A grownup is
a child with layers on.
~ Woody Harrelson
There is a myth that we reach some point in life when we suddenly feel and are grown up. Clearly we grow and mature over time and pass from one generation to the next, yet there is usually an inner sense of not REALLY being grown up. The sense of self is fairly continuous from early childhood throughout life.
Much has been written about the 'inner child" and there is value in getting acquainted or reacquainted with the children of different ages who are very much alive within you, often unconsciously running the show.
There is the truest version of you, the pre-socialized baby, who was born into this world with an already distinct self and personality. What do you know about this self from family stories and photos? There are the children of many other ages who still show up in your daily life.
What do you know about your playful, impatient, smart, fearful, anxious, traumatized, creative selves? What ages are these different parts and how are they still part of you, in helpful or not so helpful ways? Is there still a rebellious teen alive in your daily life? Or a people pleasing good boy or girl? Are you fearful or confident because of early experiences that are still alive in your psyche? Is there a traumatized inner child who needs healing?
Are there early aspects of yourself you like and others that you push away? Have you become so accomplishment oriented and busy that you don't make time for playfulness or true relaxation? Which of your inner children need attention or space in your adult life?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches against a future sky?
Nature is in full bloom as we move through Spring into summer Might there also be something within you that is trying to blossom? Is there an internal seedling that is trying to push through and take shape in your life? We are a part of nature as much as any plant or flower, so it makes sense that at this time of the year there would also be something within that wants to come into being.
This is a good time to follow a creative impulse, a new activity, something you may have thought about during the inward seasons of fall and winter. Or you might be called to expand and grow in some desired and perhaps feared way. Maybe you could spend some time with yourself and imagine, feel or intuit what wants to take shape, what wants to come alive in your life right now. What seed wants to sprout, be watered, fertilized and tended to that will enrich your life now and possibly in years to come?
Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach shares the acronym RAIN to be with feelings in a mindful and compassionate way. It is a tool that can be accessed in a guided meditation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8e_tAEM80k) or as you become familiar with it, can be done quickly in the moment to deal with a difficult feeling.
The steps are:
Recognize whatever you are feeling, whether it's fear, anger, anxiety, agitation, a sense of unworthiness ( Tara calls this the Trance of Unworthiness) or sadness.
Allow the feeling to be present. Be as open to it and as curious about it as you can, rather than distracting yourself or pushing it away.
Investigate the feeling, less in an analytical/mental way, and more in noticing where it is in your body and what it feels like in terms of sensation in the moment.
Nurture yourself! This is often the most difficult step as you may be unaccustomed to treating yourself kindly. How can you nurture this feeling? What can you say to yourself, or how can you physically nurture yourself (hand on heart for example) that will soothe the feeling?
If you are interested in more information about RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com
Let difficulty transform you.
And it will.
In my experience we just need help
in learning not to run away.
- Pema Chodron
No one likes it when life feels scary or hard or when a situation arises that seems insurmountable. Many of us end up in flight, fight or freeze mode when we are overwhelmed or anxious. Our brain's natural survival instinct is to get away fast! As children we may have been in precarious, inescapable family situations where we learned to run away emotionally or mentally to survive.
This survival tactic served us as small, dependent beings. But as adults, running away usually compounds the difficulty in multiple ways. If we can find ways to face them head-on, these experiences CAN be transformative. If we can hold on to our mind and not lose it to paralyzing fear or flight, we can find a deeper, stronger place within ourselves that we never knew existed, a place that is paradoxically indestructible in the face of something that may feel annihilating.
But how, you may ask.... having the courage to take a deep breath ( or many) and be with the feelings that arise from the difficulty. Breathing into and fully experiencing them, separating them the anxious thoughts that perpetuate these feelings. Meditating, drawing, journaling, singing, dancing, spending time with trusted others and in nature, listening to your dreams and the messages they may send you. Knowing you don't have to go through this alone, that there are others who can and will support you in a variety of ways.
Praise and blame,
gain and loss,
pleasure and sorrow
come and go like the wind.
To be happy,
rest like giant tree
in the midst of them all.
The Buddha's wisdom is simple but not easy! Allowing emotions and outer events to swirl around us but not knock us over takes a lot of mindfulness and practice. As the storm encircles us, how do we learn to sway in the storm but not have our branches torn off or core ripped apart? How do we feel pleasure and joy without grasping it tightly?
When something inside or out triggers fear and worry, what is your default reaction? Does your adrenaline surge as you go into flight or fight? Do you shut down and become depressed? These are just a couple of the ways you may have learned to react when you are challenged or scared. Or you may hold onto pleasurable experiences in an addictive way, afraid to face other sides of yourself.
Western culture believes in dualities: black or white, good or bad, this or that. This encourages a judgment and reaction to whatever we are experiencing and we may go back and forth from one pole to the other, never inhabiting the place of the palm tree that sways gracefully in the hurricane.
Eastern philosophies are more non-dual ( like the yin-yang symbol),more of a both/ and. Or as Carl Jung called it, Holding the Tension of the Opposites. When we know that we are capable of feeling both ends of the spectrum, and that one doesn't obliterate the other, more patience and equanimity are possible. Resting in the middle and allowing all experience to flow around and through us makes life less tumultuous.
Perhaps 2019 is a good time to practice resting like a strong tree!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley