I’m reading this article in the New Yorker about a woman who had her child taken away from her by California’s child services. The mother clearly loves her child, the child dearly loves her, the welfare people and judges seem to care and know a lot about children. All around, great good will is creating a tragedy. Which makes me think people don’t know much about dreaming.
The mother seems to be a bit of an emotional moron or more of a social moron. My father, the guy with the genius IQ – hey, he WAS a rocket scientist – had a high level of social/emotional stupidity as do many of the people I know and love, as well as many CEO’s and computer guys, to name but a few. This isn’t a uniform thing, the exact locus of the void. Some say perfectly ‘true’ offensive things, some talk waaay too much, some barely at all, but all of it seems rooted in an inability to hear from someone else’s point of view. Some of the most interesting things I’ve read about life come from a couple who helped their son, and now many other families, with autism. Autism is in part, a disease of empathy deficiency and what Barry Neil and Samahria Lyte Kaufman did was engage in super-empathy, to astonishing effect. A lot of the capacity for empathy has to do with imagination, which is a core purpose of Mythic Imagination – growing the strength and providing the nutrient for imagination, in large measure for the purpose of increasing empathy.
Anyway, Niveen, the mother in the New Yorker article, got me thinking about dreams. Children and adults spend very different amounts of time in the various states of consciousness. Essentially, babies are dreaming or sleeping all of the time – even when fully ‘awake’, and children until about 7 are very dreamy, too. After that, producing beta waves, the more analytical ‘regular’ state of consciousness, begins to take up more and more of awake time. As a public service announcement, I will also bring to your attention that ‘rational’ thought requires the participation of the pre-frontal cortex. When you make a decision, whether or not to walk on the edge of a cliff, say, your eyes bring the data of the cliff, your muscles activate and impulses are flying around, eventually moving into the prefrontal cortex, the experience of which is that now you are ‘thinking about it’ and you decide. In fMRI studies, where teenagers are making decisions, the impulses do not reach the prefrontal cortex. Any questions?
If you want to understand and empathize with a small child, you need to remember how hard it is to remember a dream. Why is it hard to remember a dream? Because dreams are produced generally in alpha and to some extent theta states and adult waking consciousness is primarily beta. It is difficult to remember anything in a different state of consciousness than the one it occurred in – no, not true. In a dreamy state, we often remember almost everything better. But what is it like to remember your childhood? For most people, extremely spotty. If you want to remember, it’s often a good idea to get dreamy and let your mind drift back. Focused beta effort often makes things harder, not easier, to remember.
To know how a child is feeling, to know what they are thinking, you need to be alpha – in two senses. To know how it is for them, you feel the dreamy state and imagine yourself as small, sensitive, powerless, open and curious. Then, as the adult, you need to be alpha-dog dominant, aware that the child isn’t going to think out the meaning of being on the edge of a cliff, so you need to be the one thinking and dominating in relation to that fact.
Issues of authority and blame and joy become more clear and easier. A child is shifting in and out of these developing states of consciousness, so it isn’t correct to assume they cannot think things out. Without freedom to experiment and fail, they won’t get the chance to develop the ability to think it out. Generally, one looks for smaller opportunities for freedom than the edge of a cliff. A lot of the art of parenting, is looking for opportunities for freedom. Our hard-edged beta judgement is informed by observation combined with alpha-state empathy and remembering.
So I’m saying all of this stuff because Niveen Ismail seems to have had the same disadvantages that many of us have now in trying to raise children. The best way to be good with children is to be around a lot of them with other people who are good with kids. Being around children in a normal soulful way, makes their needs and way of being natural. The insane, never-ever-done-before-nuclear-family-only approach is a bust. You need a lot of caring people in a bunch for humans to truly thrive, especially as they are growing up. But we don’t have that. So I’m wishing that if Niveen, if anyone, who has a child and is ‘in a state of desperation’ as she was, that when they are about to make a stupid decision because they just aren’t tuned in, that she might say to herself, my child is in a dream state, how shall I act with someone in a dream state?
Here’s the straight scoop on how it works: