Most of us struggle to remember ourselves as children much before age five. There may be some flashes or snippets of memories but we may lack conscious recollection of how life was for us as children. We might have heard about ourselves as children, but those stories are other people’s memories, not ours.
Yet children carry an innate wisdom, innocence and curiosity that we adults often forget. Many spiritual practices boil down to redeeming this lost innocence and seeing life fresh for what it is, without projecting out our stories and past hurts. Philosophers and poets often refer to children’s power to remain connected to our source as the concept of the ‘divine’ or ‘mystic’ child. Letting this sense of awe and wonder into our lives as writers has a huge potential to enrich our experience of writing. As Charles Baudelaire, the 19th century French poet, puts it, ‘Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.’
As I observe my two-year-old son growing up, the idea of the ‘divine child’ is my everyday reality. I am blown away by his curiosity and his level of presence and commitment to whatever he is doing. If he is watching his favourite cartoon and you are trying to get his attention, well … you might as well give up. If he likes a tune, he gets up and has a jig to it without any censorship. If he is upset, there is no missing it. His flow is natural and effortless.
Growing up in Azerbaijan, where children are loved but treated as objects to be fed, clothed and protected, including from themselves, I suspect my impulses were suppressed at an early age. I often heard a lot of praise from my grandma for what a wonderful child I was. ‘You were born an adult,’ she often said. Well, possibly, she saw the ‘divine child’ in me.
But watching other children growing up in my household, I suspect I was never fully allowed to be a child. I get a sense that being invisible and undemanding were essential for my survival. If I quietly occupied myself without getting in adults’ way, I was a good girl. Surrounded by adults who often did not have the time to nurture my curiosity, I believe I shut down to love and freedom from an early age. I have some conscious recollection of an impulse arising in me to ask questions, but actively suppressing my curiosity out of fear that adults may get mad with me. I hid away my thoughts and actions, storing large amounts of anxiety and fear that I might be caught doing something adults might disapprove of.
‘Lubopitnoi Varvare na bazare nos otorvali,’ (Curious Varvara’s nose was torn away at the bazaar) was one of the commonly used phrases in our family. ‘Don’t be nosy! Don’t stick your nose in adults’ business!’ Combined with Soviet ideology and the oppressive style of teaching at school, where asking questions equalled challenging authority, my sense of awe and wonder at life was numbed down. Life’s challenges exacerbated this numbness and for years I was shut down to life and its beauty without even realising it.
Nowadays, I know that my ‘divine child’ feels safe enough to come out and play when I am in nature. I wake up to the changing seasons, particularly spring and autumn. I love listening to bird song and noticing new buds and flowers coming to life. I am touched by the spaciousness of the sky and the vastness of an ocean. Music I love awakens my heart. Going for a naked swim on a deserted beach or beneath a waterfall is liberating. Playing with colours and making art invigorates me. Singing in a choir feels transcendent of pain and old stories. Last, but not least, the very process of writing re-connects me with my inner child, facilitating deep healing and growth. While writing is healing in its own right, finding other ways of awakening this childlike awe and wonder in the world are essential for our stories to be fresh, original and enjoyable.