At times children seem untidy, noisy, and demanding. Some appear even empty-headed, selfish, and endlessly bickering. At the same time many of us feel a sense of vague longing for our own childhood. There is something about being a child that pulls at our heart strings. Probably this is to do with how in children the ‘here and now’ is central. They are said to live in the moment and have a natural energy and spontaneity about them. But do children show any signs of spiritual awakening? Do they have transcendent awareness?
William Blake and William Wordsworth in their poetry Songs of Innocence and Ode: Intimations of Immortality evoked the awakening of a magical freshness of perception as well as a natural kinship with all that is seen.
Ideas about spiritual awakening during childhood
Abraham Maslow who studied ‘peak’ experiences in adults, thought that children also undergo an awakening of visionary experiences but usually lack the words to talk about them. Even if you happen to remember having a deeply moving event many decades ago, you may not recall it with total accuracy.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, famous for her books about the terminally ill, surprised medical science in the late 1970’s by revealing in her book On Children and Death, the transcendent perceptions of her patients.
“It is impossible to ignore the thousands of stories that dying patients – children and adults – have shared with me. These illuminations cannot be explained in scientific language.”
Hoffman’s findings about children
Clinical psychologist, Edward Hoffman collected memories from adults regarding inspirational awakening during their early life. He discovered a pattern of childhood spirituality in the memories of early years detailed in his book Visions of Childhood.
These involved deep meaning, beauty and great harmony, often involving the awareness of a different kind of reality. Uplifting experiences happened in ordinary places, as well as whilst encountering nature, and during near death or crisis episodes.
Remembered are spontaneous moments of bliss, and profound insights about life and oneself in childhood: memories having an enduring significance into adulthood.
Profound intuitions in children
Hoffman’s respondents reported accounts of experiences when as children they speculated about life and death, and engaged in reflections regarding personal existence and self-transcendence.
For example a man reported that as a child his family had a mortuary in a small town in Colorado. Consequently, he grew up with a certain familiarity with death. He remembers constantly pondering where dead people go. “Do they just go into a hole in the ground? What does it feel like to be dead?” When aged nine he recalls sitting on a park bench imagining his dead grandfather being in a dark, lonely, black expanse of ‘nothing and no one’ forever and ever.
A terrible and chilling dread came over his entire body. But then instantly it vanished. It was replaced by a warm comfortable, and bright feeling – and a kind and loving presence. “I seemed to hear my grandpa saying, ‘See, it’s all right. I’m just in a place that’s different.’ “
From that day on he remembers “I never again had a fear of death.”
One woman from Connecticut reported that her older child when aged three would occasionally ask her questions about God. One day he was standing still for a long time next to a window in their home. Just staring and not moving. An unusual thing to see in someone so young. Eventually he moved away and when asked what he was doing he replied in a matter-of-fact way “I was talking with God”. He remained subdued and then went on playing as usual. He didn’t want to share the experience with her and when asked about the incident at a later point in his life apparently didn’t recall it.
How common is spiritual awakening in children?
Are deeper experiences common but stay hidden from ourselves? That would be true if misunderstood by the child experiencing them. Or perhaps they seem unusual because they were never shared with others due to being so private, hard to put into words and unique to the individual. Or perhaps parents and childhood friends reacted negatively causing the child to clam up?
Implanting of spiritual feelings in children
One way of understanding what is going on is the idea of spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He suggests the infant mind is especially open to what might be called the heaven of innocence.
So states of wonder and trust in life being basically good inflow into little children from a higher spiritual realm. As a result of this inflow the young child looks with eyes of wonder, thinks with a mind of imagination and feels with a heart of innocence.
Part of this state of innocence is a willingness to believe one does not produce all the good things which come to one. It is acknowledging a certain insufficiency.
Also the heavenly trust in the divine reality and consequent sense of the ‘eternal now’ can arguably be seen in the infant’s lack of any sense of time.
He suggests the inflowing higher feelings about the goodness of life vary according to age.
- Little children trusting in life as good.
- In middle childhood wanting to know about what is good.
- In adolescence wanting to understand why it is good.
According to this view when we are young these unconscious feelings and inner awareness forms deep intuitions, like seeds that remain dormant as we grow up. But later we need to draw on them for our spiritual awakening in adulthood.
Importance of re-connecting to our childhood spirituality
These memories of our early years suggest there is ‘a small forgotten child who is our past self’ yet who ‘still lives within each of us’. Hoffman maintains that strengthening the link to our childhood is crucial for achieving greater happiness. Not only connecting to both the wounded child within but also to those moments of spiritual awakening in childhood.
The notion that the innocence of childhood may harbour special intuitive and spiritual sensitivity is reflected in the words of Jesus Christ who said:
“Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”