Children are closest to God
It has been said that children are closest to God. Whether you believe in any kind of God or not does not really matter. What we can all agree on is that children embody purity, love and freedom. They move and engage with lightness, abandon and gentleness. They live with what seems like an inexhaustible amount of energy that is incredibly vital, curious and imaginative. In a nutshell, they live and express themselves with far less fear than adults do. They live lovingly as free Spirits!
Our Spirit, our authentic Self, the God within, in my opinion is not fearful. Fear is part of the existing human condition. The ineffable Spirit we are all a part of lies beyond the fears of the human condition. This vast Orchestrating Intelligence, Buddha Nature, or Beingness as it is sometimes called, is infinitely loving, infinitely abundant and infinitely joyful. This is the God I know, and it is the God that children are closest to. It is the God that they embody and express so fluently. And it is the God that most of us eventually lose touch with as we grow out of childhood.
Fear is separation
Fear is born when we experience ourselves as separate from the Loving Source from which we came; separate from the womb of eternal existence; separate from who we authentically are—from Love. In being born into this world, we increasingly say Yes to the human condition; but in doing so, we simultaneously say No to a deeper and truer understandings of who we really are. Our intimate and intuitive sense of the Loving Source within, of Life, gradually fades into the shadows of our consciousness; and within those shadows lies the face of fear.
As we grow into our teen years and adulthood, fear perpetuates and becomes a natural and learned response that we identify with. The collective consciousness of humanity at this time is tilted much more towards fear than love—more towards feeling separate than connected. We are still, for the most part, asleep to the infinite power of love that resides within, and determined, in our fearful state, to accumulate earthly power as a replacement. Children eventually grow to become expressions of this ubiquitous fear and search for power, and succumb to its many faces including greed, doubt, shame and guilt.
Ultimately, we are not separate. Underneath the surface of the human experience we are all interconnected and at one with the Creator. Underneath the seeming separateness of the individual waves of the ocean lies the vast body of water from which each wave arises. As part of the human condition, each of us acts as if we are only a wave, except children (and some adults) who still feel and identify with the depth and entirety of the Ocean. They are not fully identified with being a wave, and thus do not experience themselves as completely separate from God, and from other waves or sentient beings. It is why they fear less, and connect so freely and beautifully with others and Life
We project our fear onto children
Children demonstrate being closest to God by choosing love over fear—love of self and others. A child does not think she is overweight until someone points it out to her. She does not know the word “fat” until it is projected onto her and she takes it on as a belief. A child does not think he is incompetent until someone causes him to feel this way. Until that point, he believes anything is possible. A child does not know anger is bad until someone tells her to stop being so inappropriate. Until then, she loves her anger enough to give it room to breathe. A child does not think black or white people are bad until someone says they are. Until then, she sees and loves everyone equally. She is not afraid. She is not afraid to love herself and therefore others.
Adults, in their conditioned state, unconsciously transfer or project their learned fears—doubts, anger, shame and guilt—onto children. Children act as powerful vibrant mirrors that reflect back the limiting beliefs and fears adults harbor within. Whatever we have learned to fear, to say No to inside, we will eventually say No to in our children. As we protect ourselves within, we project without.
We cannot hold space for a child’s abundant nature to the extent that we have learned to judge our own. We cannot say an emphatic “Yes!” to their wild dreams to the degree that we have been taught to keep our dreams in check. Our social restraints become their social restraints. Our inner talk becomes their inner talk. Our limiting beliefs become their limiting beliefs. Our clouded state of consciousness, our collective story, becomes their state and story. Our fear pulls them into its shadows, and the Light of their Inner Truth is forgotten.
We are whole and complete
Children love until they are taught otherwise. They love themselves enough to be okay with their body, capabilities and feelings until they are taught to doubt and sublimate themselves. Core beliefs such as I am not (good) enough, I am not worthy, I am inadequate, I am not valuable, I am not loveable take shape in, and fragment, the child’s psyche. They unconsciously shape the child’s present and future experiences, and cause so much suffering in her life. These beliefs, these core fears, are part of the current human condition on our planet, and they impede our ability to make empowering choices and create fulfillment.
