Do we ever really grow up? In many respects you may feel no different to how you felt when you were in your twenties. For me, in some ways I feel little difference to how I felt when I was a young child. While we grow; physically, experientially, emotionally, are we really so separate from the being we started out as?
Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.
I’ve believed a long time that we never grow up in the way I thought adults did when I was a child, and on the day of writing the perfect example came to me – The base
emotion of grief and loss. Today has been a day of loss; a number of friends have lost a loved one. I was happy I could be there for one of these friends, and in the circle of people around her (alongside lots of cheering laughter and lifting) there was compassionate sharing.
In particular, the need for physical comfort; one widow confided she sleeps with the sweater of her husband, two years after his death, another said that her childhood bear shares her bed every night. There was also a bereaved pet owner who snuggles with their deceased dog’s cosy little bed. Everyone seeking basic, tangible, physical comfort in loss. Death and loss brings those left behind back to a very base level – and need for physical comfort is the same whether we are six or sixty.
Our need for support and reassurance goes with us from childhood and throughout our entire life, whether or not we choose to admit it. Some time ago, as another promotion stared me in the face, I realized that the thing I had been driving towards was also a source of stress… Was I actually capable? Would some of the past experiences I have lived through haunt me once again? Had time and experience done their work? If we were being logical, we know we should have faith in ourselves and not bow to these childish insecurities...and yet there they are! We suffer them, yet don’t dare share them with others…After all, they may suddenly believe you aren’t capable and should be held back.
It was at this point that the sergeant major in my head grabbed me by the collar and
barked in my face; “Buckle up, soldier!” and “Nothing ever came to the weak! If you think you’re going to die, you will!”
…Ever noticed how that checking voice which comes to you, if it’s the ego, is never administering its internal pep talk in the kindest way? It’s usually urging you to hide and deny your fears, and put your best foot forward, get that mask on, for fear that everyone might see… Of course, this is the nature of the ego; our big bullying friend, constantly leaping in horror at the presence of a shadow or an emotion which makes it wobble. It’s there to keep us safe of course, but it acts from a place of fear, and decisions and actions coming from fear are usually limiting and not leading us in a direction of happiness (after all, survival is the functionality of simply living to see another day…There’s no consideration of happiness or nice-to-haves!)
It was as I was turning over those doubts in my mind, and shrinking under the flail of the sergeant major, that I happened (and I am certain there was no coincidence in the timing) to have the benefit of speaking with a man who is very elevated in his field and organization. He shared with me his own concerns from time to time that he might not be capable of succeeding. Occasionally there are things, he said, which he has to deal with which fall outside of his experience or zone of comfort, which cause him to doubt how he is managing them, or the best route forward.
What a gift! - Someone who I admire and who I consider to be vastly more experienced than I, admitting that he too suffers fears and concern in his own ability. A person I had not really considered would struggle with the same sorts of concerns I do; yet here he was, confiding pragmatically. I swear he knew I needed a nudge. Filled with gratitude and confidence, the feeling he left me with spurred me on to sweep aside my worries and make my move.
It should not be a surprise to any of us that everyone suffers doubt in themselves at times, however it brings it to life when they share it. And when you have it reiterated that you are not the only person who feels that way, and in fact that doubt can be an emotion anyone can feel as they meet new challenges, it can be accepted as it is – just an emotion; not a reason to give up on something.
In a conversation with a fourteen year old girl some time ago, when she was speaking about the difference in her issues and those of adults, she seemed surprised when I said that I didn’t feel that much different from how I did when I was fourteen. Sure, we may be dealing with different issues, and there’s some life experience which can change the way you react to an issue, but when new life challenges arise, initial reaction or base emotion (and want to react) can be very similar – to seek comfort, to be angry, to want to cry or lash out. And our conversations with friends and others we trust can sound very similar.
Listen to a bunch of new mothers, sharing frustrations about getting themselves out of the house or their baby strapped into their car seat (and the disgruntlement, time-pressure, panic, confoundment they feel), and then listen to teenagers discuss an issue affecting them which stirs up all the same kind of emotions. How we deal with these things can change as we get more life experience and emotional maturity, but sometimes they don’t, when triggering stressors - as some events and pressures can do.
