bodies. The unbounded joy of being that our right brain connects us to saturates them. The anticipating, worrying, calculating, planning linear mind has yet to fully take hold and lead them to past and future, to narrowing on this and that, where adults place their attention mostly (at least 90% of their day).

Adults unwittingly spend most of their lives trying to return to that joyful, connected, present state their right brain and feeling bodies attune to; they do so through sex, work, drugs, competition, materialism, technology, all sorts of busyness; they try in futility to tilt back from left to right, from thinking to feeling, not realizing that disembodied logic is leading the way, logic that keeps them from feeling life.

Linear minds love a measured existence

“I would rather live in a world where life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” ~ Harry Emerson Fosdick

The West loves linearity because you can measure straight lines, not squiggly ones. We, as adults, find far more security in convergent (versus divergent) thinking and predictability—in knowing what specifically our little Johnny is learning and doing today and where he is going tomorrow.

A classroom full of cookie-cutter crafts hanging from the walls gives us greater comfort than a messy room with papers, pens, felts, paint and glitter strewn all over the tables and floor. Preparing children to get good grades and enter that esteemed university, to be good “little workers”, eases our anxiety far more than letting them playfully wander and wonder down sinuous, “unproductive”, right-brain, heart-felt roads.

The concreteness of product and outcomes will always win out so long as the linear mind leads the way. That’s because the linear mind, which adults depend on so heavily, breaks life down into parts—parts that can be counted, weighed, graded, shaped. It takes the immeasurable infinite—mystery—and makes it finite, knowable. It discriminates the multiplicity of objects that make up our experience of life, helping us experience ourselves as a part and apart.

That’s its job, as already stated—to separate, concretize, categorize and organize life into pieces of information—and it does it brilliantly. Except, when overused, the mystery of life is not experienced. It is forgotten. A raven is objectified; a plant is reduced to a science. We perceive and make sense of life through analytical reductionism. The deeper land-based, holistic wisdom and intelligence indigenous peoples live is bypassed, not felt; again, forgotten. Nature is turned into a static backdrop instead of an intelligent teacher, a medicine, a dear old friend.

Indeed, when overused, logic reduces life to things, hence the West’s obsession with materialism and consumption, and our addictive tendencies. We are desperately trying to accumulate and use parts as a means of compensating for lack of connection. It’s lack of connection that fuels addiction, connection to self, others and life.

In John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes’ book, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, they speak to what happens when logics governs education, and how connection must precede learning: “According to (the white man’s) definition of a good education, students are trained to think analytically. Analysis fragments learning into discrete subjects; it encourages narrow specialization in a single field. In Native American culture, by contrast, they study the interconnections of the entire ecosystem. ‘Seeing in a sacred manner’ means perceiving interspecies links. The word for ‘prayer’ in Lakota is wacekiye, which means ‘to claim relationship with’ or ‘to seek connection to.’ To the Lakota people, the cosmos is one family. To live well within the cosmos, one must assume responsibility for everything with which one shares the universe.”

With logic in command and a lack of embodied feeling we live fragmented, struggling to attune to the connecting space between and within that infuses life and meaning into form. It’s why children get so bored now, whereas in the past, they would have more easily found joy in the simple pleasures in their backyard, or nature. Their sensory gates have closed in large part due to excessive linear studies, technology over-stimulation, sedentary lifestyles (disembodiment), and less quality time with family. Their minds are busy and distracted, wanting one more thing—fragment—to grasp. Their bodies are closed from intimately knowing life. Boredom sets in. They cannot feel into life, into “the interconnections of the entire ecosystem.” Technology provides their poor substitutes for “interspecies links”.

Surface hides depth, literalness hides meaning, fragments hide interconnectivity, a depth, meaning and interconnection only feeling can take us into and that is essential to our fulfillment.

“I suspect that the child plucks its first flower with an insight into its beauty and significance which the subsequent botanist never retains.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Weakness is an overused strength; and that is what logic has become in the West. And so instead of trusting the process of play to lead a child in learning, adults prefer the quantifiable nature of nuts-and-bolts academics; instead of allowing children to move at their own pace and determine their outcomes, we lay out a prescribed, defined map, one that fits all.

In wanting kids to count, adults so easily forget what counts!  

It’s what a disembodied, linear culture values. Product over process. Outcomes over presence. It’s why we like our testing and grading system. It’s why we like the predictable uniformity of standardization. It’s why art and music programs are first to be removed when there are school funding cuts.

You can’t measure art, after all!

