An iceberg universe

Image by Uwe Kils Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Image by Uwe Kils

Fat little fingers hold up the toy as she peers at her reflection, laughing at herself. That she is, at two years old, very self-aware is evident in the way she plays with her own and her family’s reflections in the big, night-darkened windows. It is evident too in her naming of people and creatures, differentiating them from herself and recognising their unique individuality. She has already learned who to turn to at any given moment to have her needs and desires met and twists her father round her tiny finger with no more than a smile. She knows her own mind, there is a real and distinct personality and a playful sense of humour developing and showing in her offering and withholding of kisses and objects… and in the very definite ‘no’ with which she has established both her right and her ability to make her own choices.

She kisses her reflection and passes the little toy mirror to her father, quite obviously expecting him to look. I wonder… does she think her image will still be there for him to see? Or does she realise that he will only see his own reflection?

Her language skills are still too limited to discuss such a complex concept, so the question goes unasked, but it is interesting and delightful to watch her emerge from the cocoon of babyhood and become a person. This infant Eve, whose hair matches my own baby locks perfectly and whose look of mischief mirrors certain treasured photographs and her big sister’s mischief, is bidding fair to become a force to be reckoned with. Watching her and sensing the dancing echoes of the future, I am glad I only had sons to raise…

But it left me wondering… when do humans become conscious of selfhood? How do we know? We can see and measure certain reactions… like the recognition of the distinction between object and reflection, for example. We can put an age to various calibrated steps that show self-awareness. But I got stuck on the word ‘show‘…

Just because we cannot find an understandable way to measure a demonstrable self-awareness, does that really mean that there is none? A coma patient, locked in an unmoving body may be unable to communicate the activity of the mind, yet we are beginning to realise that often that mind is active and conscious. Like the case of Rom Houben, and, for a time, my own son. It is only now that our technology allows us to see and confirm this… it is no new phenomenon, only our methods are new.

The mirror test is the standard for assessing the awareness of the self. Very few other creatures have passed this test. Magpies pass it and are accredited with self awareness, even though they do not actually possess the bit of brain where it was supposed to reside… the neocortex. Dogs, on the other hand, fail and have officially no self-awareness. I and millions of dog lovers would strongly disagree. So would my dog.

She is not officially self-aware. But she does understand a ‘foreign’ language… mine… and chooses whether or not she wants to do as she is asked. She creates games and remembers them and expects you to do so as well. She has distinct tastes and preferences, feels and expresses emotion, including empathy, understands people very well and can communicate her needs and desires quite effectively. But her prime mode of communication is subtle and non-verbal, including everything from pointing with her eyes, to the rate of breath, her stance and facial expressions. But she has no self-consciousness… according to a vision-based test on a species for whom smell and hearing are the primary senses and far more acute than our own.

Maybe the tests we created half a century ago, when our view of the world and its creatures was somewhat different and rather more limited, need to be reassessed…

Perhaps the definition itself is vague… or flawed… or just plain wrong…

How do we know that a newborn baby is not aware of its own being? Because it doesn’t have the tools to define and demonstrate that awareness in a manner we can understand? Because we can’t measure it? Is that really a sound basis for such a judgement?

If we were to accept that a thing cannot exist because we cannot see, measure or replicate it, then we would live in a poor universe indeed. Can we measure hope? Quantify empathy or dissect kindness? They are just as abstract as self-awareness yet their results in the world are just as concrete.

We live in an iceberg universe, where most of our home, and even our understanding of ourselves, is still hidden from our view. In evolutionary terms, we are little more than babes… exploring a room where the cupboards are too high for our infant hands to reach or our eyes to see.

I would like to think we can preserve a childlike sense of wonder at the magic and mystery we encounter every day without giving it a single thought… and see what still waits, unknown and undiscovered, beneath the surface of our current knowledge as an adventure to be embraced. If the library of creation is written in a language we cannot yet understand, the inability to comprehend should not make us dismiss what we find there as being without value or existence… it should only encourage us to learn how to read.

Slimegrobbels and custard…

“Tell me a story…”

My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.

The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.

