Inner Child

I’m celebrating another milestone today — I have been blogging for 5 whole years! What initially was a rather daunting commitment to myself has become a source of great joy. I have reawakened my love of creative writing through a blog that I started as a means to hold myself accountable to personal growth.

I’ve written 81 posts over the course of the past five years and admittedly I am proud of that. I’d set myself a goal of one a month and I have met and slightly exceeded that. While I once was a determined over-achiever, the old me would probably have dutifully cranked them out driven solely by that initial goal.

The “evolving” me has come to appreciate that it is far better to be fully committed and stay the course using the goal as a guideline, but not letting it rob me of the joy of the creative process. My approach to writing each of my blog posts has shifted rather remarkably over the course of five years. What initially felt like work and a public confessional, has become a source of pure joy for me. I love writing and I forgot that. I became disconnected from my love of writing and my own creativity that I naturally possessed as a young child. Blogging about my personal growth journey has reconnected me to my “inner child” in ways that I never would have imagined. Trust me when I tell you that I possess a wild imagination….I’ve come to realize that I was not using that gift wisely.

Personal growth work requires a solo walk down memory lane, hand in hand with that very young child we once were, and being courageous enough to revisit the places and events that impacted us in ways we were far too young and too innocent to comprehend. If you are a fan of This is Us, you probably are beginning to see through this current season’s episodes how our childhood experiences and our young child’s perspectives can entangle us and our relationships all throughout our adult lives. It is the perfect real life example of why this personal growth work is so necessary. We carry all those childhood perspectives, immature coping mechanisms, and emotional roadblocks into our adult lives and wonder why we keep treading water as we try to build our own futures. We are bogged down by that baggage and it tethers us to the past. Personal growth work untangles us from that labyrinth and frees us up to embrace the flexibility of being our most authentic selves, making better choices and living with grace and compassion for ourselves and for others, in the present moment.

Over the past five years, one blog post and one emotional layer at a time, that is what I have come to see so clearly.

The reward for all that hard work is feeling at age 69 like the 5 year old I once was — back in touch with the wonderment of an innocent child who marveled at the intricacy of a delicate spiderweb in the morning dew and thought it was the fanciest doily she’d ever seen. I was too young to be afraid of spiders. I saw only the beauty. Today I embrace the paradox of life — and I can see both the beauty of the spider’s craft and his painful bite.

Father Richard Rohr writes about this transformation into maturity and the inherent gift of paradox that comes through learned wisdom in his book Falling Upward. When I first read it, I was intrigued and desired that kind of wisdom. I am now realizing that I am given those opportunities to grow into that maturity more naturally almost every day. The key is to be “aware” and then to be childlike in my “exploration and observation”. Honestly, I am delighting in this fresh approach to life and especially how I show up for others. A small child can touch our hearts in the most simple yet most profound ways. A small child lives in a healthy state of paradox.

Just the other day, my 4 year old grandson was watching his beloved mom struggle with a massive to do list and more than a few things going wrong. He looked at her so tenderly and said “Go ahead and cry mom. It’s okay.” My heart melted into a puddle. He was holding space for her, acknowledging that a good cry will release the tension, is often soothed with a hug, and will pass. This is the very gift she offers to him every day when he is overtired, frustrated, overwhelmed. He mirrored it back to her with a wisdom that comes from the heart. A heart that is not entangled with all the armor we adults accumulate.

If you want to examine this real life example from an unaware adult perspective, think about a spouse that is also juggling a similar overflowing plate and the natural response “We all have a lot to do, get it together.” Or the well intentioned grandmother who says “Oh honey, look at all the good things you have and the stuff that is going right”. Both responses seem benign on the surface. The wisest is the innocent four year old who sees the situation for what it is — the present moment with honest feelings. That’s love and understanding that comes from an open heart, not an armored heart. It also comes from truly living in the present moment and being aware of it. Do you know that my little grandson remained calm through it all. He’s only 4, yet he didn’t let his mom’s emotions override his own. He’s too young to realize what a superpower that is. He just operates that way naturally.

This is the inner child I am reconnecting with myself. I will be completely honest and tell you that it was incredibly hard work and very painful at times. Yet each time I took my younger self back to revisit the past, I accompanied that innocent version of me as a caring, supportive, trusting adult. The one that was missing in my young life experiences. At times I even discovered that there were rather remarkable adults who did show up in my earlier years and offered me guardrails, a beacon of hope and some cliff notes about life. My appreciation for what those guardian angels did for me has deepened exponentially.

