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Chapter 11
Progressive Development

A friend of mine one day, struggling in the quicksands of a negative mood, was attempting to define everything in life in terms of the general hopelessness of it all. He challenged me to say something that would make him see things differently. And of course, though I tried, my best efforts proved unavailing. For when a person wants to be unhappy, no one in the world can make him happy.

But then an inspiration came to me. “I’m not really worried about you,” I said. “We all have a certain specific spiritual gravity, and return to it repeatedly and naturally after any period of temporary depression or euphoria. All that’s required is that we relax into ourselves again. Your own specific gravity,” I said, “is high. I’m sure you’ll return to it naturally in a day or two without any help from me.”

And so it proved.

It was a useful inspiration. In the world of physics, objects rise or sink, as we all know, according to their own specific gravity relative to the density of the medium surrounding them. A child’s balloon, if filled with helium, will rise as soon as the child releases it, and will continue rising until its own specific gravity is the same as that of the atmosphere around it. An object placed in water will sink if its specific gravity is greater than that of water, but will float if it is less.

People too, I’ve noticed, sink or rise in their consciousness according to another kind of “specific gravity.” Some natures are naturally heavy; others, naturally light.

People with a naturally positive outlook may rise above even extraordinary setbacks — tests under the impact of which other people, more pessimistically inclined, might sink without a trace.

There were prisoners in the German concentration camps of World War II whose positive outlook lifted them above that human tragedy. The very effort to remain positive brought them to greatness; they became deeply compassionate, forgiving, and wise.

On the other hand, it is not unusual to encounter people who complain unceasingly of their lot in life — not necessarily because their lot is hard, but merely because they are bored.

“Specific gravity” in human beings is what makes them, to varying degrees, positive or negative. To describe these differences in terms of “light” or “heavy” may be novel, but it is nevertheless apt. For the description addresses a subjective awareness that we all share. Indeed every language, as far as I know, contains words and expressions that describe positive and negative states of mind in terms of this specific gravity. We speak of feeling “high,” “uplifted,” or as if (to use the modern expression) “sailing on cloud nine.” Or else we moan that we feel “low,” “downcast,” or “in the dumps.” No one who feels spiritually heavy is likely to say, “I’m so happy!” A happy feeling is marked by a rising awareness — from heaviness toward a consciousness of lightness and expansion.

This metaphor can be applied to human development on every level. For it is literally true that certain qualities — laziness, for example, or envy — pull even the energy of the body downward in the spine, and that certain other qualities — kindness, or a spirit of willingness — lift it upward.

Perhaps, if we study personality traits in this context, we’ll discern a universal kind of progression that will serve teachers well in their guidance of children.

The important thing will be to see whether the specific gravity — the long-term reality in this context, and not merely the passing moods — of a child can be improved, or “lightened.” It is with this basic nature that the teacher should be especially concerned.

Let us consider some of the contrasting qualities mentioned in the last chapter. To refresh your memory, here they are again:

  1. expansive vs. contractive;
  2. outgoing vs. withdrawn;
  3. positive vs. negative;
  4. constructive vs. destructive;
  5. imaginative vs. literal-minded;
  6. creative vs. imitative;
  7. aggressive vs. passive;
  8. assertive vs. submissive.

Eight pairs of qualities. None of these qualities is static or absolute. They represent a progression, or a regression, in one of two directions, upward or downward.

The first pair of qualities — expansive vs. contractive — gives us our best clue as to how to apply this concept of “specific density” to human temperament generally. A helium-filled balloon rises. A stone sinks to the bottom of a lake. The difference between the gravity of helium and that of a stone lies simply in their specific density.

Similarly, when human consciousness is expansive it is “light”; when it is contractive, it is “heavy.” An expansive, and therefore light, temperament, when faced with a problem, views it from a naturally broad perspective and is likely, in consequence, to be solution-oriented. A contractive, and therefore heavy, temperament is likely to see the problem itself as the entire reality. Contractive people are problem-oriented.

Imagine human consciousness as consisting of countless microscopic particles, like the motes of dust in a sunbeam. These motes, if they coalesce, may become solid lumps of earth. Imagine them, then, as “particles” of consciousness, light when their mass is widely dispersed, but heavy when they are compacted into a single “lump” of ego-consciousness. Expansiveness comes with sympathetic acceptance of the realities of others. With expansiveness, the “particles” of consciousness rise, even as a balloon rises upward, lifting one into an ever-lighter, more joyful outlook.

