Okay, kids can be pretty frustrating to deal with at times. Their constant need for attention, the emotional tantrums, their lack of accountability. Alright… They suck. But there are plenty of adults that suck just as much. Children just haven’t been conditioned and molded into the rules and roles of society for us to know if they’re a bad adult yet. However, children devoid of our institutions, particularly young children, have a spiritual quality about them that’s hard to find in even the most seasoned Pastors and Gurus. I’ve broken these spiritual aspects into five different qualities:
- A questioning curiosity: The genuine desire to understand
Children have little to no reservation of asking when they don’t understand something. They’re constantly opening up to what they haven’t learned about before. They are sponges soaking up the world, wanting to understand everything. When adults question, it can be seen as rebellious– “doubters” trying to rock the boat. It’s sometimes even seen as threatening when people are uncomfortable having what they know and accept seen through doubtful eyes.But isn’t it much better to want to understand than to not understand and jump to judgment? (Which we so often do.) How often do you hear adults say “I just don’t understand ________”? You fill in the blank. But when we say that, we’re not saying it with the intention or desire to understand. We’re saying it to distance ourselves and pass judgment on whatever it is that we don’t understand.
Children actually want to understand, and that’s why they ask. Doubt and questioning is healthy, and it keeps us in touch with ourselves. We don’t know everything, we never will know everything, and we know practically nothing about ourselves. Questioning opens us up to more possibilities– ideas and mindsets where our mind has never been before. An inquisitive mind is a healthy mind. Try questioning something you’ve grown very comfortable with.
- Presence in the moment: Full attention in the here and now
Have you ever watched a kid get totally absorbed into or even lose themselves in what they’re doing? Whether it’s drawing, legos, playing with dolls, dancing, laughing? Or maybe you’ve seen a kid stress over his incomprehension of time: “Mommy how much longer do we have to be here? 5 minutes? But that’s forever!”Until children begin to learn how we tell time, they live their lives without a concept of it. The only moment they know and can be sure of is right now. So they often throw themselves into that moment totally. And when they’re made to wait within our concept of time, it feels like an eternity to them. To them, 5 minutes might as well be 5 years. Our measurements of time are all arbitrary anyway.
But when adults are seen as present in the moment, they can be seen as immature or irresponsible, not keeping the future in mind, or not managing their time well. So in turn we develop a preoccupation with the past and future. We’re almost never thinking of the moment we’re in. It’s a curse and a blessing that our minds can time travel, but we allow ourselves to time travel far too often.
Children can really help us to practice being present in the now– because it’s true that the only moment that really exists is here and now. Putting yourself totally into the only moment that exists is pure living. One of the simplest ways to connect to the present moment is to be conscious of your breathing. Try it!
- Pride in their struggles and scars: Survivors not victims
Rather than wallow in what bad things have happened to them, children take pride in their past sufferings. The struggle endured is an affirmation of their strength. And kids sure can take a beating.I work at a gymnastics academy and one night while working the front desk, a girl came in with her mother wearing a cast on her leg. They approached her coach and the mom explained she had a stress fracture in her ankle so she wouldn’t be able to practice for a few weeks. The child was beaming. A stress fracture isn’t an injury that happens all at once, it happens after repeated stress on a bone. It’s also known as a hairline fracture and the pain creeps up on you as the bone cracks. Yet this child, although unable to do gymnastics, was so proud because she was still fine despite her injury. All kids know that injuries make you look tough and cool. And it’s true!
But as adults you hide scars and struggles in order to be seen as strong and give the perception that you’re not struggling. To wear those scars with pride can be seen as immature or discourteous, and very needy for attention. When in reality, our struggles and how we handle them are give us a sense of purpose. And when we hide our struggles, we often see ourselves as a victim rather than a survivor.
That little girl with the stress fracture in no way considered herself a victim. She was not only accepting of her injury, but proud. What a fantastic attitude to hold about yourself! It’s as if to say “Yeah, I got hurt. But I’m tough and strong and this is nothing I can’t handle.” That confidence in the face of suffering is what I admire most in children. Some children are stronger than we are. Try to keep the resilient strength of children in mind the next time you get hurt.
