This article explores the spiritual nature of children, a profound and significant aspect of being human, gracefully present from birth. The most divine form of human life arrives in the smallest of packages-a newborn babe. As these tiny beings enter the world in a flurry of commotion and anticipation, a spirit is also reborn among us. They come to us with open hearts and pure souls, exuding a spiritual essence that belies their fragile and vulnerable nature.
What is Childhood Spirituality?
The term as well as the concept of "spirit" is elusive. It no longer exclusively pertains to religious beliefs, learned values, or cognitive conceptions. Rather, it is the holistic experience of the human being, both physical and nonphysical, as well as allusion to a Higher Power or universal energetic presence. Spirit is the life force, the essence of our being as well as the essence of all things. Spirit manifests in human beings as cosmic memory, collective knowing, unconditional love, intuition and creativity - it is the universal energetic which creates existence, experience, the material world, and consciousness. The embodiment of the human spirit is present and active from birth, and is uniquely energetic in children.
We are born with our spirits fully intact; with a connection to the collective spiritual realm as tangible as our physical bodies. In a culture which has largely ignored the spiritual aspect of our being, those children able to consciously maintain their connection to the metaphysical are gifted with an inherent sense of self, purpose, and service. The importance of understanding and embracing the concept of childhood spirituality is imperative to the healthy development of the child, and therefore, to the continuous evolution of our race as we know it. It's imperative because the spiritual aspect of humans is as critical to our well being, natural development, and overall evolution as the cognitive, emotive, and biological aspects.
If we are to truly understand our purpose here on earth, if we are to grasp the meaning of life, if we are to reach our full potential, both as physical and spiritual beings, the pursuit of such understanding must honor and embrace the entirety of our experiences, from birth to death. The significance and influence of child spirituality is as important as, if not more so than, adult spirituality. The childhood spiritual experience may be more crucial because of the substantial impact and influence childhood spiritual experiences have on the aggregate of our adult lives. The natural and essential link between mind-body-emotion must include spirit as well.
What does Child Spirit look like?
Childhood spirituality is the being essence of the child encompassing mind, body, emotions and soul while simultaneously transcending physical experience and linking the individual to universal collective Spirit. "Spirit is the essence of life, the energy of the universe that creates all things. Each one of us is a part of that spirit-a divine entity. So the spirit is the higher Self, the eternal being that lives within us" (Living in the Light, Shakti Gawain, 1986). Our spirituality is experienced on two levels - an individual, soul level and as an aspect of collective universal energy or Spirit. Spirituality and the human being are inseparable and this spiritual essence, on both the individual (soul) and universal (Spirit) levels, provides the human being with a foundation for experiencing the true meaning of life. Spirituality is a prominent aspect of our being, and such spirituality has a profound impact on who we are, how we experience ourselves and the world around us, and how we live our lives. As a result, without the recognition and nurturance of our spiritual nature from birth we are destined to severely inhibit our physical, mental, and emotional growth in addition to our perpetual development and evolution as a species.
Children possess a natural purity in their experience, expression, and personalities. Insofar as this is believed to hold true with their thoughts, personalities, and emotions, so it is with their spirits. Children are not gifted from some external source with a unique soul or spiritual essence at later stages of development-instead they are simply and, more accurately, innately aware of their inherent spiritual essence, as well as the dual nature of all humans and, perhaps, all living things from conception. Children appear to plainly understand that we are, first and foremost, embodied spirits-that our purpose here on earth is of a spiritual nature. Many children exude a spiritual maturity that is remarkable. Consider, for example, the experience of young Clara who was able to foresee the death of her young cousin who lived miles away,
I said I wanted to see him. When I was asked why, I said he was going to die. They [Clara's parents] said no, Mitch was not going to die, he was perfectly healthy. Only a couple of days later, my grandfather saw Mitch's father in town and was told that Mitch was very sick. Soon after, we learned that Mitch died. When I went to the funeral, even the children kept away from me because they had heard I'd known of the death ahead of time. (The Secret Life of Kids: An exploration into their psychic senses, James Peterson, 2000)
It is not unusual to observe some children weeping over the pain or death of a stranger, even someone they may have heard about in school or seen on television, but to whom they have no personal connection. How remarkable, the wisdom of children-the intuitive, universal knowing we carry forward into this world!
What does Child Spirit act like?
As mentioned previously, the human experience is of a dual nature-human and spirit. As a result, children often experience their spirituality or spiritual essence through metaphysical phenomena. Meta implies an experience or circumstance which lies beyond the physical realm. This spiritual awareness in children is observed to manifest in many different ways, including: experiencing visions, hearing voices, having magical moments, having out-of-body experiences, and experiencing heightened communication (such as extra sensory perception, intuition, knowing, prophesizing, and deep empathy). It is our culturally imposed limits, which are largely dismissive of the legitimacy or significance of nonphysical experiences, which contribute to the tendency to regard children's spiritual essence as inauthentic or invalid. We can change this by understanding and nurturing the spiritual essence in children.
