Durante gli anni ’90 alcuni ricercatori come Hay, Ney ed altri, hanno intervistato numerosi bambini delle scuole inglesi, per lo più non legati a convinzioni religiose, con l’ intento di scoprire come si articola un’esperienza integrata di interdipendenza con Dio o rispetto alla natura attraverso l’uso di un linguaggio non religioso (Hay e Ney, (1998/2006). Alcuni hanno criticato la loro metodologia di ricerca, mentre altri educatori hanno abbracciato le loro posizioni (Exhumator, 2009).
Sulla base di questa ricerca, Hay e Nye (1998/2006) suggeriscono che esiste una predisposizione naturale nei bambini piccoli a vedere il mondo in modo relazionale, che è sostenuta da una specifica qualità della loro coscienza, che hanno identificato come “coscienza relazionale” (Nye, 1998 ). Questo termine si riferisce a una consapevolezza della nostra interdipendenza con altri esseri, incluso Dio, animali e altri esseri umani. Suggerisce una sensibilità disponibile alla complessità e alla connessione di tutte le creature. Più specificamente, la frase si riferisce a una consapevolezza intuitiva, esperienziale, un felt sense, piuttosto che una mera consapevolezza intellettuale. (Esumatore, 2009).
La predisposizione verso una coscienza relazionale viene poi spesso soppiantata dal dogma e da una visione del mondo razionalista e materialista. Questo probabilmente avviene attraverso la cospirazione di adulti e coetanei “per convincere i bambini che le precedenti esperienze e attitudini spirituali erano banali e fuorvianti” (Exhumator, 2009, par. 6). I bambini sono anche consapevoli del rifiuto da parte degli adulti delle loro esperienze che mettono in dubbio le loro convinzioni (Hart, 2003; Scott; 2004; Hay e Nye, 2006; Lovelock e Adams, 2017; Adams, 2019).
Un’esperienza che potrebbe essere stata intensamente profonda, significativa e “reale” per il bambino potrebbe essere vista in modo diverso (come nell’ambito di approcci multidisciplinari): può essere interpretata anche come frutto della loro immaginazione, una reazione chimica nel cervello , o un trucco della mente. (Adams, 2019, pag. 39)
Whereas Adams is interested in specific experiences that take place in ‘space’ of a spiritual nature (and being specific, like a dream or vision, presumably it took place at a particular time), Hay is talking about consciousness with a certain quality which he identifies as ‘relational’. This distinction is relevant, and they may overlap, but that needs further research. In this article, I am mainly concerned with relational consciousness as a predominate and ongoing quality of consciousness in children that probably lasts until 7 to 9 years of age, unless validated by the society in which the child lives. In my opinion, this consciousness is connected with a specific way of perceiving the world. For Hay (2010), it is the underpinning of a relational, spiritual view which “allows the possibility of religious belief” (abstract).
As a supposition, it contrasts with the developmental theory of religion of Fowler who holds that children between birth and age 7 are “pre-religious” and thus unable to grasp spiritual reality. In his book Stages of Faith (1981), Fowler outlines different stages in the development of faith comparable to Jean Piaget’s cognitive-developmental model. He argues that children’s spirituality “must advance through literalist and conventional stages that necessitate identifying with one belief system; beliefs rather than experience become the most important way of supporting spiritual growth” (Exhumator, 2009, para. 6). For Fowler, only rare individuals develop a connectedness to all other beings, but only later in their lives (Exhumator, 2009). This is view is radically different from that of Hay who hold that experience is the most important way of supporting spiritual growth whereas Fowler suggests it is belief that advances it.
For Hay, “this predisposition is universally identifiable in young children and expresses itself in many forms apart from the religious” (Hay 2010, abstract). Empirical research into a possible biological-based relational consciousness in young children is supported in Hungary by Nagy and Molnar’s (1994) findings, and, in the United Kingdom, Trevarthen’s (2000) results regarding intersubjectivity in young and new-born infants also support this possibility.
