As we age and hopefully gain wisdom, we leave scattered parts of our egos strewn on the sides of our life paths. For a time, some love dinosaurs in all their primal, powerful roaring – and then leave them behind. Building blocks, cars, or whatever our muses of early childhood lay beside them. Later, we might discover certain books that reform our spirits and inspire us to great adventures for a while… then they’re left behind too. Hobbies, pursuits, and interests all come and go. A rare few stay with us for a lifetime, perhaps.
Our Childish Things
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11
Within us, in some darkened basement of the psyche, all those things we’ve left behind are still there. Having given ourselves wholly to The The Chronicles of Narnia at one age, even decades later do we not feel at least the shadow of a wistful smile seeing a child read them? Can any father see the proud and terrible skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex with his son and not feel the stirrings of imaginary terror beat in both their chests? Perhaps so, but that is a sad moment. Doing away with childish things is very different than trying to forget them. Anything pushed away from our minds is never truly lost, but just hides in a locked corner of our mental basement.
When people tell us our imaginary flights are foolish or when other children dismiss our delights as for babies, or when we do that within ourselves – when we associate those childhood things with a negative judgment of who we were and we work in self improvement even as a child, we lock them away and seek to forget them. Through a renaissance of wisdom, we may rediscover those locked chests and find ourselves smiling and loving those former shadows of self – the joy of old men at the play of their grandchildren. It’s not the primary love of the momentary spirit in that rediscovery, but a compassion and delight in forgotten toys hiding behind wistful smiles and stirrings of imagination.
For a man of forty, even the loves of his thirties are childish things. We are perpetually new adults so long as we continue to change, and change is the stuff of life – we change so long as we allow life into and through us. When we choose to live, the wonder of childhood and blossoming of adulthood are continuously in us.
Even the hardest or most inarticulate man among us has his childish things. Ask him about his days working in the fields or in a startup, ask him to tell you about a time when he was happy. Don’t ask questions, just listen. He might grow misty-eyed and whisper if he opens a chest for you, in his story.
The striving of self improvement and the purification of spirituality are both sometimes used as excuses to lock doors and padlock chests within us, to refuse entire journeys we’ve made in life. It’s the confusion of self and ego, that struggle I write on so frequently, that can lead us to condemn things we’ve loved in a wholesale effort to inspire change. Some of those childish things might be bad, but there’s almost surely good ones kept under lock and key as well. The locked doors and padlocked chests must all be opened, sometime, if we’re to be free. One can avoid them for a lifetime, but only through a lifetime of avoidance.
The opening of such doors and chests is not just about happiness or spirituality. It’s not even about recovery, although we’re never free from addiction until we choose to accept and let go of the whispering desire. Those shadow bits of our psyches are also our fountains of creativity and expression. We can create professional crafts all day long, but we can never create something that inspires emotion in others unless we pull the seeds of that creation from our chests. We can confront our profound perfection and ascend love through spirituality, but we won’t understand each other without whispering stories. Each whispered story and every whispering voice is unique, coming as it does from a mortal life that is entirely unique.
For it is in the totality of experience reckoned with, filed, and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world. For no man sees the same events in the same order, in his life. One man sees death younger than another, one man knows love more quickly than another. Two men, as we know, seeing the same accident, file it with different cross-references, in another part of their own alien alphabet. There are not one-hundred elements, but two billion elements in the world. All would assay differently in the spectroscopes and scales.
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity
Remember the Tyrannosaurus rex
In our aging, let us not forget the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. Let’s not forget the little Hobbits of the Shire, or for that matter the terrible Pennywise under Derry. Or whatever strange creations and fantastical visions you’ve loved and done away with, from Mickey Mouse as a bumbling sorcerer’s apprentice to Ray Bradbury’s own The Martian Chronicles. I’m rediscovering all of these and more. But I’m not just talking about fantasy, although my recent wanderings are about that.
I am such a creature as can remember with love not only Michelangelo’s Vatican ceilings but the long-gone sounds of the radio show, “Vic and Sade.”
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing (link above)
What about what you wanted to be as a kid? Hell, as a teenager, as a young adult, as a middle-aged adult? Perhaps it’s not your dream anymore, but do you remember it lovingly when you look at it? How about your young inspirations to draw, to master the wilderness, to dance? If they ever stir within you, do you dismiss them at useless childish things? I hope not, those are the letters in the language of your creative voice. Those things are the only things everyone collects.
The things that you do, the things you love, and the company you keep do not define you. They are not you, for you are not your ego. But those things are also not horrible or sad things to be banished, now or from when you walked the earth a decade ago. Those things are your collections, your memories, and the unique collection of resonances that we hear in your voice.
When we confuse ourselves with our collections, when we think we’re our egos – we’re not happy. We can’t understand the love in the spinnings of the world from a level of rationality, and so we must clear out the stirrings of thoughts to realize the radiant witnessing of our souls. We clear out the thoughts by simply letting them arise and subside, disassociating our perception and sense of self from them through prayer and meditation. This is a crucial work for the cultivation of happiness.
But when we forget our collections, when we think that our memories of our old selves are things to hide behind locked doors and in padlocked chests in our minds – we’re also not happy. In the work of self improvement, we sometimes mistakenly seek to push them down in our achievements and self esteem, expansion of the ego. In the work of spirituality, we sometimes mistakenly seek to push them down in our realignment to love and positivity, reduction of the ego. But if you seek pride, there is no pride possible except in the journey and whole knowledge of where you’ve been and where you are. And if you seek love, there is no love possible except as starts from the wholehearted acceptance and kindness of you in all your stumbling through life. Our collections are not trash, they are the source of creative expression and connection. This too is a crucial work for the cultivation of happiness.
If you’re going to tell me how things are or what needs to be done, I might be completely uninterested. But if your voice trembles with passion, if you tell me a story that points to your secret loves or fears, I can’t help but pull up a chair. Yes, at the level of spirit we’re both boundless and infinite. But we’re human just now, and the entire world wants to hear you speak in a voice that trembles with the love of all the things you’ve loved, with the fear of all the things you’ve feared. We’ve never heard truth said in just your way, because we’ve never seen one just like you.
If Nothing Else…
But if all of this is beside the point, if you can’t find greater creativity and love through your childish things, if nothing else… how about a quick game of Chutes and Ladders, a go-around on the trampoline, or let’s go see the carnival when it comes through town? Let’s take a day off and go have an adventure camping, what do you say? For old times’ sake.
But if I catch you smiling, you owe me a story. Deal?