My daughter’s impressions of the world come from a very natural place. She looks around, listens and studies, and then pipes up with a remark filled with universal
wisdom. Sometimes I marvel at what she says – her observations can be highly empathic or sometimes even downright psychic; she simply seems to know about someone or something, in a way she has no way or reason to know. The remarks children make can be dismissed by adults (because their own elders in turn dismissed their comments, and they went on to accept this is not the way the world works), and it’s this dismissal which kills the natural psychic or clairvoyant abilities we are all born with. Continual denial of our other senses does tend to switch them (or at least our receptivity to them) off. I therefore always make a point of simply talking openly with her about her observations, particularly as I nearly always feel the truth in them.
If everyone were to embrace their inner child a little more (and freely admit it!), allow more emotional flow, frailty, and openness, it would remind and reassure us all (as we are driven along by the fears of our ego) that everyone is feeling the same emotions, thinking the same thoughts, worrying the same worries from time to time. If we all allowed that little vulnerability, we would see each other with more compassion and respect, seeing we are all part of the same thing.
Tips for living life with the wonder of a child:
Accept that there are no coincidences – Things so commonly dismissed by many as ‘coincidence’ are so remarkable and awe-inspiring when you see them as events,
things, or people which have sought you out or happened at precisely the right moment…suddenly life in the universe will blow you away and you’ll look eagerly into each day for the things that will happen on your journey.
Give voice to your frailty - It’s ok to say that you’re depressed, scared or that you don’t know how to do something. I was once told that a gift you can give someone is to say you need their help, because everyone wants to be needed and be useful. Admitting your need for help or support makes you more human and less cut off. It brings others closer to you and creates bonds.
Stay open to your feelings – If someone feels off to you, you’re probably right. They may be disingenuous or hiding something. You can choose to call them on it, or steer clear – both are ways of responding to your impressions which will help keep you emotionally or physically safe.
Express your feelings – When I advocate embracing our childishness, I don’t mean unleash a full blown tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, but instead of burying your feelings, you can choose to express them. Allowing feeling to flow through you is far healthier than bottling up feelings, which can actually cause physical ailments within the body. (See more on this in my article about emotional flow.)
Switch off for a while – Kids sometimes stare into space or flake-out on the floor and don’t move. At these times they are in moments of self-hypnosis, or meditation. And meditation is well recognized for its benefits of calming and finding the answers within, ‘switching off’ the chatter of the brain and the ego and allowing the ‘higher consciousness’ or ‘inner self’ to be.
Drink lots of water – Kids tend to drink a lot of water. They haven’t been introduced to, nor have the taste for caffeine and alcohol, and water is a basic detoxifying and energizing drink which replenishes rather than dehydrates. Try the basic advice; one glass to wake up, one before each meal, one before a shower, one before bed.
Movement & Breathing – Move your body, every day. Walk, run, do yoga, play sports, dance… Kids dash about and run when adults would walk. Movement and breath helps to lower stress. Movement literally forces us to breath, and can release mental fixation. We all have a ‘window of tolerance’ (check out my other article for more on this) where we are functioning optimally, and when we are stressed and triggered, we begin to slip away from that optimal functioning, sometime (in extreme cases) shutting down altogether, leading tor breakdown, burn-out, or even PTSD. (See my article re children’s yoga, where the window of tolerance is discussed in more detail). When you’re stressed at your desk, with your breaths coming only from the upper part of your chest, your shoulders and neck locked up as you hunch over your keyboard, try getting up on your feet, standing straight, perhaps rolling your shoulders gently and slowly, and taking three abdominal breaths - where you breath all the way down to your belly; belly moving out on the in breath, and slowly releasing, back in with the outbreath.
Enjoy your inner child!
For more on 'window of tolerance', see my article on the benefits of yoga for children.
For more on the benefits of emotional flow, see my article, 'Strong Is The New Weak'.