What is it like for a child to experience his or her spiritual being? Many have theorized on the nature and existence of adult spirituality, but few on how the child's spiritual essence materializes or manifests on the physical plane. Based on years of formal and informal research by child spirituality specialists, characteristics associated with spiritually conscious children include: deep compassion; gifted creative and artistic ability, morality, deep connection to people, nature and animals, insight, altruism, seeing the invisible, past-life memories, exceptional abilities (such as extra sensory perception, out-of-body experiences, and understanding others unspoken thoughts or feelings), wisdom, child-world consciousness, attunement to spiritual forces, and many more. For example, Bonnie, age 8, shared her experience of "attunement to spiritual forces",
As I put my two fingers together, I felt the electricity flow down one arm, go through the two fingers, and then move up my other arm and into my chest. It kept going around and around, and I felt my body getting warmer and warmer. Then, just as it got so hot that I was going to stop it by taking my fingers apart, I suddenly saw my body light up-all over! (ChildSpirit, Samuel Silverstein, 1991)
Children often convey, whether through the spoken word or through nonverbal expression, their personal mystical or spiritual experiences as something they have "imagined." With their limited vocabulary and undeveloped grammatical understanding of deeper concepts such as mysticism, the term imagination most accurately describes what they are experiencing. The mystical childhood experience encompasses those experiences which offer a glimpse into the spiritual realm, an unexplainable understanding of life beyond one-self, of the collective cosmic consciousness and infinite existence. To a child these early years are a constantly unfolding mystery. As children explore their physical world and all that it holds, they are also in the process of discovering the nonphysical world - the world of energy and spirit.
The embodied spiritual essence of the child is not experienced in a vacuum-it is an accumulation of a lifetime (or possibly many lifetimes), albeit short, of experiences in the context of a world within and beyond their own physical existence. Not infrequently, the level or experience of spirit present in children is vastly different from the experience of spirit in adulthood; however, this does not mean it is nonexistent or less significant in children. Conventional developmental models suggest an adult is capable of more highly intentional, focused, and nonegoic (transcending physical and cognitive experience) states of awareness. Yet, children, in their naivete, pureness and innocence, are more naturally inclined to move freely within their internal and external experiences and between physical and nonphysical realities. The necessity of accepting and nurturing the essence of spirit in children is crucial in order that we not perpetuate the disregard for this significant developmental process.
What can we do to support Child Spiritual Health?
Children possess an innate, natural ability to embrace life and live in this palpable existential relationship with the universe, to stand with one foot in physical reality and the other in the spiritual realm. Children seem to be able to travel between these two planes with ease and ownership. It is largely the active imagination of children and their openness to alternative realities and planes of existence which allows them to so easily shift between body and spirit. Children are born with an understanding of the following, "It is important to recognize that spiritual experiences are magnificent natural processes. We are spiritual beings temporarily clothed in matter, we can and will instinctively experience our spiritual nature when the proper conditions are present" (The Secret of the Soul, William Buhlman, 2001). It seems that childhood itself embodies those proper conditions; the very nature of childhood is spiritual in its essence. Highly spiritual children are free of the typical constraints of both linear time and ego. Children are concerned less with the outer personality and more with the inner world, hence children's proclivities toward: out-of-body experiences, perceptions of non-linear time planes, having mystical experiences, and their ability to travel between physical and nonphysical realities.
In recognizing and supporting the critical nature of childhood spiritual health, it is my goal to assist every parent and adult as they explore and support the presence and active manifestation of children's spiritual essence. Children possess an active spirit which can be broadly observed in 6 areas: Nature, Mysticism, Wisdom, Wonder, Imagination, and Relating (Grace in Small Packages: An Exploration in Childhood Spirituality, Kimble Greene, 2008). Within these 6 areas one can observe the manifestation of characteristics and abilities such as: past-life experiences; near-death experiences; visions of apparitions or the invisible; psychic and extra-sensory abilities; extraordinary creative abilities; indications of profound wisdom, wonder, knowing, and insight; and a highly developed sense of compassion, caring, and love.
Spirit is an essential aspect of our being. How children experience their spiritual essence has a profound impact on who they are, how they experience the world around them, how they live their lives, and who they become. As a result, without the recognition and nurturance of children's spiritual essence, we are fated to severely inhibit their physical, mental and emotional growth in addition to their spiritual development. If we, as adults and parents, disregard, discount, and discourage the natural expression and experience of a child's spirit, we may as well bind a part of their bodies in a mummy-like encasing, for the outcome is likely to be similar - severe restriction of an integral aspect of their being. It is our responsibility to nurture our children's spiritual development just as we do their cognitive, physical and emotional growth.
It is essential to the healthy development of our children, and to the future of our race, that we begin to appreciate more abundantly the totality, depth, and scope of children's spiritual essence-from the magical to the mysterious and on toward the mystical. While children are born with the wisdom and faith necessary to embrace their own spiritual nature, it is the responsibility of parents, researchers, and all adults to do the same by understanding, nurturing, and supporting this graceful spiritual essence in children.
In the box below is a list of 7 specific things parents and adults can do to begin to recognize and nurture children's spiritual essence:
1. Listen to and validate children's imaginings and musings, for they are likely to be of a spiritual nature;
2. Create time for discussions or exploration around the nonphysical, metaphysical, and spiritual aspects of existence. If you are unsure about the existence of these yourself, simply explore the possibility of such things with your child (there are many wonderful children's books on this topic);
3. Children explore, learn, discover and come to understand on all levels; intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual, through play - create a space and time for enchanted play in their lives;
4. Nature provides endless opportunities for spiritual revelation, self-discovery, and inspiration - encourage your child to spend lots of time in nature, with pets, and observing wildlife;
5. Healthy relationships are key to our overall well-being. Allow your child opportunities for relating to other people, animals and the imaginary;
6. Rely on your own intuition and inner knowing when it comes to parenting and relating to children. Society's "rules" do not always support children's holistic growth and spiritual development;
7. Let children guide you - children know what they need on a deep, profound level. Let children be your teacher!