“Tiny humans see magic and possibility where big humans only see mess and responsibility. May we see the magic again through their eyes and rediscover all the possibilities life has to offer.” ~ L. R. Knost
A child is excited to wake up in the morning. Open to surprise, she wanders through her home and yard drawn to the next thing capturing her attention. Maybe it’s the dog, or her new magnetic toy, or the bright golden dandelion blooming through the sea of green grass. Each moment is filled with wonder for this young one, a bubbling awe leading her from one fascination to the next. Each moment is an unfolding adventure.
As people depart the wonders of childhood for the predictabilities of life, however, adventure fades. The tedium of responsibilities—going to school, paying bills, buying groceries, cleaning the house, ensuring children do their homework—becomes life. Instead of traveling like an eager explorer along wide-open seas of surprise—taking in the glimmering leaf, imbibing the poetry of birdsong—adults settle for narrower and narrower passages, the same pragmatic passages they navigate every day.
What makes the loss of adventure particularly acute is the diminishment of our senses, our feeling nature. A child attunes to the magic of life not through the limits of rational thought, but through the fluidity of felt experience. The eyes see the moon, the ears hear the raven, but the heart feels the aliveness that bridges the child to both and into their sentience. The heart perceives not from separation, but from unity. It feels the livingness that ensouls, entwines and gives rise to all of life’s seemingly separate parts.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“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. “The child looked up 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 brought my friend into the aliveness of his body, his feeling senses, where he experiences the enchantment of life. The child, in no way shackled by the linear, disconnected routes most adults restrict themselves to, comfortably adventured across the conventional chasm separating seeming strangers and into my friend’s heart. For the child this was no big deal. There is no such thing as “stranger” in the mind of a child, just as there is no such thing as race; such is the openness of their buyout hearts, such is there wonder. There is less, if any, of a wall separating the child from you, the owl, the Cedar; there is less separating the moon from the stars. Children travel freely from one star to the next, from one dream to another, from their heart to yours, across seas upon seas most dare not travel and most separate themselves from.
This is the unbridled spirit of adventure children embody so well—sinuously going where their hearts take them, across seas that have no edges, no limits, into the hearts of others, into the Heart of Existence.
This is the gift children bring—living unscheduled, unbounded by time and space, thus available to the timeless, boundless nature of their spirit. And in this, they invite us into wider winding passages where we become more alive and where the distance between you and I and all of life fades.
From Feeling to Thought
“The pursuit of beauty and truth is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” ~ Albert Einstein
Studies have shown that children in kindergarten, when asked what they are there to learn, responded most commonly with “following rules”. At only five years of age the riverbanks begin to tightly close in on children, narrowing their wide-open seas, squeezing out their instincts, their spirit of adventure. Developmentally inappropriate responsibilities are set early on with academic pressures and excessive homework, while unhealthy amounts of time is spent shackled to desks. They are made to be, as one grade two teacher suggested, “little workers”.
What is especially sad about this is that in our need to push for academia—for intellectual / analytical competency, and at such a young age—children lose touch with their feeling senses, their hearts. The comforts of thinking and rationale the ambitious West gives excessive credence to offers little room for the wildness of heart that experiences life through feeling.
The mental capital of the industrial world generally pedestalizes logic over intuition; it praises knowledge while discouraging knowing; it deifies the intellect while eschewing the deeper native intelligence that lies in the heart.
Intelligence is not the same as intellect. I am speaking of something far more mysterious, more ancient, more embodied, something that is harder to quantify. I am speaking of that which indigenous medicine peoples have relied on for thousands of years to know which plants serve which healing purposes. (They did not use scientific research, obviously; they did not depend on the analytical mind as the main gatherer of information.) In intelligence I am speaking of that which informs us that our child is in trouble without having any prior knowledge of their predicament. I am speaking of the mysterious intelligence that drove Mozart to write his first composition at age five, that inspired the seminal words of Helen Keller despite being deaf-blind, and that sourced the brilliance of Einstein who stated that “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition.” He didn’t say logic was his source of inspiration. In fact, he once wrote that, “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” For Einstein, intuition—in which feeling is its language—is the master, while the rational-logical mind the servant (a useful and necessary servant, but a servant nonetheless!).
