‘The Horizon’, Part 2, Chapter 13: about magic spells of childhood, why children need to play, true love, and how to become sovereign rulers of our own magic kingdom
“Whoever comes to this expression, returns to his own true essence.”Arno Stern
Once upon a time a new world was born. It was known as the Magic Kingdom of Childhood.
The kingdom appeared to be ruled by a queen and a king. One day they had a baby. It was a boy.
The parents were overjoyed. The king and queen looked at their little prince with awe and wonder. They watched him grow, and kept him safe, while he was free to play. They did whatever they could to help him discover himself and the world.
That’s how the prince became the sovereign ruler of his magic kingdom, and they all live happily ever after.
You think I’m making this story up?
No! — it doesn’t happen very often, I know. But sometimes fairytales come true.
This story is a very brief summary of one man’s life according to his own account in the book Und ich war nie in der Schule (And I Never Went To School). This man is called André Stern — we already met his son Antonin in chapter 9.
The story of André Stern’s childhood reads like a fairy tale:
André was born in Paris in 1971 to Michèle and Arno Stern. His father had arrived in Paris at the end of the 2nd World War as a refugee from Germany. His mother had grown up in Algeria in a family of French expats and later moved to the French capital.
In 1946 Arno Stern began to work with children who had lost their parents during the war. Resources were scarce, but he managed to get paints and paper. And the children loved to paint.
Before he knew what he was doing, he had created a space for traumatised orphans and helped them connect with a vital source within themselves. He provided a space where the children were safe to play and discover their own world.
Free from the intention to be either a means of communication, or a therapy, or an art form, Arno Stern discovered that drawings and paintings become what he calls ‘expressions of organic memory’.
Out of these early beginnings Arno Stern’s approach to painting developed, which enables the painter to get in touch with his or her innermost self. Michèle learned this method from him and applied it successfully in her work as a nursery school teacher.
Arno Stern says: “whoever comes to this expression, frees himself from all role models and preconceptions, allows the natural trace to emerge without restraint, returns to his own true essence.”
“Children come into this world perfectly equipped with everything they need.”André Stern
Having made such profound and revolutionary discoveries, which are essential for the healthy development of a child, how could Michèle and Arno Stern send their children to school?
How could they stick their son into an institution that might interfere with the emergence of his individual expression, which is so delicate and vulnerable during childhood?
Since they lived in Paris, where attendance in school is not compulsory, André Stern grew up in an environment where he was allowed to play. He was free to find his own way of doing things. He never went to school.
Free from the stress and pressure of curriculums, competitions, and exams André acquired an impressive range of skills. He became a gifted guitar builder, musician, journalist, and author of several books. He is also a sought after public speaker on the topic of education, and has joined a research project with the German brain researcher Gerald Hüther.
André sees his younger Self as a ‘perfectly normal child’. Only his upbringing was unusual. It was based on his parents’ experience and understanding of the needs of child-Consciousness.
In his interviews he shares: “My parents had … the conviction that children come into this world perfectly equipped; they bring with them everything they need. Therefore it was unthinkable for them to subordinate the natural, spontaneous disposition of their children to any system.”
In the loving, trusting, and respectful environment of his childhood André Stern learned playfully how to learn, driven by his own curiosity and enthusiasm. He was never corrected by his parents for fear he might develop ‘bad habits’.
His parents trusted that he would be able to figure things out. They trusted that the child knows best when it is ready to learn what, and how to do so in his own way.
They knew about the importance of play and the vulnerability of the magic kingdom of childhood, and they didn’t want to interfere with that. They provided their children with a safe space in which they could unfold freely and ‘live happily ever after’.
“It is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”Donald Winnicott
Childhood is the period when human Consciousness begins to discover itself as an individual in the world. We have to learn how the world works, and at the same time we have to figure out who we are in relation to this world.
This has been common knowledge in child psychology for at least 50 years.