The more a person’s sympathies expand to embrace family and friends, neighbors, country, mankind, all creatures, the more the “particles,” so-called, of his consciousness become light in their expansiveness. The result is an ever-freer state of awareness.

Selfish people are “heavy” because of their self-involvement. Selfish people, moreover, in their heaviness of temperament, are habitually unhappy, negative, and morose. By contrast, unselfish people are habitually cheerful and positive.

The cure for unhappiness and negativity, then, is not, as selfish people imagine, to increase their concern for their own welfare. It is to forget themselves in concentration on the welfare of others.

Since not all children are easily motivated toward self-improvement, the solution is to surround them, as much as possible, with others of “lighter” consciousness than their own.

The great diversity of psychological traits all have in common this one, simple phenomenon of “specific gravity,” or psychological “density.” Expansiveness, happiness, and a positive outlook manifest lightness of spirit. Contractiveness, unhappiness, and negativity manifest heaviness of spirit.

It would, however, be simplistic to describe all the qualities contrasted above as either light or heavy. Take another pair: an outgoing nature vs. one that is mentally withdrawn. Superficially — and so might the judgment be in any popularity contest — it may seem that an outgoing nature is by very definition expansive, and a withdrawn nature, again by definition, contractive. If, however, we examine two children possessing one or the other of these traits from a point of view of their specific spiritual gravity, we may find that the appearance is deceptive.

For an outgoing nature is often egotistical and self-centered — seeking approval, recognition, and emotional support from others, rather than giving such support; a personality once described as, “Clap hands, here comes Charlie!” On the other hand, a withdrawn nature may be only contemplative, and not self-preoccupied at all, in its inner expansiveness enjoying an unusually light specific gravity.

It is from within, and not superficially from without, that each individual child must be understood.

Would, then, an outgoing but ego-centered nature fit into the same category of “heaviness” as one that was dull-minded and slothful? Hardly. There are relativities, in other words, of “lightness” and “heaviness.” “Heavy” and “light,” by themselves, are too broad as designations, too black and white; they don’t account for in-between shadings of grey.

A third designation is needed, then, to cover these in-between states, and to explain shadings that express more light, or more darkness. An in-between designation would help, for example, to explain the difference between ego and egotism: between self-awareness and self-involvement. Human beings, whose developed awareness (compared to the lower animals) increases also their self-awareness, need this awakening to ego-consciousness as an incentive toward self-improvement. Self-involvement, however, obstructs self-improvement, for it blocks progressively rising states of awareness.

There is only one thing, really, that can lift a person out of the depths of spiritual unawareness — out of the relative “density” of dullness, laziness, and despair. It is not high-mindedness, to which quality dull minds cannot even relate. The bridge from mental dullness to higher awareness is constructed of intense activity of some kind. Of no use to the self-involved child are such expansive techniques as visualization, meditation, and positive thinking. None of these “light” activities can address the reality of a wholly negative attitude.

What, then, can help the spiritually “heavy” child to disperse his condensed aggregation of mental molecules? The answer is, by ego-motivated activity. We’ve described spiritual “density” as a contraction inward upon the ego. The way to lighten this density, then, will not be to deny the ego its accustomed satisfactions, but to suggest to the ego that it will find greater satisfaction in reaching outward to the world than in wallowing in self-involvement. The way to encourage a “heavy” child to break out of his mental enclosure of self-involvement is to provide him with incentives to become more outwardly active.

Outgoing, even if ego-affirming, activity is wholesome and positive for the contractive spirit.

This middle category, then, may be defined as “ego-active.” Ego-centered activity can pull one in either of two directions — either toward further expansiveness, or toward a reaffirmation of contractiveness. We might therefore speak of these alternative directions as “expansive ego-active” and “contractive ego-active.”

In expansive ego-activity there is a tendency toward progressive lightness, and a decreasing emphasis on the ego’s importance.

In contractive ego-activity, on the other hand, though more expanded than the “heavy” quality of mental dullness, despair, and the like, the direction is still inward upon itself: toward the ego, in other words, as the center of awareness. Contractive ego-activity lacks the simplicity of clear purpose; in its restlessness it tends to kick up clouds of mental dust, obscuring anything to which the person gives his attention. His activity, like his consciousness, never produces truly beneficial results.

A child’s nature can be gauged much more easily in these simple terms of his “specific spiritual gravity,” or “density,” than by pondering his psychological traits individually. In this simplicity lies a golden key with which to unlock the door to a child’s spiritual maturity.

