Think back with me for a moment.
Remember when you were child, playing outdoors? Remember how you would run, jump, and gallivant around without a care in the world?
You might have to strain your memory to think back to those days, but most of us spent a good deal of time outside as youngsters.
The world seemed magical then. Everything was big, bright, expansive, colorful. The world was your jungle, and every day could be a safari.
At some point, everything changed. You barely noticed it, but suddenly, outside was just outside. Eventually, the scenery that was once captivating and wondrous became drab and commonplace.
But, it wasn’t the world that changed. It was your perspective.
You might think that such a shift in perspective is a natural part of “growing up”, but you know what? No, it isn’t. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
The world is still an awe-inspiring and beautiful place for those of us who know how to open our eyes to it. Maybe, if you let me, I can show you how.
Cultivating a Child-Mind
The secret to seeing the world as a gorgeous, technicolor dreamscape is to stay in touch with the child within, the part of you that is still playful, curious, spontaneous, and imaginative.
I promise you — you still have your child-self’s eyes tucked away somewhere, and if you can unlock them, the world will once again sparkle with the light of a thousand suns.
Maybe that sounds like some hippie, new age mumbo jumbo, but stick with me here. Don’t knock me until you try what I’m going to suggest.
Cultivating a child-mind isn’t so much a matter of changing or adding something to your mind. It’s a matter of removing the filters and barriers that you’ve constructed.
Barrier #1: Speed
We live in a hyper-fast-paced world. We’re always running, running, running. We coast down superhighways in our high-powered automobiles to get to our indoor jobs. We walk briskly through the streets with our eyes buried in our iPhones.
We need to slow down.
“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
― Leo Tolstoy
As Leo Tolstoy wisely observed over a century ago, the first thing you need to do to reconnect with the marvels of the world is to pause what you’re doing, jar yourself out of the scurrying, the endless to-do list.
Go for an aimless walk. Lie down with your family and watch the stars. Grab a park bench and really watch the squirrels or the swaying trees.
Barrier #2: Noise
Our world is beyond noisy. Barking advertisements on the radio. Gung-ho sportscasters on TV. Earbuds constantly plugged in. Everyone always yapping and yapping some more.
You need to escape the noise.
Unplug for a couple of hours. Walk down by the river. Find a sanctuary, and just be. Yes, I’m serious. Just sit there, listen, and observe.
Barrier #3: Words
Now, while the first two barriers may have seemed fairly obvious to you, this is the one that isn’t so intuitive. Yet, it’s the most important — the secret.
Words limit our perception of the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I love words. They are exceptionally powerful, and I relish the chance to play with them every day. But, it is absolutely integral to understand how they frame and compartmentalize every aspect of our lives.
Words are symbols that stand in place of concepts. They are sounds or ink squiggles that have meaning because we have agreed upon a meaning for them.
It’s key to realize this — words are abstract representation. They are not the world; they are invented signs.
What does this have to do with developing a child-mind?
As we grow older, we look at a bird or a tree or a pond or the sunset, and we think, “Yep, that’s a bird or a tree or a pond or a sunset.
We’ve defined the thing in our mind long ago, and so we look at it and see nothing more than a concept, a normality. We simply see the same, boring old picture that was locked away in our consciousness when our fathers pointed and said, “That’s a tree.”
But what was the world like before we knew the words to describe it? What is the world beyond definition and thought? Ah-ha!
This is the world we must get to. This is what you’re digging for.
See the world without rationalizing it. View it without judgment.
You must actively try to do this because your brain’s default setting is to overlook everything that it thinks it knows. You have the ability to make the familiar become unfamiliar.
One effective method I’ve found to do this is meditation. (See my guide to meditation.) After meditating for just a couple of minutes in a park or natural setting, my thoughts have subsided, my mind is still, my vision is dark. When I open my eyes, I see the landscape as pure artistic form. I swear to you — it’s glowing, breathing almost, pleasant, uplifting. I glimpse an aura that I could not otherwise see.
Another way to awaken your mind from its default setting is to really stop and look at a thing. Squarely, for an extended period. Transfix your gaze. Actively try to contemplate its aesthetic form without limiting it to a word.
I realize it’s ironic that I’m using words to try to explain how you might view a world without words, but I’ll try anyway. 🙂 Maybe this will help.
With a child’s eyes, what might a starry night sky become? An obsidian canvas peppered with twinkling, blazing diamonds. The pupil of God exploding with radiant beacons of distant fire.
Do you see what I’m doing? I’m resorting to more elaborate, poetic metaphors to try to jar you out of your conception of a night sky as just a sky.
What might a tree become? A bark-clad, skeletal nature-finger erupting from the Earth’s flesh. A mighty, organic claw, strewn with fluttering bits of color, reaching for the heavens.
You can do this too. See the world through the eye of imagination, rather than the calculations of reason.
When We’re Able to Do This
When we can view the world without words and classifications, we’re stricken by awe and reverence. It’s so mysterious, so sublime. Almost like, Woah! What is this place?!
When we can recognize this world that we once lost, we can regain our child-mind and carry it with us. Suddenly, even a glance to the sky or a peak out the window at any given moment can be a source of inspiration. Not to mention that it makes us want to be in nature, which (as I’ve written before) comes with so many health benefits.
A single day and your entire life can be transformed by this realization.
And think — if everyone tried to do this, the world would become a much kinder, more awesome place. We’re all in this majestic place together.
The most important way to manifest this perspective in your life is to use your imagination. Climb a tree. Walk backwards. Make animal noises. Literally, play as if you were a child, and that world can come back to you.
Actively strip away the barriers that society and your mind have formed. Learn to see an impenetrable, breath-taking mystery in all things.
Do this, and I promise you — all will be better for it.
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake
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About Jordan Bates
Jordan Bates is a Lover of God, healer, mentor of leaders, writer, and music maker. The best way to keep up with his work is to join nearly 7,000 people who read his Substack newsletter.
Well said Jordan, I always think of the idea of words only being symbols, but never thought of from a perspective of a child, its a good spin you put on it. I actually just wrote a post on this topic last week as well. I’ve had the luxury of taking take of some kids for the last little while and it really let observe them. It’s interesting to see how our environment can condition us to start thinking and perceiving things differently. We can learn a lot from children – unconditional love, instant excitement, endless curiosity. Well actually, we’d… Read more »
Awesome to hear that you’re already thinking of words as symbols. I don’t think most people do. I’m glad that I could add some further perspective to your understanding by characterizing the “world without words” as the world of the child. Developing a child-mind or ‘beginner mind’ can take us so far. Really glad to hear you’ve had the chance to work with kids lately. That’s what I’m doing this summer too! I’ll keep on writing. Hope to hear from you again!
[…] is sometimes called the Beginner’s Mind, but I think of it as a mind free of […]
This is so beautiful I am actually tearing up.
<3 thank you for this comment. i truly appreciate knowing that the post meant something to you.