By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the smallest of chefs. I could only be thankful that the meal was imaginary… and delight in the serious expression with which Imogen, barely two years old, ‘cooked’ and ‘ate’ the ‘food’ while Hollie supervised. Watching a child’s imagination begin to flower is a beautiful thing.

As we settled down in the pink palace built by a besotted father for his princesses, Hollie asked what we should play next. I asked her to tell me a story.

“I don’t know any stories…” She held up empty hands, but that, I knew, was far from the truth. Not only can Hollie tell a good story from those she has heard, she also creates whole imaginary worlds for us to play in.

“You know lots of stories…” Hollie sighed and rolled her eyes in a manner that will serve her well when she has children of her own.

“Just pretend I don’t know any stories, Grandma… so, you’ll have to tell one.” I had walked into that, so we snuggled up and I began with the traditional words…

“Once upon a time, on the edge of a forest, there lived a little girl. She was as pretty as a princess and loved to wear a red riding cloak with a hood. Her name…” I could see the satisfaction as Hollie recognised the tale, “was Fred…”

Fred???”

“Fred.”

Hollie, her interest well and truly caught, sat forward in her armchair as I told how Little Fred Riding Hood had gone to visit Grandmother in the woods, carrying a basket of slimegrobbels, because Grandmother’s best friend, the Wolf, was poorly…and how, when she arrived at the cottage, Fred found that the wicked witch, disguised as a woodcutter, had changed them both into gingerbread men who had been packed in a giant’s lunchbox and had to be rescued by the fairy godmother who turned them into pumpkins by mistake.

Imogen was almost asleep, but Hollie had listened to every word. She sighed again.

That was just a pretend story, Grandma. Now tell me the real one…where Red Riding Hood isn’t called Fred… or anything else…” She went on to give me a synopsis of the whole adventure so that I would not miss any of the important details.

I smiled and told the story, pleased that my little granddaughter could tell the difference between a ‘real’ and a ‘pretend’ fairytale. It wasn’t simply that she knew the original plot well, she recognises that such tales have to be told in a certain way… ‘properly’, she called it. That is a common thing for children. The words and how a story is told matters.

What struck me most, though, was that from the way she was telling me the storyline, she also seems to understand, at some instinctive level, that while fairytales are not true, they are real in their own way. They have their own integrity and, when ‘properly’ told, they are important. Arbitrary changes are not allowed as they alter the essence of the story completely and, at the heart of every old fairytale, there are lessons to be learned whose sense will be lost if the salient details are altered.

In the days before the majority could read or write…and even further back, to a time before the written word was invented, storytelling would have been very much a part of the life of the tribes and families as they gathered around the light of the hearthfire. Stories would have been valued, from the anecdotes the old ones told of their youth, to the tales of the hunters, to those told by the shamans and teachers.

Much wisdom can be concealed within a story… and such tales would have been learned young, perhaps long before they were fully understood. Because they were stories, not obvious lessons, they would have been remembered and both the stories themselves and the hidden wisdom they held would have been passed down through the tribes and clans, just as we still remember the fairytales of childhood and tell them to the children at our knees.

As I sat there with my granddaughters, I felt that we were part of a story that goes back to the earliest human lives… and forward into a future that will one day leave even our memories behind. I remembered my own early years, looking up at great grandma and saying those same words. Images flitting across the screen of memory like gentle ghosts… a child absorbing lessons unawares, their stories attached to the emotions they engendered… and to the love of the storyteller .

Will Hollie tell her granddaughters about Little Fred Riding Hood one day? Will Imogen teach her grandchildren to make slimegrobbels and custard? How far into the past do we reach with that one simple phrase? How far into the future will one shared fairytale carry us as children uncountable say the magic words…

“Tell me a story.”

Questions of ‘relativity’…

File:Albert Einstein as a child.jpg
Einstein as a child

“… so I thought I’d ask ‘Google’.”

“Which is why you phoned me?”

“Precisely. You know everything and you’re quicker than the internet.”

Oh gawd…”

“What do you know about relativity?”

“ Erm… E=mc2?”

“Yeah, that.”

“What exactly do you want to know…?”