Feelings are different than emotions. Emotions are processed through the Limbic system of the brain, and the four most common ones are neatly categorized as sad, mad, glad and scared. Feelings, however, are more subtle, mercurial and mysterious. They speak to us in whispers, gentle or loud nudges, flashes of insight, full-bodied tingling awareness. When these feelings are felt they can stir emotion. A sudden feeling to write a book can produce great joy. A surprise feeling that you should ask someone out on a date may incite excitement and then dread.
Children are born bathed in this feeling state, this deeper intelligence that connects them to their dreams and creativity, to the subtleties and beauty of life. But then eventually they are separated from it and we call this education; we call it preparation for the “real” world. Quickly, we “ready” them; we tell them to “grow up” in many direct and indirect ways. But what we’re really doing is getting them to migrate upwards above the neck away from the ancient wisdom stored in their body, to rise from heart to head allegiance.
To be like everyone else.
“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
Schools, workplaces, Western society as a whole, grants much more faith in the linear-thinking mind despite the clear evidence that we don’t need more successful people in the world disconnected from their compassionate, intuitive hearts; despite the obvious truth that our fulfillment comes not from rationale and analytics but from living whole-heartedly, in heart-felt relationships, following our hearts, speaking our heart-felt truths, creating with our heart’s filled to overflow.
It’s hard to know this, and trust this knowing, if we can’t feel it in our hearts.
We continue to praise thought over feeling despite recent research in neuroscience showing that over 50% of the heart is comprised of neural cells making it a brain in its own right; despite research revealing that 80% of information travels from the heart to the brain via the Vagus nerve, and only 20% travels the other way around; despite research telling us that the heart processes information quicker than the brain.
Aristotle, a student of Plato, knew the heart was master, which is why he believed in a “cardio-centric” model of psycho-biology. The HeartMath Institute has conducted over thirty years of research in neurocardiology with empirical evidence demonstrating that the heart is in fact central to human intelligence. (The three pieces of research I stated in the previous paragraph can be found on their website.)
Thirty years is a long time for this research to be out, yet it’s brief when considering how long and how much the West has been steeped in linear thinking, and what it takes for humans to adapt and live this heart-felt understanding.
And so children are still primarily taught on many clear and insidious levels not to follow their hearts; to leave the intelligence of the whimsical, fluid body for the calculating mind; to essentially become disembodied (which is why so many adults have such a hard time acting on their intuition, unreservedly expressing their creativity, being empathetic with [versus fixing] others, care-freely belting out a tune, and letting loose on the dance floor without alcohol).
Children are groomed to listen to others but not themselves, certainly not to their feelings. Feelings are to be distrusted. We are trained to think out and then over-think our actions and fear spontaneity—to inhibit instinctually acting from feeling.
How much of your childhood were you supported to connect to and express your feelings, your inner truth, what’s really important to you; versus, how much did people tell you what and how to think (and discount your imagination and intuitive gifts)? From my experience of asking this question to countless keynote and playshop participants it seems that for most people they lived their childhood primarily with an external locus of control; they were extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated … and directed towards thinking. Outer influences were more interested in shaping their thinking minds towards “appropriate” endeavors than in engaging their hearts and helping them turn inwards towards their feelings. My non-empirical sense is that external orientation makes up at least 90% of most people’s childhood.
Disconnected from the rootedness of our feeling nature while bound by linear thought and external pressures, we then, as children, invariably fear doing things “wrong”. We worry, we stress…. we think more. We believe that we will most likely to do it “right”, please those around us (according to what we perceive is expected) and avoid being hurt if we calculate and re-calculate our every move, which pushes us further above the neck into the analytical mind. It becomes a vicious circle.
It’s no wonder so many kids today would rather succeed at fitting than fail at standing out. It’s no wonder we are so afraid to feel and be creative.
To no surprise, studies show that children whose primary orientation is external experience more depression and anxiety than those whose orientation is internal. Avoiding feeling, thus avoiding all the wonder and imagination and connectivity that comes from being anchored in our heart, is deeply unnatural and a profound wound or trauma plaguing the collective.
