Unleashing our inner child

It’s a bracingly cold day in early January and I am waiting for my son, Nūh, to wake up from his nap so that I can give him his birthday present. He has turned one, and for many months I have been trying to find ways to unleash his creativity without simultaneously unleashing havoc on our home. I recently observed him emptying out my husband’s pencil case and with total fascination remove long, thin pieces of wood and plastic of varying length - pencils and pens of course, which planted the seed leading to his birthday present …

He wakes up and we unwrap his gift- an ‘Aquadoodle’- a large mat accompanied with a water-filled pen. When the water in the pen touches the mat, colours magically appear- colouring with no mess, everyone wins! A few days and many demonstrations later, Nūh has chewed on the pen, shaken it vigorously, repeatedly stabbed the carpet, poked it up his nose and tried to poke it up mine. He has drawn so much joy from this pen, but not as I or the makers of the Aquadoodle had imagined. 

Before I became a parent, I knew that I would be responsible for teaching my child how to be in the world - how to engage with other children, adults, the environment, household objects and so on. But no one told me how much I would learn from him, his mind unconditioned by social conventions, his actions without a filter yet carrying with them a purity unique to childhood. The world is observed with a sense of wonder and amazement, and everything is seen as though it is being seen for the very first time. The ability to explore the spaces and people around them is unhindered by the walls which are slowly built around us brick-by-brick as we grow into eventual maturity.

At the Rose Castle Foundation, we talk about the four dimensions of reconciliation- reconciliation with others, ourselves, the environment and ultimately with God. When a need for reconciliation arises, it is often because those with a stake are unable to imagine possibilities outside of the status quo. It could be a relationship where years of miscommunication has created damaging patterns of behaviour, or communities in conflict that are unable to conceive of possibilities beyond the existing hatred, violence, prejudice and distrust. In their spiritual lives, people may find themselves going through the motions, but the rhythms of prayer which have been a part of their lives for so long are no more a source of comfort or connection to God. In these situations the windows are shut, the air has become stale and as a result the lungs are gasping for fresh air. How can such an impasse be overcome?

Perhaps we can turn to an important spiritual reality in the Islamic tradition, the notion of God’s Names or attributes. Whilst God is understood as One, the Divine attributes relate to this Oneness like light refracted through a prism whose faces are infinite. Different orders of creation manifest different qualities or combinations of them, but it is only in the children of Adam that all of God’s qualities have been brought together in one being, albeit in a finite way. Human beings are thus a mirror to the Divine light, and in a sense the pinnacle of God’s creative endeavours.

When as people and communities we find ourselves in a state of brokenness and in need of reconciliation, it is often because we have lost the ability to perceive the full spectrum of the Divine light which exists in God’s creation. Our ability to comprehend the creative majesty in our environment, in ourselves and in our fellow human beings, has been overcome by a heavy veil of social conditioning. 

What do children have to do with all this? There is another important concept in the Islamic tradition, which is the ‘fitrah’. There is no one word or phrase which can sum up what fitrah means, but it may be described as a disposition which we are all born with; an ability to know God and to recognise His Oneness and the multiplicity of the Divine light which all of His creation has been bathed in. This disposition is strongest in children, who are fresh from being in God’s presence. More than anyone else, it is children whose interactions with the world are guided by the fitrah, and hence they are in constant awe; recognising the true splendour of a world which is no less than the manifestation of God’s attributes. The fitrah is our capacity to see possibilities in every situation and to appreciate the creative glory in the world around us.

When we deal with life’s challenges, we naturally turn to the instruction manuals handed down to us by society or our own life experiences in choosing how to respond. But perhaps the challenge to us in these situations is to unleash our inner child; to tap into our fitrah and think creatively about the situations we find ourselves in. To ask: what beauty is there here which I am not seeing? To be creative in our relationship with others and question: is there a quality in this person which I have not been open to engaging with, or a way of interacting with this community which may ruffle some feathers but could also open a way to dialogue? Like Nūh who ignored the manual to his Aquadoodle, if from time to time we looked beyond the conventional way of doing things, who knows what possibilities might await us?

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