Last updated on 2020-12-03
This post is also available in: Español
This week I want to share with you a bit of a personal project of mine, called Children’s World Encyclopedia. This is something that I have been working on for the last 6 years and that I just completed recently.
To celebrate this milestone, I want to share a new chapter of my spiritual journey. This time, it’s from the first memories of my life, a little about my childhood and the way in which I learned to understand love, pain and reality through that very particular prism of childhood.
Without further ado, I invite you to visit El Mundo de los Niños and listen to today’s episode: Awakening to Life.
The first memory that I have, goes back to 1983 at the school of the presentation “Luna Park” in which I did kindergarten, the only year of preschool I attended. I was three years old and I remember observing the counterweight of one of the basketball goals of the courtyard. The metal cylinder, probably filled with concrete, used to prevent the structure from collapsing under the weight of the board, seemed to me similar in diameter to the basketballs I had seen. Therefore, I deduced that this must have been the place where the balls were stored when they were not being used. The memory has no importance except for the fact that I keep it with total clarity in my mind. That curiosity to understand how things work and what they have inside entirely reflect the mental process that even today I perceive as “my way of thinking” .
A year later, at 4, I was already in the first grade of primary school and I enjoyed of much more clarity of thought. I remember very well several episodes of my first year of public school at the “San Benito” school, playing with friends, trying to internalize the spelling rules that the teacher taught us and especially, facing the first fears that I remember I faced. One of them was about a girl next to whom I sat in class and who was often unkind to me. It is likely that her attitude was also hostile towards other children, because one day, after fighting with another child, she received a cruel punishment from him: The boy took a pencil with an extremely sharp point and made an apparently deep cut in the girl’s neck from one ear to the other.
I remember the feeling of paralyzing fear when I heard the screams of the girl and then when I saw her with her uniform covered in the blood that ran down her neck while some teachers tried to assist her. Later on in the same school, I would have to see my own blood for the first time when I suffered a deep woulnd in my anckle while I was playing in the schoolyard, sitting on the floor. A piece of glass, perhaps from a broken bottle, had cut through my skin in such a way that I had to be referred to a nearby health center to get the fragment extracted before adding a few ugly stitches.
These events, in addition to the constant and demotivating red ink ‘Xs’ with which the teacher disqualified my endless lines, convinced my parents to move me to one of the schools where they taught in at the time.
The change was greeted like sacred balm, as attending classes was becoming an unpleasant penance for me. My discovery of evil and danger in the world was not limited to passive observation of the events experienced; on the contrary, my restless mind, used to testing hypotheses and trying explanations for everything, was determined to understand how it was possible that one person could harm another in such a cruel way. I also remember that the experience of intense physical pain made me think of other people’s pain and develop the ability to sympathize with them to the point that I could quite vividly imagine how their pain would feel.
This way of thinking was just part of a general fascination that I developed of understanding the world, experiencing it first hand by dividing it into parts and analyzing it in the smallest detail. Just as I questioned myself about the nature of human emotions, I was also intrigued by the inned workings of electrical appliances and natural phenomena. If I could sum up in one sentence my attitude towards life during my childhood, it would be “I experiment.” Knowledge attracted me, but more specifically, the experience of building knowledge based on my own perspective: I would swipe my fingers across the flame of the candles to know the nature of the fire, I took apart my toys and little tadpoles to understand how they worked, but I also, I used to play with my own fears and instincts to test their limits within my own mind.
The curiosity that I strongly developed from such a young age was both encouraged and restrained by my parents, who surely debated between the will to instill in me an inquisitive spirit, but also the necessary obedience to fit in society. On the one hand, they provided me with books on dinosaurs, Leonardo DaVinci or Astrophysics and suggested interesting challenges for my mind, but at the same time, they had to limit my sometimes dangerous experimenting instinct, as it sometimes involved fire, electricity, heights, sharp objects or a combination of all of the above.
I lived a childhood that was undoubtely happy, protected, calm and intellectually stimulated. Thanks to growing up with two sisters, I also had constant company in my adventures and allies to carry out my projects. My mom and dad were present, loving parents without the mellow characteristic of 21st century fatherhood, always available and always ready to support their children in everything we needed to grow healthy and happy. However, due to the way they were raised, their views on emotions were always very pragmatic. Topics such as love, fear, evil, sex, human experience, the purpose of life or death were treated from the perspective of religion or its practical function. Conversations on these subjects were generally settled by resorting to faith in the aid of divine providence, or arguing that those were subjects which one should just not think about, but instead, one should use the mind for productive things.
The truth is that in my case, at least during childhood, those answers were enough, not so for my sister Julia Gineth, who already in her preadolescence had to deal with depression caused by the anguish that the idea of her own mortality and that of her loved ones caused her. On the other hand, I was very busy devouring knowledge about all the topics that captivated me and experiencing every new emotion that awoke in my being.
Within the spectrum of human emotions there were three in particular that fascinated me ever since: romance, fear and spirituality. All three, probably among the deepest emotions that human beings can get to know and in my particular case, those that would define my life ever since.
I grew up with parents who, never used the phrase “I love you” neither among themselves nor with their children, however, they always knew how to show love in a tender and profound way. Between them they always called each other “Love” and it is the way I learned to address my spouse too. At the same, I used to see spontaneous expressions of affection from my dad towards my mom, with a kiss, a surprise hug, a piece of poetry and the occasional compliment.