We look everywhere for fulfillment except within ourselves. We look to the world to fill what can never be filled from external sources. We have forgotten that we are already whole and complete, and wonderfully loving and joyful already! It is our natural state. We are the Ocean after all! We are the vastness of God! We already have everything we need to be happy.
We intrinsically knew and felt this as children which is why we could be happy for no reason. And now we must look to children to remind us of this—of what we, deep inside, already know and have within.
Children are our teachers
Children are our inspiring teachers that continuously and creatively invite us back into our heart, and back into the essence of Life. They are the Gurus that we awaken to in the household, classroom, after-school program and park. They, in their enLightened state, teach us to re-think what we call “reality”. They call upon us to reconsider what is important and what really matters. They teach us by beautifully demonstrating how to live with less fear and more love.
When I see an adult and child together I often smile and wonder, who is the teacher and who is the student. Who really is here to teach whom? While we adults continue to formulate and dispense concepts for worldly living that we deem important, children fearlessly take a stand for that which can never be measured. They embody essential qualities that can never be structured or evaluated. Little do we know that our need for so much structure (at home, school and work) stems from our fear of letting ourselves fall into the ineffable, the mystery, that we once so abundantly graced; it stems from our fear of giving up control and giving ourselves back to the vast unknown Ocean; and it stems from our fear of feeling, expressing—of being—the infinite Love that we are.
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Fearless = fear less and love more
Before you read the 12 Ways Children Live and Love Fearlessly below, it is important to state that children are not fearless. Children, no matter how young they are, have fear because it is simply part of the human condition. They just have less fear than adults do for reasons already stated. So when I say “fearless”, it is my way of saying they live with less fear, and more love!
Moreover, children differ in how they express their fearlessness and fears. For instance, Jill may be much more comfortable climbing trees than Scott. But Scott may love letting spiders climb all over his body, while Jill, in seeing them, runs the opposite direction. How open, free and expressive children are will vary from one child to the next. But in general, children, in my opinion, are more fearless in living and loving than adults are. Here are 12 ways this is so.
12 Ways Children Live and Love Fearlessly (and Teach Us to Be/Do the Same!)
1. Being Present
Children live in the present moment, unencumbered by thoughts of what they “should” be doing otherwise. They beautifully lose themselves in whatever it is they are doing, with their senses fully engaged.
If you were to spend enough time alone and in silence, you would realize how much your mind is cluttered with thoughts, and how so many of those thoughts are based in fear. Fear is always trying to pull us out of the present moment with its worries, to-do lists, anticipations, self-judgments, doubts and more. Most of these thoughts are fictional, and unnecessary distractions aimed at leading us away from the present moment and what really matters.
Fear says, “This moment is not enough!” Giving us an endless litany of thoughts and images is how it justifies this belief. But what fear is really saying is, “You are not enough!” It is not enough to simply enjoy this moment, to simply to be—to be present; to lose ourselves in presence.
To be present is to embody presence. Presence is not something we do. It is who we are beyond the limited body and mind. It is the experience of embodying the Ocean. The conditioned mind cannot fathom this (nor does it want to), so it distracts us from giving ourselves to the moment, to the stillness and power of our presence. It is one of reasons why so many people struggle with silence and solitude, and always feel the need to do something and fill in the gap. We have forgotten how to be present, in stillness, away from the noise and chaos of the ocean’s surface—the clutter of the mind.
A child’s mind does not have the fearful clutter that adults have. She is not pushed and pulled by endless waves of discursive mental noise. It is why she can appear so quietly consumed and content in her activities. She knows without question that she (and her activity) is more than enough. She feels it; she knows it. This understanding does not come from thought, but rather through intuiting her deeper Self.
It is this awareness, this feeling, that we long to sense again. We long to know that we are something bigger than our individual wave. We long to imbibe the still presence of the Ocean as we did when children.
2. Emotional Expression
We have been taught that certain emotions are appropriate or welcome while others are not. These limiting beliefs have compartmentalized or fragmented our Self, and specifically, our vast emotional landscape. It’s good to be this, but bad to be that. It’s safe to be this, but not that. A child doesn’t believe this yet which allows her to travel the wholeness of who she is.