Wilson’s (1984;1992;1993) biophilia hypothesis (also called BET) suggests that humans possess an innate genetically based human need to seek connections with nature and other forms of life; a view which is coherent with Hay’s conjecture. The BET hypothesis is supported by investigations Wilson (1984) and Kellert and Wilson (1993), and data obtained through work with children in the United States and the Brazilian Amazon also buttresses the plausibility of the hypothesis (Kahn 1997). The underlying need for humans to connect to nature has given rise to architecture that is biophilic in design. “Biophilic Design is an innovative way of designing the places where we live, work, and learn. We need nature in a deep and fundamental fashion, but we have often designed our cities and suburbs in ways that both degrade the environment and alienate us from nature” (Killert, n.d.. para. 1).
Although there seems to be a similarity between the spiritual experiences of children from different countries and cultures, Adams (2019) reminds us these experiences are mostly rooted in their respective traditions.
Jesus and Little Children
In the King James Version of the Greek text Matthew (19:14) Jesus is thought to have said: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”.
However, if we go to the Greek, the language in which the Book of Matthew is written, the literal meaning of
“Let the little kids pass by, and you don’t want to prevent them to making their way to me because of those such as these is the realm of the skies” (Christ’s Words, n.d. Matthew 19:14)
Children “is from a noun that means children and infants up to 7 years of age. It is a diminutive form” (Christ’s Words, n.d. Matthew 19:14, Interesting and hidden aspects, para. 3). The word translated as heaven in the KJV is actually in the plural form meaning “heavens” (para. 1), but a more exact translation is ‘skies’, meaning “the climate, and the universe. It also meant the home of the gods in a physical sense: the sun, moon, and planets were named for the gods” (para. 14). The Greek word ‘kingdom’ also has various meanings and its translation as “reign” or “realm” seems more appropriate (para. 13).
The spoken version is “Let the kiddies go, and don’t try to stop them from coming to me since the realm beyond earth is for the ones like them” (Christ’s Words, n.d. Matthew 19:14 The spoken version).
Can Jesus be referring to the same nuanced sensitivity Hay is referring to where children see all creation as interconnected and inter-related spiritual beings or entities? This might also explain why Jesus often held little children as beings to be emulated and suggested that to enter into this realm – the ‘kingdom of the heavens’ – humility is needed.
The Consciousness of Preliterate Societies
For somebody who can read, it is difficult to imagine what our experiencing consciousness (or the consciousness of preliterate societies), was like before we developed a rational thinking mind most of us now possess (and if you are reading this, you have a literate mind). Our belief that having a literary mind is somehow superior and a good thing aggravates this possibility (Harris, 2009). From this high and mighty perspective, many of us do not appreciate what we might have lost. For preliterate societies, we are “spirit having a human experience” (Whorley, 1976, title). As such, like the shamans, we possess psychic abilities. These are nature’s gifts whereas others consider them as “imagination and superstition” (p.iii). During Whorley’s experience with “satori, everything, including the brain and body essentially disappear) but it has left me with the knowledge that all aspects of the universe are inseparably connected” (p. 1). For her, we are “spirit in the body” (p.7), some call this aspect the soul, but the words we choose are not what is important. Preliterate people see spirit or soul in all living things, trees, animals, the elements, the sun, moon and the stars (Arka, private correspondence). This view is inherent in Eastern Spirituality, pre-literate societies, and young children, and many people spend many years trying to open the doors to this realm once again through different meditation methods, or even drugs. Philosophically and culturally, there are differences regarding both our fundamental relationship with Spirit and the names given to IT, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.