Like all simple methods, however, it requires sensitivity to use the key effectively. A bathroom scale cannot determine the weight in carats of a diamond. The relative spiritual density of a child cannot be gauged by a mind that is filled with prejudices. It can be gauged best by calm inner feeling, which is to say, by intuition. It is doubtful whether the process could be reduced to an objective science, for it depends too much on the perceptive sensitivity of the individual teacher.

Still, there are objective criteria that can help the sensitive teacher to arrive at insights that will help the child.

Heaviness or lightness in a child’s consciousness will be revealed, for one thing, in the postures and movements of his body. A child with a “heavy” outlook will demonstrate that heaviness physically: in his posture, in the slump of his shoulders, in the curve of his spine. His gaze will be habitually downward. Even in the way he sits and walks, it will seem as though life were a burden to him.

A child of light consciousness, by contrast, reveals in his every gesture an inner spirit of lightness. You may see such a child raise his arms frequently, rather than letting them hang forlornly at his side, and square his shoulders instead of letting them sag. His sitting posture is upright, his gaze more habitually upward, and his walk energetic, not expressive of mental denial.

Again, a child’s psychological “density” can be recognized in his choice of friends. Low-energy children will shun, and may even resent, children of high energy. The high-energy child, on the other hand, finds little to interest him in the company of children of low energy, and tends to seek as companions those whose energy level is as high as his own.

An exception to this rule is children who “mix downward” for special reasons — usually, though not always, to help their “heavier” companions.

Teachers may devise tests of a child’s reactions to challenges. For instance, how readily does a child share his enjoyments with others? How truthful is he? Does he respond positively to discipline? When requested to do something, does he habitually seek excuses not to do it, or does he respond willingly? Does he show a sense of responsibility? Does he show initiative?

Observe him at play. Is he basically cheerful during moments of relaxation, or has he a tendency to be glum? Does he set himself in competition with others, or does he work with them in a cooperative spirit? On the other hand — another alternative — does he set himself apart from them; and, if so, does he seem to do so in a manner suggestive of self-enclosure and self-preoccupation, or does he keep to himself rather because the focus of his attention is elsewhere?

How can the teacher use this tool of specific gravity to help the child? As we have suggested, the first step is to gain a sensitive understanding of the child’s “specific spiritual gravity,” or normal level of awareness: from “heavy” through “ego-active” and finally to “light” consciousness. Gradations in between, and the question of whether the directional pull is upward or downward, will suggest themselves naturally.

Next comes motivating the children. How can the teacher get children to want to change their level of awareness, and to expand their self-identity? The answer is: Help them to understand that what is involved here is escape from pain on the one hand, and the discovery of happiness on the other. If they are already happy, they will already feel motivated to increase their happiness.

Specific methods for raising the child’s level of awareness have been touched on lightly so far, and will be covered in depth in subsequent chapters.

How are these techniques to be used? Consciously, on the part of the teachers. Often, however, on the child’s part, it would be as well for him not to be aware of the process, lest his self-consciousness spoil everything.

Other techniques, not mentioned elsewhere, include deep breathing. For in deep breathing the lungs become, as it were, a magnet to draw the energy up from the lower parts of the body.

Wholesome exercise is invigorating also, and will help children to awaken a flow of energy in the body. By directing this energy outward, it will be prevented from being turned inward, contractively.

Other techniques will occur to the teacher as he develops these practices. For example, a school I attended for two years in England as a boy had an ingenious system for inspiring us to make a greater personal effort. We were graded not only on our studies, but also on how hard we’d tried. This second grading system was done with colors. “Excellence” in this department was indicated by a double red oblong; “very good,” by a single red oblong; “good,” by a double green; “fair,” by a single green. “Poor” was indicated by a double blue, and “very poor,” by a single blue. Somehow, we all worked much harder to receive pretty colors than we ever would have for numerical grades.

Try also, if possible, to help the child in his selection of companions. If you encourage him to associate with “lighter” children, however, it might be better not to explain to him your reasons for doing so, lest he resent the implied suggestion of condescension on the part of his companions.

Finally, remember the importance to the child of your own magnetic influence. Live as much as possible, yourself, on higher levels of awareness. The more expanded you are in your consciousness, the more expanded the children in your care will become.

Let me close this chapter with a fourth Law. I have already given three others in this book: Walters’ Law of Dogmatic Proliferation, The Maturity Principle, and Yogananda’s Law of Basic Motivation. This fourth law may be called “The Happiness Principle”: Happiness increases in direct proportion to the expansion of empathy, and in inverse proportion to the contractive density of self-affirmation.

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Chapter 12: Every Child an Einstein?