The German psychologist and philosopher Erich Neumann (1905-1960) — we met him in chapter 12 — wrote : “The world of play is of extreme importance also for adults; it is not a world to be transcended. It is especially important for children. Only an individual embedded in this symbolic reality of play can become a complete human being.”
The English paediatrician and child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) wrote: “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”
Children have to be free to explore the world, driven by their own curiosity and enthusiasm. They need the opportunity to express themselves and share their discoveries. They need to play, because play is a child’s way to explore, practice and learn.
When André Stern emphasises that he was a ‘normal child’ he means that he was not particularly gifted or above average intelligent. Any average child would develop in a similar way, given a similar opportunity.
He was given the opportunity to develop in a natural and harmonious way. But his experience is certainly not the norm.
Most parents don’t know how important it is for children to play, why free play is so important, and how to provide a safe space for a child to give ‘expression to the organic memory’ and discover its so-called ‘Self’.
Being sent to a good school and receiving a university degree is considered a privilege. We believe that having good grades and learning how to outsmart the competition is the most important thing. Our whole culture is focussed on learning how to become successful in the outer world.
Yet play and a playful approach to life are essential requirements for having a successful and fulfilled life. This has been shown in scientific long term studies.
André and his sister had a very privileged childhood – not that their family was particularly wealthy, or they attended an expensive school – but because their parents knew how to provide them with what they needed.
“Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”Diana, Princess of Wales
Let’s see how this compares with the story of a woman who also had a very privileged childhood.
Once upon a time, another Magic Kingdom of Childhood was born. This kingdom belonged to a girl.
The parents were happy about the birth the child, but their happiness would have been greater if this daughter had been a son. They already had 2 girls, and a boy had died before this ‘little princess’ was born.
The death of her brother cast a shadow over the life of the young girl. Even though she had everything any child could possibly wish for: rich parents, a beautiful home, devoted nannies, a pony, ballet classes, a good education…, not to mention tasty food, nice holidays, and plenty of toys to play with… the princess was never quite happy.
When she was 6 years old, her mother disappeared from her magic kingdom and went to live with another man. Her father found himself ‘a new queen’ but it wasn’t the same.
The girl grew up and was chosen to marry a real prince. She became a ‘real princess’, lived in beautiful castles, and wore the most exquisite jewels and gowns.
She became the mother of two little princes, but the evil spell of her childhood was never broken. The prince she had married didn’t love her and wanted to be with another woman. The princess moved out of the castle and lived unhappily ever after until her tragic end.
This is a brief summary of the life of Diana Spencer, born in 1961 into an aristocratic English family. She had ‘everything’ any child could possibly wish for, however, her childhood wasn’t a happy one.
Diana’s parents didn’t get on with each other, and they were unable to give their daughter the kind of love she needed. They didn’t know how to create a safe space for a child to discover itself and its world.
Many little girls dream of marrying a prince one day and becoming a princess. From the perspective of the magic kingdom of childhood we believe this could resolve all suffering and unhappiness.
For Diana this dream became a reality. She became a ‘real princess’, but that had never been her dream.
One of her nannies later shared that Diana’s dreams all through her childhood were just to be happily married and to have a large family.
Her true dream never came true for her. Diana Spencer found out that “Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Too little love can destroy or seriously impair the foundations of the child’s existence.”Erich Neumann
All children live in their own magic kingdom. Every human being has to become the lead character in their own life story. Psychologists call this the development of anthropocentricity (in other words, considering humans as the centre of the universe).
When hearing or reading a fairy tale we identify with the hero or heroine. In our inner world we are each a prince or princess. We were born as privileged children — born to rule our sovereign kingdom one day.
You and I were born into privileged parts of the world. We have many opportunities to create our own life according to our dreams — and yet often we don’t do it.
Why are so many ‘normal’, privileged, intelligent and creative people — people with a ‘good education’ and a ‘great start in life’ — so frustrated and stuck?
Why are we so lost and confused? Why can’t we realise our dreams and fulfil our potential? Why do we have difficulties to even figure out what we want? Why do we fail at life — and why is life failing us?