These childhood revisits have illuminated the ways I began to sabotage myself with an armored heart and protective but ineffective coping skills as I moved through my adult life. Oddly enough that concept of paradox has proved to be the rarest of clear lenses to view the past. I can now see where my blind spots were and how I contributed to things not going as smoothly as I’d hoped. I can see where I got in my own way often and where I let others take advantage of me. And I learned (with more practice than you can imagine) to let it go. The more I shed the old layers of self-doubt, armor and triggers, the lighter I felt and the more in touch with my true nature.

I’ve often used the phrase “freeing up the real estate” to describe that internal space I’ve gained in my mind, my heart and energy, when I let go of the past, of how others operate and of hoping that reality could be different than it is. What I happily discovered was that when I freed up that real estate, better things began to move in. And that is where I re-discovered my own tap root of creativity.

As a young child, I was quite naturally creative. I made the most elaborate sand castles at the beach and my beloved aunt would marvel at them. They were complex in structure and decorated with the most unusual treasures I could salvage from my beach hunts. I learned to make forests by creating layered sand trees, letting sopping wet sand dribble from my loose palms into the landscape around my castles. Sand and water, shells, driftwood and a feather. Simple raw materials turned into magical kingdoms of castles, gardens, forests, tunnels, and moats. I’d forgotten just how much I thrill to create all kinds of mixed media art from things I find in nature. I’m playfully reconnecting with that now and sharing it with my grandchildren.

Just like my young grandchildren, I loved to sing and I often made up songs as I played. But I only recently remembered how much I did that as a child and I even recalled a song I wrote as a teenager. That song is lighthearted and playful, full of hope that love would always be exciting and fun. I still recall every word and the catchy melody. Today I am infusing my daily life with more music. I cherish the memories that are evoked from favorite songs and I relish in the discovery of new artists and songs. And rarely a day goes by that I am not making up some whimsical little song for my grandchildren as they tidy up a room or wash up for dinner.

All throughout elementary school, I sang in the choir at church and for a long while, I used to sing solos on Sunday mornings at various churches throughout Lancaster and Lebanon Counties in Pennsylvania. I recall the highlight of my singing career happening in middle school when I was named the lead mezzo soprano for the school choir. It was a short lived moment of joy and accomplishment since that was also the very day my mom left my dad and we moved. I stopped singing for quite a while after that. Today that memory serves as a reminder to pay close attention to when I stop doing something I love, when I feel my joy or creativity waning. While another’s actions or a life circumstance may be the intial cause, what can I do to return to those parts of me and my joys? That is where my agency lies. It is also an anchor to my true nature — if I give up the very things that fill my heart I won’t be living in the joyful, playful part of me. The reality is that I won’t be able to be my best self. I have doused my inner light when I stop being creative and appreciative of life’s little marvels.

I wrote poetry when I was in elementary school and my grandmother was my biggest fan. She’d read everything I wrote and then she would read it out loud to me. Hearing her voice place emphasis in different places than I did made me aware of how personal writing is to both the writer and the reader. Art in any form is a creative wonder for both the artist and those that are drawn to it — and often it speaks to us in the most profound ways. A painting, a book, a song or a play — all land in our individual hearts where we have space for them. Space to heal, space to feel. I recently decided that I would try my hand at poetry again. The inspiration for this came from a gauzy-feeling idea that came to me as I woke up one morning. I jotted it down in my bedside journal and found myself giggling. It felt amazing to be so aware of the joy coursing through me simply by writing an inspirational short poem. I now have a pretty pale blue notebook dedicated for my poems. As I have expanded my awareness of ideas coming to me, I jot down these fleeting moments as they happen if I can. Sometimes I will write a whole poem, and other times I will just have a framework for something that requires deeper reflection. I imagine that I am feeling the way an aspiring cook feels when she creates a new recipe and delights in savory tastes that linger in her mouth.

My teen years were really hard because of choices my mother made and responsibilities that I assumed. I wish I had journaled then or kept up with writing poetry. I think it would have been therapeutic for me. Looking back, I think I lost my creativity due to the multi-levels of darkness in my family. I turned my creativity toward resourcefulness and resiliency for the pragmatic things in life. So I read instead, escaping from my circumstances and living vicariously through empowering stories.

