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Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Spiritually Suppressed Modern Child

" 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.


  1. This is so informative and helpful to parents everywhere, thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for your kind comment :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hi Jessica:

    Left out an entire line in my post. Am reposting w/the line included. That's why you see the deleted post above!

    It's amazing that this now came my way. I see things MUCH differently now then I used to. Everything is connected, and everything happens for a reason. I see that now VERY clearly.

    This posting today relates so well to where I am at the moment. Having just w/in the last hour finished reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse I can so relate to the above entry. If you haven't yet read the book, I wholeheartedly implore you and everyone else who reads this blog to pick up the book. It will have a lasting and profiund impact on anyone who reads it.

    Very much in tune with Paulo Cohelo's The Alchemist, Siddhartha is the story of one man's quest for inner peace. Though both books spoke deeply to me. I do believe Siddhartha will live longer in my psyche. Read both books so you can have an understanding of both. Siddhartha in my opinion though is the better book.

    It's amazing how your blog entry here so correlates Hermann Hesse's book.

  5. Jessica - fabulous tips - I will be a new mom today : ) The Tibetan bowl is something we have used in our house for very very long now. This was great - Thank you... My latest post is at http://kriti-howaboutthis.blogspot.com/2011/03/dads-diary-9-hitchhike.html

  6. Congratulations Kriti, I am so excited for you! Being a mother is an amazing journey, I pray you have an easy delivery and you are soon bonding peacefully with your new little miracle :)I'm so glad you enjoyed this post! :)

  7. I really have to find out if Merton and Watts ever met. You should listen to Watt's theory that western society is not materialistic at all because it does not respect or venerate material objects, just the concepts behind them. A world of trash, really!

    Just as we're raising our children. Not to respect themselves or others, without self discipline, without structure. These things are the bedrock of success in anything we could possibly hope to achieve in life.

    And most sadly, as discipline and respect go out the window so does creativity. And without any of those things we are not even human.

  8. We must teach our children what matters… as you are so admirably doing Jessica.
    Every second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capitol of France.
    When we will also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.
    You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? ~ Pablo Casals

  9. Wow Jessica I am impressed. I have a different point of view I think because all of my children are grown and I even have almost two grandchildren now. It sounds like you are building a good foundation which they will be taking with them each step of the way as they grow. What is so hard is that as they get older, we as parents have less and less influence on them. That's why it's so important to teach thm, while they are young. What I have learned actually just recently, is that the way they learn from us, even when they are older and we think they are not paying attention is by example. We model for them pieces of who they will become. They don't miss a beat, even when you think they're not looking, and from reading your post it sounds like they are going to turn out to be fine young adults. Keep up the good work, it's nice to know that there are still parents out there that make their kids such a priority.

  10. Every child is unique and with the proper guidance and letting them see what consequences comes from their actions, they will learn by themselves the truth.
    You mentioned "pumped into their intravenous tubes attached to their consciousness are the "drip drips" of false illusions encouraging escapism and conformity." Is how I feel what Religions do to the creativity and understanding of a child's mind.

    Love to you Jessica as you bring the best out in me.

  11. wow .. i'm voting for 1 to 4 but i'm always confused by spirituality, i've asked many a time of many, what is it ? so with the highest respect, is it religion, organised or not, belief or an awareness of our surroundings ? i hope it's not just geographical indoctrination ... great post :)

  12. Christopher,

    Christopher...I haven't read either of the books but have heard of both of them. I actually bought the Alchemist at a book sale last summer and have it somewhere, I have to find out where i put it, everyone is getting me intrigued about it! I've heard about Hermon Hesse's book too, I'll have to put it on my reading book, seems like a really thought provoking book. The story of the Buddha I find really inspiring :)

  13. Justin,

    I'm going to have to see if I can find a youtube video of Watts explaining that theory, I'd love to hear it! Some great thoughts...

    I never really heard that theory before, that "western society is not materialistic at all because it does not respect or venerate material objects, just the concepts behind them." But I can see much truth in it! Thanks for sharing :)

  14. Debra,

    Beautiful quote from Pablo Caslas, thank you! I agree, we should teach our children that their future is defined by their perspectives...that they have limitless possibilities if only they will seize them! THat life is much more than lists and categories and the memorization of facts. That the heart of life is found in the experiences we have and finding God interwoven throughout them.

    Thank you for your thoughts:)

  15. Kimly, ...you bring up a great point...kids learn by our example. If we are spiritual in our pursuits and in the way we approach the world and our experiences, they will see that and have the liklihood of following suit.

    Great, thoughts, so glad you enjoyed this post and thank you for following! :)I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in the future.