What we call mental illness is largely the result of disassociating from our somatic experiences, specifically our heart and the trauma associated with disassociation. This is the psychosis humans suffer from that’s pervasive in the West, psychosis meaning “split”, a disease of separation.
Domesticated we become, controlled, the stirrings of creativity wanting to shape our lives and direct our purpose bypassed for the secure, predictable, linear routes of reason everyone else quietly complies with, far away from the unknown seas only our hearts can lead us along.
The courage to live an adventurous life
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” ~ Helen Keller
Adventure is lived to the degree that we feel and follow those feelings. Unlike the analytical mind, feelings are highly unpredictable and non-linear. Children, especially when quite young, are far from straightforward in their thoughts, speech, imaginings and movement because they are deep feelers of life; they are wild, full-bodied expressions of their hearts’ unrelenting, meandering magic! The stirrings of their hearts move them like winds move across the sea. These mercurial, winding winds fill and direct their sails in directions only their hearts can know. This makes children naturally adventurous!
We adults can reclaim our spirit of adventure. We do so the moment we grant more power to our feelings than reason, the moment we choose to stand out, no longer living on the edges of conformity, but rather in the center of our creative fire.
By doing so, by following our heart instead of the pack, naturally we become leaders, brave souls willing to lead others towards wider and deeper water simply by our example. And it’s heart-centered leaders our world needs, not another shallow talking head convincing us of untruths, convincing us that the strand of river is the mighty ocean.
But there is price to being adventurous—we fit in less and less. For the more we feel, the less we fit in. It’s often the ones who feel deeply into the world’s pains and possibilities that are our truest leaders, working with one foot in the world and another in the world only the heart knows. Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and other noble luminaries knew something most operate outside of. They perceived with both their physical eyes and with the heart that perceives the “essential”, the essential most have forgotten. On the other hand, it’s often those most disembodied that are our elected so-called leaders, lost they are in the mainstream world of intellectual clutter. They see with their eyeballs, think with their oft-powerful intellect, but struggle to feel and lead from their hearts.
“All of our reasoning ends in the surrender to feeling.” ~ Blaise Pascal
Feeling therefore takes courage. To live a truly outstanding life one must stand out from the rest, to surrender reason for feeling. Historically, however, we can clearly see that this has not been easy, that there have been often dire consequences to living with this spirit of adventure. Certainly in Western societies where we have traditionally eschewed heart intelligence, religious and political leaders have fought tooth and nail to uphold the linear dogma assembling and constituting the status quo. This becomes more evident when we understand how threatening heart intelligence has been to prevailing paradigms, how it has challenged the predominant institutions built from the conditioned linear mind.
There was a time when the Latin word “daemon” circulated freely in our villages. It means one’s calling, guardian spirit, or inner genius. “Eudaimonia”, which contains the Greek version “daimon”, means welfare or happiness. For one to live a happy life, it was recognized that one must honor their inner authority and follow their heart. In the third century, however, the anti-pagan Church eventually caught wind of this heresy and changed daemon to demon to represent something evil, to instill fear and disinterest in self-autonomy, and grant power back to the Church.
Authentic adventure, indeed, was a threat.
By protecting itself, the Church upheld the conditioned linear mind it identified with. And then its leaders didn’t have to do the unthinkable—drop into their soma and feel. And we know what happens when priests don’t tend to their body in healthy and regular ways.
The world has long discounted and persecuted people for letting their heart-intelligence lead, for being distinct in some way. We have burned “witches” at the stake for formulating herbal medicinal brews through intuitive felt-relationships with plants; we have destroyed countless indigenous societies that made this native intelligence foundational to their cultures; and today, school cuts are made to those less-academic, feeling-based programs of art and music, the ones that we deem less essential, the ones that breathe inherent creative intelligence to life; the ones that don’t feed the industrial machine!
…just as we cut play from school, for play, like all the arts, spins creative intelligence to life! And creativity—perceiving / living outside the box and in holistic ways—is a threat to those wanting us to conform to and uphold their own myopic purposes, wanting us to live inside the box!
Are you seeing the pattern? We’ve invested a lot in the box we’ve come to call “the real world”.