- Genuine compassion: The great capacity to love and forgive
Why does a hug from a child feel so good? It’s because it’s so genuine. There’s no calculated thought that goes into it. Those feelings overcome them and feel right so they go with it. Sometimes this quality in adults can be interpreted as desperate or weak. Sometimes it’s suspected there’s an ulterior motive– like trying to get into someone’s pants or otherwise manipulate a person into getting what they want. In the adult world, people must somehow be deserving of these genuine, selfless, giving feelings.Children’s concepts of “deservedness” are not so selfish. The kids I’ve worked with at the gym often touch me, despite me hardly knowing them or having built any relationship with them. Children I’m only meeting for the first time have said to me, “You’re really pretty and I like your name a lot,” and, “I really like you, you’re my favorite. Can I sit with you?” and one of my favorites, “Um, excuse me, I really want you to be my babysitter.” Those words can cheer up my day more so than many kind words from an adult. Because I know they mean it 100%. It comes from the heart.
One 5 year old boy surprises me every time I see him at the gym– which isn’t often, once a month maybe— because he is so elated to see me each time. He gets this big grin on his face and does that cute dance kids do when their excitement overcomes them. Then he runs and gives me a big hug, telling me he’s so glad to see me. He treats me like an old friend that can pick up right where we left off the last time we parted. And I’ve interacted with this child maybe six times total. He just really digs my vibes, man.
That feels so good. We have very little basis for a relationship yet he puts full effort into making sure that we do have one in the our limited window of interaction. To me, that’s strength. He has so much love and compassion that he extends it when possible.
Adults really must draw from this because once you have such genuine compassion extended to you, you want to spread it. It’s infectious. And it makes you such a happier person. I encourage all adults to see the world through compassionate eyes.
- Imaginative creativity: Stepping outside of the box
Because their minds have not yet been molded into the structure of convention, children do not put boundaries on their imagination. They are not yet burdened by the responsibility to be a contributing member of society so they are not so limited. Their minds run free and wild. As a result, children are so creative, so silly, and so playful.They seek to create enjoyment for themselves in every possible way, and thus the flow of their ingenuity allows for endless entertainment. They are not afraid to let loose. Judgment isn’t even on their radar. They’ll sing and dance, build and make art– sometimes quite badly I might add, but they don’t care. They’re doing it for themselves, not for anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve babysat a child that insists every four lines she draws on a page is a regular Rembrandt quality piece. But who am I to tell her she’s wrong when she’s never created such a work of art with her own hand before?
As adults, letting the imagination go can be seen as spacey, immature, foolish, nonsensical, not serious enough, too silly, or irresponsible. In the adult world you must be serious, logical, and reasoned in order to be respected. There’s little room for creativity and imagination.
The kid in me really comes out when I spend time alone with children. I sing and dance with them, I play pretend, I make up words and say things my friends would call stupid. But kids accept that– it’s fun!! If you can create lasting memories with your imagination, why limit it? Our minds can be limitless. So let them be.
Kids really can show us how to be our truest Self. All of these qualities listed above are natural things we’re born with. However the conditioning of society wears them down as we grow older and we forget the importance of being inquisitive, present, proud of our struggles, genuinely compassionate, and creative.
We’re forced into the seriousness of being an adult and playing our identity in society, then we feel disconnected and try to find ourselves through spiritual means. We have all these religions and gurus that try to guide us, but children can really teach us what we struggle to seek. They represent what we are before we’re conditioned by our illusory institutions and roles.
Those things we as responsible adults think are so important and need to take precedence are often what hold us back from connecting to that child within us. That child you used to be is still there, it’s still you. She or he is just buried beneath all these unneeded preoccupations we’ve determined are just “part of growing up and being an adult.” Ask yourself: What do you lose when you grow up? Are we really growing or just filling our roles as adults?