After hearing the podcast with Brene Brown and Dr. Angus Fletcher about the marvels of literature, I became very aware that the books I read filled the places in my life where I was not getting, but truly needed, some aspiration and a clear path for building a better life for myself. I also realize that my love of “self help” books probably originated from the realization that my family was a Petri dish for unhealthy issues. Even in my early 20’s that’s the section of the library or book store I was often drawn to visit first. That remains unchanged almost 50 years later — I am still a work in progress. What’s changed is my perspective about it. I am not trying to “fix” my imperfections anymore. I am embracing them and learning from them. I am excited that at this late stage in life, I still have room to grow.

To celebrate my 5 year blogging milestone, I decided to reflect on the places where my reconnection with my inner child’s creativity merge with that child-like sense of curiosity. On purpose, I work very hard to replace judgment with curiosity. We learn to be judgmental — of ourselves and others. We can unlearn it and replace it with curiosity. Picture an iceberg and realize that most of us go through life showing only what we want to project out into the world. It is the parts of us that are hidden under the surface that are often guiding our life trajectory and the birthplace of blind spots. Now that I have spent so much time getting to know myself, I have a much greater appreciation and awareness of what others may have under their own surface. There is no doubt that it has organically expanded my empathy and compassion for others.

I now have that beautiful example of my young grandson offering the gift of space, compassion and present moment awareness to use as a poignant reminder to stay in the present moment, to remain grounded and calm, to honor what others are truly feeling, and to hold space for others.

My childhood life experiences created a lot of layers of armor that I brought into my adult life. The armor tethered me to a past in ways that went unexamined for far too long. I somehow got the message that I was on this earth to fix things for others. I am not here to fix things for others. I needed some serious pruning shears to get all those brambles and entanglement cleared away to find that truth. Yet letting go of striving to fix and wanting to fix things for others allowed me to clearly see that the best gift I can give to others in their time of struggle is that of truly being seen, heard and valued. This I learned though over five years of hard personal growth work and over 80 blog posts I have shared with all of you. My 4 year old grandson reminded me that we are born with it. “Out of the mouth of babes,” comes the greatest wisdom — and they live in a constant state of present moments.

Today I am grateful to have rediscovered my inner child and to be delighting in exploring the many ways creativity is beginning to show up in the real estate I have cleared in my approach to life. Let’s just say that the new tenants are so much more fun, energetic and inspiring!

Growth Spurts

One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed over these past six years, is recognizing when I have had a growth spurt. Not the kind that shows up on the number of candles on my birthday cake, or the way a favorite dress fits differently.   It’s the growth spurt that I feel — about who I am and about how I am showing up in my life — for myself and others.  

It has been quite the journey and I could not have done it without some remarkable support from my family and my most trusted long-time friend, Judy. I’ve recently come to the realization that there has indeed been a big transformation in me.  By turning my attention inward and pulling back all the layers that I have carried with me over my lifetime, I have shed old behavioral patterns like unwanted pounds and I do feel lighter, yet more grounded than I have ever been.

I can tell you what that actually feels like in the midst of most any situation now. 

It feels like I am being the person I always longed to be — calm, respectful, helpful and understanding.  I am untethered from old triggers, of feeling overwhelmed by others emotions or actions, of feeling helpless or hopeless.   I am finally really understanding what Brene Brown has been teaching for so long about how my “armor” got in the way of living my most authentic life.

If you haven’t been around me for a long time, you may not be able to discern this subtle but significant shift. It is true that in the past I put up a pretty effective “front”in the midst of crisis or conflict, but the truth was that I was just very skilled — and far too comfortable — with stuffing my emotions or powering through them.  It resulted in me being numb to my own feelings and needs or becoming a powder keg down the road.  

It has been a few years now since I have experienced either one of those former, very familiar uncomfortable outcomes.    What a relief it is to no longer find myself getting “pulled” into a situation and reacting from a place of bottled up old emotions because my “reservoir” was so low. To come away from a present day tense situation and recognize this positive change in myself is both a reward and an affirmation for a doing the “inside job” of self-awareness work. Awareness is the real key to my growth spurts which I will unravel for you now.

