How to regain a sense of childlike wonder
As we stumble through this worryingly complex age of technology and materialistic pursuits, frantically juggling the demands of careers, parenthood and our multifarious lives, for all that we don’t know, one thing is certain. As grown-ups we’ve somehow lost our sense of childlike wonder.
When was the last time you let yourself go, indulging your senses in the delicious feel of cool, crunchy sand tickling your toes at the beach? Felt pure joy with the warm kiss of sunshine on your face? Licked a giant ice-cream cone, giggling as the sweet stickiness ran down your chin?
Childhood is an enchanting place where all is bright, new and surprising. Do you want to recapture the essence of who you are? It really is child’s play.
It’s all in your mind
The truth is, as adults we could learn a thing or two about life from our offspring. Children have an innate earthy curiosity, a spirited determination and a gentle honesty. They’re also naturally mindful. They live in a world where anything is possible and each and every moment is a potential adventure waiting to unfold.
According to psycho-educator and mindfulness practitioner Fiona Gauntlett, all children are born with the gift of being able to live fully in the present. “They have a natural engagement with the vitality of the moment; they’re receptive and fully absorbed in their life experiences,” she says.
You only have to watch a two-year-old engrossed in play, carefully constructing a tower of blocks, to see the tenacity and devotion to the task etched on their furrowed brow. They become absorbed in the now — they don’t care what happened three seconds ago, or three months ago, or worry about what’s going to happen next.
If you’ve never contemplated mindfulness, try taking a moment to pause. Use all your senses to capture the quintessence of the time and space you occupy right now, right in this present moment. Banish all other thoughts.
According to Gauntlett, the key to mindfulness is engaging all your senses in order to focus on what you can smell, taste and feel. “This naturally brings us into the present moment — it grounds us; it helps to refine our awareness so we become open to the more delicate sensations and nuances in our lives,” she says. “If we can open ourselves up to all the subtleties, that’s where we can enliven this sense of joy, wonder and happiness.”
Cultivating everyday mindfulness and practising the gentle art of conscious living become a whole new way of living. And, according to clinical social worker Debbie Carberry, tapping into the mindfulness mindset can help adults to live the lives they really want. “Kids get it but some of us adults believe we have an eternity,” she says. “Live your day as if every moment was your last, then you’ll live your life knowing what’s really important to you.”
A child’s brain is a work in progress. As the child grows and develops, changes occur that can arguably shape a child’s worldview. Dr Jordy Kaufman, from the Swinburne Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, says young children have very “busy brains” because of an extraordinary number of neural pathways.
“The amount of connectedness among neurons is phenomenal compared to an adult’s brain,” he says. “If a single thought can relate to almost infinite other thoughts, some aspects of curiosity could be facilitated by this super connectedness.” As the child grows and learns how to do things, useful patterns of thoughts establish themselves and neural connections that aren’t part of those patterns are pruned and disappear.
Another way a child’s brain differs from an adult’s is related to the frontal cortex, which Deals with inhibition and higher cognitive aspects such as planning and delayed gratification. These develop throughout childhood. “As a child grows, they no longer need to watch the same movie over and over, or play the same game; they can look ahead and imagine the outcome,” Dr Kaufman says.
Tap into your creativity
“In my soul I am still that small child who did not care about anything else but the beautiful colours of a rainbow.” ~ Papiah Ghosh
So how did we get to this place — the grown-up zone where hearts are bruised and broken, imagination is crushed and creativity runs screaming from the room?
According to clinical psychologist Dr Dina Haslan, everybody is born creative and free-spirited but we rein in our creativity because of our beliefs about how we should act in the grown-up world. “Adults worry about what the people think of them, so they start to temper their own naturalistic and creative intentions,” she says.
Kids, on the other hand, love to be carefree and create with abandon. They’ll whip up a masterpiece with finger-paints or crayons and paper (and, of course, some budding Picassos will even use your favourite lipstick and the lounge room wall as their canvas). They’ll collect twigs, rocks and leaves from the Garden and create a wondrous fairy garden where magic happens.
Others argue that we never actually lose our sense of playfulness. Dr Kaufman says that, to a significant extent, playfulness and curiosity are largely present throughout our lives. “It could just be that they go underground and become less obvious. Instead of playing physical games, there’s social playfulness that people engage in — the video game industry, gossiping, politics and water-cooler talk,” he says.
No matter what your beliefs, harnessing the childlike creativity you once owned so vividly can improve both your personal life and your work performance and prospects, making you more resourceful and innovative. American researchers Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson carried out a US study in 2010 into adult creativity, asking adults to imagine themselves as seven-year-olds. They discovered that the more an adult acts and thinks like a child, the more imaginative and creative he or she becomes.
