Friday, May 9, 2014

Overhauling the Spirit: Finding Purpose in Childhood Memories

Freud emphasized the influence of early experiences on personality development. Recently, I explored memories of my own solitary, fantasy-play themes from childhood. Solitary play, when a child is playing alone with only simple toys and his/her imagination,  is a pure reflection of the child's inner world. What I found was a fascinating consistency in patterns that have endured throughout my life! I discussed the phenomenon with my girlfriend who was, likewise, able to recognize play themes that became woven into the very fabric of her personal identity and sense of purpose.

I grew up on the coast of South Carolina. My parents took me to the beach as regularly as parents from other places might have taken their kids to the park. After swimming, body surfing, and feeding some of my snacks to the seagulls, I always built an elaborate sand castle with multiple walls and moats to protect the it from the incoming tide. My failure rate at this game was 100%, but I gained huge satisfaction from re-fighting this losing battle of frantically fortifying my creation against ever advancing waves. The theme of the underdog, bravely taking on impossible odds and fighting until the end resonated inside of me.

At home, I liked to play smash up derby with my toy cars. I would repeatedly crash two cars together in head on collisions until one of the cars capsized. The winner would be the car that landed with all four tires on the ground. Some cars were “good guys” others were “bad guys.” My favorite car was the oldest, most beat up vehicle in my collection. The dilapidated car was an old veteran of the game, battle worn and over the hill, but with such heart that, win or lose, it would fight with its last ounce of strength.

Fighting for the underdog continues to provide a deep sense of meaning in my life. For good or ill, I equate suffering for a good cause with nobility. I have always considered myself peculiar in that, while “winning” in a challenge is nice, it has never been my top priority. For me, "fighting the good fight” takes precedence above all else. Giving my best effort and enduring whatever difficulties that might emerge, represent my gut level measures of success. Winning and goal achievement are wonderful, but of much less importance than demonstrating fortitude and being on the side of protecting the vulnerable.

My girlfriend's early fantasy play involved pretending to organize elaborate fashion shows. Her role was always to provide support and encouragement to aid her imaginary friends in successfully “starring” in the shows. For my girlfriend, her own inner knowledge of the importance of her contributions and NOT recognition from others, defined nobility of character. As an adult, creativity, fashion, and working “behind the scenes” continue to shape her personal sense of meaning.

What were the themes of your fantasy play as a child? Do those themes continue to play out in your adult life? I would love to hear your stories.

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