Much of our fear of living true to our feelings and of allowing others, including children, to live freely, comes from the inter-generational trauma arising from having our spirits brutally suppressed over thousands of years. The lineage of pain has seeped into the frontier of existing generations, unconsciously forming nervous systems and shaping worldviews. Being bold, outspoken, outrageous in one’s imagination, unconventional in beliefs, wild in dance and song—in other words, living adventurous—is thus a radical act. It certainly was hundreds of years ago, and still is now.
Illustrious artists, scientists and teachers have faced resistance from those trying to oppress their expressions and uphold the predominant ethos. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are clear examples of leaders, dreamers of a new world, killed and persecuted because the monarchies of mind were shadowed by and not ready for their seminal messages.
To a much lesser degree, Janis Joplin, like many other outstanding artists, incurred her own form of resistance. She once told reporters that “some doctor told my mother that if I didn’t ‘straighten up’ I was going to end up either in jail or an insane asylum by the time I was twenty-one.” (How many times do we tell children to “straighten up”?) What a talent she was, just at a time when the world needed her stunning voice, her seductive melodies, her compelling message. Thank goodness she chose not to conform to the linear, narrow passages most comfortably traveled. Thank goodness she chose to live an outstanding, adventurous life … to be wild!
“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” ~ Isadora Duncan
Barbara McClintock, a Nobel Prize winner in 1983 for her work with corn transposons, had, in the early 1950’s, created a rift with the prevailing scientific community when discussing the mutability of genetic structures at a conference. Once a celebrated researcher, she was ridiculed and eventually ostracized by her colleagues. Years later she was finally recognized for some of the most important discoveries about the nature of evolution and life, discoveries that could not have been found without the aid of heart-based holistic intelligence, without her willingness to stand out in her hard-won, heart-felt truth.
The linear minds of the reductive scientific community, comfortable in their narrow routes of research and worldviews, could not accommodate such an adventurous spirit! They were scared of the wide-open seas!
On a personal note, my father, many years ago, could not accept my decision to quit my “secure” job at the financial institution to go traveling (adventure soul-seeking). He wanted me to stay close to the linear and predictable path where he felt safe; to abide by the dream he had for me to be a “successful” businessman, the dream he was living, financial planner he was. Had I listened to his well intentioned but narrowing, fearful advice I would not be writing these words today, nor living my purpose.
(Today, he is fully supportive of who I am and what I do!)
“When you are born into a world where you don’t fit in, it’s because you were born to help create a new one.” ~ Anonymous
By stepping off the line of conformity we find our reason for being here and live the adventurous life waiting for us. Or, as Twyla Tharp once put it, “Creativity is an act of defiance.” We create our purpose when we have the courage to feel our feelings and let them squiggle us away from other’s narrow expectations. Feelings squiggle. Intellect a-lines. This then is the heart of creativity—feeling our feelings, acting on them boldly, thus living our adventurous truth.
Be prepared, though. You will most likely cause others worry or incite anger in them. You may need to disappoint your family and frustrate your teachers to deviate from the tight rope they are accustomed to. In fact, you may frighten them to death! It’s why it takes so much courage to live an adventurous life, and it’s why so few do it.
A telling, and not suprising, research study shows that children who are the most creative are less likely to garner favouritism from teachers than students who conform more to teacher/behavioural expectations. As it is in most school environments, teachers are, as this author points out, “rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system”, and student success is “more an issue of giving teachers what they (want).”
Again, on some unconscious level we fear standing out and being creative, and therefore we deny it in others, in kids. We expect them to fit in, follow the rules and do it “right”. This is the system we live in and comply with.
How many kids have their daemon squashed by parents and teachers who were taught to fear their own; who had to obey and still live by these old fears and rules today? The daemon of a child can be incredibly threatening to the rigid, practical, conformist mind. That’s why we love to ready children for more “reasonable” pursuits. That’s why we are more interested in assessing their art than celebrating it.
