When we were kids, everything felt a bit different.
The world was a vast sea of possibilities, and we were the warm little center of that infinite potential. There was a sense of ease—a vibrant lightness that carried through all of our thoughts and actions.
Life felt like a creative play, a magical dance of joyous beauty. There was no separation between our experience and the world—they were completely intertwined in harmonious rapture. Everything was alive. Everything was right here, right now.
We grow older and start becoming self-aware, and that’s when the trouble sets in.
Our awkward middle school years lead us into our nervous high school years, which eventually become our stressful and chaotic adult years. We adapt to the neurotic pace of modern culture and never look back. That energy and excitement we had as children is taken over by neurotic habits and daily stress, and we have a progressively more difficult time getting in touch with the innocence and curiosity of our youth. We resort to pleasure-seeking and pain avoidance as a way of life—which traps us in our thoughts.
I think it was Alan Watts who once talked about how the essence of spirituality is carrying the child’s mind into the complicated world of adulthood. If we can maintain that pure state of consciousness of our childhood while jumping through the loops and hurdles of our grown-up lives—with all of the responsibilities and pressures that come along with them—that’s about as close to enlightenment as we can get.
Maintaining awareness through the paralyzing fog of self-awareness is the secret to happiness.
Have you ever noticed that when we were children, we didn’t really think all that much? The little voice in our head wasn’t as loud as it has become now. There was not a lot of examining and evaluating of the past and the future—there was just our experience.
Our ego had not fully developed, so the identity games that many of us play with ourselves now, “I’m not good enough,” “I am better than these people,” “I am above this job,” did not exist. It stopped at simply “I am,” because that’s all that mattered back then. There was no self, because we had not yet identified with our mind. We were immersed in our experience, instead of being confined to the little voice in our head that calls itself “me.”
We can’t go back. Dwelling on the past is just more thinking, trying to free us from the challenges we face now. I don’t want to think about how beautiful childhood was, I want to experience it in the present—which means recognizing that I am not fundamentally different than I was back then.
The only thing that has changed is that we think a hell of a lot more, we’re a little taller, and our genitals have more use. The last two don’t present much of a problem (usually), but the fact that we’re addicted to thinking most certainly does. If we can’t stop thinking, we can’t be grounded in our experience, because our thoughts aren’t real life.
We are not our thoughts, and this is the realization made by all of the great spiritual teachers. The mind is only one part of the human experience. We are the awareness, not this misplaced sense of self. We all have an ego by necessity, but the trick is to see beyond it—to be oriented toward the “felt presence of immediate experience,” to quote Terence McKenna, rather than completely identified with our thoughts. We are not our thoughts—we are the feeling of being alive.
I’ve been feeling this deeper connection lately. Through meditation and self-inquiry, I’ve been able to observe myself much more closely—even the parts I’d rather not look at. Everything feels more real to me. It’s almost like I had gone somewhere for a while, like my consciousness had taken a vacation to escape the pain of my experience. I’m starting to wake up again, and I am remembering moments in my life where I felt the same way—all the way back to my childhood. It’s like the world has opened up for me again, and I’m ready to embrace it.
We tap into the vibrance of our inner child by paying attention. That’s it.
When we are aware of our own experience directly, without the screen of our thoughts, we step fully into the here and now. The world becomes a vast sea of possibilities once again, and we are taken over by a sense of joy. We allow the waves of our emotions to move through us without feeling the need to hold onto them. There is a feeling of abundance, as though we have everything we need and the rest just adds to our experience, rather than a perpetual feeling of lack. We feel connected with our body, and the sense of being an isolated individual is dissolved as we realize ourselves as an intrinsic part of life. Our experience becomes fully embodied.
What does this look like? Well, it doesn’t look all that different than many of us do in our daily lives.
The change is subtle, as a calm serenity comes to manifest through our movements through the world— along with an underlying fierceness that gives us the courage to defend our heart’s deepest purpose. There is a sense of invigoration, a deep revitalization of the cells of the body in opening ourselves up to the present moment. We channel the visceral and immediate quality of our childhood—when we chased a butterfly for two hours or played in the dirt all day—that feeling of fullness and undying exuberance.
It might sound like a postcard, but it’s really something so close to home that we miss it all the time.
We are not the ego. We are not made up of our experiences and memories. We are not purely thinking creatures. We are that strange and exciting awareness that drifts gently beneath the waking mind, forever taunting us into greater depth and aliveness.
That’s the child’s mind. That’s the endlessly curious and expansive flash of insight that comes spontaneously in and of itself—when we open our hearts and minds and souls to the flowing river our lives, experiencing with joy and clarity the journey we must take.
We don’t know where it will take us, but we do know that we’ll be there every step of the way. From moment to moment.