Erich Neumann explains that a child needs ‘secure confidence in the mother’s love’ to develop a good sense of its so-called ‘true Self’.
He writes, “The child comes to see itself as the center not only of its world, but also of the world as such. This anthropocentricity …, is the indispensable foundation of all human development.”
During the period of child Consciousness we develop a perception of ourselves as the centre of our own world. This is normal, healthy, and important. But the True Self of the child can only develop under certain circumstances.
When your magic kingdom came into being, you may have found yourself in a privileged environment, but then something happened…
Maybe the loving mother turned into a monster, or a wicked stepfather broke into your perfect world. Perhaps a nasty gnome secretly put poison into your milk. Or an old witch cast a spell on you. Or someone stole a magic object that was rightfully yours…
Such things happen — not just once in a while — but everyday and everywhere.
Once the bad thing has happened, the tragic story has to run its course. All princesses and princes have to accept their personal challenge to break the spell.
We have to find our way back into our magic kingdom. We have to claim our inheritance and become sovereign rulers over our own life.
Popular folk tales make us believe that evil spells can only be broken by a real prince or princess. So we wait for this perfect being to come along and release us from our misery…
In real life, however, this is not what happens. We have to learn to deal with the pain and difficulties of life ourselves. We have to learn to give ourselves whatever was missing in childhood.
All childhood suffering can be traced back to the lack of one element. The missing element is LOVE.
Erich Neumann says, “Too little love can destroy or seriously impair the foundations of the child’s existence.”
Donald Winnicott agrees, “A baby can be fed without love, but loveless or impersonal management cannot succeed in producing a new autonomous human child.”
“What is a loving heart? A loving heart is sensitive to the whole of life.”Anthony de Mello
All parents love their children in their own way, but not all children receive the love they need. Love can obviously mean very different things to different people.
Anthony de Mello — a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist from India — offers us a beautiful description of love.
In his book Awareness Anthony de Mello writes, “They say that love is blind. Believe me, there’s nothing so clear-sighted as true love, nothing. It’s the most clear-sighted thing in the world.”
Then he goes on to explain: “Addiction is blind, attachments are blind. Clinging, craving, and desire are blind. But not true love. Don’t call them love. … What is a loving heart? A loving heart is sensitive to the whole of life, … Love entails clarity of perception, objectivity; there is nothing so clear-sighted as love.”
This is the Love we need to develop our true Self. In an ideal world we would receive this Love from our parents. Yet if we don’t, it doesn’t mean we are doomed to live unhappily ever after.
The seeds of this Love are within us. They cannot be destroyed. We can develop this Love and give it to ourselves, and when we do, all the childhood suffering within us can be healed.
Love is the magic force that can break any evil spell. Love turns an ugly beast into a handsome prince, and a terrible dragon into a beautiful princess.
If Love was a magic formula these would be the ingredients:
— unconditional acceptance
— respect and trust
— kindness and compassion
— sensitivity and an open mind
— interest and recognition
— care and protection
Michèle and Arno Stern met their children with ‘clear-sighted’ Love. Frances and Johnnie Spencer loved their children with expectations and attachments. The Love André and his sister received was ‘sensitive to the whole of life’, while Diana and her siblings were ‘doted on’.
Please keep in mind that we’re not trying to find out here whether parents love their children ‘properly’ or not. We don’t want to blame our parents or ourselves for not having received or given the ‘proper kind of love’.
Here we are interested in the experience of parental love from the perspective of the child. We want to find out what our child-Consciousness needs in order to heal ourselves and develop into a mature and fully functioning organism.
If parts of our Consciousness don’t develop fully, then the whole of the organism cannot function properly.
Most of us were not seen clearly, respected fully, or accepted unconditionally by our parents. The kind of love we received was a mixed bag of praise and humiliation, subtle messages that we would only be accepted, if we made our parents proud.
