Over the years, those feelings have remained bottled up within us, festering, because as a child we had no one to talk to about these feelings. It's a rare parent who says to their child, “I want you to talk to me about anything that upsets you. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am here for you. I love you. I will help you.” When parents do ask what's wrong, it's often with an inquisitional tone, not a caring one. And so the child feels he or she cannot tell their parents what they feel because they think the parent will be hurt, disappointed, or disgusted.
To end our suffering, we learn the ways to connect to our true self, our heart, and to disown our ego-mind and its feelings and perceptions as not being our true self. And we learn a variety of techniques to use to free ourselves from the control of our ego-mind. And so if we are disciplined we make progress on the path and experience more peace and happiness, less suffering.
But as I've previously related, despite this work and experiencing peace on a consistent basis, I have not experienced happiness on a consistent basis. Often I experience a grayness, a blahness, which I effectively counter by conjuring up the image of the smiling toddler that I see as my true Buddha self. But I sensed that all is still not quite right.
Recently I learned of a technique I had never heard of before … healing your inner child. From listening to others and from my own initial experience, I believe this practice is key to removing the last barrier to experiencing both inner peace and happiness.
Why is this necessary after all the other things you’ve been taught to do to free yourself from the control of your ego mind? Because you were wounded as a child, or as an adolescent. The work you have done so far is about how you as an adult relate to yourself and the world around you.
That is huge. But it doesn’t heal your inner child, heal your wounded heart, and thus you still suffer … sometimes in a quiet way as I have or it can be in a very powerful way; it depends on how bad the wound was.
The process starts with sitting with your inner child and calling on the spiritual mother and father to come and nurture the child and give it the love and understanding that was missing in his childhood. Feel the love and warmth radiating from them to your inner child. And feel your inner child respond to the love and warmth.
This part of the process is very important. Some of us grew up in very dysfunctional homes where we experienced no love or understanding. Even when there seemed to be an expression of love, it often really wasn’t. But even for those of us, and I would include myself, who grew up in generally very loving homes, our parents were not there for us in the way that we needed because our needs were greater than really any parent can provide.
Parents after all have their own problems and lives to deal with, which makes it impossible for them to be there for their child 100%. They have no intent to neglect or harm, but they are a product of and programmed by their life experiences just like everyone else. But each of us deserves total love, unconditional love, and so we now call on our spiritual parents to fill that void.
Next, ask your inner child what is wrong, what he's feeling. And let him or her speak whatever he comes up with; do not censor it. It will be the truth, regardless how painful.
When the child speaks, say that it’s ok to feel what he’s feeling; it’s natural, understandable. If he feels guilt or shame ... whether it's because of something he's done, what's been done to him, or his feeling complicit because he did not fight against it or tell his parents ... tell him that he's done nothing wrong. Guilt and shame have been thrust on him by our culture,
Tell him that if he was acted upon it was all about them and not him. He was a victim. Nor should he now question why he didn’t protect himself, why he didn’t run away, why he didn’t speak up. He was a child who wanted to be loved and was in denial about the nature of what was happening to him. His response was natural. A child reacts to events very differently than an adult would because children have a very narrow frame of reference; they're not aware of options. Being hard on yourself is an ego-mind game. Your heart has nothing but compassion for you.
In these healing exercises, the critical point is that you open your heart to embrace your inner child and provide him/her with unconditional love. Give yourself a hug. This is what was missing from your life as a child. And this can only come from your heart. Your ego-mind will seek justice, revenge, which may be seductive, but no healing will come from these emotions or actions taken in response to these emotions.
If he feels guilt or shame because of something he did, again tell him that he has nothing to feel guilty or shameful about; that what he did was a child’s natural reaction to events.
Tell him or her that you are there for him, always. He is not alone. That you love him unconditionally. And that regardless what happened in the past, all will be well now because he is in a safe place surrounded by a loving you and by loving spiritual parents. This may not sound like much, but it’s amazing the healing power of knowing that you are loved unconditionally and that someone will always be there for you.
What you hear may surprise you; it may scare you. But what you will hear is the truth. It was something which needed to come out, be spoken, in order for the healing process to take place.
