The Child is the Destiny: A Back-to-the-Body Perspective

A child is a play, a new beginning, an innocence, an oblivion.

A child is a play, a new beginning, an innocence, an oblivion.

There is a theme that is very fond to me: on becoming a child. I was thinking about this theme today, and sure enough, one my friends sent me an image of a child with the oft-quoted Biblical passage, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). I was in Rome studying theology when I read this Biblical quote for the first time. I was shocked for days after that—and have never forgotten it.

Besides that passage, Nietzsche, also, has an oft-quoted passage dealing with becoming a child, namely, the three Verwandlungen (“transformations,” “metamorphoses”):

Drei Verwandlungen nenne ich euch des Geistes: wie der Geist zum Kamele wird, und zum Löwen das Kamel, und zum Kinde zuletzt der Löwe. (I mention to you three metamorphoses of the spirit: How the spirit turns into a camel; a camel, into a lion; and finally the lion, into a child [my translation]).

The term in Latin for the Biblical passage is “conversi” (… nisi conversi fueris…)—which indicates “change.” Luther’s Bible in German uses the term “umkehren,” which gives the idea “turning around,” moving the other way.

Camels work hard, carry heavy loads.

Camels work hard, carry heavy loads.

So, now we can compare the terms used for the “transformation”: For Nietzsche, the process is like a metamorphosis, a similar to a new birth—a natural process that comes in the due course of time. For the Biblical passage, this change seems to be something that the individual must make an effort to accomplish: a self-initiated change of direction—like someone who is heading in a certain direction and then decides to turn around–but must do so, not as a natural process, but rather as an act of will. In reality, there may be a bit of both elements in this transformation: something that happens naturally but for which we must make a conscious decision.

The Camel, the Lion, and the Child

What I find interesting in Nietzsche’s description of this process is the group of words that he chose and the course of transformation: the camel, the lion, and the child. We associate the “camel” with long trips, desert-like conditions, and heavy loads. So, this is the first level of development: a person who works long and hard. Haven’t we all been there? I think every parent has gone this course.

Winston Churchill was a lion.

Winston Churchill was a lion.

In contrast, the “lion” is a fighter, a protector, a fierce challenger, a hunter, a killer. Think of the Allied Forces during World Wars I and II. Think of Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Kim Il-Sung, Mao Zedong, General Patton, Winston Churchill: Those were all lions. Those individuals found a challenge, rose to the occasion, and fought with all their strength. According to Nietzsche, all of them were “work in progress,” individuals on their way to the final goal: the child.

And What Is the “Child?”

In order to answer this question, again I quote Nietzsche:

Unschuld ist das Kind und Vergessen, ein Neubeginnen, ein Spiel, ein aus sich rollendes Rad, eine erste Bewegung, ein heiliges Ja-sagen. [The child is innocence and oblivion, a new beginning, a play, a wheel that rolls on its own, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying.] (my translation).

So, there you have it. That’s the goal. This Verwandlung, metamorphosis, is like going from a caterpillar to a butterfly. It will allow us to flap our wings, be free, and see the world as transformed.

What is at stake? World peace, prosperity, care for the earth, joy.

Become Like Little Children…

For me, “becoming like little children” is the American Dream: To live in a place where being free and natural is possible.

Yes, we can buy our suburban houses, manicure our gardens, set out our white-picket fences, get our two kids, dogs, SUVs, sports cars, bikes, motorbikes, sail boats, power boats, and ocean-liner tours—but alas, none of that will do the trick if we continue to be “camels” and “lions.” As camels, we will work, work, work and have have no time to enjoy our life style. As lions, we will fight, fight, fight and will have no time to enjoy our blessings. Only as a child can we really enjoy what America has to offer that is good and natural.

So, what is the price of happiness? a Verwandlung, a metamorphosis, a turning-around. Happiness is for those who become like little children…

What is the back-to-the-body perspective on this? To be a camel is to live at the level of the stomach: work, work, work. To be a lion is to live at the level of the brain: fight/criticize, fight/criticize, fight/criticize. To be a child is to live a good life, in liberty and in the pursuit of happiness.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
November 13, 2015

Photo Credits:
Child at play. Author: Saw Htoo; Source:; Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Camels. Author: David Hinchliffe; Source:; Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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