Just Like Children Playing
Just Like Children Playing
By Jerry Dorsman
Consider the various symbols in our lives. They’re all around us. Throughout history, we humans have developed thousands of symbols.
Admittedly, some of these hold special meaning for us. Some stir the emotions. Some act as springboards to the transcendental.
Yet each of our symbols, to some extent, forces a specific interpretation onto the world. Even our simplest symbols–the words we use–impose meaning onto an otherwise meaningless ground. That is why it can be enlightening for us to drop our symbols, at least once in a while. For as we do, we see the world afresh.
But it’s not easy for us to clear our mind of symbols. We think in symbols. To be sure, that’s why we invented meditation. This practice helps us to drop the symbols–if only for a moment or two. It helps us to fall behind the symbols and thereby awaken ourselves to something deeper inside.
This is similar to what we seen in little children, those aged one, two, three, and four. They take the world as it is. They are forthright. They do not concern themselves with their purpose on this planet nor do they ponder their special significance in the universe. Moments come and go in an ever-unfolding revelation of sights, sounds, events. Everything is alive. Everything bristles with energy.
Each child sees her world through pristine eyes. The accumulated history and traditions of humankind has not yet settled like dust within her mind. The world is fresh. A child has not yet developed that special lens through which to view the world, that lens which filters out any images from the world that do not conform to her internal beliefs. In other words, she sees things clearly. Every possibility remains open.
By the time we’re adults, we simply do not see the world clearly. We become clouded, dulled, jaded. As we grow older, we experience increasing difficulty in witnessing the vibrant, animating force inherent in everything. We close ourselves off to the spirit-world, and therefore we lose it. Jesus calls our attention to this problem repeatedly. For instance, when referring to those who had not understood his message concerning the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of the father, he proclaims that people simply do not perceive things clearly. In The Gospel of Thomas, for example, Jesus says, “the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” (1) Or as he says in Matthew 13:13: “Seeing, they do not see, hearing, they do not hear.”(2)
So what can we do? How can we see? How can we hear? We need to clear our minds and become like little children. As noted at Matthew 18:1-4:
. . . the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest
in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put
among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and
become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of
heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”(3)
First we must remember that, for Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is omnipresent. It permeates all that is. It’s even “within us.” And, of course, children can see this. Children can sense this.
To the child, everything is fantastic. Everything is animated, whether it happens to be something real or something imagined, whether it be the image of the next door neighbor working in her yard, the image of a rushing brook, the image of Santa Claus coming down the chimney, or the image of God as a loving and caring Mother. Everything glitters.
Second we must remember that the child is humble. This was true especially in Jesus’s day but, even today, children—more so than adults—are obsequious, innocent, gullible, and meek. To the child, the world is great, his ego is not. The adults in his life appear magnificent, while he feels small and helpless in comparison. The child has not had time enough to become self-absorbed; his “self” has not become so all-important. Even though the child might be wanting and selfish, he is often humbled by the world and by other people as he attempts to meet his every need. Therefore he finds a unique perspective. He reaches out to the world and to others, and for whatever beauty, compassion, and love he receives in return, he’s grateful.
The author of the famous spiritual scriptures of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, is known by his pseudonym, Lao Tsu. This name he chose refers, in general, to “old masters,” but it is a paradoxical joke as well since it can also mean “mature child.”
In our adulthood, perhaps we too can become old masters by allowing ourselves to become as children again. Here are a couple of spiritual techniques that can help . . .
Two Practices for Clearing the Mind
1) “Neti, Neti” – A Meditation:
To become as children, we need to do two things: See the world more clearly and drop the ego. We can accomplish both with this Hindu meditation. Literally, “Neti, Neti” means “Not This, Not This” but to add a variation to this meditation, we usually translate it as “Not This, Not That.” Here’s how to do it:
Sitting comfortably, begin paying attention to your thoughts. Let any, and every, thought come. But to each thought, say Not This. In effect, you’re saying to yourself: “This thought is not reality.”