If a child is hurt physically or emotionally she feels her feelings fully, often like it is the end of the world! And after a few moments (or minutes) of crying she moves on completely. She no longer holds a grudge, nor milks the sore ouie, because she got to feel what she was feeling—fully!
There is no shame or judgment in her mind, no ideas about what is and is not appropriate. That is because there isn’t a belief that says No to what wants to authentically arise. There isn’t a belief that causes internal separation from Self…until there is; until we teach her how she should and should not be, directly and indirectly, based on our past conditioning; based on the fears we have of our own emotional landscape.
3. Asking For What They Want and Saying “No!”
I love how clear and honest children are in their self-expression. They have no hesitancy saying how they feel, what they think and what they want. “I want green juice and pancakes.” “I don’t like that.” They blurt freely and candidly, and point out the obvious — “What happened to your hair?” — while others notice, but stay silent. That is the gift children bring. They teach us to be true to ourselves and others, and because we know their intention is not to harm, we receive them lovingly and with a chuckle!
Children also hold no guilt or shame when saying “No”. No means no, not maybe. Their voice is clear and concise, and offers no explanation or justification (like spitting out food they don’t like!). There is no fear attached to their words.
Children also don’t think they need to use words properly, or even use real words at all. A friend told me how a child was trying to communicate to her that he didn’t understand something, but was unable to find the right words. So instead he said, “Ummm…thinkless”. What an intuitively descriptive and accurate portrayal of his experience! He didn’t care if it was a word. What mattered more was that he expressed what was within, and he did so, as my friend said, with weightlessness.
Children can express themselves fully and freely because they have yet to be indoctrinated with fear-based beliefs such as “It’s bad / selfish / wrong to put myself first”, “I am to be seen and not heard”, and “This is the proper way to speak”. They have no beliefs that act as a filter to their authentic voice. They stay true to themselves without any thought of selfishness and without inhibition.
This freedom of expression not only allows children to speak clearly, but immediately as well. They express their thoughts and feelings in the moment as they bubble to the surface. Adults, on the other hand, wait one year before sharing their disgruntled feelings, which of course annoys the other person!
4. Movement / Dance
I know from presenting enough Remembering to Play playshops that dance / creative movement is one of humanity’s great fears. We feel a tremendous vulnerability in letting our body lead, in surrendering to its creative impulses. Hence our need for alcohol: Unless I have a good buzz going, no one and nothing will get me onto that dance floor!
I recently watched two little ones dance to a busker’s music. A semi-circle of adults stood in the background watching, smiling…. and checking their smartphones! While some adults engaged in movement (in-between texts)—tapping their foot or slapping their hand on their thigh—the children danced freely as if no one was watching. There wasn’t one limiting thought in their mind that prevented them from doing so. They were in their bodies, listening to and acting upon its impulses.
Our resistance to dance and creative movement stems from being disconnected from the natural embodied state we once thrived in as children. Children trust their body because they live more in their body and less in their head. They are not afraid to climb high walls, walk along railings, hang upside down from tree branches, and stand on top of the monkey bars. They are not afraid to move with the creative impulses of their body. While we cringe in the background and yell, “Be careful!” thirty times a day, they have full confidence in their abilities, and specifically, in their body.
In our pursuit of knowledge we have lost contact with the body of knowledge that lies beneath the head. It is where the wild, reckless and free fool resides, the one that loves to let herself go, follow her intuition, and surrender to the naturally fluid and spontaneously expressive state that she is.
5. Body Image and “Private Parts”
This YouTube video wonderfully depicts how children fully accept their body, and how adults easily find flaws in their own body. It reminds me how, as stated earlier, a child has no labels or expectations for her body until they are projected onto her either from people or the media. She is happy with how she looks, which is an extension of being happy with who she is. This makes it quite easy for a child to run around naked without any thought of how she looks. Nakedness may in fact feel more natural to her than having clothes on. After all, she was born naked into the world.
Nakedness is simply a metaphor for vulnerability, for openness, and yes, fearlessness. There is nothing to hide behind, nothing to protect oneself with. We are free to be as we are.