A counselor once told me that I was “too patient.”  At the time, I had no clue what she meant.  I thought being patient was a strength of mine.  However I have slowly come to understand what she meant — I accepted a lot of behaviors from others that I should not have.  She was encouraging me to discover and voice my personal boundaries.  I surely wish I had learned this lesson ten or twenty years ago. I did eventually get there though it was at a turtle’s pace.

Here’s the thing about boundaries that I had to understand. I often showed respect to others even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it, but I rarely respected myself enough to call someone out or to simply say no. I wanted to be sure I was operating from a place of my own integrity so I’d be generous with my respect of others. Somehow I had forgotten that my integrity also served me — as an anchor for self-respect. I had to learn to respect myself enough to pause when I would get that internal nudge and then choose to state my boundary. This is where Brene’s words “clear is kind” really came to life for me. Calmly stating my boundary clearly is the kindest thing I can offer to someone else. There is no mystery or guess work about what is important to me. I free myself to stand firmly in my ground without drama or long explanations. It puts the onus of respecting my boundary back on the other person.

This brings me to anger. Just typing that word can send shivers down my spine. For far too many years, I did not do “anger” well. Like most of us when we are pushed to the limit and anger flares, I’d raise my voice, say things I would quickly regret and be prone to slam a door on my way to anywhere other than where I was. Honestly I have been afraid of anger since I was a child. It seemed that nothing good ever came of it and that was the lesson I took to heart based on a lifetime of personal experiences. Anger might as well have been a lit stick of dynamite in my hands — I was terrified of it and instinctively reacted on that fear rather than what anger was actually trying to tell me.

So I had to change my understanding of anger and my relationship to it. Anger often showed up when I failed to set a boundary. So it served as my warning light to feel the anger and redirect my attention to the real issue — which often was boundaries. Did I make my boundaries clear? Were my boundaries ignored or dismissed? The answers to these questions quelled the anger and gave me footing for a better response.

Anger would also show up when I was overdoing the “helping” I can be prone to do. My exhaustion would be accompanied by my disappointment from the lack of positive results for all my well-intentioned efforts. Anger was telling me I was resentful of working so hard doing things that no one actually asked me to do. It would be the equivalent of showing up with six bags of groceries and two casseroles when a friend needs a plumber for a clogged drain. Yep, that is just how far off base things can get for us consummate “helpers.” Again, understanding that my feelings of anger were actually my own doing became a huge catalyst for meaningful change.

Once I began to understand that anger can be very healthy and that it does have a place in a well-rounded life, I relaxed a bit and even ventured so fas as to invite it in….just for coffee though. My safest place to explore anger these days is on these coffee dates, just the two of us. I find myself saying “tell me more” quite often. Turns out that anger is pretty wise and not nearly as volatile as I once believed. Anger reminds me that I am a woman who values fairness and accountability. Anger makes its case that many a good cause has a been fueled by a healthy dose of outrage. (Consider MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for starters).

I now have a very deep awareness that I cannot and should not attempt to fix everything that goes wrong in life, especially for others.   Where I once rushed in to clean up a mess, solve a problem or take someone else’s consequence on as my own, I have learned that my most meaningful response is to “hold space”  for others.   Others may need a shoulder to cry on or a safe, soft place to land when they are broken. They do not need or want me to fix things. I respect that now.

The Enneagram has been such a helpful resource for me by shining a big spotlight on how I often “rescue” others in an effort to feel valued and needed. I am learning the distinction between “I need help” and “I am needy”. When someone needs help and they ask for it, I am all in….but in a healthier way now. When someone is needy and just wants someone else to fix the problems they are creating, I am able to recognize it and back away.

The next logical step in this process of self-awareness is an invaluable one — it is simply “letting go”. Yet there is nothing simple about actually doing that. At least not when I was first striving to do it. But with a lot of practice over a few years, I have actually gotten so much better at this.

Early on in my mindfulness journey I learned about “not being attached to the outcome.” While I liked the sound of it in theory, I quickly discovered that I was quite often not only attached to an outcome but I was working pretty hard to get my own desired outcome. While I never considered myself a manipulating or controlling person, I began to see how my comments or actions felt like that to others. Letting go of expectations, letting go of wishful thinking, letting go of control — these are all incredibly hard to part with — and yet, it is so freeing to do so. It is quite simply accepting reality. It is accepting that other people may make choices that might be hard to swallow. Letting go often involves forgiveness, offering grace to others and trusting that they are doing the best they can, and embracing space for reflection and healing.