As a point of fact, it is our senses which perceive reality. Our thoughts can only hope to match it. Through our senses, we experience the world first-hand. Reality is what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Thoughts come in words or images. These are mental constructs of reality, not reality itself. In addition, each mind identifies with its thoughts. This creates an ego, a mental construct of “self” which is even farther removed from reality.
So, by keeping you from identifying with your thoughts, this meditation helps you to drop the ego. When you say to each thought, Not This, you’re declaring: “This thought is not me . . . this thought is not my reality.”
With your next thought, say Not That. It’s like saying, “I’m not that either . . . that’s not real for me.” With your next thought say Not This. Then, with the thought after, say Not That. And so on.
Take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour with this meditation,. And during the entire session, use only the words “Not This” and “Not That.” This keeps the meditation simple. And it keeps you focused.
Using this “Neti, Neti” exercise cleanses the mind. It helps us to see more clearly as it keeps us from imposing our mental constructs on the world. It also helps us to dissolve that complex mental construct, the self. By dissolving the self, we become humble in the way we approach the world and each other. We become like a child again.
2) “Ah This!” – A Celebration:
Our minds create history. Based on our past experiences, the mind reviews, catalogs, analyzes, and compartmentalizes events in the present moment. This is good sometimes. It can help us to change things. But the mind does this all the time. We’re constantly creating history. The present moment becomes an historical moment, even as it happens.
For example, if someone hands you a rose, you can experience it in reality. You can make a direct connection with it. You can see it, feel it, smell it. But as soon as you think, “beautiful,” the rose disappears. Now the mind enters. The mind begins to categorize this rose by comparing it with other “beautiful” things that the mind has known and by making a judgment: “This too is beautiful.” Even if someone hands you a rose and you think only, “rose,” you begin cataloging it as one among many you’ve known. It is not the same as any you have known, yet you make it so in your mind.
We use our minds to create meaning. The meaning is not really there; the mind creates it. We think up what things mean. We attribute meaning to things by generating words or thoughts to describe them. The rose you were just handed has no meaning. It just is. Why compare it? Why discard the present experience for a handful of words?
By comparing, by trying to find meaning in things, we lose the sheer, chaotic joy of the moment. We would surely be better off following the King’s advice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “‘If there’s no meaning in it,’ said the King, ‘that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.'”
That’s why we humans invented meditation. Through meditation, we found that we could quiet the mind, that we could stop the mind for a brief interval from creating history of the present moment, and that we could then enter that moment. With no mind to interfere, the present becomes not only a thing of beauty and of joy, it becomes eternal.
In his poem “Auguries of Innocence”, the mystic William Blake says that if you become child-like, it’s possible. . .
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Indeed, children participate in the present moment more vigorously than adults. Children see the world more clearly. The reason? The child’s mind holds less history. It has fewer layers of historical data by which to categorize the present moment. The older we grow however, the more categories we create. These become layers of dust in the mind. The more layers we accumulate, the more these layers obscure our view of the present moment, now.
“Ah This” is similar to Neti Neti, except it involves your active participation in the world. When handed a rose, say nothing but Ah This! Every time the mind tries to enter, exclaim Ah This! For at least a few moments, let no thoughts interfere. Simply celebrate this rose that you are now holding. Experience it. Caress its petals, Ah This, smell it, drink it in with your eyes.
What kind of flower is it? You don’t know. Ah This! You don’t care right now. You simply enjoy it. You participate with it in the moment. Ah This! You feel its presence here combining with your presence here this very moment now. Ah This.
And now, the very moment lingers. Here. Now. Ah This!
(1) The Gospel of Thomas (113). The Other Gospels, edited by Ron Cameron. Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1982.
(2) Matthew 13:13. The Bible (New Catholic Edition). See also parallel statements in Mark 4:12, Mark 8:18, Luke 10:23-24, John 12:40, and Romans 11:8.
(3) Matthew 18:1-4. The Bible: (New Revised Standard Version).
Jerry Dorsman is coauthor of the book How to Achieve Peace of Mind which presents physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual means to inner contentment. He is also the author of How to Quit Drinking Without AA and How to Quit Drugs for Good.
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