The child in us

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated April 26, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – When I watch my grandchild Ananda at play, or just being her curious, inquisitive self, or when I spend even just a few moments with her without any agenda on both our ends and just let things flow, I get convinced beyond any doubt that people are born happy and free.

We are originally wired to be happy, clear-headed and creative. How can this not be so when Ananda and all children seem to be so naturally joyful?

In contrast, in the company of adults, I often get an entirely different experience. There is so much posturing, pretense, gossip, mean-spiritedness, ingratitude, loneliness, bitterness, angst, loss, confusion and often, even hate. I wonder where all that wonderful creative spaciousness we were all born with has gone and why it has been replaced by so much garbage.

In between being born free and alive in a wonderful spaciousness, creatively unshackled and becoming an adult, I wonder what it is that happens to most of us along the way that makes us screwed up and programmed for a life of drudgery and misery.

I suppose many things do get in the way as we grow up. And the effect is we could end up with a distorted sense of self so far removed and unrecognizable from the “original face” we were born with as it is put in Zen. As adults, we embrace the toxicity of guilt, conformity and repression and misplace the reality of our Original Blessing, as the Reverend Mathew Fox says in turn.

I watch Ananda as she creates new worlds with paper and pen, or goes to the refrigerator door and rearranges magnets and I know she is on to something that is good for her. Her face shows it. She is also completely absorbed in what she is doing. She is indulging in the art of playing.

As adults, we lose our sense of play, or being playful in any situation, the way kids can be. It’s not that we lose our desire. We just lose the unconditional way we used to engage in it. In its place, we plan elaborately to “play” by driving miles through traffic, and spending a lot of money for a weekend of golf, scuba, or what have you. What used to be natural can, and to many, has become a chore and so many of us give up even trying to go for those activities that make us feel alive.

It’s just too much trouble. In its place, we vege out in front of the TV, or engage in various activities including substance abuse (alcohol, food, drugs) and addicting activities just to feel alive.

But play is exactly what we need as adults if we want to feel better and live long. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” said George Bernard Shaw. Indeed. We must tune in to our inner child that never stops playing

There are many reasons why we end up being driven out of paradise. It is unavoidable with the civilization and society we have and the way they have been designed. The system works against our awakening to our aliveness and humanness. Instead, we are “educated” to fit into whatever it is that adults are expected to do. We are trained to not ask questions, not make trouble and fit quietly and with little fuss into pre-determined jobs, relationships, roles and duties that society has deemed good for itself and therefore, good for us.

In essence, we are trapped into cookie-cutter patterns and models of ‘ responsible adulthood’.

I used to think that all this Western rebelliousness as expressed in the music of Rage Against the Machine, or the way Pink Floyd sneers at education as “thought control” were just mindless, teenage angst. When I am lost in my own adultness, I still do. But years ago, I began to get the point more and more that our schools and our societies in general do not challenge us enough to awaken to any greatness that we may be capable of.

In Japan, there is a saying that “the nail that stands out gets hammered.” In many ways, it is the same here in the Philippines. Our schools, and our parenting ways are inadequate to deal with kids who are “different.” The way we respond is often to discipline them to fit in the direction of what we think is character formation. In fact, often we send the signal that to challenge anything, to call a wrong, to see things as they really are, like the kid did in the Emperor’s New Clothes, is to get into trouble. And often, it can be big trouble. In the process, we end up killing much of their spirit when we should be recognizing and encouraging their uniqueness.

It is bewildering that these days, many grade school and high school kids, after spending eight hours in the classroom, still need tutoring, and in spite of all that, many still get bad grades. Years ago, with great reluctance, I pulled out my son Mio from the school where he had been studying from prep to first year high school when I saw how unhappy he was in the set up. No matter how hard he tried, he could not see any light to dispel the negativity he was developing about being ‘educated’ in the way the school wanted. I was in a quandary. I could not imagine any other education except the one I went through and yet it seemed not to be working for Mio.

After hearing the wise counsel of someone who told me that “the best school for your son is where he can be happy,” I went against the family tradition of insisting on an Ateneo education and put him in a non-sectarian school where he bloomed intellectually, emotionally and socially. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and my son agrees.

I believe that the raising of children, or even coming into one’s own as an adult, is not so much about aligning their energies, goals and aims with society’s ways of thinking and doing things (although that has its advantages), or aligning society’s ways with ours (which admittedly, can be noble when our ideals are right). The greater goal as I see it, is to align our own body, mind and spirit so that we are awakened to our wholeness as persons.

The awakened mind is a creative being that can traverse the symbolic and literal, the ideal and the practical. To borrow a phrase from Christianity, it is “in the world but not of it.” It can evolve its own consciousness consciously. It is a truly free spirit that can evolve its own will and create anything it desires. That, to me, is what it means to be alive in the fullest sense.

Our uniqueness as whole persons and the way we manifest it is our real contribution to the world that makes life richer, not our denial of who we are to comply with life’s pre-existing ways.

* * *

The time to live is now. No more excuses why life is on hold. The best part of your life is waiting to happen.

The 45th run of the Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop (TCU) is set on May 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P5,000. Please call +63916-855-4303 (Ollie) for questions or reservations, or write to, or visit to see the syllabus, FAQ and other info.

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L. Valencia
L. Valencia
11 years ago

Your entry reminds me of “Bee Movie” with Jerry Seinfield: all bees are sent to the same place and meant to have the same destiny to keep their society in order, until the main character decided that is not how his life should be, because he wasn’t happy.

All this time I had been in such a rush to grow up, and recently realized it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

11 years ago

I loved this post so much.

11 years ago

Yes,the world would be a better happy place to be if everybody will be aware and respect each and everyone’s uniqueness.

Thank you for this post.I hope lots of parents and teachers will be enlightened on this one. Helping a child discover and nurture his/her God given gifts is vital in achieving happiness that will surely radiate as the child eventually reap success.Thanks again.

11 years ago

Having had a lonely childhood (when I look back I hardly remember any happy memory), I grew up as both childish and childlike – needy, moody, transparent, animated, easy to delight and excite, easy to damage. I’ve always felt like there’s this big gap that needs to be filled. I am a professional now but I often find it hard to be/congregate with adults for a long period of time. I don’t get why adults always have to watch their words, weigh what they say, be impressive, outwit. I’ve always been spontaneous with my words, actions, and expressions, and because of that my weaknesses are easily revealed and easily taken advantage of.

I’ve somehow learned to ride with the politics of the adult world. But I don’t think I’ll ever learn to embrace it, or even be perfectly comfortable with it.