The Weller Way

Reach for the stars with Peter Pan

Peter Pan, TInker Bell and the Darling children fly over the houses of London
Image @ Disney

Christmas is the time of traditions, and going to a Pantomine is a firm family favourite across the land. Pantomine is not however originally a British tradition or a children’s entertainment show.

Pantomine began as entertainment for adults, it can be traced back to the ancient Roman “Saturnalia” Midwinter feast, at which everything was supposed to be turned upside down. Men dressed as women, and women as men, just like the pantomime dames and principal boy leading role.

Pantomine first came to Britain in the 18th century from the ‘commedia dell’arte’, the Italian tradition of improvised theatre. The stories of the commedia dell’arte had many stock characters in them, such as clowns, jesters and a baddie. Traditional plots got mixed up with fairy stories, folk tales or tales from the Arabian Nights stories and gradually evolved into the familiar stories we now know as the pantomime repertoire.

This year our local pantomime at The Assembly Halls in Tunbridge Wells is Peter Pan. We are all familiar with the story written by JM Barrie and published as a play in 1904.

The story of Peter Pan and his adventures can be attributed to the sad events in his childhood. J.M. Barrie was born in 1860, the son of Margaret and Alexander Barrie, in the Scottish town of Kirriemuir. He had an older brother, David, who was known to be one of those beautiful golden children who everyone adored. In the winter of 1867, David died in an ice skating accident. Barrie’s mother never recovered mentally, and was said to find some solace in the fact that David would remain a boy forever.

Barrie moved to London, and, in 1894, married an actress named Mary Ansell. As a kind of wedding present, he gave her a St. Bernard dog.

The couple never had children and Barrie, evidence suggests, never consummated their marriage and they divorced in 1909.

In 1898, Barrie met George and Jack Llewelyn Davies, aged 5 and 4, while they were walking with their nurse in Kensington Gardens and became a family friend, known as “Uncle Jim”. Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn had three more sons during the course of their friendship with Barrie: Peter, Michael and Nico. The story of Peter Pan, who never grows old and lives in Kensington gardens began by JM Barrie inventing characters to entertain the the Llewelyn Davies’ boys on his visits.

In the play, Barrie, like other imaginative writers of the period, such as Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley, some scientific and philosophical theories were explored through metaphor and story-telling.

As an NLP Practitioner I love the power of metaphor and story. Peter Pan is a classic example of a story exploring many different themes and concepts through it’s characters and plot.

There are the obvious themes, such as not growing up, good versus evil, family loyalty, dreaming, adventure and belief, but in this blog I want to dwell a little on the theme of Mental Health and the role of the unconscious mind. Dr Rosalind Ridley, of Cambridge University has studied Peter Pan in depth and her research and theories conclude that JM Barrie:

had a deep understanding of the science of cognition – and was decades ahead of his time in identifying key stages of child development” (1)

Ridley has a distinguished career in neuroscience research with the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council. Her work has focused on the brain mechanisms underlying cognitive processes such as learning, memory and problem solving.

Rereading Barrie’s books for children she began to realise the extent to which Barrie had grasped many of the topics that she has spent her working life researching in order to come up with new treatments for dementia and to gain a better understanding of neurological conditions such as stroke which cause cognitive impairments.

In her book, she says:

Barrie struggled with sleep problems and described many of the states of consciousness and unconsciousness later identified by psychologists as parasomnias.

An important role of sleep is to consolidate and rationalise memory. Barrie expresses this charmingly in Peter and Wendy: “It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking in their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day… It is quite like tidying drawers … When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.” (1.)

The BBC Futures writer , David Robson in his article says

Ridley emphasizes that Barrie did not just borrow others’ ideas, though – he embellished their theories and offered new insights that were completely his own.

As Ridley points out, this hints at an astute understanding of sleep’s role in memory maintenance. First floated in the 19th century, this idea is now the subject of substantial scientific research. Brain scans of sleeping subjects show the passing of slow wave electrical signals between the hippocampus (a seahorse-shaped region implicated in memory formation) and the bark-like neocortex on the surface of the brain, where memories are stored in the long-term.