Our Identity as Agent and Plasticity of our Brains
We need to ascertain who we are as individuals. Are we our egos, or are we something more or do we exist as a self at all? In 2007, Louchacova wrote that the postmodern zeitgeist in Transpersonal Psychology has lost the notion of the self as the agent. The Western version of Theravada Buddhism has teamed up with the “empty self” (Cushman, 1995) “creating the situation where the culturally constructed, consumerism-bound vacuity of the internal world become justified as a natural state of things” (p.119). These days it seems psychology and neuroscientists seem to suffer from a similar conviction. Most of the readers will have heard the term brain plasticity, referring to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. This includes both structural and functional changes. However, although the brain might change, we are not our brains. The neural part of our brain is a component of the body and comes into being early in our morphological development during our embryonic past, but the heart system starts to form earlier. Neuroscientists tend to assign attributes to a part as if it was the whole; a tendency which is known as the ‘mereological fallacy’ (Bennet and Hacker, 2003; Harris 2009), for example, one can read the phrase ‘how the brain thinks’ in books, internet pages and even scientific journals.
If we accept that we also have unconscious parts of which the ego is not normally aware, then we need a separate term to describe the entity that expresses itself through a part that is the ego and a part that is unconscious to the ego and probably other parts as well. For convenience, I shall use the term ‘soul’, ‘self’ or ‘individual spirit’, terms that have been used throughout known human history by different cultures.
We must also remember the soul is not the sum of the parts. I (Lindhard, 2020) suggest that we are a being or soul living is in a body made up of different components, which are not static, but is process or system unfolding in time. When we recognize each being as an individual who is much more than the sum of his or her parts, we can begin to investigate how the different bodily parts are interrelated and how we, our genes, our history, our environment and even our thought patterns, influence the neural part of our brains and the rest of the body, a topic that needs still to be explored by science, but which I begin to address in my paper titled Mesoderm: The Possible Key to the Organic Basis of Freud’s Theories (2020).
Our ability to modify our brains is as much a liability as an asset (Harris, 2009). Brain maturation is prolonged; the last to develop both phylogenetically and ontologically is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the cortex or outer layer of the frontal lobe (Fuster, 2002). Although this region shows significant developmental changes in the first year of life, it is only in young adulthood that it reaches full maturity in humans (Diamond, 2002; Gogtay et al., 2004; O’Donnell et al., 2005) when it occupies one-quarter of the entire cerebral cortex. Concentrating on social behaviour, Nelson and Guyer (2011) suggest that the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (viPFC) and the orbital frontal cortex (OFC), are linked to social flexibility, inhibitory control and rule use. These functions mature slowly through development. “Inhibitory control and rule use are controlled by the viPFC, whereas computation of expected value of social stimuli is performed by the OFC” (p. 235). As assigned emotional values are continually changing, valuation involves updating behaviours and also inhibiting or repressing others, depending on one’s goals, which brings in a Pavlovian, instrumental, or goal-directed learning context into the conversation (Rangel et al., 2008). The expression and control of emotional and instinctual behaviours (subsumed under the control of interference) are related to the ventromedial areas of the prefrontal cortex, which, considering other prefrontal areas, develop relatively early (Fuster, 2002, abstract).
Neural plasticity or brain plasticity, “can be defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections” (Marteos-Aparicio and Rodriguez-Moreno, 2019, abstract). However, it is now realized that there are multiple forms of plasticity indicating a possible interconnection between functional-structural synaptic plasticity and behaviour (Marteos-Aparicio and Rodriguez-Moreno. I also feel this interconnection might also extend to cognitive processes and choices.
Morphometric studies show that synaptogenesis in the PFC continues postnatally until toddlerhood in humans and then an extended period of synapse elimination (called pruning) follows which normally lasts beyond puberty. During this time youngsters learn to orientate themselves socially based on emotional value computation, inhibition of behaviour and acquisition and generation of rule (Nelson and Gruyer, 2011).