It’s why we ask kids to line up when, really, they’d be just fine all clumped up, messy, like nature itself. It’s why we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, when they are far more interested in the toy in front of them.

Ah, the lure of the future… the lure of control…

It’s why we teach “scissor skills” in kindergarten—we expect children to cut along a straight line on a piece of paper, despite the anxiety, the fear of doing it wrong, that naturally emerges in our vulnerable little ones. When I asked one kindergarten teacher why not just give a child a blank sheet of paper and let her cut wherever she wants, “Well,” she said, “you can’t assess that as easily, and therefore report it.”

You cannot measure squiggles!

With non-linear learning, their progress, our understanding of children, cannot be quantified and thus grasped. Again, this makes us uncomfortable, and we certainly don’t like to feel uncomfortable. We don’t like to feel!

It’s in grasping that a linear mind feels secure—something to hold onto, something tangible, something with defined edges, something to count. Remember: logic sees in concrete, separate parts, not the whole. It’s in controlling those pieces, including children, that an adult feels secure—because our security depends on our children’s security. Children are treated like an extension of our own ego. A parent tells a child to put on a coat so the parent feels warm. Their future makes our present a little easier. Their organized behaviour makes us feel more in order. Their good grades make us feel worthy.

We can grasp good grades, but not the arts or music!

We turn kids into an image of ourselves, and do so unconsciously. Our curriculum and school model is then built on this unconscious grasping and projection, this linear mindset—this inability to feel. Indeed, for centuries, in and out of the classroom, we’ve made children into a version of ourselves. We’ve turned them into “little workers”, pieces to manipulate.

“Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw materials – children – are to be shaped and fashioned into products… The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of 20th century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.” ~ Ellwood P. Cubberley, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, 1898

We control what is natural and insist that it be linear, and turn kids into our own image and likeness, to such a degree that we call play “the work of children.” How else could play possibly be respected? By calling it “work” it’s a lot more quantifiable, isn’t it? And that appeals to logic (and the government). Now play is practical, outcome oriented, productive. We can do something with play, versus simply enjoy it.

Human being, not human doing, right?

It’s true, in so many ways way we’ve objectified children just as we’ve objectified play by turning it into work; just as reductive science objectifies plants and ravens, and greedy, myopic minds see nature as inert, lifeless material to exploit and commodify. It’s what disembodied logic does—turns fluid life into compartmentalized pieces it can make rational sense of and ignorantly consume, while forgetting and devaluing the unfathomable intelligence that infuses and makes each aspect sacred and alive.

“We shall see but little way if we are required to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! How many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile?” ~ Henry David Thoreau

In our attempts to straighten kids out, what’s forgotten is that the world is increasingly becoming unpredictable and chaotic. It is becoming harder and harder to grasp, to make sense of. Even more reason to let children settle into the unpredictable joys of play and non-linear learning. Even more reason for children to acquaint themselves with the wisdom held in mystery. For, as Marc Bekoff reminds us, “Play is training for the unexpected.” It is a means in which children stay attuned to the intelligent space between the swirling, chaotic pieces logic will increasingly struggle to make sense of.

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.” ~ Sandra Carey

It’s wisdom, not more disassociated rationale, that will change our world for the better, wisdom found in the space between and within, the flickers of soul intelligence felt in the body.  

The problem is that as the world continues to spiral into insanity, linear minds get more and more frightened because they don’t know how to control it. This then makes logic want to ready children—to control them—even more.

It’s a vicious circle, one causing children a tremendous amount of anxiety. They try to be themselves through their playful curiosity and wild instinct, but are pushed and readied against their essential nature. They attempt to move their little hands and toes to get just a bit of life energy flowing, but are quickly told they are fidgeting and to sit still. They long to dream, to imagine themselves big and bright, but are told to be realistic.

Research suggests that children who are the most creative are less likely to garner favouritism from teachers than students who conform more to teacher/behavioural expectations.

“What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Again and again, we push kids back onto the straight lines of readiness and order, and when their logical minds have yet to fully develop. They then get what’s called “learned stupidity.” Straight-line academics are imposed when they are younger than seven years of age, before their left brain has fully developed and can handle such straight-cut learning paths.

Indeed, we are diminishing the worth of children line by line, each line another bar in the prison we expect them to sit still in. And the more we push and promote and teach that which can be measured, the more kids grow up feeling like they don’t measure up.

Linear thinking and trauma 

Teaching children to become strong thinkers without supporting them to ground that thinking into the depth of feeling is both dangerous to the child and the world. We do not need more disembodied intellects leading the world, but deep feelers of others, Earth and life.