As it files away our recollections in this way, the brain appears to integrate our newest memories with records of older events, forging a coherent story of our lives. And in the same way that Mrs Darling folds up the children’s “evil passions”, this process also of the nastier feelings from a stressful day and helps us put unpleasant experiences in perspective; it may be for this reason that sleep disturbances are often associated with mental illness.” (2.)

A Worry Box

Can anything harm us, mother, after the night-lights are lit?”
Nothing, precious,” she said; “they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children.”

A great tool to use to assist in the bedtime routine of “putting worries to bed” is a worry box (rather than night-lights!). By encouraging children to write on a post it note their worry of the day, this externalises rather than internalises the worry. Telling children not to worry buries their feelings and so it’s more helpful for them to have something they can actively do to process it.

Processing worries in this way will enable sleep. You can then look at the worry box together the following day (ideally not before bed) and base the conversation on the Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) idea of tracking thoughts, feelings and action. Here is a great worksheet to download:

The current practices of Gratitude, self-belief, affirmations  and nurturing kindness, and the laws of abundance and attractions, are all obviously present and are a central part of the story which are present here:

Top tips to keep the symbolism of Peter Pan present in daily life:

Flying:  “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, “and they lift you up in the air.”

Peter Pan’s instructions are simple: if you think happy thoughts, it makes you weightless and you can fly. This translates into the theory of Positivity and Gratitude practice, where positive thinking eases our emotional weight, because they are uplifting thoughts, we can “lift off” our dark mood instead of feeling heavy and weighed down.

”So come with me, where dreams are born and time is never planned. Just think of happy things and your heart will fly on wings forever in Never-never Land.” 

The Tinkerbell effect: “All you need is Faith, Trust and a little Pixie Dust”

When Tinkerbell is on the verge of perishing, Peter encourages everyone in the audience to believe in her which in turn brings her back to life. This is called the “Tinkerbell Effect.”

Telling our children, how much we believe in them provides them daily with a little sprinkling of pixie dust. If you believe in someone, it gives them life by feeding their pot of self esteem.

Growing up doesn’t mean you have to stop playing.

Peter tells Wendy that he ran away the day he was born because he heard his parents talking about all the things he would do when he was a man; he went to live with the fairies so that he would never have to grow up.

Life is very serious and grown up when we think of Brexit and the current political , social and environmental challenges our world faces but I often have to stop my train of thought of doom and gloom and let go of what I can’t control. I don’t have small children to play with, but I love playing board games and card games with my “big” children when they are home. Part of my wish to have more “play” in my life has led us to getting a puppy in the new year, to overcome the empty nest that I still find difficult.

“Explore the world like a child and you will see how beautiful it is.”

The metaphor of Captain Hook: Hurt people hurt people.

Captain James Hook wasn’t born cruel, he became that way when he was teased and bullied as a child. When people are hurt, they can try to hurt others because they are defensive and suspicious of others (the power of transference). We all carry our past hurts which translate as our “shark music”, which are our emotional triggers. We see others behaviours through ourselves, rather than as it is, but with awareness, we can become more compassionate to ourselves and others. For those of you who are or have been coached by me, know that we very much focus on what your swirling sharks in the water are that impact your relationships negatively.

Mothers come in different forms.

Through my work with vulnerable teenagers, I know how important an empathetic, friendly presence in their lives was important to role model trust, a trust that was often broken with their own Mother.

We don’t have to have children to assume a “mothering” role. With our friends and colleagues we can provide a nurturing and empathetic role which provides reassurance and sometimes guidance if requested.

Mother Theresa, was the Mother of all mothers showing unconditional love to the most vulnerable of India’s population.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

References:

  1. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/peter-pan-and-wendy-how-j-m-barrie-understood-and-demonstrated-key-aspects-of-cognition
  2. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170201-what-peter-pan-teaches-us-about-memory-and-consciousness

Reach for the stars with Peter Pan
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