Exactly what is being overwritten and pruned does not seem to have been explored by neuroscientists. Lindhard (2020) suggests that we have a primary and secondary way of knowing or obtaining information. The first involves essential receptors linked to the contents of the mesoderm layer, which gives rise to the possibility of a bodily-based awareness based on touch. Touch is a complex sense, where in most cases the term ‘haptic touch’ is used to refer to active touch involving kinesthesis (awareness of movement) and proprioception (awareness of bodily position) (Fulkerson, 2014; 2015). Cutaneous touch, on the other hand, develops when the receptors in the skin connect with their neural connections in the cortex: a “system (that) isn’t developed until the third trimester of pregnancy” (Davis in Miller, 2016, Fetal development, para 1). As the organs and muscular structures develop before the third trimester, bodily-based awareness might be earlier than the development of cutaneous touch and the other senses which make Lindhard (2020) suggest we are first ‘feeling beings’. This way of knowing is direct, whereas the information we receive through our senses tied to the neural system is of a different order. It is also possible we experience the other vestigial senses before we rely on the secondary senses which come into play after birth and we start relating to the exterior world through their use. If this secondary system then becomes compounded through the toddler being rewarded for certain goal-directed behaviours and not for others, this early system may start to get overwritten. We also must remember that our Western education favours thinking and book learning, which is now being overtaken by screen learning, the long-term consequences of this later change is still yet to be known. This secondary way of relating to the world through the neural system gives rise to our perception that we are thinking beings who are separate from nature and other living beings.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Although all of us probably are aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, few of us probably know there is a link between his theory of motivation (Maslow, 1943) and his documented visit to the Blackfoot Nation in 1938 where he learned about their motivational model (Michel, 2014). By putting self-actualization as the peak of his hierarchy and the need for physical survival at the base, Maslow changed his model to fit into a Western capitalist framework. One can also well ask if self-actualization in his model is the fulfillment of the self or really the pursuing self-interest? (Murtaza, 2011). In the Blackfoot Nation’s pyramid, self-actualization is the base of a tipi and involves developing one’s potential as a human being. The second level is Community Actualization, where the community is perceived to function as a living, breathing organism, focused on maintaining self-sufficiency and care-taking all of its members. And, at the Apex is Cultural Perpetuity, where even though the life of each man is known to be finite, the life of the culture may live on forever if the society adhered to and realized the tiers below. This ensures the health of the community and its traditions, as well as nourishing new ideas (Bray, 2019; Heavy Head, 2007).
Comparing the two models make us realize that somewhere we, as Westerns, seem to have gone radically wrong. Relationally living in community seems to be more in keeping with the consciousness we are endowed with as children.
The Corporate World and the Marketplace
Relational consciousness and the Western emphasis on individualism, indicate a tension between the two views. Macpherson (1962) explores how individualism is structurally fundamental to a market-based economy with the idea of individualism of Hobbs in the seventeenth century supplying the underlying basic assumptions. These assumptions are still operative today and through the elevation of self-interest, what would previously have been considered a vice, now came to be seen as a virtue (Hirschman in Hay, 2005) Hay (2005) points out that this level of consciousness would, in Dante’s terms, lead the perpetuator to the fourth level of Hell. In his book Wealth of the Nations, Adam Smith gave self-interest the highest accolade by making it central to economic systems.
This view is at odds with a spiritual relational consciousness. Based on the perception of individualism, humans have created a system based on profit which is insensitive to the lives of all other living beings, including the earth, which traditional societies see as Mother. As we are all living on a “spaceship” called Mather Earth, it is likely that the intelligence behind, and manifesting through all forms, has built into all living beings a certain sensitivity so we can get guidance in our lives so we can live in harmony with each other. Studies (Greeley 1975; Wuthnow 1976; Hay and Morisy 1978; Hay 1979) concerning spiritual experiences show that the “commonest response to spiritual experience is a desire to live a more ethical and less materialistic life” (Hay, 2005, p.435). These findings suggest that spiritual experiences might be fundamental in changing the way we are living on earth today; a finding which is not necessarily of interest to other players who want to maintain the materialistic paradigm, often led by economic interests. “In a universe of spirit, should the main goal of public education be to prepare children for a job to better serve market forces, or to help explore their truer natures and discover the unlimited ability of their spirits” (Whorley, 1976, p. 4).
