October 15, 2023
Our children come to us with stars in their eyes; they come to remind us that we are made of far-flung atoms and stardust. The wisdom of the Universe shines from the eyes of a newborn, while the entire evolution of earth—mineral, plant, animal, human, cosmos— is contained in their still-forming brains. Each newborn baby is the most current messenger of the gods, bringing all the potential brilliance, philanthropy, genius and generosity possible to humanity. If not nurtured with care, on the other hand, his child can carry our collective shadow as well.
All cultures throughout time have cherished this newborn potential and in similar ways have sought to cultivate the best in their children: the fittest bodies, perseverance, balanced emotions, empathy, clear thinking, resilience, and wide open creativity.
Until very recently, these ways have been gentle ways. Enfolded in the embrace of family, embedded in village life, connected to the earth for sustenance, children’s lives were full of relationship. Working alongside parents, children’s days were spent gathering and preparing food, weaving baskets, making music. Children had intimate interface with the world of the senses, as they learned which mushrooms to pick and which to leave, or how to split a branch in just the correct way. Vigorous and fine movement were woven throughout the days as they carried water, played stick ball, spun wool, or at times of ceremony danced and sang in community. Literature and art were accomplished at the foot of a shade tree listening to an elder tell a story or learning to coil clay for the finest pot. Dancing through all of this was time to play, to digest and integrate this wide palette of experience. Children have been sustained for millennia by all of these elements. Our human psyche and brain have developed in a delicate choreography, each element sounding a particular note in the symphony that is growth.
Children’s lives today, by stark contrast, are truncated: human connection is fragmented by the incessant demand of technology, the senses and movement drugged by screens at every turn, stories are “told” by machines while the content is driven by the advertising empire, and play has become a four letter word. The inherent human drive to learn and to gain mastery is thwarted by “scripted” teaching styles, by high-stakes testing, and by the deprivation of healthy movement throughout the school day.
But this bleak picture is beginning to change. We are now developing scientific tools subtle enough to study the infinitely evolving and complex human mind. Science shows us that these time-honored gentle ways of
loving human connection
immersion in the body and the sense world
the necessity and freedom to move
expressive artistic experience
stories to grow on
and all important play—
nourish, engage and invite the developing human child to discover their boundless gifts and possibilities. When well-modeled by their parents and teachers, children in turn can offer their highest potential to the world.
Adele Diamond, developmental cognitive neuroscientist, tells us this: Do you want to optimize executive functions and academic outcomes? Simple, just nourish the human spirit.
It is exciting and revelatory for me to hear a neuroscientist speak of the spirit! For the last two centuries, science and spirit, the mind and the heart, which are two languages/lenses for the same reality, have been torn. It has always been my hope that these differing yet twin forms of understanding could be reunited. For, in many Asian and native languages, the words for heart and mind are the same.
It is clear to me that the physical brain is the tool of the individual soul. Can we begin to see how supporting and nurturing brain development in young children not only brings gain for the individual child, but also fosters the continuing evolution of humanity? Perhaps taking a very long view, a view from geologic time, will inform our current perspective in biologic time. Soon, we will delve into MacLean’s Triune Brain; we’ll see where we have come from and what potential lies not only in your child’s, but also humanity’s future.
Today’s article is an introductory piece Sharifa Oppenheimer’s book, With Stars in their Eyes: Brain Science and Your Child’s Journey Toward the Self.
You can join us for more of Sharifa’s wisdom and experience in her course by the same name, Brain Science and Your Child’s Journey Toward the Self.
The course began in September and due to popular demand, we have extended enrollment through this Wednesday, when the next lesson releases! Enrollment will close by end of day!
Learn more at sharifaoppenheimer.org.