Seeing my parents’ example at home, it was only natural that I wanted to explore the experience of love early on. The first woman I remember having such feeling for, was a first cousin whom I saw on average once a year. This unlikely love accompanied me since I was about six or seven years old until well into my teens.
This unrequited feeling was nourished by just a look, a hug, a smile. I learned to recognize love as an emotion experienced by oneself and not necessarily dependent on retribution. My childhood love had no expectations, other than looking forward to a new encounter every year that would water that love with a few drops and keep it alive. Usually, when the farewell time arrived, when she had to return to her city of origin after the holidays, a warm hug and a few words of affection were enough to keep the flame of my childish love alive and strong for the next few months.
Tania was to me what Becky Thatcher was to the incorrigible Tom Sawyer: a silent and hopeless love that nonetheless gave me many of the happiest moments of my childhood. It was also a love that stayed in the background when life presented me with a new opportunity to experience romance. That was how I had my first “girlfriend” when I was eight years old, when I was in fifth grade. Without even a kiss, that sweet girl with curly black hair who I never heard from after finishing elementary school, also captivated my thoughts and my heart for a long time, time during which, my cousin gave me just as many sighs.
I usually fell in love with some girl everywhere I went. Sometimes during a brief visit to a resort or on a school trip. It was clear that I had a heart prone to getting infatuated, and I enjoyed it enormously. Almost every night, before falling asleep, I would dedicate my last thoughts of the day to the girl or girls who were the object of my affection at the time. I spent hours talking about them with my sisters, especially with Julia Gineth, and I always lived, with total intensity, every encounter that life allowed me to experience with those who woke up that magical feeling in me.
Over time, I learned to recognize, however, that my experience of love was not limited to my relationship with girls. Just as easy as I fell in love with girls, I also fell in love with music, books, television shows, or games. Because of this, I can clearly remember the exact moment when I first heard a song that resonated with my innermost fibers: “Please Forgive Me” by Brian Adams in 1993 or “Yesterday” by The Beatles in 1994.
Some of the books that marked my childhood were animated books about the life of Leonardo DaVinci, space and Dinosaurs. A couple of them I even got to memorize in their entirety. The encyclopedia El Mundo de Los Niños (The children’s world) was another work that became a lifelong love since it came into my hands, when my parents made the enormous effort to buy it in installments back in 1985. Even today, more than 30 Years later, those books are still present in my home library for my own enjoyment and that of my children.
In all the previous cases, the emotional sensation that linked me to music or books was very similar to the one I experienced with the girls I liked: I thought, spoke and enjoyed the moments I shared with them with intensity.
In all the cases I’ve mentioned, my active imagination was the tool that I used to transform simple notes, letters or memories into real worlds in which I immersed myself and explored with the same emotion that I did in real life. Today I recall this ability to imagine somewhat like what Bill Watterson drew in his famous cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes.” Any element that stimulated my creativity allowed me to create a temporary reality in which situations flowed as naturally as in the real world. At the time, I was not aware of myself being the creator of these realities, instead, I felt that I was “connecting” with a parallel reality that I could invoke at any moment.
I remember, for example, that I liked to get inside the fold that my mother made in the upper part of her bed cover. There I imagined that I had shrunk to the size of a marble and found myself in a pocket of my father’s shirt. I well remember that I could physically feel the movement of my dad when he got up and feel the vertigo of being suspended at a height many times greater than my own. Other favorite places to let my imagination run wild in the house were inside bedroom furniture or under huge piles of clothes. Today when I see my daughter Luciana sitting on top of a closet, I think she must be Queen Elsa in her castle on the mountain.
During my childhood years, my role in the games I played with my sisters, was almost always that of “director” and sometimes also “screenwriter.” I explained the concept of a fantasy, which could be that of explorers in a lost city, or researchers facing a natural disaster, and I assigned my sisters the role they should play and the ideas or sometimes the exact lines that they should say. Games often had story lines that continued through several days or perhaps months and moved through multiple locations.
Going back to my experience of love, one of my greatest pleasures was to fantasize about new encounters with my crush of the moment. I enjoyed the excitement, the tickling in my stomach, the pleasure of those moments as many times I wanted. Sometimes I added to those memories a sountrack: my favorite song of the moment or elements of romantic stories that I subtracted from the Mexican soap opera of the moment and in that way, I could spend hours immersed in my fantasies.
This feature of my mind that probably most children have, would be the lens through which I have experienced my entire life. The ability to create vivid realities in my mind developed as I grew older, from childhood games and adolescent loves to become a source of creativity to develop personal projects, write stories, create products, undertake and change the way of doing things around me.
However, although it is often thought that there is always a clear differentiation between reality and imagination, at least in people without mental disorders, in practice there is a wide spectrum of dimensions of human experience in which the division between reality and imagination is not clear. The mind is not just a filter of the perceptions that our senses give us, but it builds the very scaffolding of reality, which is formed not only with the information reported by the senses, but also with our entire belief system, knowledge and experiences.
In the next chapters I intend to show my exploration of this reality, from both an objective and a subjective perspective, through what I call my “spiritual search”. Looking with hindsight from the lens of my mature age and my new life in Canada, the paths that I have traveled in this search have been equally strange, dangerous and fascinating, but above all, full of teachings that I want to share with anyone who reads this post, in many generations to come. This is the testimony of my journey through the paths of mud and flowers of my spiritual search.