My kids will try anything. I want to be more like that. Why are children so fearless?
Please don’t want to be like that because then that’s what you’ll be being—someone wanting to be fearless rather than being someone who is fearless. And really meditate on that idea because there’s gold in there. Wanting is a verb. If you’re verbing that, you can’t be verbing being fearless. You’re always being something, start getting conscious about the choices you’re making through the narratives you’re telling yourself with your thoughts.
The advantage your kids have is they’re not “grown up” enough to have many judgmental thoughts about the world so they’re in the world. When I was in Irian Jaya deep in the mountain jungle I saw very little children doing amazing things. I asked a very wise anthropologist if she’d ever seen any of the kids fall when they would traverse great heights by walking across narrow trees, she said in 23 years she’d never heard of a child falling.
What impressed me so much about her was her wisdom: she had used that experience to realize that she had accidentally and inadvertently taught her children to be afraid. We would all feel comfortable crossing a few meters walking on a relatively narrow line on the pavement. But make that line a tree across a deep rocky gorge and does our body change? No, our thoughts change. We start thinking about falling. Because either we’ve fallen or our parents or others have told us about other people falling. So the term is perfect—we literally psych ourselves out.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re crossing a gorge on a tree trunk or if you’re trying to decide if you’re going to date again, if you’re anxious that’s because you want (there’s that word again) to avoid the pain you’ve experienced before. So your mind isn’t focused on building or creating something beautiful, it’s on avoiding something ugly. You don’t move forward looking backward. The fact that human beings are naturally buoyant proves that anyone can swim. What the people who “can’t swim” prove is that you can really hold yourself down with worried, fearful thinking.
Your kids don’t have enough history to do what you’re doing. And their friends aren’t constantly giving them advice on how to avoid pain they’ve experienced. But as an adult you try to avoid painful past experiences, and the advice your friends give will be designed to help you avoid the pain or realize the benefit they previously did, but in many cases this information is only valuable in the original context and it would only apply if you had their personality and their reaction to things. The most valuable thing anyone can do to be both happy and adventurous is to place more energy on what you want to happen than you do on what you don’t want to happen.
Stop living in your head. Stop using your imagination to calculate the downsides of every choice you make. Make them boldly and don’t try to define yourself with them, just use them as a springboard for your next set of choices. But don’t be so busy avoiding the past that you forget to live out the gift of the present moment. Because whatever mistakes you made in the past, they won’t be as damaging to your life as they will be if you use them as an excuse to throw away your future.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.