" The modern child may in the beginning of his conscious life begin to show natural and spontaneous signs of spirituality. He may have imagination, originality, a simple and individual freshness of response to reality, and even a tendency to moments of thoughtful silence and absorption. But all these qualities are quickly destroyed by the fears, anxieties, and complusions to conform which come at him from all directions. He becomes a yelling, brash, false little monster, brandishing a toy gun and dressed up like some character he has seen on television. His head is filled with inane slogans, songs, noises, explosions, statistics, brand names, menaces, ribaldries, and clishes. When he gets to school he learns to verbalize, to rationalize, to pose, to make faces like an advertisement, to need a car, and in short to go through life with an empty head, conforming to others like himself, in "togetherness".
He may be in some sense educated, but his education has little to do with real life, since real life is not something with which modern man is really concenrned at all. The conscious life of modern man is completely lost in intellectual abstractions, sensual fantasies, political, social, and economic cliches, and in animal cunning of the detective or the salesman. All that is potentially valuable and vital in him is relegated to the subconscious mind...The tragedy of modern man is that his creativity, his spirituality, and his contemplative independence are inexorably throttled by a superego that has sold itself without question or compromise to the devil of technology."
~ Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p. 128-129
There's much to be said regarding Merton's words in this short passage about how society as well as technology plays a role in squashing the interior awareness and creativity of children. This hits home for me. I'm a parent of two small children and there's nothing that brings me more joy than to see their awareness come alive as their senses encounter things for the first time. I love to see the spark of unfettered creativity and unabashed enthusiasm in my children and sometimes, upon reflection, I am grieved at the prospect of my children squashing their sense of identity someday in one form or another to conform with their peers or their own notions of what their identity should be in their pursuit to "fit in" to popular culture.
As Merton relates, what most often happens with a child who starts out being creative and spiritual:
But all these qualities are quickly destroyed by the fears, anxieties, and compulsions to conform which come at him from all directions.
This makes me think of the responsibility each one of us parents have in helping to teach our children to hear their inner voice and not let it be drowned out by the sensational commercialism that comes about at them from all directions in the form of television commercials, shows, movies, billboard ads...look around and you'll see something that actively tries to compete for your child's attention, drawing him away from his own thoughts and towards the thoughts of the collective.
Let's face it, our children, if we aren't careful and undoubtedly even when we are as they age, are continually "hooked" on society's latest mental "drugs". Being pumped into their intravenous tubes attached to their consciousces are the "drip drips" of false illusions encouraging escapism and conformity. When layers upon layers of exposure to these toxic agents (illusions, distractions) have built up to form a wall thick with false ego blocking them from their subconscious, they find it nearly impossible to tap into their own inner self and hear the voice that is truly theirs. Their own internal awareness of reality has been replaced by the conceptualizations and symbols of society's version of reality.
When this happens, how much harder will it be later for them, when they are adults, to hear the gentle whisper of God within their soul's center when they can't even hear their own inner voice anymore?
So, that makes me wonder....what are some ways us parents can help cultivate and nourish a sense of creativity, spirituality and sense of self in our children?
I would say as a parent one activity that I try to do everyday with my children is to get them outside, away from the tv and into nature. I love talking with my children, hearing their thoughts and stories, but I also feel it's important for them to have their own reflections and time to think, time to notice things around them that they wouldn't otherwise notice if we were continually chatting while crossing through the fields or traveling down the path through the woods. The picture above is my son, I love watching him walk several yards distance from me in the woods, stopping and noticing the insects on the branches or discovering milkweed in the dense vegetation, all the while talking to himself happily. I hope that this kind of activity will encourage them as they grow older to take time away from others, for themselves, for the sake of solitude and reconnecting with the life around them and the voice within themselves.
Another way I've tried to encourage my children to embrace their own sense of awareness is through simple meditation exercises. My daughter is playing a Tibetan singing bowl in this picture. I try to talk to my kids about concentrating on their breath and experiencing the senses around them in the present moment. I feel these are important tools in their future, not just in reducing potential stress and anxiety but also in helping them experience the beauty of the present moment and learning to center themselves. When we learn to center ourselves it is oftentimes the beginning of a beautiful spiritual journey towards discovering God within us. And there's nothing more as a parent that I would love my children to discover as they grow, than God within themselves, so that His love and compassion may radiate through their lives and outward in the world around them.
I don't want this post to be too long and lose some people so below is a short list of some other things that I thought of.
1. Encouraging imaginative play.
2. Talking to our kids about consummerism. Most of our kids are going to be exposed to television and it's not necessarily all that bad depending if the parents are mindful about their child's exposure to it. One thing that I try to ask, when my child is watching commercials, is questions about the commercials. What are they trying to sell? Who are they trying to sell it to? etc. It makes kids think a little and perhaps not be "sold" as much, at least that's my hope!
3. Encouraging "free" art. Giving them time where they can create things by themselves without having to create anything specific. My daughter loves this! Especially because she finds so little of these opportunities at school now that she's progressing through the grades.
4. Exposing them to a diversity of music. I just feel music is a beautiful and creative form of expression and I, being no expert whatsoever, can only see the benefit when it comes to encouraging a child's creativity than through the form of music.
I'd appreciate in the comments section if you have suggestions or opinions to please share them as well as any practices you might implement in helping to nourish your children's inner self and creativity.