The old understanding of the child, is that from birth she is accompanied by a daimon, a genius in search of a destiny.
The maveric psychotherapist James Hillman drew on this understanding of the soul’s vitality in what he called the acorn theory.
With respectful and attentive guidance, this seed grows in the communal soil, to become a glorious tree, bearing sweet, nourishing fruit that feeds the village.
You will know the truth of this in those lovely moments when you look at your child and wonder, Who is this person? Where does all this magnificence come from?
In this old understanding, our children’s destiny isn’t shaped or crafted by us parents. It is made by the world they meet. We might help nurture their daimon into fruition, by paying attention to its ways, by noticing the moments when it makes itself known, or when it pushes up against the world and wants otherwise.
Yesterday, I was alone with my two sons, and it was bedtime. The dog had to be walked, the chickens enclosed in the coop, the kitchen cleaned, and the teeth brushed. The phone called. It was a friend of theirs who wanted to speak to me about a fishing adventure he’d just had. I eventually sat down and listened, and he poured out his love of fish, the sheer diversity of them, their beauty and wondrous, weird ways. It was an encounter with this boy’s genius, and it demanded my willingness to listen for a rootlet to find some traction.
Sometimes the daimon appears as an obsession, othertimes it bucks against constrictions and shows up as a symptom, a resistance to the way things are. A dislike of a teacher, reluctance to go to school, sudden stomach aches. The troubling uproars and silent refusals.
Instead of treating it as a symptom of a deeper pathology requiring expert care, analysis or medication, we might approach these moments with generous curiosity, wondering what they tells us about this strange person, this child of ours, and her deeper longings.
In those moments, we might not be asked to solve a problem, but to witness a beautiful process of tender germination, and to be a welcoming substrate for the seed’s wily ways.