“Love” was an installation done for Burning Man in 2015 by Alexander Milov. The first time I saw this image, I didn’t get it. At all. And it’s one that I’ve kept coming back to and revisited over the past couple years, until finally, I really see it, and I can’t get enough of it.
Two tiny, glowing, and innocent children trying desperately to connect with each other, trapped within the confines of their hardened, cold, firm, cage-like grown up man and woman selves. Kinda heavy, right? And also kinda everything.
Because inside each and every one of us lives a younger, illuminated, playful, joy seeking, innocent version of ourselves, known as our inner child. And for a lot of us, that inner child is still holding onto very deep, very old wounds, and feels prisoner inside this grown up entity we’ve become. If you watch and listen to yourself carefully, observing quietly how you react to people, to situations, and in relationships, you’ll probably even be able to identify how old your inner child self is, because they tend to steer the emotional ship for us – well into adulthood – if we’ve never gone back and made up for whatever trauma we experienced that caused the wound.
Roll your eyes if you need to, but this shit is real. So keep reading.
Imagine there’s a crack in the foundation of your house; you don’t see it every day, but you know it’s there. You know you should probably deal with that crack and fix it, but you also know the house seems to be doing fine right now, so you leave it be. One day you notice that the windows in your house seems to be misaligned. And another day you notice the doors don’t stay shut or latched properly. And the floors slope consistently from room to room. And there’s a new crack in the drywall that wasn’t there the other day. And now there’s some water pooling in the basement.
You go around your house, project by project, fixing this, repairing that, calling in a handyman for this, duct taping and caulking that…little by little you fix individual problems but can’t help but notice there seems to always be something popping up that needs your time and attention to repair. Then it dawns on you (after a cursory Google search) that these are all symptoms of the same thing: a cracked foundation.
Your person is the same: if you – like so many of us – have an unresolved issue(s?) from your childhood – it’s going to manifest again and again and again until it gets your attention. I’m not talking about the time your ice cream landed on the sidewalk, or the skinned knee you got learning to ride a bike. I’m talking about those old, almost unconscious, feel it at your core wounds that are buried way deep down in your psyche, so far back that you might not even be aware of them…
…Until you notice patterns and symptoms appearing and reappearing over and over in your life: you date the same emotionally unavailable people, always wondering why you can’t be loved. You move from job to job, or repeatedly undercharge for your work, never feeling quite settled or valued. You enslave yourself to the gym or your career, always feeling like – even at peak performance – you have more to do, more to prove, room to be better. You depend on alcohol, food, drugs, sex to take the edge off and make you feel whole in a way you can’t be without something else filling you up.
Those characteristics are the wonky windows in your house, the doors that just won’t stay closed. They’re all symptoms pointing to a cracked foundation in your development as an emotional body, and they are symptoms of legit past pain that we’ve to date thrown duct tape on to solve the problem in the short term.
You know why? Because confronting and dealing with inner child stuff is big work. Like mother effing mega work that is raw and uncomfortable and asks you to be more honest with yourself than you may have ever been before. And since our nature is to find the path of least resistance, we take that, and avoid the big work for as long as possible, or at least until we’re ready to face it head on.
In the meantime, there are some gentle ways to ease into this work, and the cool thing is that when you ease in gently like this, it really does start to honour that child-like part of you, making it easier when the time comes that you are ready to go Full Monty. Plus, straight up, being given an excuse – a cathartic one at that – to act like a kid is kind of awesome, and super fun.
So here are Five Ways to Honour Your Inner Child and Feel Like a Kid Again, just in time for summer.
Play! We get so wrapped up in this serious business of adulting we forget to play. This might be games’ night with friends, and it might be simply imagining the story of every other commuter on your train. And maybe it’s just adding more playful things to your overall day.
Go to the beach and actually skip a stone. Dare people to do dumb stuff. Drink out of novelty glass ware or bendy straws. Blow bubbles. Pop bubble gum bubbles. Pop bubble wrap. Basically do anything with bubbles. Pick flowers. Go to the carnival. Get on the swing. Go down the slide. Splash. Go on adventures. Walk backwards. Photo bomb. See how many soda crackers you can get in your mouth and still whistle. Tap people on the left shoulder from their right side just to trick them. Inject little bits of play into all that you do and feel the joy that starts to permeate your day.
Close your eyes and think back to when you were a kid; what made you feel free? Really think about this, and call up not only what it felt like, but who was there. What did you see. What did you smell. What were you wearing. What were you eating. What could you hear. Relive the feelings of those memories and notice what it is that brings a smile to your face, unwittingly.
Now do more of that. Whatever it was.
For me it’s the feeling of walking on wood chips through the trees at camp, on my own, going from the lapidary hut, to archery, to the craft cabin where I got to make my own “Nothing Book,” a journal we filled with endless clippings in our four weeks there. It’s getting out my Ouija board and trying to call on spirits with my cabin mates, asking for a sign, and having a legit thunder storm come out of nowhere, watching lightning strike the lake…and promptly having the board confiscated for freaking out said cabin mates.
It’s setting up a corn stand with my best friend, listening to the Grateful Dead and Simon and Garfunkel and Zeppelin up in her tree, carving stuff in branches while we waited for customers. It’s listening to records and playing pinball at another friend’s house, harbouring a looooong time secret crush on her twin brother who could make me laugh hysterically with just a look or a few words. Just writing that now makes me fluttery, and so happy with the joy I found in those few summers.
I don’t know what it’ll be for you, but really take the time to feel your way through it and put all the things on your summer bucket list.
THREE: Move Your Damn Body
You may have noticed that kids are active. Like so active it gives you vertigo from how much they’re moving around. Channel that; get up and move your damn body. Hear music on the street? Dance. See a stone on the sidewalk? Kick it for as long as you can. Notice a gate / tree / fence nearby? Climb it. Skip. Bounce. Do a freaking cartwheel. Whatever. Change the movement of your body and feel the change that happens inside you when you do. Endorphins, baby. Find joy. And if you can’t find it, create it.
FOUR: Eat Fun Things
Again this is something that we forget about when we set about taking ourselves too seriously. But I dare you to not feel a giggle over a sprinkle donut, eating chocolate chip cookies – still melty – straight out of the oven, drinking 7 Up through a licorice straw. When I worked in advertising, there was this ice cream truck that would pick a new agency at random, park out front, and give away free frozen treats. I will never forget the look on our CEO’s face when she popped her head into my office to ask me if I liked ice cream…then nearly ran down to the street before it was too late.
Indulge those little pleasures that make you feel like you’re five. It’s hella comforting, and again, just pure blissful fun.
As kids we’re so cuddly. We can’t go to sleep / to school / to the living room without a linger hug. Then one day it’s like we decide we’re too old for it, and stop. Get as much touch in as you can – um, consensually obvs. Like don’t be the weirdo running around downtown just hugging random people. Embrace your friends, hug your kids, kiss people on the cheek when you greet them, pet the neighbour’s dog, have tons of great sex…build up all your reserves of oxytocin that come from the pleasure of being in contact with another human. It’s the same chemical released when you’re high, and touch is the healthiest way to get it. Over and over.
Trust me, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by adding these new old habits into your life. It will make you feel more refreshed. more energized, more in touch with yourself, more loving, and – Scout’s honour – so much more alive. Honour that little innocent light in you, and feel it glow and grow as you do.