***

The conversation is typical of those my son and I have been having half a dozen times a day lately. The phone will ring and we will talk for an hour or so at a time. The subjects he has called to discuss, or that have come up over his morning cuppa, have been as diverse as astrophysics, optics, Chaos theory and quantum mechanics. And that’s without psychology, cats, comparative spirituality and the correct way to make tea.

Quite why he thinks that someone who left school at sixteen should be omniscient, I do not know, though it tickles me that my son should apparently, and mistakenly, think it is so. I recall a time, not so very long ago, when, in common with most youngsters, he believed I knew nothing about anything (apart from baking and helping with school homework).  Parents don’t, do they? Not in the eyes of teenagers. Parents are behind the times, out of touch and so old they are almost obsolete.

Very young children, on the other hand, think their grown-ups know everything. They trust what they are told, having no reason to question their ‘source of all wisdom’… until they reach an age when they do begin to question. Changes in the developing brain set teenagers to exploring. They need to find their own identity, their own ideas and ideals.  They compare what they know to what they perceive… which may not always be an accurate vision of the world… and build their ideals accordingly.

Finding that their parents are human and fallible is a shock to the system. Parents are inevitably seen as passé in their outlook, speech, dress and musical tastes, belonging as they do, to a previous (and thus embarrassing) generation. They obviously know nothing of the world their children know… and as the child begins to forge its own path, he strides out alone. It is only with the onset of their own hard-earned maturity that he begins to wonder if his elders might not have known a thing or two after all and the dynamics of their relationship changes once again.

Like it or not, we’ve all been children, teenagers and gone through the whole growing up process. Not only did we, in our own way, experience those various stages of change, we also became adults, and our relationship with early parental authority changed too. We still carry it with us, though, as the superego…the internal ‘authority figure’ that is a composite creation to which we are all subject. It is an inner voice that holds the moral compass and which tells us all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’…beside which we are still as children and against which we still rebel.

The odd thing was that answering my son’s queries on subjects about which I know nothing, I realised that I was wrong… I knew stuff. The huge gaps in knowledge were, as the conversation progressed, filled in by experience, common sense, and a fragmentary understanding gleaned from years of curiosity.

I was reminded that there is another part of the self that knows little but understands much… another inner voice, that answers when it is asked. It answers from a place where factual knowledge holds no sway, beyond understanding… a place of wisdom. Like children, we often prefer to make our own mistakes, rather than asking for help… or we don’t listen…  and like children, when we do ask, and learn to listen, that quiet voice can guide us home.

The human cost #Remembrance

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, one hundred years ago, the Armistice came into effect and the guns fell silent after four years of horror. The Great War, the ‘war to end all wars’, was over and the survivors of the conflict would be able to come home. In fact, we have known not one year of peace since that date.

No-one knows how many would never come home from the Great War. Between military and civilian deaths, it is estimated that over twenty-three million people died. World War Two, a generation later, would claim the lives of somewhere between seventy and eighty-five million people. Of those who survived, not all came home whole. None would return unchanged. Many lost limbs, sight, health and hearing. Many minds were overturned by horror.

“We were in the trenches. I was so cold I went out (and took shelter in a farm house). They took me to prison so I will have to go in front of the court. I will try my best to get out of it, so don’t worry.”

Private Abe Bevistein, aged 16, to his mother, just before he was executed by firing squad for deserting his post in WWI. He had been on the front line for a month when a grenade exploded next to him and he went to the rear to seek help. A medical officer said that he was fit to return to fighting, but he wandered off. Bevistein was one of 306 executed in this way, many of whom would today have been recognised as suffering from PTSD. Over eighty thousand were diagnosed with shell shock.

To speak in millions almost dehumanises the scale of the loss and grief. It is difficult to see individuals in such vast figures. To think in terms of the entire population of most countries still leaves it too impersonal. You have to look closer to home.

There are around sixteen thousand villages in England alone and only forty-one of them are ‘Thankful Villages’ who saw all their children return from the Great War. My village was not one of them. I live in a small, English village of around six hundred households. It is a rural village, surrounded by farm land, as peaceful a place as you could find. Many of the families who live here have done so for generations and many of those family names are inscribed on the village war memorial and in the Roll of Honour.

