Through a Child’s Eyes
In my young man years I read a lot of J. Krishnamurti. He advocated that we each seek our own truth and experience, rather than follow some teacher or spiritual leader, and I thought that refreshing. He writes about looking at the mundane in our lives as if it were brand new. It’s non-judgmental, open-minded. That’s how young children see everything, eyes wide open. That expression just reminded me of Martha’s chickens. She lives next door, and two laying hens named Judy and Zoey, wander the grounds. A new family moved in upstairs recently, with a five-year-old girl. I just happened to be there when she got her first look at chickens. Her eyes looked like two pie plates. She’d never seen anything like that. What WERE those things, anyway?
I was listening to an NPR program one night. The theme was how children perceive their world, and there were three stories. In the first, a four-year-old girl was taking her first airplane flight, strapped in her seat between her mother and another woman. A few minutes after take-off, she turned to the woman and asked, “So when do we get smaller?” She’d seen planes taking off before, and they always got smaller.
I missed part of the next story, a black woman telling about when she was a little girl. She must have lived in Africa, or maybe a tiny town in the deep South. She was four years old when she saw an elderly white couple. She had never seen white people before, so she thought they were ghosts. The man had a deep cough, and she figured that must be how ghosts talk.
The final story was told by the father of a young girl. He recalls when he told her about Jesus, and how he was a great teacher, and helped the poor, and said we should treat each other with love, all that. Then one day they were driving through town and they went by a church with a large crucifix outside. She asked him if that’s Jesus. Then he had to explain how some people didn’t like what Jesus was saying and they killed him. Some weeks later the family was out for dinner at a restaurant. It was around the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. “Who is that?” she asked him. He told her about Dr. King, that he was a great religious leader and how he worked for the poor, and preached that we should all treat each other with love.
“Just like Jesus,” she said. “Yes, just like Jesus.” She looked back down at the placemat. “Did they kill him, too?” Out of the mouths of babes.
As adults, we know we don’t get smaller when we take off in an airplane. Children don’t begin to develop spatial orientation skills until around the age of six, the experts tell us. But they do look at everything without pre-conceived notions, and I think this is what Krishnamurti is talking about, and we hear it echoed throughout Eastern mysticism. I’ve tried to teach myself to do this, and it does give you a different perspective. I think of it as a reminder of our interconnectedness.
Young children see the world as if there were infinite possibilities. We haven’t taught them how to interpret what they see, how to judge it. Maybe they say they have an imaginary friend. Over time, we disabuse them of this notion, because we think we know there are no such things. For all we know, they can see things we don’t believe in, or were taught as children not to believe in.
Last month I was visiting my good friends Biff and Shelley. You may remember them from “The Quinoa Affair,” (see archives, September 2011). They have a two-year-old daughter, Amanda. Each time I visit, I’m astonished at how quickly her verbal and communications skills are developing. Every evening Biff takes her on their night walk; it helps you to sleep, you know. So I tagged along. Biff asks her, “Do you want to go see the numbers?” “Yah!” The numbers are a courtesy sign telling motorists their speed. You are going . . . and “28 mph” lights up in yellow. If you exceed 32 mph, the lights turn red, and Amanda really likes that. She wants more numbers in red. Then we walked a couple blocks to the tower, which she also likes. It’s a radio tower with red lights. She loves to watch the traffic lights change from green to orange, to red.
While we were walking, a city bus went by, one of those big double buses with an accordion in the middle. Maybe more than anything, Amanda is crazy about buses. Sometimes they just walk to the bus stop so she can watch the buses. Most of us don’t notice them, unless we’re waiting for one. I tried the technique I talked about above, and I could understand why Amanda likes them so much. They’re great big, wonderful things with lights all over them. And they’re lit up inside, and you can see people in there, too! Isn’t that amazing?
Seeing things in this way makes everything fresh and pure. It’s a good approach, because it filters out the pre-conceived notions, or confirmation bias, that we aren’t aware of (but I dare not finish the sentence with a preposition, dare I?).
Jesus said, only as a child shall ye enter the Kingdom. I don’t think he meant you had to be a child, but to look at the world always with new eyes, non-judgmentally. That’s what Krishnamurti was talking about, too. I recommend everyone try it.