Perhaps our most valuable asset is retaining into adulthood, some of the understanding we were all born with - a sense of our profound, deeply meaningful, loving connection with everyone & everything, called unity consciousness (among many other names).
Too often, this gift starts being erased by the age of 2. “A child’s spiritual life can be ‘usurped,’ … impoverished until finally made void, simply by being ignored or belittled by parents who have themselves been wrought spiritually void in the same manner. And so it is we parents may remain unchanged by our children, thinking in our heads instead of our hearts lifelong, wherein life is hard indeed." Joseph Chilton Pearce, preface to Tobin Hart's book (below) .
So we're born with a loving, allocentric & ecocentric orientation, which our materialistic, consumer society then quickly stunts into an egocentric, adversarial, meaningless neurosis. After carefully researching children's spiritual experiences, Tobin Hart wrote that we have MUCH to learn from children & our own childhood experiences.
Because "spirituality" is so emotionally-charged & divisive for many, I prefer a broad, inclusive definition: “Spirituality involves any way at all, of relating to that which is perceived to be sacred, or set apart from the physical world, something metaphysical, something greater than just the mechanics.” David Rosmarin PhD
To better understand children's spiritual experiences, we 1st need a brief overview of consciousness:
“Many traditions describe two main aspects of the human: what we might call the ‘Big Self’ and the ‘small self.’ The small self is understood as the ego in Western psychology; in Buddhism this is called the ‘lesser self.’ We all have this self and it develops over time. But in the sacred traditions, the lesser self is not mistaken for our whole being. Rather than being directed by its fluctuations, worry, and grasping, we are told that we must learn to use this small self instead of being used by it.
As a source of wise guidance and insight, Sri Aurobindo, the Indian sage, called the Big Self the ‘inner teacher.’ Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century Dominical priest, referred to the ‘inner man.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of the ‘oversoul.’ Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli wrote about various dimensions of this Big Self as the ‘higher self,’ ‘transpersonal self,’ and the ‘universal self.’
Around the end of the nineteenth century, American psychologist and philosopher William James likened consciousness to a flowing stream. Through the Big Self, in some moments children are able to tap the deeper currents in the stream. A simple map of this stream may be useful before we go further.
The surface of our being is the small self, or ego. The small self helps us operate in the world – it assesses danger, worries about the past, and thinks about the future. The small self [gets entangled with] the internal dialogue [self-talk] that occupies so much of our daily existence. Do I like this? Why did I just say that? It also sees itself as separate from others and therefore often seeks fulfillment at the expense of others [adversarial].
Beneath this surface lies the subconscious mind. Actions, thoughts, and feelings of the ego both influence and are influenced by the subconscious. If part of us makes a directive, the subconscious can follow. For example, we can drive a car without thinking of every arm motion necessary to turn the wheel, we brush our teeth without having to think through every step. The subconscious not only responds to the ego, it also affects it. We may have personal traits that are ‘hardwired’ from birth or we may have internalized the voices of a parent or the media, and these may shape our actions, feelings, and thoughts. Maybe these are the expectations of our family or the media about who we should be, what we should look like, and so forth.
Dipping deeper into the subconscious, we could also think of perinatal experiences, for example a difficult birth, or karma, as Hindu tradition maintains, as expressing its influence through the subconscious. We are generally not fully aware of these, but they form a kind of programming that automatically influences our responses, for better or worse. A challenging situation may activate the programmed response in a child, such as ‘I can do this, I’m competent.’ Or, on the other hand, ‘I’m no good, I can’t handle this.’ Most approaches to psychotherapy are attempts at overcoming or recognizing this programming.
The realm of the subconscious is not only individual – mine or yours – but it is also ours. The stream meets other streams. Individual subconscious currents intermingle and form a shared region of the subconscious. [The author’s young daughter] Haley [was able to communicate with the deceased singer & activist] Mahalia Jackson because her subconsciousness exists in this collective mind. You and I may have a feeling about a relative or close friend at a distance and then have our intuition confirmed. Insight from this level is often personal and personalized. For example, Mahalia spoke about her life specifically.
Descending slightly further in the stream, the collective region also contains universal patterns or archetypes, as Carl Jung described. These ‘first patterns’ may be thought of as deep structures of human consciousness that form the internal architecture of the mind. Hints of this come in common images or concepts that emerge across cultures and time, such as the image of a circle representing wholeness or universal notions of roles like warrior or healer, which form a kind of template of human personality. Subconscious currents intermingle to form a shared subconscious. Streams flow, mingle, and merge.
There is still more to who we are. Deeper into the stream is what we will call the superconscious. When our awareness opens to this level we may experience inspiration and universal insight, or feel wholeness and unity. This is deep into the Big Self, which is not neatly contained within an individual. The particularities of the superconscious often serve as a filter between the self and the superconscious, personalizing or coconstructing the forms or patterns that are recognized as safe friends. …
We might recognize and describe the deepest currents and our most expanded awareness as [Self], Christ Consciousness, Buddha nature, Tao, oneness, God, void, cosmic consciousness, and so forth. John Steinbeck described this recognition of unity in his work The Grapes of Wrath: ‘Maybe a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big soul – the one big soul that belongs to ever’body.’ And physicist Erwin Schrodinger concluded, ‘Mind by its very nature is a singularte tantum. I should say: the overall number of minds is just one.’
The task of spiritual development is regularly described as expanding our awareness in order to meet more of who we really are. The Christian Gnostic Gospels refer to this as revealing what truly exists. The Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff called this ‘waking up.’ We might say that ‘wisdom is the process by which we come to know that the limited thing we thought was our whole being is not.’ This implies that we grow in wisdom as we recognize, accept, and live from more of ourselves – recognizing our whole being and even the unity of all life – not just a limited ego. … this is not just about accepting our higher angels, but also about facing and integrating our shadows, all those aspects that we have not owned, we grow as we face our fears and limitations as well as our inspirations. This simple map gives an image of the depths of our inner nature and how we are simultaneously both separate and interconnected, as the sacred traditions often point out. While there may be different currents in a stream, ultimately the currents are all stream, all made of the same stuff, an undivided unity of consciousness.”
Tobin Hart. “The Secret Spiritual World of Children: The Breakthrough Discovery that Profoundly Alters our Conventional View of Children’s Mystical Experiences.” New World Library, 2003.
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