We went up into the front line near Arras, through sodden and devastated countryside. As we were moving up to our sector along the communication trenches, a shell burst ahead of me and one of my platoon dropped. He was the first man I ever saw killed. Both his legs were blown off and the whole of his body and face was peppered with shrapnel. The sight turned my stomach. I was sick and terrified but even more frightened of showing it.”

Victor Silvester, later known as a bandleader and musician, lied about his age to join up in 1914. He said he was of age, but was only fourteen.  He was sent to Arras and, while he was there, was ordered to take part in five executions by firing squad. These executions haunted him for the rest of his life.

Although I come from a military family, I find no sense in war, in sending human beings to maim and slaughter each other in a vain attempt to fight out political and ideological differences that will only be resolved at the negotiating table. But that takes nothing away from my respect for those who serve their country when called. Individual acts of heroism, sacrifice and gallantry are not lessened by my opinion of war-mongers.  The lives of the men, women, children and animals who gave their lives, had them taken from them, or who waited, worked and grieved, deserve to be remembered. Every single one of them, regardless of which country called them to service.

In my search to humanise the unthinkable numbers of war, I looked up the names of those who died from my own birthplace. My roots are not here in the village, I am a city girl by birth, though where I was born, now a suburb, was once a village too. Like all villages and communities here, it has its own war memorial and today it bears the names of the seven hundred and forty-six local people who have fallen in conflicts from 1900 to 2011.

Even those numbers were too big, so I visited the war memorial in the village where I live to pay my respects and walked to the church to read the Roll of Honour. I know there is at least one stained glass window dedicated to a young man who died in the Great War, and the St George above the door was placed there by the brother of another lost soldier. Although the church is closed for repair, I found the village Roll of Honour online and read each name.

From this one small village, a hundred and seventy-nine men went to serve in the Great War. In a village of a mere few hundred households, that must have made a huge impact. Forty-six men were killed. Another fifty-nine were unable to return to work after the war. Many of the men who returned would see their own sons go to war just a few years later.

The youngest to die were teenagers. Thomas Biswell, for example, was only eighteen. He lived in the Rothschilds Cottages, just a few doors away from my home. His father was a gardener. Thomas was killed in action in 1917 and his name is carved on the Menin Gate in Belgium. Leonard Evans was just eighteen too. His parents, Gertrude and David, lived in the High Street. His father was a mechanical engineer. Leonard was killed in France in 1918.

William and Sophia Fowler lost at least two of their sons as well as two other members of the family. Their boys had grown up just around the corner, a few paces from my home. The eldest of the men who served were in their forties. Another fifteen died in WWII.

I will remember them, from the oldest to the youngest, in the hope that one day, the human race may mature enough to find another way.

“We did hear that they were fetching all back from France under 19. For goodness sake Horace tell them how old you are, I am sure they will send you back if they know you are only 16. You have seen quite enough now just chuck it up and try to get back. You won’t fare no worse for it. If you don’t do it now you will come back in bits and we want the whole of you.”

Extract from a letter from Florrie to her brother, Horace Iles. Horace was a big lad, and it is thought he had been given a white feather for cowardice in the street by someone who thought him old enough to fight. He  lied about his age and joined the Leeds Pals, a battalion formed of workmates and neighbours as part of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He was just fourteen. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, after two years’ active service. The battle claimed the lives of 750 of the 900 Leeds Pals who were there. Horace never read Florrie’s letter. It was returned to her unopened, marked, ‘killed in action’.

Second childhood…

Frolicking Nick Verron
Frolicking ~ Nick Verron

With the unconscious wisdom of youth, my son decided that he would give me a games console. It is not, perhaps, the obvious gift for a woman about to enter her seventh decade, but then, he assures me that as I am a ‘tweenager’, it is entirely appropriate.

When the boys were young we always made sure they were up to date with the growing technological revolution. From the blocky arcade games of the ancient Atari to our first home computer, they soon became confident with consoles and keyboards and we played as a family, working out the puzzles, learning how to share,  to be patient and to persevere in the days when games took ages to load and progress could not be saved.

Spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, foresight, reaction times and logic were all well-served, Games that now look primitive were often complex and demanding and to complete them was a real triumph. We have fond memories of those times. The software available for the Commodore 64 and the old Sinclair Spectrum even allowed you, with a little vary basic knowledge, to build your own games. Such violence as there was tended to be of the ‘Tom and Jerry’ variety, with little or no relation to reality and gameplay was often as much of an intellectual challenge as a test of manual dexterity. We hoped that introducing the boys to technology early would stand them in good stead in later years and that has indeed proved to be the case.

I am decades behind the times where technology is concerned these days. Modern consoles do more than play games, it seems, allowing you to access your PC, play music and films and do much of what I now do at the computer from the comfort of the sofa, which can only be a good thing… as long as the dog lets me share. All the skills that early gaming honed for the boys are ones that need to be maintained in later years… and oddly enough, I kept the best of the old games. So, in an unexpected role reversal, my son is giving his tweenage mother a games console for her birthday.

I rather like the idea of entering my tweenage years. The term is usually applied to prepubescent children, but works equally well for those in the nameless limbo between later decades. It sounds better than ‘dotage’ or ‘incipient old-age’, and my son has been accusing me of regressing for quite a while now. I like that idea too; the old saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ should really be embraced by those on the threshold of a second childhood. Why should we wait until others apply that term to us in a derogatory manner, when we can throw ourselves into our second childhood head first and enjoy it?

When you consider the characteristics of a child, and the outlook of those older folk who seem to radiate joy, there is little difference. While the young have not yet learned to distrust the motives of people and events, the old have garnered enough experience to see straight through any subterfuge, dismissing the absurdities of human nature, so those at both extremities of life may see the world through clear and untroubled eyes.

The very young do not concern themselves with the far distant future and nor do the very old. At the beginning of life, the future is so far distant that it is impossible to envisage, while at the tail end of life it is so close it becomes transparent. Now matters; for the very young, there is nothing else… later, as tomorrows become increasingly uncertain, there seems little point wasting energy peering into your own unreliable future.

Small children care little about the opinion of others, it is a learned behaviour acquired as a reaction to dismissal and rejection, both real and perceived. The passing years bring a freedom from worrying about how the world judges us too… and this happens at a time when, for many, the responsibilities of the daily grind are lessened as our offspring sculpt lives of their own and grandchildren allow us to play as children again ourselves.

Granted, that is not the story for everyone, but I believe we all have the capacity to access at least some part of the inner exuberance of youth, even when the body is no longer willing to play with as much flexibility as we might like.

Life was carefree as a very small child. I remember those childhood years… the early ones before things got complicated. I remember how it felt to walk barefoot in the snow, laugh at raindrops racing on windowpanes or covering my skin with tiny, tickling diamonds. I remember making daisy chains, blowing dandelion ‘clocks’ to tell the time and digging up bits of pottery from the school playground, wanting as much to be an archaeologist as a dancer. I remember walking on walls, hunting crabs in rock pools and laying in the grass watching caterpillars. I remember feeling every day was an adventure.

With his gift my son has given me more than a games console, he gave me a timely reminder. I don’t need to remember any more. I just need to do it again.

Shape-shifting (Part 1) – by Running Elk

This series of posts are based on the outline of an exploration session presented at The Silent Eye  (a modern mystery school) “The Feathered Seer” weekend in 2017. Whilst I have attempted to retain some of the flavour of the actual talk, the interactive elements of the exploration are absent, and since most of it was done “on  the hoof” it is not really a true reflection of the session. Many of the sections are expanded considerably from that presented on the day…

~~~

“Boy Mood 2” (found at eskipaper.com)

Not sure what I was thinking, really. It’s a massive topic, and whilst I did mention this during a previous exploration session, in 2016 on Spirit Animals, I somehow found myself agreeing to attempt the subject the following year.

April 2017 came far too quickly, and finding myself, the night before the session, scratching down a few notes on the back of a Corn Flake packet, was rather concerned that I simply didn’t have enough to fill the hour assigned.

I shouldn’t have worried. The elements of this post were barely covered, as the interactive elements went much deeper than I could ever have anticipated, and I found myself shoe-horning in elements of later parts in a vain attempt to give full coverage of the planned discussion points.