We were under constant pressure to fulfil their expectations, or we may have felt neglected, or misunderstood.
Our parents became like a goddess and god in our magic kingdom, and we learned how to handle them, so they would give us what we needed or wanted.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”Henry David Thoreau
Instead of developing our true Self we learned to build up a ‘false self’, as Donald Winnicott calls it.
In his book The Maturational Process he writes, “The false self is built up on a basis of compliance. It can have a defensive function, which is the protection of the true self.”
The false self is not who you are, it is who you think others want you to be. The false self is built around many subtle clues we pick up from our parents. It develops around an external centre, and therefore it constantly seeks approval from others.
The false self can take the place of the true Self, but it never feels quite right. It is only a role we play, in order to fit in and be part of the game into which we were born.
Donald Winnicott explains, “Only the true self can feel real, but the true self must never be affected by external reality, must never comply. When the false self becomes exploited and treated as real there is a growing sense in the individual of futility and despair.”
This is the root of the despair we feel when we realise that we were indeed born, as it were, into a magic kingdom of privilege, opportunity, and good fortune, and yet somehow we managed to screw it all up.
This is what the philosopher Henry Thoreau may have had in mind, when he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.”
None of us is obligated to continue this life of quiet desperation. Once we have woken up to the fact that we are adults now — and it can take a while until this happens — we can give ourselves whatever was missing in our ‘magical childhood’.
We are not prisoners of our magic kingdom. We are its creators. This means we can break our own spell.
How can we break our childhood spell, cast off the inner straight jacket false self and grow into our true Self?
This question contains a clue; it’s in the word ‘grow’.
If you look at human Consciousness as a living organism, then it’s obvious that our development is a natural growth process. In every phase of our growth we get specific tasks.
In the embryonic period you entered this world via the gate of an intimate relationship, and the task was to learn something fundamental about intimate relationships between humans.
In the child period your challenge was to grow your own world from your own centre. You had to explore your world and cultivate your true Self. This could only happen within a relatively sheltered environment and under the guidance of fellow humans who had gone through this process before.
Human Consciousness doesn’t develop fully at any period unless it receives adequate support and guidance. If parents never learned the essential lessons, which are typical for the childhood period, how can they provide proper guidance for their children?
“None of us are free if one of us is chained.”Brenda Russell et al
Collectively human Consciousness is currently in the so-called mental/rational structure. This means we are all in the process of developing into full maturity. We are all in a more or less immature stage of development.
Our immaturity expresses itself in the subjective experience of suffering, because our imbalanced development generates an inner conflict. Externally it looks as if we have reached the period of adult Consciousness, but internally certain parts are still stuck under the spell of childhood.
Let me give you an example to illustrate this conflict:
Let’s say I find it difficult to be my true Self at my workplace. Being my true Self with friends is relatively easy for me, but when dealing with my boss or with certain colleagues, I slip into the role of my ‘false self’. This shows me that in a professional setting my Consciousness is still in the ‘magic kingdom of childhood’.
If you have difficulties to be your true Self in some area of your life, then your Consciousness is still at the child stage of its development in relation to that particular area.
This is the kind of conflict we are talking about. Many aspects of our Consciousness have grown up, while other parts are still immature. Those immature aspects always feel uncomfortable. We experience them as ‘wrong’, and negative.
The undeveloped parts of our Consciousness keep interfering with our ability to have a ‘successful life’. These ‘inner children’ can become a terrible nuisance. They can express themselves in depression, lack of vitality, physical ailments, oversensitivity, anxiety, addictions, and all kinds of self-sabotage. These can be expressions of our organic memory
The grownup parts of our Consciousness have fundamental opinions about what’s right and wrong. Any unexplained suffering must be wrong, and we want to get rid of it.
We believe our immature ‘childish’ parts are responsible for our lack of success. So we try to manipulate, overrule, or eliminate them. This is what we learned from our parents.
