What Our Children Teach Us

"The difference between spontaneity and planning is analogous to that between the flow of a brook and the route of a train. One streams around stones, and plants, within the banks, sometimes slowing, sometimes more impetuous, here and there reflecting patterns of light, never stopping. The other rattles along, from time to time stopping as planned. We may live like one or the other. We can proceed according to the planned itinerary, strenuously trying to make life conform to our needs, or we can adapt to whatever we meet and flow without effort.
One day I find myself with lots of time to spend with Emilio. On such occasions I usually ask him, "What would you like to do today?" and list all the possibilities. If I let him choose in that way, I feel very democratic. The menu, however, is mine. I choose the various options - to ride bikes, paint, read books. I am also defining the way to look at life itself: as a series of items from which to choose and make the day's plan.
A child's mind does not work this way. Thought and action arise spontaneously and unpredictably, moment to moment. Today I decide not to offer anything. I am silent, allowing Emilio to take the initiative. Emilio wastes no time. He moves easily from one activity to another, inventing new games, without worrying about what's next. He is like a juggler who does not think about how to catch the next ball - he just catches it.
By proposing a menu of activities from which to choose, I only succeed in making his world rigid and compartmentalised. Alternatively, I can learn from him. Naturally and harmoniously one experience develops from another while Emilio and I play. We play at postman, doctor, at making compositions out of stones and dried leaves, at writing, jumping, at mixing and cooking ingredients (there is a different story for each mixture), at inventing new words, counting and sticking stickers, preparing food, telephoning to hear the precise time of day, using scissors and Scotch tape, and many other activities unforeseen by my list.
I come to understand what it means to live spontaneously, how much richer and more fertile is this way of being. At first I feel anxious - about wasting time and living in a way that is incoherent and disordered. It's the anxiety of losing control. Afterwards, I really do lose control and follow a rhythm not my own. I feel much more relaxed. It is a new feeling, which never quite leaves me. It is like riding a bike: hard to explain how to do it, but at some point you just know.
I suspect this more relaxed rhythm is part of our original way of being. Learning to be spontaneous is not a matter of acquiring a new ability, but of remembering an old emotion. In losing my need to control, I lose the anxiety and the feeling of effort. In fact, maybe one of the reasons children have so much more energy that we do is that they let themselves go into the rhythm of life."

Piero Ferrucci, in "What Our Children Teach Us - Lessons in Joy, Love and Awareness" - a beautifully written, perceptive and anecdotal meander through ordinary moments in the author's own family illustrating what we might learn if we are paying attention to our children - and to ourselves. Recommended.