~~~

What is it about shape-shifting that is so hard? We are ALL masters of shape-shifting. We simply don’t recognise the shape-shifting that we do, every day of our lives. Indeed, it is such a powerful urge within us, that we simply cannot help ourselves.

Child’s Play
Copyright: Ni Qin / Getty Images

Of course, we are not nearly as good at it now, as adults, as we once were. As children, shape-shifting comes so naturally, that we never question the reality of it. That little guy on the right is NOT wearing goggles and a cape in order to “play” Superheroes. He is, for all intents and purposes, a fully fledged superhero; capable of feats of incredible strength, leaping buildings in a single bound, saving the planet at every turn.

Continue reading: Shape-shifting (Part 1) | Shamanic Paths

Child’s play?

File:Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Children’s Games - Google Art Project.jpg
Children’s Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

She orders him around unmercifully while he looks at her with utter adoration in his eyes.  If ordering does not work, she brings out the secret weapon…the smile, the cheeky glance from beneath her eyelashes. Very seldom does she resort to tears. But, at almost two years old, my granddaughter has all the fabled feminine wiles and knows just how to use them on her father. It is to my son’s credit that he manages to maintain discipline and say ‘no’ when he must, in spite of her entreaties and blandishments. It is one of the earliest lessons she will learn…we do not always get what we want, but will undoubtedly get what is needed, like it or not.

Watching her play with friends, you can already see the dynamics of adulthood begin to form in her interactions with others. You can see the first shoots of her own strength of character and begin to see how she will face the world when she is older. You can discern, too, the lessons she is being taught as she plays, learning the basis of the rules by which society is bound in order to live together in any kind of harmony.

It is through play that a child first learns about sharing, generosity and patience…and about letting go. Determination, the necessity to keep on trying till you get things right and how to read the intentions of others are also learned early. At not-quite-two, Hollie is old enough to understand games of ‘let’s pretend’ and serves you tea in empty cups. She sings, dances and laughs… but she is not yet old enough to understand being teased; her language and social skills have not yet reached far enough to allow her to tell the difference. That too will come as she continues to learn. The subtleties of expression and tone will slowly unfold, page by page, until understanding people becomes second nature and she will know the difference between the gentle teasing of affection and the barbs of self-interest.

Or so I hope… she is a gregarious young lady and grows secure in the love that surrounds her. That will not prevent her from meeting those whose motives are not so gentle. The teasing and the games will not always spring from love…there will be barbs, unkindness and jealousies. Especially if she has siblings. But that too is part of the learning process and, when learned early, allows a child to grow with enough discernment to tell the difference and sufficient tools to deal with whatever social situations may throw at them.

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Play seems to be something we just know how to do as youngsters. We may have to learn the various games, but the spirit of play is innate. You have only to watch young animals to realise that there must be an evolutionary benefit to play or it would have been discarded with other redundant behaviours. With our growing understanding of the mind we can understand how empathy, cooperation and compassion many be rooted in early games.

When Pieter Breughel painted ‘Children’s Games’ in the 16th century, the faces of the children were shown with expressions as serious as if they were adults going about their daily toil. The painting held a moral, a commonly held belief at the time that a child’s game is as important to the mind of God as anything an adult might do. More recently, science is recognising the importance of play, in adult lives too.

The necessity and the richness of experience gained through play is something we understand for children, but that we ourselves leave behind, more often than not, when we set about the serious business of adulthood. Play is seen as a pointless and purposeless waste of our time. Apart from those sports that attract so much money and attention, and which, by their competitive nature do not really qualify, play is often deemed unseemly for adults. Yet it is that very pointlessness that makes play a time out of time, a release from stress and relief from the pressures of adulthood, that can render it so valuable.