The gift of love
Children are endlessly curious and they have an enormous capacity for love — just watch a five-year-old planting a kiss on the nose of a playful puppy or tearfully saying goodbye to their mum at the school gate. As adults we need to learn to hug each other more; to forgive those we feel have wronged us and to open our hearts and minds to the intricate Beauty of humanity. We can learn to recapture our innocent childlike grace by practising gentle acts of kindness to friends and to strangers.
As adults we also need to learn to let go — to allow time to meet our own needs. Focus on your sense of self and enjoy the moment. Revitalise and energise your spirit. According to Hazlan, this means discovering what you enjoy in life and committing yourself to spending time doing it.
“Take some time out every day to do something that relaxes you and gives you pleasure,” she says. “A good exercise to discover if you’ve done something relaxing is to ask yourself, do I have more energy at the end of that or less?”
Through a child’s eyes
Kids can be enchanted by simple things in the natural world that some adults would probably find a bit uninspiring or even ordinary: a midsummer storm, the mystical colours of a rainbow, even a tiny caterpillar scurrying up the garden path. Carberry says this unique mindset allows children to view this world with joy. “In my job I sit on the floor with kids each day and they take me to a place where imagination knows no bounds. They’ll pick up a rock and talk to me for 20 minutes about how beautiful it is or become enthralled by light sparkling through a window,” she says.
It’s all about perspective — viewing life through a lens filled with awe. When adults see a mud puddle, they’ll worry about splashing mud on their new shoes to walk through it; in a child’s eyes, a mud puddle is the perfect place to stomp their feet, to bury their hands in squishy, cool mud and to make delicious mud pies.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
By learning to lighten up, adults can truly see things with clarity and wonder. It’s about not sweating the small stuff in life and being committed to living your life with delight. After all, it’s a heavy load grown-ups carry — they toil endlessly, many sacrificing time with their loved ones in order to build another’s fortunes.
Adults chain themselves to yesterday’s mistakes with tortured regret, dwelling in the past where they are ghosts, touching nothing and changing nothing. Adults obsess about tomorrow and then beat themselves up when things don’t go according to their carefully structured life plan. What if you could look at things differently and truly let go?
Make fun a life goal
Kids love life. They find delight in virtually everything (except, of course, Brussels sprouts and homework); they don’t worry about routines or crossing off things on their to-do lists. So as adults should we ditch the routine stuff, shelve the overflowing laundry basket and just hang out at the park making daisy chains?
Carberry says it’s not about shirking responsibilities; rather it’s about embracing the enjoyment in everything we do. “We still have things we need to get done but we can do them joyfully,” she says. “If you sit a child in front of a basket of laundry, they’ll have a good time; they’ll match colours, feel the silky softness of fabrics or even try things on.”
Carberry says her own daughter always found ways to inject just a little bit of “shiny” into everything she did, no matter what the task. “Her job was to change the toilet rolls when she was younger and she made it fun.”
So next time you do some chores, turn up the stereo and dance to the music. After all, it’s your song — you can write the lyrics and sing it out loud any way you choose.
Break the rules — just a bit
Kids don’t always do what they’re told and, according to those in the know, neither should we. Dr Haslan says it’s OK to allow ourselves to break the rules — just a bit. “After all, most of the rules we live by are those we’ve imposed on ourselves,” she says. “They’re not there for any good reason.” It doesn’t matter if you have baked beans for dinner one night or take a cup of tea back to bed and read a book instead of doing the vacuuming. Allow yourself to do as you please every now and then.
“People are often genuinely surprised to learn the things they spend most of their time on aren’t necessarily the things that are most important to them,” says Dr Haslan. “For most people it’s relationships and family, but they spend more time doing chores, cleaning and running around,” she says.
While many of these things are obviously important, it could well be time to reclaim your work/play balance.
In Taoist tradition, tao means the “way” or the “path”. Spiritual founder Lao Tsu believed in going with the flow, the natural order of divine existence. Kids love to let life unfold. They rejoice in it.
They also like to take things slowly. Have you ever tried to hurry up your child while they’re getting dressed or playing in the bath? Kids enjoy dawdling; they’ll eat their breakfast and marvel at how the spilt milk makes a funny pattern on the table. They’ll spend countless minutes tying their shoes.
Slow down and give yourself more time to experience life. You may miss an exquisite moment and, once it has passed, you can never recapture it. In the end, all we have is moments. Make yours precious to you.
Turn off the TV and rediscover the simple pleasures you can share with your child. Go to the park and see the joy on your child’s face as they watch a butterfly take flight. Bake come cookies for a sick neighbour or mow their grass and teach your child the gift of charity.
Let your child take you on your journey to reclaim your childlike self. Caberry says if you want to tune into your child’s way of thinking, let your child guide you. “If you’re playing music with them, stay with the child’s rhythm, be in step with them,” she says. “If you want to be mindful, sit with your child and let them take you on a journey. Don’t try to control it — let them guide you through the process. You’ll find joy in that,” she says.
Carrol Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for lifestyle and health magazines across Australia.
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