Letting go and not being attached to the outcome did require a lot of practice. Fortunately life never fails to provide ample opportunities for this needed practice. So I dipped my toes into this concept with minor matters, making the best decision I could in that moment with the information I had at hand, and letting go of any preconceived ideas I might have about the outcome. I found out that no matter what transpired, I could handle it. Often times the result was even better than I might have imagined. When it came to relationships and what I was hoping for, I found that letting out a little kite string was all that was really needed. If the relationship was genuinely mutual, our kite would soar. If the relationship was more one-sided, it was bound to hit the ground. Inspirational life quotes that have long resonated with me began to take on a much deeper meaning:

I began my focused personal growth journey by learning about, and embracing, mindfulness. Mindfulness led me to meditation. Meditation reignited my keen interest in neuroscience. Over these past six years, there has been growing overlap of personal growth tools and the teachers who guide us. And all of it is rooted in awareness.

Becoming skilled in awareness is the best practice of all. It provides a broad and fresh perspective to reframe things that literally are right in front of our eyes, but are often obscured by racing thoughts, rumination about the past, magical thinking, and dreaming of greener pastures.

Awareness of all the places where I was triggered by my past.

Awareness of my weariness or resentment growing to a boiling point.

Awareness of own value and strengths and not allowing others comments to diminish them.

Awareness of how others showed their love and respect for me. (hot tip — sometimes we are actually getting the love and respect we want but we fail to realize it because we want it in a certain way)

Awareness to offer myself grace and acknowledging I will always be a work in progress.

These are just a few of the many insights I gained from awareness. The self discovery journey has allowed me to get untangled and unstuck from experiences and emotions that clouded my vision, muffled what I was able to hear, and it opened my heart in ways I would have never thought possible. I found peace. A peace that I carry with me everywhere and one that I trust I can ground myself in when life gets turbulent.

I also found a deeper capacity for being aware of how others are feeling and reacting. Judgment has been replaced with a genuine interest and curiosity about what is beneath all of that. All of us have stratifications of the anxieties and vulnerabilities that we’ve accumulated over the years. I find myself understanding that about others and it serves me well as I hold space for them and listen fully. So often clues are embedded in those deep conversations. I now focus more on the other person. Its so much easier to do this now that I have cleared my own emotional landmines. My mind, my body and my heart isn’t competing for my attention. Instead, I can lean into what I have learned about myself and find greater compassion and encouragement for others.

My dear friend Judy and I have done a lot of this work together over the past few years, acting as confidantes and cheerleaders for each other. We were so fortunate to be able to compare similar life experiences and learned behavioral patterns we developed as coping mechanisms. We also shared a deep love of helping others and offering encouragement to those who are on a similar journey. What we have noticed in our improved energy levels, our discernment, and the people we are attracting into our lives is nothing short of miraculous.

Our family members and our friends have noticed our transformation and freely tell us all the positive attributes they are witnessing. They are experiencing how we show up differently in our own lives and in their lives too. This concrete evidence of the work we have been doing has become a guiding light for others in a much healthier way than our old approaches ever did.

When my daughter tells her friends that I am the most mindful person she knows, that goes straight to my heart. Who knows me better than her after all these years and who sees the consistency and continuity of all my positive changes?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Chopra Meditation Center – Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life (How limitless awareness can help you overcome all obstacles — 21 Day Meditation Program offered for free)

http://www.choprameditationcenter.com

Typology Podcasts with Ian Cron (available for free on YouTube) I’m sharing this episode with renowned Enneagram authority Beatrice Chestnut who is like me, an Enneagram 2.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-fP4WMHIQ

Yung Pueblo – check out this youthful wisdom influencer on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/yungpueblo

Greater Good Magazine – The Right Way to Get Angry https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_right_way_to_get_angry

I am a longtime collector and affectionate of StoryPeople — and I bought this one over two decades ago. No matter how much I tried to maintain some sense of control over my busy complex life, balancing parenthood, career and marriage, there were more than a few times that I just enjoyed letting go of the “to do”list and the human “doing” and trust fall into a strong wind like a carefree child. I had no idea just how insightful these words would be to me later in life when I learned the liberating feeling of “letting go” of outcomes and expectations.