Since we were not met with true unconditional Love during the immature and sensitive child period, then our Consciousness is unfamiliar with this experience. Therefore it seems perfectly ‘natural’ to meet our current inner children — i.e. the immature parts of ourselves — with a similar kind of conditional love, or even outright rejection.
This is how we continue the drama of our childhood. We perpetuate the suppression of apparently unacceptable parts of ourselves. Instead of meeting our so-called inadequacies with clear-sighted and whole-hearted Love, we treat them like unwanted inner step children.
When they have nowhere else to go, those neglected inner children retreat into the inner wilderness and develop a life of their own. They run wild, they become feral, and we become scared of their waywardness.
We dream of being free and having a perfect life, if we could get rid of those annoying inner children. But the truth is, they are part of us. They were born with us, they belong to us, and so they stay with us for better or for worse.
Moreover, we need them. They are the only ones who can show us how to become our true Self in all areas of life. They are our vitality, our creativity, and our dormant potential. In fact, without them we can never be free.
Remember the Blues song “None of us are free while one of us is chained…”?
These words are true for our own inner kingdom. As long as any part of me is imprisoned under a magic spell of childhood, I cannot be free as a whole person.
“To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’.”Ayn Rand
In this excursion through the period of child-Consciousness we have identified 4 essential elements for the healthy development of a child. Here they are again in summary:
1 — We need to find our true Self. Childhood is meant to be a period to discover who we are and explore our world from our own unique true perspective. This is the only way to become a strong, healthy, and independent individual.
2 — As a child there is so much to learn, and play is our natural and most effective way of learning. Play stimulates our creativity, and it helps us build a strong foundation for success and fulfilment as adults.
3 — In childhood we need to experience unconditional, clear-sighted, and whole-hearted Love. Conditional love makes us compliant and submissive in the short term, but very confused, frustrated, and desperate in the long run. True Love makes us feel welcome in this world.
4 — We need support and protection. As children we have boundless energy, but we are also sensitive and vulnerable. We need a sheltered environment and a safe structure, in which we can unfold and find our own expression. We need the gentle and respectful guidance of fellow humans who have gone through this evolutionary process before.
For each developmental phase human Consciousness has a special instrument. During childhood we are unable to integrate our experiences, especially the negative ones, because they are too overwhelming.
With the help of our special instruments, however, we can integrate childhood experiences later on as adults, when we are ready and no longer get overwhelmed.
For the period of childhood the special instrument is called Awareness. We can help our inner children grow up by meeting them with Awareness.
Initially we tend to resist and fight our negative experiences. As mentioned earlier, we try to suppress or manipulate them and make them fit into our current comfort zone. This is what our parents did with us when we were children, and without awareness we automatically approach our inner children in exactly the same way.
Our rejection and resistance, however, only makes things worse. “The more you fight darkness, the more real it becomes to you, and the more you exhaust yourself. But when you turn on the light of awareness, it melts,” says Anthony de Mello — and now we can understand why.
What our inner children need from us more than anything else is our love. True, unconditional LOVE. But there is a slight problem.
We said that true Love is a magic force that can break the evil spell from childhood. While this is correct, it is not easy to simply ‘turn on the Love’. We have to grow into this as well.
The philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’.”
The true ‘I’ is only partly known to us. Because of our undeveloped child-parts we don’t know yet who the complete ‘I’ is. Our capacity for unconditional Love is inevitably restricted by lack of self-awareness of our immature parts.
Awareness is the sheltered space we can offer to our true Self — especially to the unruly parts, which don’t comply, which are upsetting, irritating, and embarrassing.
Awareness helps us prepare the way to true Love. Awareness can relieve our suffering in an instant. Awareness allows our Consciousness to grow and make room for a new way of being. Awareness is Love in action.
Awareness releases your true Self from hiding in the dark inner wilderness and invites it to become reality. This is the magic moment, in which your life can change.
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is a draft of chapter 13 of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.
It is complemented by an e-letter, containing additional background information about the progress of the book and the creative process.
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