  16. Alejandro,

    THank you for your thoughts, I always appreciate them! I agree to some degree of your interpretation of what I wrote. I think religion can be stifling if it isjust a list of rules of what to do and what not to do. Faith is meant to be alive, there is nothing more exciting, encouraging, and inpsiring to me than having the realization of God within me, listening to His gentle and loving whispers and seeing life as a magnificent reflection of his unparalleled glory. Religion can be exciting, but only to the degree that a sense of spirituality (an awareness of God) is realized. Without sensing God and the connection we have with life, I just can see why one would view religion as being stale and stagnant, for at that point, it is.

    ~blessings and love

  17. Tbaoo...great questions. I would definitely say spirituality, thank goodness, has nothing to do with one's geographical location! I would say that one can be spiritual but not religious but for one to be religious and not spiritual, well I don't see the point in that. When that happens it's just an shell of dogma with nothing genuine within. To me, spirituality is recognizing God within ourselves and our interconnectedness with life all around us. It is the internal awareness of the divine. Some may disagree with that..I'm not sure, but that's how I see it :)

  18. Jess - Great stuff here. I'm not a parent but I do see some parents deprived of ideas on bringing up children. I'm going to pass this on to some parents I know. Take care.

  19. Thanks Corrinne! I appreciate it :) I'm glad you enjoyed the article. ~blessings

  20. God blessed me with two beautiful, lively children. But with having children, brings great responsibility, in a lot of areas.
    I do not push 'Religion' with my children, but I do share the 'Word of God' with them. There is a big difference between the two of them for me. I was raised where I went to CCD each Sat. morning and Church on Sunday. On my way home from Church, I would see some people from Church pull off the road in front of us into the local beer tavern. I can remember asking my mother at a really young age why they were going to a bar as they left Church? She never had an answer for me. As the years passed, I remember going to confession once early Sunday. Then during mass, the Priest spoke of exactly what I had confessed to in the confessional! He might as well had pointed me out in the pew and said "there! she is guilty!" I gave up being a Catholic that Sunday and never returned to Church until my teenage years when I converted and became a Christian.
    My point here is that I don't ever want my children to feel as though they were forced to believe something or forced to go to Church and make it something they dread. I want them to be inquisitive and interested in learning the Bible and what having God in your life is like. It is like anything else...you cannot make someone do something they do not want to do. They have to want it for themselves. I am just a vessel of the Word for my children and pray that they make the right decisions for themselves.

  21. I agree. . .when my children were young they were saturated with nature, beautiful music, and art. . .all numinous avenues :-) great post

  22. Kids learn from parents. I believe in practicing what I preach. I encourage the kids to explore and ask questions. I encourage their inner light to burn bright. It is hard work but worth it. I am blessed to have two young men who encourage me on my path and are always eager to know more.

  23. I think you are your children's best teacher and they are yours. With your words and thoughts I can see that you open and embrace creativity and consciousness to enlightenment - there's a few more lessons that can be learnt right here x

  24. Wonderful article. Here is a quote from a book on the very same subject matter. “We know more about nutrition than did past generations. We’ve identified learning disorders and new educational techniques. We give our children every advantage we can afford, and some we cannot. We organize, direct, enroll, coach and transport our children to and from lessons, games, practices, social events, doctor’s appointments, and schools. We are trying to be good parents and give our children all they need to develop into well-rounded and successful adults. We may, however, be missing the very core of our children’s being: their spirituality.”“10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting”

  25. You are an I thinking along the same lines. I recently approached this idea coming from the side of adults loosing their childlike joy and wonder. Another reason God gives us children...to confront us with our self-absorption and to show us how we were originally created. http://tararwood.com/home/recaptuing-our-childlike-joy/

  26. A very interesting topic that you are touching on Jessica. So often we as parents smother that creativity. I know I was guilty! We are so quick to say don´t make a mess, don´t break that and in the process we are not allowing them the freedom to be creative.

  27. Great insights in this post, Jessica! One book I'd suggest is "How to Raise a More Creative Child" by Larry and Marge Belliston. Thank you for your thoughtful concern about the next generation ;-x

  28. I like what you're saying Jessica...I agree that parents have the greatest influence on their children...this is where they learn to either tune in to their inner voice (the voice of God) or they get trained away from that. I think parents offer their best influence by being a living example...as you stay tuned and aligned to your own inner voice (or God's voice), your children see and feel the truth of what you are living, and they absorb this as if by osmosis...no formal lessons needed!

    I love the ideas you have listed, too! All very positive and feel-good stuff. Your children are very blessed, indeed.