Archives for May 2020

What happens when we refuse to grow up?

As we continue our journey into fairy tales and the wisdom they show us, let’s look at Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Never Grow Up. This was written by the Scottish dramatist JM Barrie and published in 1904 and describes the natural transition from childhood freedom to adult responsibility and what happens if we refuse to grow up.

Image by Lalelu2000 from Pixabay

In this period of lockdown, we are all facing the consequences of not growing up and so this seems to be a particularly pertinent fairy tale for our times as the story warns of the balance we need to achieve between personal freedom and social responsibility.

The story tells of Peter Pan’s life in Neverland where he looks after his gang of Lost Boys, the youngsters who have fallen out of their prams in Kensington Gardens. When he meets Wendy, he asks her to fly away with him to become the boys’ mother as they need looking after. Together they have many swashbuckling adventures but when Captain Hook tries to kidnap Wendy, Peter eventually summons his courage and kicks the evil Captain into the jaws of a waiting crocodile. This enables Wendy to return home to her relieved mother who agrees to adopt the Lost Boys, including Peter himself. But Peter refuses to be cared for because living in a family would mean finally having to grow up so he chooses solitude and flies away on his own.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

There are many symbols and lessons for us in this vivid tale. Peter himself was named after Pan, the Greek god of woods and mountains who played the pipes and was rather wild. The word pandemic comes from this god and it is this that we are facing at the moment.

In our modern society there are lots of Peter Pans who live in Neverland and refuse to grow up, whether it be physically or simply as a human being. Michael Jackson even named his ranch Neverland and his use of cosmetic surgery to hold back the natural aging process is legendary.

So what happens when we refuse to grow up? It means that we refuse to learn wisdom or face the consequences of our actions. It means that we allow aging people to become invisible because they are no longer productive. It means that we never fully open our hearts and therefore only think only about ourselves. How short sighted is this! Our current hero, Captain Tom Moore, has been an inspiration to us all by raising millions of pounds for the beleaguered NHS and he celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday. Growing up means embracing age and the grace, wisdom and courage that it so often brings.

In the story of Peter Pan, it is Wendy who represents altruism. Captain Hook wants to capture her precisely because she is a “Princess of Heart”. He knows he lacks heart, but rather than develop it in himself, he thinks he can just kidnap it.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Opening our hearts takes time, effort and often emotional suffering. We can’t simply take it from someone else. We have to earn the right to feel deeply for ourselves and others. Often, it also means recognising our shadow – the one Peter Pan lost when he tried to escape and which Wendy reattached.

We are all made up of light and shadow, the opposites of good and evil, and part of growing up is learning how to recognise and integrate the two. If we refuse to grow up, we only acknowledge our light and become over-indulgent. Then the shadow grows bigger and bigger until it finally leaps out to claim us and forces us to recognise it often with brutal clarity.

Image by Emily_WillsPhotography from Pixabay

The environmental crisis that we and the planet are now facing is a result of our having refused to acknowledge our shadows and take responsibility for our actions. As a result the oceans are clogging with discarded plastic, the air is chronically polluted and our forests – the lungs of the earth – are being destroyed. It is perhaps no coincidence that Covid-19 is also attacking our lungs; an apt symbol for the devastation our greed is causing.

To be a child is to fly free within our imaginations and dreams. This is wonderful and magical but, as we grow up, we must balance this part of ourselves with learning responsibility, understanding consequences and facing our shadows.

The tale of Peter Pan shows us on one hand that, to defeat evil, we need equal helpings of imagination, courage and appropriate action. But we also need to accept growing up gracefully and we most often open our hearts to do this by learning how to look after each other. We are not separate beings as Peter chooses to be, but part of a human family which has a responsibility of care. It is this care that teaches us how to live with heart. These lessons come with caring for our children, the vulnerable, the sick and the elderly. We also need to learn how to care for our environment which, after all, is our larder and our home. The tale of Peter Pan might show us what happens when we refuse to grow up but it also shows us that we can balance our dreams with our shadow.

Next time, we’ll look at Beauty and the Beast and what happens when we are forced to face our mind and all the craziness that happens inside it.

Meanwhile, Happy May Day and here’s wishing that we all take this extraordinary period in our history to learn how to move towards a more sustainable, caring and balanced future.

Love Laurelle