In February, the owner of the gallery through which I sell some of my artwork asked if I would be willing to donate some of my images for a poetry book aimed at children. The poet in question is Alan Clemence, who has already penned many Buddhism-related books, of which a healthy share have been regarding human freedom. I received a draft copy of the little book in question and, upon reading it, I happily agreed. I contacted Alan directly and when he asked if I would be willing to write a review, I gladly did so, not least with my own work in the book! I may be slightly invested (although not financially, I hasten to point out). In part, this is what I wrote:
As I read this book of Alan’s Noble poems (it’s about Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths), it had me musing over how religion risks becoming a philosophical, almost academic debate. It is often a room of adults discussing how certain practices may help today’s society, the planet; how the historical texts should be translated and contemporarily interpreted. At worse, how dogma has rooted itself at the expense of true meaning and even used to hurt others. Religion has become many things that it should not have. It has become an excuse, an escape, a platform, even a trend. And today, many problems need healing, and we do require an astute, intelligent mind, but we need to do it with heart. With compassionate wisdom in action. Religion at its best.
Our children (and adults) need to be inspired and empowered for themselves and for the world they inherit. A generation of greed may pass on a scorched Earth and a woefully flickering torch, but it won’t go out if the magic within the heart is ignited and taught to illuminate rather than destroy, bringing warmth to our world and to the jagged nature of the broken cultural constructs in which we tend to live. We require the “softening of wonderment,” like gentle pellucid water over rocks, and these poetic words of wisdom are like the rain.
The Four Noble Truths were noble over 2,500 years ago, yet they never feel more relevant and imperative. As adults, we have a tremendous responsibility to our children to help them know the majesty of this precious life and precious planet.
My thoughts remain expanded beyond the book itself and even beyond its specific words, to a subject I have touched on before: the quality of wonder. There is a word not often liked within orthodox Buddhism, “magic.” Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is quoted as saying: “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.” He was referring to his “three laws” of science, the third of which states:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
But when we understand it through the awe and wonderment with which we would meet something so out of our everyday comprehension, the essence of what he said seems obvious. The fantastical results in a visceral reaction of innocence and vulnerability, of excitement and intrigue, or sometimes, agitation and fear of the unknown. The feeling of magic is like a porthole into another understanding of reality. It has nothing to do with a lack of pragmatic autonomy in seeking enlightenment, nor is it a garroting of intellect from our heart. Given our very limited sensory field, I am quite open to the likelihood that there are sentient beings existing on the periphery of this world or this frequency, yet I don’t imply that magic means we are running away with the fairies.
Leaps forward in scientific research around the mind-matter interface also suggest that spells and enchantments may not be such whacky concepts either, but again, I don’t suggest that magic means casting curses or bewitchment. I do, however, expand upon Clarke’s explanation of magic, because, to me, it is also just (quantum) science that we don’t yet understand. Magic should feel like that childlike fascination with something extraordinary, with a naivety of possibility, whether that be creating miracles in our own life or slipping into the mystical world of nature.
And yet, science aside, there is also something about some poetry that touches a part of us that the intelligent mind can’t access. It’s the magical journey on which words can take us as they sits us between its wings and fly us through time and space in the twinkle of a star. It is also a beautiful way of accessing the child-mind for inspired learning. As one of my heroes, the late physicist Richard Feynman said of people’s ability to acquire knowledge:
They don’t learn by understanding, they learn by some other way—by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!
The drum of rote learning deafened as industrialization squeezed its grip around the throat of nature and the creative mind, yet we know that the inquisitive mind of a child explores and recalls in ways that we cannot when things are learned by automatic repetition. And as Einstein said: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Over the years, I know that I have consciously moved into my headspace to expand my knowledge and critical thinking field, and felt the disconnect from my inner child. But now I have increased moments in which the waves of wonderment lap; warm caresses of enchantment that tickle me with tendrils from just beyond the veil, and I feel the intelligence of something new. One thing, however, has not changed in either my thinking or feeling, and that is the importance of holistically educating our children, inspiring them and infusing them with fascination and kindness.
Returning to the concept of dry academia, and worse when concerning religion and spirituality. Grown-up conversations about important things are clearly both helpful and imperative at the right time, but we really need to remember that staying inside our head creates a very small living space. Instead, bring magic back to our children so that they won’t desiccate in the arid sands of their cranium; create a lush jungle in their minds where all the wonders of the cosmos effervesce throughout their entire being. And try it for yourself. It’s quite wonderful.
Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)