Following Hay, it is suggested that a spiritual experimental consciousness can help counter Western individualism which is fundamental to the workings of the marketplace on which Corporate activities are based. However, acknowledging the inherent spiritual relatedness of humans to Nature and other forms of Life, can also provide Corporates with a new way of looking at themselves, their role in society and encourage a paradigm shift in their business model to include a relational spiritual perspective where the interconnectedness of all living beings is acknowledged and respected. Let us hope and aim for this.
Adams, K. (2019). Navigating the spaces of children’s spiritual experiences: influences of tradition(s), multidisciplinarity and perceptions. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 24 (1): 29-43.
Bennett, M.R. and Hacker, P.M.S. (2003). Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 140510838X.
Christ’s Words, n.d. Matthew (19:14) Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me. Christ’s Words. http://christswords.com/content/mat-1914-suffer-little-children-and-forbid-them-not-come-me
Cushman, P. (1995). Constructing the self, constructing America. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Diamond, A. (2002). Normal Development of Prefrontal Cortex from Birth to Young Adulthood: Cognitive Functions, Anatomy, and Biochemistry. In D. Stuss and R. Knight (Eds), Principles of Frontal Lobe Function. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp–466–503 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195134971.003.0029
Exhumator (n.d.). Relational Consciousness. Exhumator. http://exhumator.com/00-200-00_esoteric-religious-spiritual-relational-consciousness.html
Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. NY: Harper and Row.
Fulkerson, M. (2014). The First Sense: A Philosophical Study of Human Touch. MA: The MIT Press.
Fulkerson, M. (2015). The First Sense: A Philosophical Study of Human Touch. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 93(4), p. 838 DOI.org/10.1080/00048402.2015.1020318
Fuster, J. M. (2002). Frontal lobe and cognitive development. Journal of Neurocytology 31
(3-5):373-85. DOI: 10.1023/a:1024190429920.
Gogtay, N., Giedd, J.N., Lusk, L., Hayashi, K.M., Greenstein, D., Vaituzis, A.C.,
et al. /2004). Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101 (21), 8174–8179.
Greeley, A. M. (1975). The Sociology of the Paranormal: A Reconnaissance. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Harris, R. (2009). Rationality and the Literate Mind. NY: Routledge.
Hart, T. 2003. The Secret Spiritual World of Children. Maui: Inner Ocean.
Hay, D. (1979). Religious experience amongst a group of postgraduate students: a qualitative study. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18, 164–82.
Hay, D. (2005). Experience. In Arthur Holder (Ed). The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality.MA: Blackwell Publishing
Hay, D. (2010). Spirituality versus Individualism: Why we should nurture relational consciousness. International Journal of Children s Spirituality 5(1):37-48. DOI: 10.1080/713670892
Hay, D. and Morisy, A. (1978). Reports of ecstatic, paranormal or religious experience in Great Britain and the United States: a comparison of trends. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17, 255–77.
Hay D., & Nye R. (1998/2006). The spirit of the child. London/Philadelphia: Kingsley/Harper Collins.
Heavy Head, R. (2007). How First Nations Helped Develop a Keystone of Modern Psychology. Social Science and Humanities Research Council. https://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/society-societe/stories-histoires/story-histoire-eng.aspx?story_id=91
Kahn, P.H. (1997). Developmental psychology and the biophilia hypothesis: Children’s affiliation with nature. Developmental Review 17, pp. 1–61.
Kellert, S.R. and E.O. Wilson: (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington DC: Island Press,
(Killert, n.d.. Biophilic Design, The Architecture of Life. http://www.biophilicdesign.net/
Lindhard, T. (2020). Mesoderm: The Possible Key to the Organic Basis of Freud’s Theories. Psychology, 11
Louchakova, O. (2007). Transpersonal Self as a Clinical Category: Reflections on Culture, Gender, and Phenomenology. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 111–136.
