In an earlier article I explained why, “If We Don’t Grow, We Wilt.” However, not every form of growth is beneficial.
To grow means to become more; to increase.
If, for example, I eat excessively, my weight may grow excessively. But this is not a beneficial form of growth, it rather poses a health risk.
This begs the question: What are healthy forms of growing?
Let’s look into nature to find answers.
Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand everything better.
The older we get, the more programs we accumulate. The more programs we have, the less natural we behave. This is true also for indigenous people, who also condition their children by example and education. In fact, some tribes developed rather strange habits/rules. For example, the Mursi in Ethiopia demand women to wear lip plates. Girls’ lips get pierced at the age of 15 or 16.
The most natural humans we find on this planet are babies and small children. They are our role models for what is natural (and thus healthy) for humans; in all cultures.
Therefore, we look at children with respect to growth.
Children grow in many ways. Their bodies grow. Their physical skills grow. Their mental skills grow. And they thoroughly enjoy life.
There is not only a correlation between growth and joy, there is a causality:
Growth is the essence of life (see article “If We Don’t Grow, We Wilt”). Therefore, we do have a natural lifelong urge to grow. We are lifelong hungry for growing. Growing satisfies us more than anything else. And satisfaction causes joy.
When we were children, life was simple and beautiful as all our energy went into growing. And we grew at a phenomenal speed physically and mentally. But as we got older, our growth slowed down.
It is logical that physical growth slows down and, ultimately, seems to stop. This is because a locomotor system has an ideal size. In truth, there is still permanent physical growth, but it is balanced by natural decay. In other words, physical growth slows down until it balances decay. (See article “If We Don’t Grow, We Wilt.”) Only after an injury or a disease we see that there still is physical growth in us, as otherwise there would not be physical healing.
But our mental growth unnecessarily also decreases when we get older, for reason I will discuss below. Unfortunately, we consider this normal, as proverbs such as “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” show. This really is one of the dumbest things to say!
There is no logical reason why we should virtually stop growing mentally when physical growth becomes equalized by decay.
A strong indicator of this being wrong is a yearning that accompanies us throughout adult life; a yearning that is but a desire to re-experience our childhood joy of growing.
The good news is: We can re-experience it. We just need to grow again. Grow properly.
As a human we can increase/grow in three ways:
- We can increase in body size – physical growth.
- We can increase in physical skills – sensomotoric growth.
- We can increase in mental skills – mental growth.
Growth requires building material – so called “food.” There is a force in us that craves food. It is called “hunger.”
Accordingly, we experience three forms of hunger craving three forms of food:
- We are hungry for physical food – physical hunger.
- We are hungry for sensing and moving – sensorimotor hunger.
- We are hungry for knowing and understanding – mental hunger, also called curiosity.
During childhood we fed on all three levels. But our mental hunger was by far the strongest. Most of our energy went into wanting to know and understand. We curiously explored the world by asking ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ in countless ways with all senses. And we listened to answers with all senses. Others called it “play.”
This made us grow at a phenomenal speed.
But we inevitably began to copy the limited lifestyle of our parents and peers – just like in “The OTHER Story of the Eagle in the Chicken Coop.”
We learned to follow the rules of the social groups to which we belonged. And we learned to want to belong to certain social groups and to have to belong to others.
Each of our daily activities belongs to one of two categories: either we do something that we have done before (which is but following a program) or we do something that we have not done before. The former is functioning, the latter is growing.
Functioning is boring. But it is secure.
Growing is fun. But it is risky.
As children we grew. We disliked schedules. We disliked obeying. We disliked functioning. And we had fun. And we took risks. All the time. But then we learned from our parents to look for security and thus to prefer functioning to growing. We learned by copying the lifestyle of our parents. They had learned/copied it from their parents. Looking for security has become a human mental heritage.
Because we function most of the time, we don’t grow (enough) any more. Therefore, we remain hungry, most of all mentally hungry.
As we grew up we learned (from parents and peers) to try to satisfy our mental hunger with substitute methods. These methods are of the type “I want more,” such as more food, more money, more possession, more power, more sex, etc. But the trouble is: These substitute methods don’t work. Having more food, more money, more possessions, more power, more sex, etc just isn’t as satisfactory as growing the way we grew as children: first of all mentally.
Because we only function most of the time (ie we follow our programs), and none of the substitute methods work, we remain mentally hungry/unsatisfied. This shows as boredom, frustration, aggression, diseases, etc.
But there is a solution.
We humans have the ability to not follow our programs. We can choose to behave otherwise. We can choose to not remain in our comfort zone. We can choose to not function, but grow. I explain this in detail in my book “Consciousness: Its Nature, Purpose, and How to Use It.”
Sometimes we choose so. But not often enough.
Remember situations when you chose to do something new; such as learn to play a new song on the piano; learn an overhead serve in tennis; learn to use a new piece of technology; learn to understand something; etc. Remember the satisfaction and joy that you experienced when you succeeded, ie when you grew into a more skillful, a more knowledgeable you.
That’s what I am talking about: the irresistible joy of growing properly.
Pablo Picasso was a great role model for this. Growing was his life motto:
I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
How to grow properly?
Humans can grow in three ways: physically, sensomotoric, and mentally. Which growth serves us best?
Physical growth can be in height or weight. Growing in height usually ends around the age of twenty. Growing in weight depends on our eating and exercise behaviors.
In any case, physical growth has (bio-)physical limits. Extraordinarily tall or heavy people are severely limited in their motility and exceptionally vulnerable to diseases and injury. Once an animal (biologically we are animals) has grown into its ideal body size, all further physical growth goes into maintenance.
Sensomotoric growth covers everything we do with our senses and locomotor system. This includes all physical activities that we use, for example, in mechanical arts and sports.
Also sensomotoric growth has (bio-)physical limits. For example, we can train to become as good as possible in a form of sport, maybe even world champion. But once we reached a certain level, no further growth is possible. All further training goes into preserving what we have acquired. In other words, once an animal has grown its natural sensorimotor skills, all further sensorimotor growth goes into maintenance.
Mental growth covers knowledge and knowhow, such as memory, foreign languages, understanding, insights, etc.
There are not limits for mental growth. There is no limit for how many languages we can speak; or how much we remember, understand, and know.
As a consequence, mental grows always shows results. Therefore, it always satisfies. For humans, mental growth is the most satisfying form of growing. And it’s the kind of growing that we experienced as children and that brought forth our joy of life.
Why not grow mentally again by curiously exploring the world again – just as we did when we were children? In order to get there more easily, we should begin with growing beyond the limitations of our programs. (See blog post “Who Chooses for Us?”) Getting free from our programs enables unlimited growth in the most satisfying form. I know this from years of experience.