Fun and games
Why are adults boring, and can we be saved?
Earlier today I went for a jog with our famly dog. As I came back home through the woodland near my childhood home I stopped to meditate in a spot I often played as a child. After calming my breath and mind for a bit, I looked around at the landscape: A carpet of lichen pertruded by rectangular rocks cracked free from the base rock just beneath, a moss covered boulder, round and gentle, pine trees reaching towards the sky and a small and snarled multistem oak still holding on to a few brown leaves gently shivering in the wind. It was a nice spot, but something was missing. There used to be more, I’m sure of it.
What does the world look like from the eyes of a child?
It felt as if there was a veil before my eyes, a filter that screened away some aspect of life; I felt like I wasn’t truly there. If I wasn’t there, where was I?
Children are in a more immediate relationship with their surroundings, their developing minds are unclouded by the vast array of preconditioned thought patterns that most adults view the world through. The mind of a child is focused on first hand experience rather than thoughts, conclusions and judgements. Everything is new and special. The mind is constantly active in taking in all that the world has to offer. In reaching adulthood many of us face the world almost entirely through preconcieved ideas and lables. The world around becomes a bunch of ideas: pine tree, boulder, lichen, wind… and judgements: cold, wet, beautiful. Been there, done that. We’ve categorised everything in our immediate surroundings and thus we are able to ignore most of the stimuli around us. As an example we can think of commuting. Say, you commute to work in your car: You get in, bucle up, check the rear mirrors, and drive away. You pass through streets and roads filled with life and ever changing landscapes while simultaneously controlling a vehicle going 40-120 km/h amongst other similar vehicles. You observe the rules of traffic and at the same time listen to a radio show. All of this, and yet when you reach your destination you remember none of it. The whole world was just a blur and you feel as if you just sort of appeared to your workplace. You’ve done it so many times that your conscious mind ignores all of it. All the actions and sights are processed by the subconscious and we focus our awareness to thoughts about something else.
Or do we do even that?
Most of the times even our thoughts run free and not under the control of our conscious awareness. We don’t choose what we think, nor do we choose for our minds to be silent. Instead an inner movie and monoloque fills our mind with a bunch of seemingly random images, thoughts, and commentaries.
“What I have no voices in my head. That’s stupid. Oh, look at that dog! haha the owner looks miserable in the rain. It would be nice to have a dog but taking it out in a storm would be a drag. You do get exercise though. Should I start going to yoga again? It’s pretty expensive, and it bothers me that I’m not flexible enough to get into the poses… What was I doing again *sigh* oh yeah this. Gotta get back to it. Maybe I’ll make a cup of coffee first. Where did I leave that black cup…”
And on and on, for a lot of people this goes on almost all the time. That’s a major part of the filter between us and reality. We don’t see the world pure and new as a child does. Instead we see a reflection of our random thoughts and judgements, our subconscious triggers and reactions to things. We see the world through our personal history and deep seated mental emotional states. And many of us find it difficult to make the voice stop. Trying often goes somewhat like this:
“Okay, I’m going to stop thinking now. Meditation. Yeah. It’s going to be good for me. I want to experience the world pure as it is. Pure world… free from thoughts. I’m silent… I’m mindful… Pure being… client presentation…Wait, where did that image come from? Why was I thinking of yesterdays meeting. I don’t want to think about that now. Go away! Silence… Silence… Hmph, here it is again. Maybe I can focus on my breath. In…Out…In…Out… One…Two…Three…Four…Shit, I can’t stop counting now…Seven…Eight… Silence… Silence. Whatever. This is stupid. I should get back to work. Maybe I’ll make another coffee. Do we still have oat milk left… and where is that bloody cup?”
Now, I’m not saying that children don’t think. The frontal lobe, area of the brain connected to concrete thinking develops primarily between ages 3-12, so by the time of early teenhood children think in fairly similar ways to adults. Howerver the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, setting goals, and inhibiting impulses continues developing at least until the age of 25. This are of the brain can be seen to be connected to the most typically “adult” behaviour and complex thinking.
As I was sitting on the forest floor, I thought about the mind and its development from a subjective standpoint. I tried to recall what life was like in my own childhood, and how my perception of the world was different. The main difference that I could find was the strong emphasis on presence that I recalled from being a child. Possibly correlating to the still developing state of the prefrontal cortex, my childhood self seemed to be more focused and present in his immediate surroundings and the moment at hand. There were less thoughts about past and future and instead emphasis was on the present moment, imagination and play. It was easier to let go and allow the moment and whatever one was doing to to lead the way. Also, constant new experiences and learning kept my childhood self in constant state of openness. I had far less fixed ideas about the world and everything seemed fresh.
My ideal of childhood builds around the concept of openness, imagination, flow, sense of possibility and excitement of growth. I’ve had plenty of similar sort of experiences during more recent times as well, especially when travelling, meditating or otherwise experiencing new and uncharted territory. In my experience promoting this sort of open, present and excited view of life is strongly correlated with seeking and gaining new experiences, questioning one’s fixed ideas about self and the world, as well as seeking personal growth.
In my design I intend to create possibilities for stepping out of fixed ways of relating with the world. Children do this easily and naturally as their sense of self and the world has not yet become as strong and rigid as adult’s. Through playful interventions I study ways of creating environments that offer children an inspiring context for their subjective adventures, while simultaneously promoting a sense of openness and presence in adults. When we experience something new, our mind focuses on the experience and momentarily drops out of the default mode of preconcieved ideas and repetititve thought patterns. A shift in perception causes the brain to assimilate new information and form new neural connections. Activity shifts to different areas of the brain and we have the potentioal to experience the childlike joy of discovery and presence.
This post was written primarily on the 1st of November but due to shifting my focus on the actual coursework I didn’t finish and publish it until now.