I recently read the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, written by Stephen Greenblatt. In this book, the story of a 15th century Italian scribe named Poggio Bracciolini, who recovers the work of a 1st century Roman poet named Lucretius, is described in fascinating detail. Lucretius’ poem is called On the Nature of Things, and is based on the teachings of a Greek philosopher named Epicurus who lived between 341 BCE – 270 BCE. Epicurus believed that once fear and superstition were removed from a person’s mind, they could then experience the freedom to pursue pleasure.
I think it’s safe to assume that children live by the following aphorism: Pleasure is the highest good. Children are driven by a perennial search for fun, whether it’s through the velocity of coasters, swings and slides at amusement parks, or the vibration of Dualshock3 controllers on their Playstations. A child’s eyes can become overwhelmed with wonder at the site of a rotating ceiling fan or a blinking light; their ears flooded with rhythmic beats and melodious chords from an MP3 player, prompting them to experiment by dancing. Children are often astonished by these common stimuli that adults take for granted.
So what happened to us adults? When did we stop being stupefied by what we now call ordinary? I guess the answer can be found at the precise time when we stopped paying attention to what once amazed us. And we stopped paying attention when other things became more important. Things like exams, work, bills and all of the other tedious things that come with growing up. Yet that inner child, like the building blocks of life that philosophers like Epicurus called “atoms” and proclaimed to be indestructible, never goes away. It lies dormant, waiting for us to finish verifying the balance of our checking account, complete our online bill pay registration, log in and log out, clock in and clock out, and all the other mundane duties of the day. In some cases, our inner child may also be waiting for us to tune out all of the negative forces preventing us from doing what we might really want to do. The fear of peer pressure and groupthink can stagnate our ability to return to the pure pursuit of pleasure that we once embarked on as children. Yet, it’s important that we do occasionally return to that pursuit.
In thinking about this whole phenomenon, I asked my mother to share the ways that she likes to recover her own inner child. She stated that in her childhood, she always loved having playmates. And so now as an adult, she has adult playmates to hang out and enjoy activities with. She also commented that dancing is another way she successfully channels her inner child. When she dances she feels free and uninhibited, like she did when she was a kid. I like to watch Science Fiction movies to tap into my inner child. Every time I watch Star Wars I feel the same awe of the vastness of the universe that I did when I was a child. I also find that riding a bike brings back the spirit of exploration that I had in my youth. My first bicycle was the harbinger of my independence. I could go anywhere I wanted to (within a few miles of my neighborhood of course). And my favorite place to explore was the park’s nature trails teeming with inexhaustible life.
How do you recover your inner child?