The comfort children have with their body is also indicated more specifically by their relationship with their “private parts”. Children do not have the shame adults have around their genitals. They scratch and fondle themselves in public without a care in the world. Their comfort is also displayed by their willingness to call their penis a “penis”, or their vagina a “vagina”. They do so without any embarrassment if raised with a mature understanding of their body. We have become so disconnected from our bodies that we can’t even teach our children the proper names for our genitals. Hence the popular euphemisms wee wee, tootie, front bottom, and doody! Children do not need these substitute names. Only we do!
It is my opinion that as we learn to live with less fear and more love—as we learn to become childlike again—we will naturally, by extension, come back home into our bodies, and have less shame about our sexuality and physical appearance. We will be like the children in the video, comfortable with our bodies, and the feelings within them. (And we will have less judgment and fear about breast-feeding in public!!)
6. Artistic Expression
Some of the most common beliefs shared in my playshops are, “I am not an artist”, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”, and “I don’t know how to draw”. A child does not have these beliefs. Every child knows that he is an artist. That is because we are born Creative Spirits. We are Creators, born to create our lives. It is our natural impulse!
A child has not forgotten this. She still feels, and is receptive to, the creative impulses of the infinite Ocean. She has no problem expressing its nudges in the form of drawing, painting, building or sculpting. And what’s more, she shares her creation as if it is a masterpiece—because it is a masterpiece! Her unbridled enthusiasm has no hints of self-judgment or self-evaluation. She simply wants you to love her creation as much as she does.
Social conditioning has caused us to sublimate our natural creative impulse, and the creative impulse of children. The need to ready children through excessive academia, and our various social pressures, is a topic that I, and others, have written about extensively. They are both playing a part in making the rational mind more dominant than the intuitive/creative heart. And they are both making the outcome—including grades—more important than the creative process itself.
Now, more than ever before, we need to reclaim the artist within so that we can nurture the artist in each child. In doing so, we help children cultivate their natural artistic gifts so that they can share them with the world.
7. Spontaneous Silliness
Children remind us that play is not something we do. Rather, it is something we are! It is a state of being that we bring with us wherever we go.
In our attempts to find time and money to play, children demonstrate how play can be experienced in the here and now. A child may suddenly come up to you wearing a box on his head. Another child may teach you how to relieve yourself of a massive booger using a pen. And another may walk down the street amusing himself by making little chirping sounds, then laughing out loud. A school teacher recently told me that she asked her young student to “Say the word.” Being the spontaneously silly boy he is, he replied, “Woooorrrrd!” (As in being cool!)
Children turn the mundane into the magical by being open to what wants to be expressed in any moment. Their incredible amounts of vital and imaginative energy act as a tremendous source of creativity that brings levity to the moment, and smiles to our faces.
They will continue sharing their spontaneous silly Self until they are told, “Don’t be silly”, “Grow up” or “Stop being so childish”. When they hear this enough times, sadly, they will be less willing to give way to the spontaneous silliness that wants to emerge from their heart. They will live less in their heart and more in their head.
8. Singing & Gibberish
Recently, while waiting for my flight to arrive, I had the pleasure of listening to a child while away the time by singing out loud, and without a care in the world. She walked, she bounced and she sang freely and beautifully to everyone at Gate 33, while bringing joy and smiles to all their faces.
At another departure gate, across from me sat two boys, laughing in hysterics while speaking gibberish to each other. What an absolute joy it was to see them lose themselves in the spirit of play! They laughed and laughed while conversing in their make-believe language as if no one else was around.
Many people don’t understand why I teach play, or why remembering to play is even important. Part of this is because we do not fully value or understand the deeper wisdom and gifts of play. When I think of this young girl singing, and the two boys conversing in gibberish, and how they did this without a care in the world, as if no one was in the room, I cannot help but see them as incredibly fearless and creative beings. This is why remembering to play is a spiritual path—a path of growth and development for adults. In our need to be responsible and keep things together, we have forgotten how far removed we have become from being fearlessly open and expressive. Children show us how far we have deviated from our free spirit time and time again, and how much we need to remember to play and return to our childlike Self!
Children are clear about their dreams and imaginings. Without a doubt, they believe they can fly, become a princess and go to the moon. And they share their dreams without any apprehension, without any thought of judgment or rejection. They may wonder out loud to you, “What would it be like to fly on a seagull’s back….if you were an ant?!”
