Childlikeness Is Better

Meditation 3-5-23, by Mark R. Turner, digital painting 16.7” X 20”. The childlike gestures evoke the energy and freedom of the “beginner’s mind” exploring space, line, texture, shape, like a dance creating something ineffable in nature. See it on apparel, accessories, bags, cases, pet items, and home décor HERE.

I have always been aware of and preferred my “original self”. It is the free self which I experienced as a child. I was fortunate to have parents who embraced spirituality in all that they did, including parenting. It was my way of life to be sensitive to the Reality beyond the material and let my imagination commune with Spirit. I always knew God was present and more than I could imagine. It was normal for me to meditate upon the symbols and mythology that helps us relate to God. The ancient concept of the third eye and the third ear, that is, the spiritual perception, was natural to my child faith and in this “watching and listening” I received wisdom for life. As Jesus said, “He that has an ear, let him hear.”

I was awakening to my True Self.

My life struggles have been largely due to trying to live this way under the obligations of society’s systems which demand “productivity” and are interested not in my True Self, but only in my contribution to advancing the system. I have always believed that everyone should accept and affirm each other for who we truly are, and most of my negative experience has been the disappointment of being rejected and punished for living this countercultural way. Even though the Church should be nurturing the childlike, its hierarchies and subcultures have caused most of my wounds, “mistakes”, conflicts, and rejections.

Much of my writing and artistic products have been obligated to dress up for society’s and clients’ expectations, but I have found the most childlike freedom in abstract forms which ideally resist such demands. The abstract piece can be embraced as a symbol of the beholder’s childlike yearning for the spiritual.

The Child as Counterculture

As my “mission” has grown to affirm my True Self and awaken others to their True Selves, I have come to view the rejections as part of the work. In this I identify with Jesus and others who have lived revelatory lives. From early life my personal communion with God and its implications over and above the demands and expectations of others has made it natural to insist on being “original”, new, non-typical, nonconformist, to suggest alternative ways.

In my view “achievement” is not gaining fame and riches but accomplishing an expression of the True Self and blessing others by doing so, of opening possibilities by accomplishing the expression. By accepting my smallness and unknowing, by seeing myself as an unseen atom, or as a ligament of the larger Body of reality, I free up creation power. To the extent that I think and act as separate from the Whole, and view myself as the most important, above, ahead of, more than others, I inhibit the Goodness my True Self is able to accomplish; this would be the self-centered life of competition.

As Dogen-zenj said, it is important to “resume our boundless original mind”. I do this in my daily devotional practice by picturing myself bowing to the Whole and confessing my state of incompleteness in process of growing (Isaiah 6). We are always in cultivation as dynamic, becoming beings like branches extending out and manifesting the fruit made from the elements supplied by the vine. The branches are pruned to bear more fruit. (John 15)

Life as a Calling

This attitude is also called “beginner’s mind” which is the childlike curiosity and exploration when our view is new and unfolding. It is the ability to learn, the impulse to uncover, to move forward discovering more. We may feel it as a yearning to step out in a journey of discovery. I know it as “the calling” as when Abraham heard God call him to leave his familiar life in Ur to go into the unknown, to grow into a new people as numerous and mysterious as the stars. It is like the call of the slave class in Egypt to come out and become the new people in the unknown wilderness, learning to trust the Leading and Nurturing on their way to the Promised Land. Without the beginner’s mind I would cling to the known and not venture out into challenge, vulnerability, pursuing surprise revelations, trusting that there is more for me. The childlike will follow that call.

Jesus honored children in an age when they were viewed as not yet complete human beings. When his disciples shooed away the children like pests, or undignified intruders, Jesus reprimanded them and took the children into his arms with blessings. He made the point to his disciples that unless they become like a child, they could not enter the Kingdom of God (spiritual realm of ultimate fulfillment). He rejected the attitude which society holds to this day that to be “adult” we must either delete spirituality or put it in a side category subject to the “important” riches and power we compete for in the material world.

There are many reasons why the childlike ideal is superior to the dominant adult tendencies. Some are:

  1. Openness – ability to receive new thought and ideas
  2. Adaptability – ability to adjust to difference
  3. Empathetic – ability to feel and sympathize with others
  4. Curiosity – ability to sense value hidden in the unknown
  5. Inventive – ability to apply imagination to problem solving
  6. Faith – ability to hold onto hope and believe beyond appearances
  7. Courage – ability to face opposition, a consequence of Faith
  8. Trust – ability to rest, another consequence of Faith
  9. Love and compassion – ability to value, co-create with and care for another as yourself

In reality these qualities are often hard to discern in a child, partly because they have fewer skills of communication, partly because they are not given the opportunity and the observer’s agenda is too full to take time with them. But we can see how fast a child learns as they set aside these qualities to gain entrance to society. We are often appalled to see a child act out the adult ways of competitiveness, materialism and neuroses of navigating the world they are pushed into.

Still, most adults acknowledge the value of the list above and make some attempt to implement selections from it when an off moment catches their attention. Generally, such qualities are seen as marks of maturity and self-possession. I consider them essential to make authentic, non-egocentric art. Writing and the arts can be the prime frontier for the childlike to thrive. I recommend returning every morning and bedtime to the openness, curiosity, inventiveness, faith and Love that bear the fruit humanity hungers for.

4 Responses

  1. David Olson

    Mark, I appreciate your story, and I am happy that you have been able to live it out. I happen to know that the journey has not been easy, yet, I see where the struggles have been significant in releasing you into who you now are.

    • markart

      David, it is a treasure to have you reflect back to me as you have a unique, long term observation of my evolution. Your comments uplift my continued walk. Thank you.

  2. Chris Harris

    Since our twin girls came into our life, I have been delighted to re-experience the world through their eyes. And you are so right about the child-like freedom to be so open to mystery and mythologies and to take as much time as needed to delight in wonder and curiosity about even the simplest of moments. Perhaps baked-into the human experience somehow, is the journey from the childlike-mind to the agenda-driven mind, which if we are paying attention at all, only exists to lead us back to where we began.

    • markart

      Yes, Chris. I remember when our children came it was a whole new universe. And yes, my agendas keep proving the temporality of “doing” and the surpassing value of experiencing, of communing with God directly and through one another. Our agendas tend to put off the experiencing and communing. When my agenda is to experience and commune Creation happens.