Standing chest deep on the third step of grandpa’s pool Carly began to sing, arms up dancing across her imagined stage. “I’m a ballerina,” she announced, as she gracefully bent, twisted and swirled through the water. On the ten-hour flight from LAX to Munich, with the ultimate destination Prague, she and I watched scenes from an animated story (without sound) called Ballerina. It took some time for Da-da-Dad to connect the dots. That travel was a week ago. So much has happened in between. We have a book about a ballerina mouse called Angelina. On reflection, it is clear that the movements in the pool were inspired by the images Carly had seen on the screen last week. What does this say about learning and each impression that happens throughout the day?
This morning, as I lay jetlagged in the dreamy morning light, Carly plopped beside me. “Show me a trick,” she said. “What? Where did that come from?” “I don’t know,” she replied. It took me a blink or two to pull myself together. “I can balance a rabbit on my tongue,” I announced, and I did, reaching over and placing a small bunny gingerbread cookie in my mouth. “Shall I tell you a story,” I asked. “Yes,” she said.
You know how it goes. “Once upon a time” signals a new reality where anything can happen and often does. After repeating those magic words I wove a tale about a bunny that lived in a shoe. He was very sad. There are no other bunnies to play with in a shoe. The little bunny closed his eyes and wished. And there he could see himself hopping in a lovely grass field. Over by a fence were three other bunnies. They were happy and excited to see a new friend. One of the bunnies hopped up and wiggled her nose next to the bunny that lived in the shoe. She ran over to a big tree and found big red cherries on the ground. She balanced one on her nose, tossed it high up into the sky and let it fall into her mouth and ate it… And with that I placed a gingerbread bunny cracker on Carly’s tongue and she ate it. “Again,” she said, “tell me the story again.” And I did.
Almost three, Carly’s repertoire of word-symbol-metaphors is rich, and in two languages. All the elements of my little story were fresh in her experience. Grandma keeps bunnies for food. There is a cherry tree in their back yard. My words evoked the memory of these experiences and were re-membered, made real again, in response to my word-stimulus. Dancing like a ballerina in the pool is the final expression of the inner-world narrative language creates. Layered on top of her extremely well developed sensory world and her relationship-emotional world comes this dream-like virtual reality language and story creates, all mushing together as a single experience. Carly is indeed a child-of-the dream where the inner images created by these three major brain systems fade seamlessly in and out of the other.
Of course, we dults are dreaming just like Carly every time we think or use words, spoken or not. The difference between sanity and its absence is our ability to be aware of this dream while we are dreaming, a critical capacity few seem to master. Much more common, we become enchanted by the dream experience and mistake the imagined for the concrete. This compulsive enchantment, our lack of discrimination and the misinterpretation of experiences that ensue may be the true fall of man or, with a new awareness and quality of attention, our salvation. As technology speeds up everything it is becoming increasingly challenging to keep clear what we call ‘real’ or ‘true’ from the dream.
Carly’s exploding capacity to create mental images (not present to the sensory system) implicit with expanding language skills and vocabulary, has changed her world at least as dramatically as learning to walk. Preparing for a visit to a glass art museum near Mama’s home village, Carly walked out with a small empty pottery vase in her hand. “This is my coffee, to go” she said. “It is very good and has medicine in it. I will get some for you too.” She returned a moment later with a large ceramic beer mug. “Here is your coffee,” she said. “It smells yummy,” I said, sipping the magic brew. These make-believe metaphoric events are popping like popcorn. They dominate the landscape of her mind and her experience. Just a few moments ago, snuggling, holding hands as she fell asleep, she said, “my heart feels happy in my stomach.” “So does mine,” I whispered.
Joseph Chilton Pearce and I shared a passion for this truly amazing capacity we all seem to take for granted. The examples of how it is changing our lives, Carly’s and everyone she relates to, are common. She wears a diaper at night. In the past she would resist. The other evening I told her a story, an explanation really. “When you are little,” I said, “you can’t tell you need to pee, especially at night when you are sleeping. When you fall asleep, I can pick you up and move you and you don’t know it. You just go on sleeping. So when you have to pee, you just pee and the diaper catches it. If you did not wear a diaper, the pee would spill onto the bed and instead of taking off the diaper every morning, we would have to wash the bed.” Wow,” she said. “So it saves us a lot of work if you wear a diaper and let it catch all the pee.”
Two things struck home. There is a really good reason to wear a diaper, to catch all that pee, and equally important, it saves all the trouble of washing the bed every day. Carly, and every child, wants to be a part of the family and contribute. She was delighted to know that her wearing a diaper saved us all that work. Suddenly the diaper became a positive force in our lives rather than some stupid thing she had to do that nobody else does. We slipped on the diaper tonight without a struggle. “It catches all the pee,” she said, “so we don’t have to wash the bed.” “That’s right,” I said, “now what books shall we read?”
Joe described how it takes complete attention for the developing child to create and attend to the dream images words create. This complete attention, now focused inward, means Carly is less focused on immediate sensory experiences, including me. Keeping this in mind helps me relate, engage and be a little more patient with her process. I know that sometimes I need to say things several times before her attention shifts from her inner world to mine.
A few moments ago in the pool, and earlier this morning, Carly described a small Doctor entity. She said he was ‘right there,’ sitting next to her and that he was playing in the water. “I will be careful not to splash him,” I said. And, there is a new, near constant, talking to herself. As Carly goes about the business of the day she verbalizes what she is doing. “I’m sitting down right here,” she says. “Stand up and stop over there,” she commands, not that she is being bossy, which is how it sounds, rather she is being clear, direct and accurate. All of this is implicit in the semi-hallucinatory child-of-the-dream state she is in and will be for quite some time. If allowed, and not dismissed, it will continue through age six or seven, and beyond, in different forms.
In The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Joe went to great length describing how our ‘scientific’ mind extinguishes the mythic-imaginative and how our self and world is improvised because of it. Our Einsteins and Mozarts are what they are because this quality was allowed to mature and distill, opening the doors of perception wide, inviting wonder and insight. Visual media, screen images, sterile intellectualism and the adult model not affirming and participating in the archetype-mythic develops a heart-mind that is incapable perceiving what might be, insisting conformity to what others say there is.
We judge ourselves, others and especially our children all the time and don’t realize we are doing it. What if we knew they were the next Einstein, Mozart of Buddha? We would help them understand why things are the way they, which leaves ample room for them to be different, rather than applying pressure to conform. We, our child and everyone else in the world would suddenly appear and behave very differently.
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