Imagine the consequences of raising generation after generation to disassociate from their heart-intelligence, from their imagination, from their innate right to creative expression and adventure, from their longing for wide-open seas…
The counter-culture movement of the sixties, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and the Arab Spring democratic uprising in 2011 were all acts of young people still in touch with their breathing hearts, unwilling to settle for obedience and oppression. It was not so much older people leading these revolutions, set they were in their conformist ways. These brave youth, like so many before, fought for their right to be adventurous spirits; they fought for what was true within, for the undreamt dream, the unlived life. They still felt the tug of what poet William Stafford called the golden thread pulling at their hearts, the insatiable inner desire to weave themselves where longing longs to go, where the heart hungers to take them.
It’s this thread that we must follow if we are to lead others into a felt experience of life, if we are to bring much needed heart into the world. By letting children be children and encouraging them to trust their feelings and ride their creativity, indeed, we go a long way to birthing a new heart-centered world.
Living with uncertainty
“We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” ~ Albert Einstein
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” ~ William Shakespeare, from Hamlet
The story of life that we have been taught to understand and live is just a sliver of reality, yet we take it to be it. Oppressed by the linear mind, we confuse the narrow passageway for the unlimited sea and then teach children to compartmentalize their life force.
Yet, the more we feel into life and lead from our hearts—the more we live as children do so naturally—we discover nothing certain about life. We discover that most of what we have been taught is fiction. Adventure reveals to us in ever widening ways the overwhelming complexity and mystery of life that is never-ending. The moment we think we know, if open enough, we discover there is another truth waiting for us just around the corner.
Writer Frank Herbert wrote, “Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.” The linear mind can never lead us to absolute certainty, try as it does. It believes it can, but belief, in itself, cannot comprehend mystery. Logic, in its orientation to compartmentalization and conclusions, cannot possibly engage the infinite.
Natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka speaks to the need to embrace ambiguity when he wrote, “In nature, a whole encloses the parts, and yet a larger whole encloses the whole enclosing the parts. By enlarging our field of view, what is thought of as a whole becomes, in fact, nothing more than one part of a larger whole. Yet another whole encloses this whole in a concentric series that continues on to infinity.”
“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” ~ Frank Herbert
Mystery never ends. It can never be grasped. Yet logic loves beginnings and endings. It loves things to be neat and tidy and measurable and seen and understood. This is the world we prepare children for. These narrow logical parameters define how we perceive children and teach in school. Yet our myopic logical orientation cannot possibly construct or understand the nature of reality, its waterways unbearably constricting of the vast sea of life our hearts adventure us through.
“Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. This is Zen.” ~ Robert M. Pirsig
Living with adventure thus requires the maturity only a childlike spirit affords—the learner’s mindset, wonder, holding things lightly, immense humility, deep inquiry / questioning of truths, the capacity to live in ambiguity, to trust one’s feelings, including intuition, more than one’s intellect. These are all qualities children espouse naturally and effortlessly, qualities the world hungers for more than ever.
While the industrialized world continues its plight into over-worked, over-scheduled, busy-bee lives, there are a growing number of parents and schools desiring for their children to stay attuned to their daemon. One school I heard of encouraged its students to “follow their spark”. Following is different than molding; it is different than directing. Following allows room for the adventure that the heart-spark naturally wants to explore. Patience is the key, standing back, observing, asking questions, staying attuned, in wonder, listening, offering guidance, but being careful not to dampen the luminous spirit of the child. As Maria Montessori beautifully said, “This then is the first duty of an educator: to stir up life but leave it free to develop.” We can provoke fire with loose parts, art supplies, trips to the farm, but we must eventually trust the intelligence of the fire, the golden thread, the adventure that wants to sail.
To follow a child’s thread we may need to take the risk to forgo the secure routes we think to be life—the ideas of where a child must go, what she should learn, how she should develop, what we perceive as mattering for this child, and in the world. But in following, in being willing to join in their adventure, we may find that their adventure becomes our own. And we may realize that they, in fact, have all along been inviting us with their wild imaginations and expressions further and further away from the safe passageways we always thought to be life, towards wider seas, the seas we once adventured so well.
“It is not the child as a physical but as a psychic being that can provide a strong impetus to the betterment of mankind. It is the spirit of the child that can determine the course of human progress and lead it perhaps even to a higher form of civilization.” ~ Maria Montessori
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults