I created this image yesterday evening, so it seems only fitting that my readings this morning in Welwood’s Toward a Psychology of Awakening address the ego effects of early child-raising practices.
He’s discussing the issue in the context of explaining how it is that psychology and spiritual practice can work together in our western culture, and he begins by talking about some key differences between traditional and modern child-rearing practices.
In traditional cultures, he says, the child was raised, not just by its mother, but by a whole extended family and a community as well. This nurturing structure, says Welwood, helped the child develop an ego structure whose boundaries were more fluid -- more flexible and permeable – which alleviates that sense of isolation modern individuals so often struggle with. This sense of connectedness was enhanced, of course, in the context of a life spent attuned to the rhythms of the natural world.
In addition, he says, in more traditional cultures children were continually held, even sharing their parents’ beds for the first two or three years of life: he quotes psychoanalyst Alan Roland as saying that this intense maternal involvement and adoration of the young child “develops a central core of heightened well-being in the child.”
And, in traditional cultures, families tended to “maintain the sacred at the center of social life.” Which means that children grew up in what pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott called “the holding environment: a context of love, support, belonging and meaning that contributes to a basic sense of confidence.”
He also cites a key difference between Eastern and Western cultures: the relative emphasis placed on being as opposed to doing. “Winnicott in particular stressed the importance of allowing a young child to remain in unstructured states of being: the mother’s nondemanding presence makes the experience of formlessness and comfortable solitude possible and becomes a central feature in the development of a stable and personal self.”
Contrast this with the Western practice (and I’m thinking here of Dr. Spock’s insistence) of forcing the child into a fixed schedule of feedings and bedtimes and the child “would naturally become prematurely and compulsively attuned to the claims of others, losing touch with her own spontaneous needs and gestures.”
I’m not saying we’re doomed here, or even that everything about modern western culture is bad. But I can’t help but think that today’s children, many of whom “grow up in fragmented families, glued to television sets that continually transmit images of a spiritually lost, fragmented, and narcissistic world” will face even more substantial spiritual and psychological challenges than those of my own generation…
Perhaps it is that concern that contributes to my own drive to create these new images: it’s an attempt to offer another way of seeing the world, one that is layered, nuanced, grounded in a deep sense of the Sacred and an awareness of the underlying unity and integrity of creation. Through my art, as through my spiritual practice, I am attempting to explore and dissolve the boundaries between real and sacred, being and doing, individual and community.
Hmm. I hadn’t expected this to turn into an artist statement! But it does help to see how all this is connected… Thanks for listening; sorry this post got so long!