I remember very distinctly when I was about twelve years old, saying to myself that I was going to be sure when I "grew up " to recall what it was like when I was a child. Of course, I did not.
As I approached adolescence, I felt a strong sense of nostalgia for my childhood, even though still being in it. This was the 1950's, and in those days, a child was still a child at twelve. I loved being a kid. As a big kid, I was already getting "those looks " from older adults who suspected I was a budding "juvenile delinquent " , and this made me feel creepy.
I could see that adults were lost in a world of worries and concerns that not only troubled them, but created a gap between themselves and children. I could also see that this did not bother them; this separation. I could not understand this. I was aware, even then, that the bible held children in great respect. Jesus said children should be allowed to come to him, and that those who were like children were the first in the kingdom of heaven. So why did the grown ones look on us as "silly"?
As I grew older; teenager, youth, young adult (all the labels we endure until the day we are officially adults), I grew more and more away from the promise I had made to recall my childhood. When I was 18, I became a Nursery Sunday School Teacher at my local Presbyterian Church. I had a class of three year olds, and the teaching of Christianity took on a particular importance, even though I was an agnostic at the time. I found however, that the person who was learning the most was me. Each Sunday the three year olds would take me by the hand and remind me, not only who I had been, but who I was.
As I have mentioned before, as an adult well into my fifties, I made a habit of watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. For those who do not know that show, Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian Minister who had a show for very young children. Every day he would talk about things that mattered to his audience, their fears, their joys, their anger, separation from parents, and all manner of things we forget as adults. The show became a quiet meditation for me. It reminded me what childhood is like, not a "remembered " childhood, but the childhood that lives inside me now.
When we read a biblical passage like "to such as these (children) belongs the kingdom of Heaven " We are inclined to think of our own childhood. We nostalgically remember feelings and events of past days. Some of these remembrances may be painful, even tragic. We may think, "I'm glad that's over ", or "I remember being so free, but of course, I had no responsibilities then." But this is indulging in memory, nostalgia, or whatever you may call it. It is not a real experience. On a psychological level it is colored by all that has happened since, and judged by the "adult " mind, so that it takes on an entirely different meaning than it did to the child that was experiencing it. On the spiritual level, a similar thing takes place. We tend to glorify the "childlike " state into an innocence and blissfulness that never existed outside of our imagination. The innocent child we remember is just that; a memory child. A construct of the mind.
To be "born again ", to use a Christian term I dislike for it's misuse, is not to return to the memory child, but to become really childlike in a fresh way. To awaken in non-dual terms, is just this, to become aware of life in it's freshness, it's freedom, it's potential. Awakening is really no more than this. To "become as Children " is not to resurrect a memory of childhood, either pleasant or unpleasant, but to begin to discover life as fresh, new every day. To see a bird, as if it were the first you had ever seen, without names for the colors, or feathers, or even the word bird. Just a magical, flying wonder. To see the grass wave in the wind like the sea, only without the ideas of sea or wind or grass. This is the attitude that sees the kingdom of heaven, that lives there and has it as it's inheritance.
When I look at it now, I may not have remembered what it was like to be a child, but my promise to myself has been kept. Each day in the silent sunrise. tears of Joy well up, not from a remembered childhood, but in the experience of the awakened now. The child lives. Not the memory child. He grew and became a man, just as he should have. The child that lives is the child I am, reawakened from the dust of memory. Resurrected from the tomb of the mind, into the kingdom of Heaven.