A Child’s World

I was witness to an awful enemy that entered the life of my son, it was like a destroying army. It tore down the castles, and put torch to the villages and harvests of his soul. It seemed to me that in his case there was no gradual transition from childhood, only a tearing open and a destruction of all that had been held dear, and was still deeply needed and loved.

If I can put a name to the enemy he was laid low by, if I can point to a form, then I would say it is called by many names, some of them being Cynicism, Despair, Commercialism, Materialism. Whatever its right name is, it robs hope from some children. It tears down their ability to create a world for themselves, and instead forces on them a view of the world – no, not a view, but what feels like a concrete reality – that is barren and where nothing grows except in connection with industrial factories, economic necessities, sexual and social manipulation.

It is like a cage in which the soul feels itself trapped. My son graphically described this world again and again in his writings. He had been diagnosed as suffering clinical depression, so some of the imagery in his stories is very precise.

 “That world could in no ways be described as pleasant. It had been explained to me at quite an early stage in my stay at the sanatorium, that my perception of my environment, and life in general, was tragically flawed. This made me, said the white-coats, prone to behaviour which normal people found frightening. I could not fully grasp this concept, there being no way by which I could experience what was described as a sane view of the world. And so I lived in constant unreality; trusting not a single thing my senses told me, and despising what I supposed was a devilish and insidious contagion that tainted all my thoughts with madness. I became very insular and spoke as little as possible.”

In fact for some years my son hardly spoke at all.

Fortunately, most of us do not have a childhood like his. The worlds of childhood are in fact endlessly varied. Even different periods of history provide variety in the sort of childhood one might experience. Nevertheless, during early childhood we exist in a way, in a world, that has many differences to adulthood. I clearly recall a period of childhood when I had no sense of time. I didn’t know what it meant. But more important than that, I didn’t experience it either. As an adult this seems difficult for me to believe. Time is time. Its passing is obvious. So presumably it would be equally obvious to a child as it is to an adult.

R.D. Laing, who from his life history was himself a victim of ‘parents’ wrote, “From the moment of birth, ‘the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father have been, and their parents and their parents before them. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful.’

Laing theorised that insanity could be understood as a reaction to the divided self. Instead of arising as a purely medical disease, schizophrenia was thus the result of wrestling with two identities: the identity defined for us by our families and our authentic identity, as we experience ourselves to be. When the two are fundamentally different, it triggers an internal fracturing of the self.”

It is only because I can remember when it didn’t exist for me that I can question my adult experience of it, and see that my sometimes powerful feelings about the passage of time, about punctuality, about age, about the past, and the future, are all learned responses. I know this because I can remember when I had none of those responses. In fact I remember the very distinct beginning of time, the genesis of my universe of changing continuance, of duration and the span of life extending forwards and backwards.  

During my pre-school years our next-door neighbour, Mrs. Spilstead, looked after me while my mother was at work. One day I was standing by her window looking into the street watching for my mother to appear back from work. It was something I recall doing often, and I asked Mrs. Spilstead if my mother was coming. She told me my mother would arrive “in a minute”. I didn’t understand what this meant, so I asked her what a minute was. The room we were in had a large open fireplace recessed under a big bay chimney. The wall running left from this had a large Welsh dresser against it, and between the fireplace and the dresser was a massive wall clock with large black hands and white face. Mrs. Spilstead pointed to the clock, and I remember the minute hand was somewhere in the ten to or twelve-to position. She said that when the long hand moved from one of the marks on the clock face to the next, that was a minute. I got close to the clock and watched intently as the hand slowly crept from one of what I now know to be the minute divisions to the next. I had never seen this happen before, and with the wide-open mind of a child, information poured into me and a new experience was born.  ” A ”  minute, I understood, was a duration in which a certain amount of events could occur. The most obvious being the period during which the slow moving clock hand could move from one mark to another.

Of course this didn’t mean that my sense of time was fully developed from there on. The experience of being lost in the world of Michaelmas daisies and sticklebacks, shows how slowly the sense of time creeps into our soul, and influences it.  It is difficult to map the gradual encroachment of time into our worldview. Even well into my school years, summer holidays felt like an eternity.  At that period I had no concept of the holiday ending.  Each day was so intensely packed with millions of felt sensations, thoughts, feelings, that a week was like forever. Unfortunately as the sense of time does encroach on us, it puts a filter over virtually all that we experience and feel.  Very few things in adult life lift us beyond that filter, and immerse us again so totally in the present experience.

This immersion in the moment lends it a magic often missing in our adult life.  So much so that we often look back to memories of those times with great fondness.  I remember for instance, playing outside of Mrs Spilstead’s back door with a wind up gramophone. I was allowed to use some of the old style 78s, and these filled me with a wonder that I have seldom ever approached since.  Particularly impressive amongst these records were Ave Maria, Tiptoe Through The Tulips, and Ravel’s Bolero. My experience of these was so intense the music has left a lasting impression in my life.  Although I couldn’t see it at the time, Ave Maria was probably my first religious experience.  The music lifted my feelings towards something that was mysterious and wonderful, something I could not apprehend, did not even try to apprehend.  It was enough to be immersed in it beyond any formed knowing.

Ravel’s Bolero impressed me in quite another way.  As I listened I seemed to be standing in a desert stretching away immensely before my gaze.  Then, gradually coming into sight, a caravan of camels slowly getting closer as the music swelled. At the height of the music, the closeness of the beasts, the colour, the smells filled me, all gradually passing and fading away until there was only the desert and myself.

Such timeless pleasure is wonderful, but timelessness can also be hell. As at three years old I was put in a convalescent home because of my delicate health. The part this played in my life was unknown, and unsuspected, until I started the therapeutic work of self-regulation (SR).

One evening, I as an adult  was led into the experience of being a small child, crying in a cot, feeling abandoned in a hospital.  As the experience developed I realised that I was the boy.  I was the child deserted in hospital.

At the time the emotions were very real.  The sobs shook my whole body. The memory was clear that this had happened to me.  So I was led to believe that somehow I had released the pain of my child self left in that hospital. This was a complete mis-judgement of the depths of misery a child can feel. Ten or more years later, through a series of events, I was led to revisit my three-year-old self.  The events leading up to it are fascinating, because they were so perfectly tuned to produce the event that followed.  So perfect that I am led to believe such things are not an accident. Also, considering the length of time between the original emergence of my abandoned child feelings, and this new meeting, I believe many such pains cannot be met until we have enough ego strength and skills to sail these rough waters.

This hell, imprinted in so many of us during our childhood, remains unknown in the majority.  It thereby goes on poisoning lives, relationships and society.  The only positive side I can see to it is that if we dare to descend into that hell, and find a way of returning, we gain great strength, we learn great wisdom, we absorb humility and compassion.

See http://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/childhood/

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