The linear mind becomes predominant in our worldviews as we disconnect from the wild, unpredictable nature of our feeling bodies. While we can calculate and analyze with a level of controlled determination, we cannot as easily control the fluid nature of our feeling bodies.

How many of us were explicitly or subtly taught that it is not safe to feel—emotions and/or intuition? The West is full of bodies that were once denied their instincts in favour of mentation. This is the disembodied, intellectual, rational culture we live in. It’s why we are so afraid of dancing and singing; it’s why so many doubt their creative capacity. We have lost touch with and no longer trust our irrational, audacious spontaneity, the instincts in the body where feeling and creativity arise from.

This is the nature of trauma—a “disease of rhythm”, as somatic psychotherapist Mariah Moser appropriately calls it. It is truncated life force energy, energy that can no longer flow as it once did. The natural, wild rhythms of life force surging through our bodies and minds causing us as children to express with (non-linear) abandon are frozen, making us rigid, irresponsive to our somatic impulses. Up from the fluid body we travel into the controlled, linear mind. We straighten ourselves out to best fit in, be safe, gather approval from parents and teachers. We be good and get good grades. We smarten up. We stop feeling in order to fit in, or survive.

Feeling—our squiggly, unpredictable nature—becomes dangerous. The predictability of linear, analytical thought—of certainty and control—becomes our safe haven. We hide behind the comfort of our plans instead of welcoming in the spontaneity of feeling, including emotion.

This traumatized or split state then influences how we parent and teach. We ensure our children tow the line, behave, learn their ABC’s and 123’s, be “realistic”, “don’t cry”, “be strong”, such that they fit in and “succeed” in the “real world”, a world ruled by the laws of linearity and separation consciousness.

Again, we turn children into our own image and likeness.

Sadly, as we separate children from their instinctive nature—their innate rhythms of feeling, thinking, moving, speaking and dreaming—we separate them from life. Disconnected from their bodies, they separate from the larger body of Mother Nature; they separate from the dreaming Earth. Unable to feel the rhythms of their heart, they cannot feel the pulse of life.

For a child, the two—inner and outer—are deeply enmeshed. There is no separating the impulses of feeling from the rhythmic waves of life. There is no separating instinct, including imagination, from the larger instincts of the Universe. They are one, pure, breathing system.

Through feeling we sense the whispers of life wanting to find us. Through feeling into our bodies and having our right brain fully online, not overburdened by linearity, we attune to our soulfulness and inner guidance—the guidance we need children listening to and following if they are to fulfill their purpose for being here; if they are to share the gifts they were born to give; if they are to help us birth a new world.

It is only through intimately knowing their interconnection with all of life—a connection and knowing only “groked” through feeling—that children grow up with empathy for others, and our planet. They are less inclined to perceive nature as being separate from themselves—they are less likely to objectify it—because their right brain and bodies are engaged. Children are then more likely to grow up respecting and protecting life, being advocates for compassionate action towards humans, animals and all of life.

They grow to be the leaders we are waiting for at a time when embodied leadership is most needed.

“Grown men can learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things that older people miss.” ~ Black Elk

In conclusion

“The most important thing you can do for your child is to heal your own stuff so that she can get on with being herself.” ~ Anonymous

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: Until we look deep into ourselves, into our pain and suffering, into our history and trauma, and begin our healing journey, we will continue to blindly push children along pathways we, ourselves, cling to from fear and trauma. We will continue to treat them as we treat ourselves. And we will continue to call this education, when it is, in truth, a deep disrespect to the human spirit, a colonization of the soul. We will confuse normal with dysfunction, and then be confused why children increasingly suffer and are force-fed toxic medication, and why our world continues to spiral into insanity.

Change begins within. We make way for and nurture the uniqueness of each spirited child by first becoming intimate with our own non-linear nature, and the trauma that stands in the way.

This is the work each of us must courageously embark on if humanity is to have a future. We must free ourselves from the frozen, linear states fear and trauma trap us in.

Vince Gowmon presents keynotes and playshops and offers somatic Life Coaching in person, on Skype and over the phone. For more of his writing, subscribe to his free e-newsletter.

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Related training:
Remembering to Play ~ Inspiring Joy, Freedom and Self-Care
Keynote topics

Related reading:
The Adventure We Long For Lies in our Childlike Heart and in Feeling the Unexpected
The Right Brain Develops First ~ Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning
Remembering the Wildness You Are
We Over-Educate Children Because We Over-Think and Are Afraid to Feel
Your Fears and Beliefs Create the Edges of a Child’s Playground, and Your Own

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