There is no hard and fast definition of the verb to play. The dictionaries describe rather than define it as ‘engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose’. It is something that gives pleasure, attaches no real importance to a competitive element and is both flexible and voluntary. For adults it is also a time when the constraints of adulthood can be left behind, even when engaged in ostensibly adult activities. It may be difficult to define…but you know when you are doing it.

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The psychological and physical benefits of play for adults have been studied and are well documented. The spiritual benefits of play are not difficult to see. There is a well-known biblical reference to becoming ‘as a little child’ in order to enter heaven. The next verse suggests that those who adopt the humility of a child,  will reach a higher state than those who cannot do so. There is an innocence to child-like play that leaves behind the ego and allows is to be Fools…and enjoy the process. There is a real humility in that.

In an area of life where ‘know thyself’ is one of the first maxims we come across, play allows us to tease apart gently the strands of who we are, putting aside the acquired masks that we wear to face the world and finding access to the child within. This child-self the key to understanding how we have become who we are. there is little guile in a child and nowhere to hide from the clarity of their gaze. It is possible that this inner child is the real adult in our internal relationship with ourself and has a wisdom greater than our acquired knowledge.

The lessons of childhood do not have to remain there. Empathy, creativity, and an openness to the world can still come to us through play. The inner child is a part of us that will always have access to wonder and delight… and to that ‘lightness of being’ that is the result of both play and the spiritual journey.

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Soul – calibre

Utopia of the  blessed from Soul Calibur
Utopia of the blessed from Soul Calibur

“It’s like, imagine all the atoms in your hand… billions of them… they all have to move together to make it do this.” He wriggled his hand. “They don’t know why they are doing it …”

My mind turned back the clock a couple of decades to a room full of boys; young teenagers who, for some reason best known to themselves, had switched off the videogames and were debating the nature of existence. At that time, my home was always full of teenagers and that was fine by me. I seldom knew how many I would be feeding come mealtimes and the baking I did most days generally disappeared before it had chance too cool. On this particular day, having reached the limit of their speculations, I had been called in as ‘expert opinion’. Apparently my sons’ friends all knew I was ‘weird’.

They had been wondering about atoms that day too and debating if each one was a world or a galaxy, or even a universe… and if so, was there life on them… far too small for us to ever know… and if there was, was it sentient… and being so small, was a second of our time a whole galactic evolution to them? And was it therefore possible that our own universe was no more than perhaps a single atom in the bacteria upon the face of God?

And they thought I was weird?

And perhaps, chimed in one of them, if thought is electrical in nature, and therefore moves atoms and stuff around, were we just a thought in the mind of a being so vast that to us it would be a god?

So, did we even exist?

Or was God simply dreaming us?

And if we were a thought or a dream, yet were capable of consciousness, leading independent lives and seeing civilisations come and go… what were the implications for our own dreams and thoughts? How much life was potentially in them?

And if there was life in them… were we as gods to our dreams?

And if our universe was no more than bacteria, what happened if, say, God blew his nose and we were separated from our host…?They were teenage boys after all… I was just waiting for one of them to use it as an excuse for not washing the bacteria off their own skins…

And what happened to stuff anyway? Where did the atoms go when something was destroyed…. And was anything ever really destroyed anyway?

And if we were part of some vast being, did what we do matter? Was it part of the life and learning of something we call god? I remember being inordinately proud of the lot of them. They had chosen to stop killing each other on Soul Calibur in order to look instead at the calibre of the soul.

I resisted the urge to simply answer ’42’ and gingerly cleared a space amid the detritus and sat down, promising myself that while they were at school the next day, I would potentially destroy a few universes with disinfectant … This was clearly going to take a while. So was the cleaning…

We covered a lot of ground that day.

Not for the first, nor the last, time, I sent up a silent thank you for my own less-than-orthodox upbringing that had covered so much and encouraged such questioning as I sat down to a debate I will not forget; one of surprising depth from minds so young and backgrounds so diverse.

They had all been open to exploring their view of reality, and of the world… a view imposed by their cultural and social backgrounds. These were minds open to new ideas, and I found that both exciting and encouraging, remembering that it would be these boys who fathered yet another generation of children one day and, hopefully, would raise them in this spirit of openness. If so, I was sitting in a room filled with hope.