I went on a yoga retreat a couple of years ago. We had a wonderful guided meditation where the instructor told us to visualize our second-grade photo. I had pigtails and way too many bangs. As in, bangs that started at the top of my head and were basically the entire front half of my head. I also had the cutest freckles I've managed to decimate with expensive laser treatments and bleaching creams.
This picture captures the "big bang" era of my childhood.
Here's how it goes: You imagine yourself around age 7 or 8. Picture that sweet little smile, the smudges on the clothes, the dirty fingernails. Whatever it is you remember in your mind's eye about the 7-year-old you. It might be a photo you remember of yourself.
Now, imagine your adult self walking into a meadow. You feel the breeze, you see the blue sky, you hear the birds and insects around you. You see a small child walking towards you. She looks very little in the big meadow. As she gets closer you see that she is you. She looks sad and scared. You kneel down and get on eye level with the child. You take her hands and look into her eyes. Ask her what's bothering her. Feel compassion in your heart for her pain. If she's willing, offer her a hug. Feel her little heart beating against yours. Tell her it's going to be okay. She's perfect exactly as she is.
Her heart is your heart. Her pain is your pain. You're still the same person as that sweet little child. You forget this and treat yourself poorly. You put unreasonable expectations on yourself, then berate yourself for not being perfect.
When you're able to connect to your inner self, it gives you self compassion. Some of us haven't shown ourselves self-compassion in years. We lose touch with the "soft animal body" (Mary Oliver's term) of ourselves.
How might you treat yourself if you were able to acknowledge your inner child?
Here's an example from my own life: When I went to the retreat, this was about two years ago. I was struggling with trying to do it all as well as struggling with massive mom guilt. My own 6-year-old daughter at the time was learning to express herself and her wishes through fits of rage. Insane rage. I know from years of therapy that intense emotions scare me and I'll try to avoid them at all costs. But this was my daughter. I couldn't/didn't want to avoid her or have her internalize emotions are "bad."
By reconnecting with my inner child, I remembered how scared little Hope had been of big emotions. Little Me equated big emotions with unrest at home, it meant my mom and dad weren't getting along (as I perceived it). It meant bad moods from both parents for which she felt responsible. I remembered how I'd try to be perfect in other areas to make up for their discontent. And here I was 35 years later doing the same thing in my adult life. I was avoiding big emotion (daughter's tantrums) by trying to perfect other areas of my life (sign up for a lot of things I didn't want to do, say yes to anyone who asked, basically be a pleaser and perfectionist).
When I realized my inner self was upset and anxious about feeling like she didn't have control when someone was upset, I was able to ask why. Then I was able to see that maybe the big emotion from the other person wasn't about me at all. It was something they were feeling. It opened me up to curiosity. It also made me want to equip my daughter with tools to learn how to use her voice in a productive way.
Don't do this exercise while you're doing a million other things. Find a quiet spot free of distractions. There are several YouTube videos and other free resources for inner child meditations. The disclaimer is that if you suffered childhood trauma or abuse, this mediation is best done under the guidance of a trained professional.
Okay, so now that you've connected with your inner child, how can this help you on your path?
It keeps you from negative self-talk. Negative self-talk holds you back big time. It keeps you in Stuckville because you don't believe you're worthy or capable of moving forward or taking a different path
You'd want what's best for a child, so you'd do everything in your power to help them find happiness. Why aren't you doing that for yourself? If your cute little 2nd-grade self were miserable in a situation, would you tell them to buck up? No, you'd brainstorm every possible way to help them take a new path.
This mediation can remind you what you were like as a child, how you were curious and enthusiastic about different things. By reconnecting with your inner child, it can awaken new/old interests. Our blueprints don't change a lot as we get older and get college degrees and real jobs. Figure out what it is you used to love to do at that age and do more of it now.
Kids think anything is possible. My daughter thinks she can be the first female president. We as boring old grownups limit ourselves. Remember what you thought was possible as a kid? I wanted to own an ice cream or candy shop. I had a big sweet tooth so part of my daydream was to marry a dentist so (he could brush my teeth??). Your inner child will remind you what it's like to dream big.