We adults can spend our days trying to meet ever mounting 'to do' lists, unmeetable schedules, wearying routines, the ceaseless demands and responsibilities of adult life. After all, those bills don't go away on their own. And so it's easy to forget that along with us on this dizzying ride there's a child, often bewildered, overwhelmed, still healing from old wounds.
You've encountered the child many times in the past—it signal its fears through our frustrating procrastination, anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion; the embarrassing or shameful images that pop in the mind. How easily we misinterpret these important messages from what dwells in our unconscious as personal failures, behaviors 'to get rid of' by any means available.
You see, the child is too young to speak to us in words; but even if language were available to this forgotten self, our inner chatter would drown her out. But the child can express itself through the body, in all the physical sensations we feel lingering beneath our conscious attention: the taut abdomen, the lump in the throat, locked shoulders, clenched jaw, hollow chest, in all the non-verbal states of awareness, such as jumpiness, exhaustion, .
The child tells us its angry, sad, or, most commonly, terrified that the disappointments, rejections, abandonments and even traumas of our buried pasts will reoccur—the child seeks reassurance, care, a little attention.
So do we stop and pay attention, by putting aside the inner mantras listing of all we need to accomplish before we can rest? Can we stay with our feelings, attending to the shaking rage, the heaviness of despair, shame, boredom– as the share their truths in fluid sensations? Can we listen with a kindness free of judgment or impatience? Can we offer a safe space in our heart without turning away? Can we integrate these feelings—the need for safety, close friends and self-care —into the important life decisions we make? Or do we once again abandon the child, like so many times in the past?
If we are impatient and frustrated by this child we’ll judge ourselves ceaselessly, feeling ashamed of our progress; we’ll even try to use spiritual practice as a way to silence these needs, hoping that focusing on the breath will quiet our unrest.
But the child never goes away. Years ago, in family therapy, my 82 year old father revealed how his inner child was terrified of being vulnerable with us, his grown children, of whom he was constantly suspicious.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering that everyone has their own child, many of whom are so unheeded as to render their days hollow, virtually free of freedom, dance, joy, exploration. How many of us leave the child unattended, repressed into the realms of the shadow self, from which we spend our lives running. But no matter how much we may wish our anxiety, sadness, longing or anger to stay quiet, it will never give up. So let’s stop and listen, shall we?