The myth of the happy childhood hides a sad truth: that one of the principal effects of ‘education’ seems to be the process of ‘disillusionment’. I call this process ‘sad’, but, in fact, it’s more like ‘tragic’. In early childhood, youngsters are more closely aligned with their inner destiny than perhaps at any other time of their lives. Once this vision – essentially a spiritual kind of knowledge – has been lost, it may or may not ever be regained. And yet, our educational system seems to approach the intuitive nature of young p eople as ‘just daydreaming’ or ‘fantasy’. Yet, perhaps the greatest challenge of midlife rests in attempting to enable the adult (the ‘educated’ child) to recapture his or her initial, primitive life vision. Without a sense of the person you’re called to be how will you ever be able to replace the life vision and goals that midlife exposes as empty and disingenuous?
You and I were literally educated to disregard our deepest sentiments, and trained to want what everyone else has . . . and more. The kind of ‘reality’ that we’re shown from our earliest years, a reality where marketing to promote the desire for acquisition overshadows all other values, produces adults locked into a childish ‘me-centered’ world. Creative people find themselves classified as ‘dreamers’ and crticized as ‘unrealistic’. Those who have been gifted with extraordinary talents (like spiritual discernment or extra-sensory knowledge) fare even worse. They are most often ridiculed by their peers (with adult encouragement) and threatened with psychological ‘correction’ unless and until they abandon their ‘errant imaginations.’ You and I have been victims of a system that taught us to ignore, disregard, and disparage our own deepest sense of self. The extent of this damage only really appears at midlife, when the artifice of ‘adulthood’ begins to play itself out.
The closer you come to ‘success’, the more the core fallacy of adulthood gets uncovered: when you obtain what you want, what’s left? Most often, this sense of disillusionment provides fertile ground for marketing. It says, “I know you feel disillusioned and empty in spite of all you’ve gained, but look here: if you get this, you’ll be much happier!” If you listen to the marketing, you’ll find that your desire will motivate you toward going after that thing (whatever it may be) that you lack. Almost immediately, you’re dreams will be stimulated, and you’ll feel a sense of purpose. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction until, that is, you’ve acquired your new possession. Then, it starts all over again. But, what if you never attain your goal? What if, as you strive to acquire your newest object of desire, you overreach and overextend yourself? What happens if you not only fail to reach your goal, but lose what you have in the process? How do you measure that pain?
The Buddha taught that the cause of all suffering is desire. You don’t have to go far to prove him right: just ask any one of the thousands of men and women who’ve lost their homes through foreclosure in recent months. For those whose sense of self-worth remains fixed on acquisition, loss of their assets represents the greatest tragedy. And yet, isn’t this a very childish attitude? I suggest that it represents the immaturity that hides at the core of the adult experience, and that the sort of disillusionment that the cycle of desire and acquisition necessarily brings can actually be the door to something more substantial, more authentic, more basic and more primordial. When the childish myth of ‘more = better’ finally dissolves, you have the opportunity to go back to the beginning (before you were ‘educated out of it’) to recapture the vision that nourished and sustained you in childhood. You get the chance to reject the adult paradigm that tells you that the reason you’re here is to consume more; and to recover the inner gift that you have to offer the world: a gift that’s uniquely your own to give.
The Christian Scriptures speak of “becoming like a little child”, and many people have interpreted that to mean trusting in you Higher Power. That’s important, but only part of the insight. It also means regaining a childlike trust in your own intuition as a powerful indicator of the identity of the person you were designed and designated to be. Your particular mix of strengths, talents, knowledge, skills and experience is unique to you. It’s only when, facing the often-painful stripping-away of childish desires and goals that make up the midlife experience, you are able to return the childlike clarity of initial life vision that you can begin truly to discern your purpose. It takes real courage to go against popular culture and all the assumptions that go with it. Yet your chance to show your courage comes with your entry into the midlife transition. When you exercise your courage, and when you give your core life vision the engagement that it deserves, miracles happen. Suddenly, you no longer need to look outside of yourself for your purpose and direction: you own it. What’s more, you’ll discover that the dreams of childhood will come true, only without the limitations of a child’s imagination. It’ll feel like, at long last, coming home.
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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown
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