One of the common experiences of children is that they are not treated as people; they are not respected as human beings. Thus parents rarely ask children what they are thinking; what is wrong. And when they do, children often won’t speak the truth; they are desperate for the love of their parenets and won’t risk offending the parent. Regardless how the child responds, parents typically don’t have the spiritual background to answer in a truly helpful way, and instead provide the tried and true responses that come from their own upbringing and our culture.
But it is not just your inner child that needs healing. When you grew up and passed through adolescence to young adulthood, you continued to be consumed with the negative images of yourself, the false core beliefs, that were impressed upon you as a child. And that young person suffered mightily. Go through the same process with him or her and the healing process will begin.
I have now gone through this exercise myself and sat with both my inner child and my inner young man. This is just the start of the process, but already it feels transformative. Let me share my experience with you to give you a better understanding of the dynamic.
After calling down my spiritual mother and father and their expressing their unconditional love and understanding, my inner child first told me that he didn’t feel loved; he felt there was something wrong with him. Later he went deeper and said he felt insecure.
I hugged him and said it was ok to feel those things, natural, understandable given what he experienced. But there is nothing wrong with him; he is a normal human, with strengths and weaknesses and deep within his true self is his Buddha nature. And everyone feels insecure because of their life experiences. But I told him he was in a safe place now where he is loved unconditionally.
These feelings were not a surprise to me and I have processed them previously, as I’ve written, using various techniques after understanding the truth that my true self was my heart, not my ego-mind. But clearly none of this impacted my inner child who was still hurting, and so I still hurt. And so this phase of the healing process has now begun.
But when I sat with my inner young man (a teenager and college student), he spoke much to my surprise of the shame he felt regarding his same-sex sexual feelings and the secretive way he explored them in his mind. I say “surprised” because when I finally came out, I felt no shame, felt no internalized homophobia because I was raised in home where that was not present, where I knew my parents had had homosexual friends; I knew they would be accepting, and were.
Obviously when I was younger and had not come to terms with this, I felt very different. And this had affected me greatly. And so again, I hugged him and said that there was no reason to feel shameful about those sexual feelings. That was just the message from our culture. But it’s all natural. And that I love him unconditionally and was there for him.
Really what I was doing in both cases was being there for myself in a way I had never been before.
The next few times I sat with my inner child, although I wasn't expecting anything knew (I had after all engaged in much introspection about my childhood), I was surprised by his telling me about the guilt and shame he felt about various things. Sometimes because of his complicity in not telling his parents about what happened.
I had never been aware of myself having feelings of guilt or shame. I was not brought up with those feelings. I was aware of the experiences/situations he mentioned ... for example sometimes I was aware I was in taboo situations ... but I was not aware of having those negative feelings. They were suppressed and I was in denial. And so again I said to him that while it was natural for him to feel guilt and shame given the way children are conditioned, there was no reason for him to feel guilt or shame. He had done nothing wrong. I told him I loved him unconditionally and gave him a hug; and I encouraged him to hug himself. Also I encouraged him to open his heart and embrace his feelings of guilt and shame so that the internal struggle ceases.
It is too soon for me to feel the full benefits of this practice, but I sense that it will be transformative because I have opened myself up to being aware of feelings deep inside me. And that will change both the way I relate to myself and to those around me.
For example, when I meditated the morning after my initial inner child encounter, when I was at that part of my morning affirmations/mantras where I’m grateful for the love I’ve received in the past, including from my mother and father, and picture them and hear their voice, the experience went beyond mouthing the words, reminding myself. I felt love energy flowing from both of them.
The experience really struck me and I wondered, why now. And I realized that by saying it was ok for me to feel as I felt, I was saying to everyone, including my parents, that it was ok to feel as they felt when they were growing up and that I therefore had compassion for the persons they had become. I always knew my mother loved me and I knew later in life that my father had always loved me. But I never felt this particular energy flowing to me from them. I was now seeing them as they were, not as I wanted them to be and disappointed.
The challenges we face walking the path are many and daily. We are complex people with many parts of our ego-mind and memory impacting how we feel and the actions we take. I have now learned of one more aspect of myself which needs tending so that I can move further on the path of experiencing peace and happiness and freeing myself from suffering. I am very grateful.