One of the most exciting rites of passage of our lives is the point we cross the threshold from childhood into adulthood. Whether this be celebrated at age 13, 16, 18 or 21, there is no doubt that becoming a “grown up” is an exciting time in anyone’s life.
There is an apparent sense of freedom that comes from being an adult; a perception that one is now capable, knowledgeable and liberated enough to make empowered life choices. Once we reach that stage, and certainly as we move into the more “responsible” stages of parenthood, career building and fiscal obligation, it is natural to start viewing children as less wise than we are. It is easy to regard them as immature, inexperienced and, therefore, somehow incomplete in their understanding of life and how best to live it.
But the truth is that children, even without the knowledge that comes from years of life experience, are born into this world with a natural, inherent and intuitive understanding of what life is. Without the burden of intellectual data, or the limitations of entrenched rules and traditions, children are still able to learn, grow, adapt and thrive.
Most importantly, they appear do it with more glee and more joy than the average adult.
Our wisest teachers and spiritual leaders have spoken to us about the need to be more childlike – Jesus beckoned them into his circle and the current Dalai Lama applauded their emotional honesty – so what would happen if we took time to turn the tables?
What could we learn if we looked to our children as wise and joyous teachers?
1. The world is full of wonder: Most of us are able to appreciate a spectacular landscape or a pretty sunset, but look to the children to show you the wonder that exists in the every day, all around. What do they show us? That an ant colony is an exquisite source of awe and entertainment and that there is a simple joy to be found in rolling down a grassy hill.
2. There is no rush: We have come to revere excessive busy-ness and often wear it like a badge of honor. Children show us that play and relaxation are vital to a balanced life. They teach us, in a sometimes infuriating way, that we can choose to slow down and that the world does not end if we are five minutes late.
3. There is power in the word “no”: Children learn about the power of “no” at around the age two and they use it with alarming frequency. However, by the time we are adults most of us have forgotten how to stand in our power and place a high priority on our own needs. It is not just healthy to express our needs, it is imperative for our ongoing wellbeing. Our children teach us this every time they say no with unfettered, truthful conviction.
4. Sometimes, people are just idiots: Listen to any childhood playground tiff and you will hear a range of ill-informed opinions and poorly researched facts. Sadly, there is no defined age where this behaviour magically disappears. Sometimes people (even grownups) are just talking ill-informed gibberish, no matter how much they believe in it. We are all idiots sometimes – me, you, that person in the comments section – but this fact does not need to diminish our joy of life.
5. Life is not about knowing stuff: Children don’t need to be right to be content. Young children lack knowledge in all things scientific, political, geographical and mathematical yet, somehow, they manage to have a good time anyway. Our need to be right and righteous, informed and knowledgeable, is just a lame attempt to feel powerful and in control. Modern science currently explains less than 5% of the physical universe and the knowledge that we hold so dear is always in a state of review, collapse and evolution. Children show us that if we can learn to accept that we know very little, it is a lot easier to let go of the need to be right and to reconnect with the joy of life.
6. There is more – oh, so much more – than what we see around us: A child’s mind is naturally ripe with the concepts and creatures of magic and fantasy, but these ideas are usually brushed aside as imagination and illusion. By the time we are grown up, fantasy is locked away in the deep recesses of our mind. However, scientists currently theorise that the universe is made of at least ten dimensions, and that we are only consciously aware of four of them. Who are we to say that anything is impossible? Children teach us that it is ok to dream and to envision life beyond these limiting, physical dimensions.
7. Things don’t always have to be sensible, logical or perfect: Children at play often make-believe in the most incredible and incredulous ways. In role play, Moms and Dads may be accompanied by police officers and unicorns, and somehow it all makes sense. Childhood paintings are full of items that are not connected and unbelievable colour combinations. But to a child, none of this matters. Sometimes it’s just about joy.