Lovelock, P. and Adams. K, (2017). “From Darkness to Light: Children Speak of Divine Encounter.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 22 (1): 36–48. doi:10.1080/1364436X.2016.1268098
MacPherson, C. B. (1962). The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: From Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
Matthew (19:14). King James Version. https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/mat/19/14/t_comms_948014
Marteos-Aparicio, P. and Rodriguez-Moreno, A. (2019). The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity. Front. Cell. Neurosci. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2019.00066
Michel, K.L. (2014). Maslow’s Hierarchy Connected to Blackfoot Beliefs. https://lincolnmichel.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/maslows-hierarchy-connected-to-blackfoot-beliefs/
Miller, S. G. (2016). Do Fetuses Feel Pain? What the Science Says. Live Science.
Murtaza, N. (2011). Pursuing self-interest or self-actualization? From capitalism to a steady-state, wisdom economy. Ecological Economics, 20, pp. 577–584. https://www.uv.es/~perezjos/sasece/docum2011/Murtaza.pdf
Nagy, E. and Molnar,P. (1994). Homo Imitans or Homo Provocans – in search of the mechanism, of inborn social competence. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 18(2), p. 128.
Nye, R. (1998). Psychological Perspectives on Children’s Spirituality. Ph.D. Phil. Degree, University of Nottingham.
Nelson, E.E. and Guyer, A. E. (2011). The development of the ventral prefrontal cortex and social flexibility. Dev. Cogn Neurosci. 1(3): 233–245. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3143481/#:~:text=While%20relatively%20few%20studies%20have,childhood%20followed%20by%20a%20decrease
Nye, R. (1999). Relational consciousness and the spiritual lives of children: Convergence with children’s theory of mind. In K. H. Reich, F. K. Oser, & W. G. Scarlett (Eds.), Psychological studies on spiritual and religious development, Vol. 2: Being human: The case of religion (pp. 57–82). Lengerich: Pabst Science Publishers.
O’Donnell, S., Noseworthy, M.D., Levine, B., Dennis, M. (2005). Cortical thickness of the frontopolar area in typically developing children andadolescents. Neuroimage 24 (4), 948–954.
Rangel, A., Camerer, C., Montague, P.R. (2008). A framework for studying the neurobiology of value-based decision making. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 9 (7), 545–556.
Scott, D. G. (2004). “Retrospective Spiritual Narratives: Exploring Recalled Childhood and Adolescent Spiritual Experiences.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 9 (1): 67–79. doi:10.1080/1364436042000200834
Trevarthan, C. (1998) The concept and foundations of infant intersubjectivity, in: S. BRú TEN (Ed.) Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Wilson, E.O.(1984), Biophilia. MA: Harvard University Press.
Wilson, E.O. (1992), The Diversity of Life. MA: Harvard University Press.
Wilson, E.O.: (1993). ‘Biophilia and the conservation ethic’, in S.R. Kellert and E.O. Wilson (Eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington DC: Island Press, pp. 31–41.
Whorley, L. (1976). We are Spirit Having a Human Experience. MA Thesis, B.Ed. University of British Columbia.
Wuthnow, R. (1976). The Consciousness Reformation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Short Bio Sketch
Dr Tina Lindhard earned her PhD in Consciousness Studies, Psychology, from the International University of Professional study, where she now mentors. Her transformative inner journey has been through practising, teaching and investigating the Intuitive Meditation Method developed by the Yogi and Philosopher Srinivas Arka. In her desire to bring a more spiritual approach into science, writing science articles has also become a transformative practice in her life. In this article, she looks at our primary consciousness and perception system and suggests if the corporate world could see the world through the eyes of a child, it would encourage a paradigm shift in the business model to include a relational spiritual perspective where the interconnectedness of all living beings is acknowledged and respected.
e-mail – email@example.com