In an essay I wrote some time ago, I (half-facetiously) posed the suggestion that childhood is the highest and purest state (or condition) generally experienceable by humans. I argued that, more often than not, adulthood culminates in a degeneration or degradation of consciousness rather than its flowering and flourishing. Only in those exceptional cases where the imaginative elasticity, compassionate sensitivity, and capacity for wonder are kept alive throughout adulthood do we encounter the fulfillment of spiritual promise. Instead, what we find in almost all instances is a gradual rigidification and narrowing of the elastic innocence, the sensitivity, and potentiality of the child’s consciousness. All this is brought about as the child is molded into a reliable functionary within the various soulless systems that constitute the ordinary educational, social, economic, and political arenas of experience in the contemporary world.
In my previous essay I argued that adults should assiduously devote themselves to the protection and care of children—or, more precisely, to the care and protection of their exceptional consciousness and their spiritual–imaginative potentials. But instead, because most adults have already become so desensitized, imaginatively crippled, and indoctrinated by the time they have children, they are not only incapable of protecting and caring for their sacred charges, they are their principal deformers and corrupters.
The debased condition of modern ‘adulthood’ is exacerbated by a unflinching identification with the (self-serving) ego and the body (as opposed to the soul, imagination, or spirit)—an identification that frequently hardens and deepens with the advance of years. During childhood, our egos are, on the whole, more elastic and provisional—and our bodies are more resilient and flexible. Without being aware of it, as children we tend to be more ‘playful’ in our attitude towards our own and other persons’ egos—as if we were beholding theatrical rehearsals and not sacrosanct vessels of fragile porcelain that must be handled with kid gloves. As we emerge from childhood into the world of ‘grown-up’ relationships, responsibilities, and duties, we tend to take ourselves—our ego personalities—more and more seriously, which often translates into ‘more narrowly.’ As our investment in our own ego deepens and becomes more preoccupying, or desperate, we obliterate that ‘sense of humor’ about ourselves that we may have had when we were five year olds and less ‘religiously’ attached to the ‘figure’ we were cutting on the stage of human affairs. Typically, then, self-concerned adults take themselves and their attachments far more seriously than resilient, carefree and en-spirited children do.
Commonly employed labels for this adult preoccupation with the ego, its attachments, its ‘rights,’ and its accomplishments are ‘narcissism’ and ‘selfishness.’ Spiritually awakened adults tend to be more childlike and less anxious than self-obsessed egotists. It is a mark of spiritually mature persons that very little (of what takes place in the world) is allowed to get under their skin—since the ultimate reality and importance of these transient events (and egos) is known to be doubtful. People who get too ‘bent out of shape’ by worldly and ego-related affairs are like those persons who throw objects at villains on the screen in a movie theater. It’s a sign of derangement and low breeding.
Plato’s ‘myth of recollection’ (from Meno) makes good sense to me in connection with this idea of the priority of childhood over adulthood in human experience. While we are children, our consciousness is, in certain respects, closer to the source—the Self. As we grow older—and as we adapt (read: surrender) ourselves more and more completely to the second-hand, derived, dogmatic, and (comparatively) shallow forms of consciousness and behavior that we are collectively awash in—our range of awareness and our very being tend to shrink and ossify. Unless serious measures are taken to strengthen and stabilize our beleaguered connection with the source, we are likely to suffer the fate of a Roman candle that has been shot into the night sky. We start off with a lot of thrust and much brilliance, but as we hurtle into the sky we slow down, cool down, fade out—falling back to earth as ashes.
By earnestly tracking our consciousness back to its source, however, we counteract the process of burn-out and fade-out that results from identifying with the ever-changing and ever-dying forms that make up the outer world, starting with our own bodies. In order to pull this off, however, we must inwardly reverse the natural order and the conventional order—and this profound inversion requires uncommon faith in the insight that comes from beyond this (visible, conventional, collective) world. We should probably not look for much support from others. We may discover that most of them are facing (and racing) in the opposite direction. We won’t find many exemplars or successful cases (of life-inversion) and even if we do, they can be no more than examples. We must do the actual work alone.