To children, their dreams are as real as, or even more real than, what we call reality. They have a crystal clear conviction that their dreams are valid, and that anything is possible. What we call nonsense may be highly sensible to children, and it may actually be quite sensible to us as well if we allow it to be. What we call nonsense may just be the dream that opens us up to a new reality. In this, children, and specifically their dreams, are our teachers.
In taking away their dreams, we bring them into our ideas of practical reality. We teach them to doubt themselves, and we plant the seeds of limited thinking in their minds. We do so because we have been programmed to think/act within the confines of our past conditioning, not because of the dreams themselves! This is an important distinction to make. Ultimately, it is not their dreams we are saying No to, but rather our own.
10. Getting Messy
Children see mud puddles as opportunities, while adults see them as obstacles. They jump straight into the messiness of life, while we do our best to keep things nice and tidy!
In their endless attempts to explore and create, getting messy for children is simply part of the process. We can learn much from children in this sense. Creation / life does not move in a straight line. It moves in the same way a child moves. Fear, however, loves the straight and narrow. The predictability of walking linear pathways mitigates the fear of the unknown and the loss of control.
We have forgotten that life is an adventure that can only be lived when we travel into the creative messiness of the unconventional—when we allow ourselves to doodle with our hearts, minds and bodies outside customary lines. In our attempts to protect children from the messiness of life, we limit their capacity to grow. As much as adults like to think that growth and development happen on the straight and narrow, they in fact happen more in the uncertainty and chaos of life.
A clear example of this is in comparing structured and unstructured play. Children learn more skills such as problem solving and relationship building through unstructured play than structured play. When things are not properly organized and get a bit messy, children must use their hearts and minds to learn through the process and find solutions. This is not as difficult if everything is neatly packaged in a controlled environment.
11. Asking Questions
Children have no fear in asking questions, including tough questions that we are inclined to discount. A child may ask, for instance, “Why do we need to learn this?” We may be tempted to say, “Because it is important, and you need to know this in order to make it in the world”. But in having this perspective, this answer, we close ourselves off from what the child may be teaching us—that perhaps the subject matter really is of no value to her, and possibly others as well.
Children know more than we think. They are more tuned in and wise than we can imagine. If they question something they may be simply inviting us to consider a new perspective, a new pathway of understanding. For instance, if a child asks, “Why is the sky blue?” and we respond by saying, “Why do you think?” they will often share incredible ideas that explain the world…if only we let them; if only we open to their world and create room for their curiosity and understanding.
In our attempts to fit in and walk the straight line, questioning has become scary for adults. Curiosity killed the cat, after all! Asking too many questions could be a sign of incompetence or insubordination, and could lead to someone else getting promoted into that job we want! Moreover, questioning what has always been could force us to face what we do not want to look at, and lead us towards making uncomfortable changes. It is easier to accept what we have always known—the status quo. It is easier to grant more power to the answers we hear and know than the questions that point to the unknown.
12. Intimacy and Connection
How many times has a small child who you have never met before gazed into your eyes? Her fearless curiosity and desire for intimacy is incredibly endearing.
Most of us have lost touch with our interconnection with each other, as already mentioned. We walk as strangers in a strange land, separate from the underlying spirit that binds us all. Children still feel and identify with this web of interconnectivity. This primordial feeling of bonding and belonging is a love that allows them to more easily offer their hearts through intimate eye contact, to reach out their hand, or to give a big hug.
They are indeed authentic ambassadors of the inseparable God, Life, Self, Creator and Ocean. Through their eyes and touch, they bring us back into our Heart where we live and love without limitations.
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Becoming Free Again
When I ask my playshop participants to share memorable childhood feelings, one of the words that they use most often is freedom. Freedom is being able to live and love fearlessly as a child does. That is the freedom we all yearn for. To be free from being who we think we ought to be; to be free to be our natural loving selves, moving, expressing and celebrating as we did when we were children. To be free to be happy for no reason!
That is why children will always be our little teachers. They remind us who we authentically are. Behind the veil of fear and control, we are all little children hungering to Come Out and Play!
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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