“I Won’t Grow Up” has been my favorite song from Peter Pan ever since I was a boy. During and after college I did not feel ready to shoulder responsibility as an adult. Twenty-five years later, I still don’t like being an adult sometimes. I blame my samskaras…
We will get back to Peter Pan and samskaras in a moment, but first I am drawn to contemplate this quote:
In the transformation and growth of all things, every bud and feature has its proper form.
Growth is not always something that happens in a linear fashion. Human growth is not like the growth of a perfect blade of grass, sending roots down while shooting a blade straight up with the proper amounts of water, soil and sunshine.
Things that grow are influenced by many things. On the golf course, the groundskeepers do all they can to ensure that the grass grows to create the optimum surface for the golfer. They manipulate many factors by watering, fertilizing, the application of pesticides and herbicides, clipping, weeding and, of course, mowing. A lot of resources including time, personnel and expense goes into creating this artificial perfection of nature.
Don’t we do the same kinds of things for our own growth? We do so many things to shape who we are. And we have to “deal with” so many things that already exert an influence to shape us.
In yoga philosophy these “previously existing conditions” in our interior environment are called samskaras. Samskaras are deep impressions in the basement of the mind. They are the driving force of karma, the law of cause and effect.
None of us are born as blank slates. We are born with samskaras, they are understood as impressions left by past lives when you are reincarnated. If our mind or consciousness is like an ocean, these are the deep valleys and towering mountains that influence the flow of the waves and currents.
Even if you don’t buy the yoga philosophy, consider the unique challenges that each of us face based on the bodies and personalities we are born with. Each of my children demonstrated different personalities from birth. When you consider the infinite variations we are born with–in our internal organs, our muscles, brains, hereditary traits, medical and physical conditions–one must conclude that each of us has plenty of issues to work with from “nature” even before the environment or “nurture” affects us.
Think about how Lance Armstrong has physical traits that make him “built” for cycling, and Michael Phelps perfectly adapted for swimming. They became champions because they improved what they had, but they also had a head start from Mother Nature. In their case, one can clearly see that for their chosen sport, “every bud and feature has its proper form.”
I remember a children’s book I owned when I was a kid called The Strangler Fig and Other Strange Plants, by Olive L. Earle (Author, Illustrator) (1967) which is out of print of course.
Here are some photos of stranglers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strangler_fig in case you are curious about what I am talking about. Sometimes the tree that is strangled dies and disappears leaving the strangler fig in the form of a web-like column that seems inconceivable as a natural formation.
I was fascinated with the strangler–the illustration in the book captivated me. Now I think of the strangler as a perfect example of how the form of the strangler fig is totally dependent on the form of the tree that it grows around.
But I also fear the image of strangulation. If I suffer from the Peter Pan Syndrome in any way, it is this fear of being trapped and suffocated by the responsibilities of life.
According to Wikipedia:
Peter Pan syndrome is a pop-psychology term used to describe an adult who is socially immature. The term has been used informally by both laypeople and some psychology professionals in popular psychology since the 1983 publication of The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, by Dr. Dan Kiley.
When I was a boy, the Hi-Fi had already been invented, but my parents still had a monophonic radio (complete with vacuum tubes, no transistors) with a record player from the 1950’s. I remember listening to my favorite music with my ear pressed up against the speaker at the bottom of the cabinet which encased the works.
I won’t grow up.
Not a penny will I pinch.
I will never grow a mustache,
Or a fraction of an inch.
‘Cause growing up is awfuller
Than all the awful things that ever were.
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Also from Wikipedia:
Puer aeternus is Latin for eternal boy, used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level, usually coupled with too great a dependence on the mother. The puer typically leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.
-Sharp, Daryl. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts. (pp 109 – 110). Inner City Books, Toronto, 1991. ISBN 0-919123-48-1, p. 109
I have always chafed at rules and desired independence, so there is some puer aeternus in my psychology. At the same time, independence brings its own responsibility and I have not always felt equipped to cope alone. We won’t get into my relationship with my mother here <grin>
At the times of my life when I faced ruinous relationships and finances, I have faced the fear of being caught in an inescapable situation. Perhaps this explains my lifelong fascination with the escape artist/magician Harry Houdini!
Yogis find that the best method for smoothing the samskaras is yoga nidra–yogic sleep–and chanting. As my chanting teacher Bhavani Lorraine Nelson at Kripalu says, chanting is like tiny scrub brushes for the mind. Some people do not take to chanting, particularly in Sanskrit, but to Bhavani’s thinking, that initial irritation is also part of the process of growth and transformation. Yoga nidra is a deep conscious sleep and calms the senses and nervous system. It is sometimes referred to as Integrative Restoration or iRest, which is being studied and used by the Veterans Administration to treat soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I offer a form of yoga therapy that I call Active Restore that helps clients access their samskaras, in the form of their physical, mental and spiritual limitations. I facilitate the client into an active process of integration that culminates in a restoration phase–yoga nidra. If you are interested in exploring this with me, look for special offers on my website http://www.mygoodlifeyoga.com
*Based on the novel by J.M. Barrie.
Music by Mark Charlap.
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh.
Additional music by Jule Styne; additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.