Listening to the Child Within

Last week, I spoke of wintering as a time of slowing down, resting, doing things we enjoy for their own sake. In this time, we may also listen, as Muller puts it, to the still, small voice within us, and touch the inner wisdom the heart.

In times of quiet solitude, however, the whole range of feelings may arise, including disturbing feelings, like anger, sadness, futility. I have spoken before of allowing ourselves to feel our feelings, whatever they are, in a safe place. This safe place may be by ourselves or with a trusted and trustworthy friend
It is also important to attempt to name our feelings accurately, whatever they are. Yet we also must realize that we need not act on them. A decision must intervene between feeling and naming our feelings, and acting on them. At a moment of frustration, for example, it is not good to lash out at whoever is near at hand. Again we may note the difference between entrusting and inflicting our feelings.

I have also said that we should not talk to ourselves other than we would talk to a hurt or angry child on our best day. This approach involves the recognition that kindness to ourselves is essential. At the same time, it acknowledges our limitations and mistakes and wrongs. We can do so if we recognize that we are not our mistakes, but more than our mistakes. This is an awareness of a sacred core of worth beneath all else in us; a core that always remains. It is sense of an enduring worth that alone enables us to admit any wrongs and to struggle with them. Otherwise to admit them is too threatening.

The Vietnamese monk. Thich Nhat Hanh, who recently died at 95 years, invited people to picture people who were cruel to them as they might have been as a child of 5 or 6 years. He asked them to think of a time before they became mean-spirited. To do so led themn to a less hostile and a more understanding and compassionate response.

I have recently been reading a book by psychologist, Susan David, called Emotional Agility. She makes a similar comment. She writes: “I often advise my clients that a good way to become more accepting and compassionate toward yourself is to look back at the child you once were.” She adds that we had no choice in the matter of parents or conditions. “The next step,” she adds, “is to think of yourself as the hurt child you once were, running up to you, the adult you now are. .. You would first take that young upset child in your arms and comfort her. Why should you treat the adult you less compassionate?”

In many folk tales, such as Sleeping Beauty, the child is presented as a gift. This is not a sentimental image, but expresses the conviction that the child is not merely a product of the parents owned by them, but a distinct person entrusted to them. It also affirms that this child is a gift to be received with gratitude. That is unfortunately not the experience of far too many children. In Sleeping Beauty, the curse of the thirteenth “wise” woman and the failure of the king to avoid her curse is a recognition that sorrow and difficulty are an inevitable part of life. The story also implies that these do not take away the gift character of life. It is important to acknowledge the sorrows and wrongs of life and their presence within oneself. Yet life is still best lived with an undertone of gratitude that flows into a compassion and generosity that includes oneself and flows outwardly to others.

There is a beautiful little book called The Twelve Gifts of Birth by Charlene Costanzo. It mentions these gifts as strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith. For each of these, she expresses a wish. For compassion, for example, she writes: “May you be gentle with yourself and others. May you forgive those who hurt you and yourself when you make a mistake.”

May you always be in touch with all your feelings. May you always be in tune with the inner child within you. May you always speak to that child with compassion. May you have the wisdom to know when or when not to express or entrust your feelings, and act according.

Norman King, January 30, 2023