We are all of the above and more! Always! How easily we forget our own magnificence.
It is a miracle any of us make it from birth to 60. Some of us creep along toward 100. Others of us slide through those decades with pizazz. Some of us don’t make it to what might be called old age, or seniors, or elders, or the golden years or whatever euphemism works for the moment. I resist saying “old age”, it makes me feel senile. So I comfort myself with saying the last third of my life. Not very satisfactory, but it’s the best my precious mind can seem to produce. The last third of my life feels like it should be filled with wisdom. I should finally have arrived. Where I have arrived I do not know, but arrived wherever it is I thought I was heading all those past years when I was putting one foot in front of the other and acting like I knew where I was going.
I often feel as uncertain and unclear and even as scared and as ashamed as I did when I was a child. I find myself filled with memories I now must face if I really want to believe I have accomplished what I originally set out to accomplish when I chose to be born again; that is: success, wisdom, awareness, satisfaction, happiness, feelings of being secure and in charge of my life decisions. Isn’t that what we all expect of ourselves? Don’t we, when in our 30’s, think by the time we have reached, certainly 60 at least, if not before, that we will have life all figured out? That we are now secure and understand and can handle whatever life might hand out to us?
I think the tendency to feel shame as we continue to struggle, and we all do, with childhood issues when in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, to say nothing of probably 80’s and 90’s, is enormous. It is also unnecessary, unkind and unfair to ourselves to carry the burden of shame about who we have been or who we still are, when all we have really done always, is the best we knew how to do.
When I find myself once again confronted with fears in my later years that have their roots in my childhood, I am ashamed that I have not yet been able to heal those long ago wounds. Instead of being ashamed of what I have not done, I need to remind myself of what I have done: made it this far, created a healthy and happy life for myself, contributed to a good life for others, left behind a trail of love. What I have yet to do is forgive myself for not having been perfect. Instead of perfect, I have only been brave, courageous, tough, fragile, vulnerable, miraculous, sacred, blessed and amazing! As if that isn’t enough.
We should at least begin life feeling safe and wanted, well fed and warm, surrounded by love and knowing someone kind is in charge. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with such a precious beginning.
Many of us come into a cold world, welcomed, if you will, with a black wall of rejection, too often physically and/or emotionally neglected and harmed. Many tiny infants right from the beginning of their life face the possibility of being abandoned by those who should be protecting them. Babies deserve to be and need to be cared for and loved, touched and held tenderly, sheltered, reliably fed, their tiny bodies protected and their wee souls treated sensitively. It is amazingly easy to unconsciously crush an infant’s spirit in an instant with just a word, or an inadvertent movement, or a pause in which nothing is done.
The fear of being abandoned hides in every sound a child makes. The fear of being annihilated lives inside as well. Abandonment or annihilation? Every child has reason to be uncertain about their safety. For some the lesson is learned very early. We absolutely have NO way of knowing other than our very own exquisite intuition, how or if we will be taken care of, needy and vulnerable as we are when we enter into this world. We have to learn over time if the adults in our life can be trusted, if they will in fact attend to our needs, keep us safe and out of harms way: the harm of emotional, spiritual, physical, verbal pain, neglect or abuse.
Abandonment means starvation of body and/or soul; annihilation means death. For most of us it is not that dramatic, but each fear of betrayal or neglect builds upon the next. All that uncertainty comes with us as we move into our adult years.
Before we are born we know only love and wholeness, security and belonging. The moment we slide down the birth canal we immediately face a world we are unequipped to understand. We are face to face with total mystery: What monster is hiding behind the door, crawls into our bed, lurks in the dark corners across the room? What huge, noisy, smelly, leering demon will or will not feed us, touch us with gentleness or pain, never return or come back with a warm clean diaper, pick us up kindly, with tenderness, or maybe with rage? Children surround themselves with toy animals, toy soldiers, favorite blankets, all in an effort to create their army of protection. Their personal guards and angels hold off the beasts and wild things that threaten to harm them. All of this lives inside our cells as we grow older.
At birth we are separated from a sacred knowing that we are precious and a part of a universal whole and holder of a birth right that we deserve to be wanted and to belong. Adults who have too many difficult things in their own lives do not always know how to be gentle and understanding with an infant’s sensitivity. Too often children are left to figure out life on their own long before they have the skills or information, the maturity or the wisdom. They are left to find their own way and take with them as they age the memory of early vulnerability.
Just an instant ago they knew the warmth and protection of the womb, suddenly they find themselves facing new, unknown territory and they haven’t yet learned the rules, the limitations, or the options of this new and strange world. Unless. Unless we are fortunate enough to have been born into the arms of love. Love, kindness, generosity, maturity can save the life of a floundering child.
Many of us are immediately embraced by loving protective warm arms and cuddled closely to a waiting welcoming breast. Many of us learn quickly that our needs matter and will be attended to and we can count on being wanted and loved and held in regard, with loving eyes and gentle hands. When we are greeted with the gift of love and of being wanted, which is only as it should be, we can start at a very young age to build up our courage and our trust that life can be managed, can even be happy and filled with peace and balance.
But this is not so for everyone. Some of us learn from the very beginning that we must fend for ourselves. We learn that it is up to us to find ways to make our world safe, or if not safe, at least doable. And we may well learn as time goes by that it is also our job to help those younger and more helpless and less able than ourselves to survive as well. Many times older siblings become responsible for the younger ones. It seems to become their job, their legacy.
Terror, lack of safety or security, feelings of not being wanted or not belonging, or not being understood, chaos, uncertainty all this and more, begin way too frequently in infancy. Those feelings live in our very cells as we age. Often times, as we begin to leave middle age and face the all too quickly approaching years of being a senior, the terror of childhood is remembered. Not always were we intentionally abandoned or neglected. All too frequently life descends cruelly upon otherwise loving and caring parents and in their desire to keep everyone on the life boat safe and dry, the most vulnerable inadvertently get lost or left to figure life out for themselves.
The point of all of this is to remind us all that what we had to face as infants, toddlers, adolescence, young adults, still lives within us as we age. And often times the panic of childhood unexpectedly haunts us as we grow older. We think we have faced the truth of our growing up and chances are we have faced all there was to look at back then. Now we are haunted again. This time a far deeper place in our soul feels the tug and prick and sometimes explosion, quite like we felt as vulnerable children. The inevitable vulnerability of aging reminds us of how alone we often times felt when we were younger. As adults we have resources, information, friends, options available to us now that were not there when we were young. Today we can decide if we are really going to heal. Or are we instead going to refuse to walk bravely into the pain and instead numb ourselves with substances, diversions, chatter, more chaos and denial.
It is a difficult decision to make: do I face my demons now? Or do I do as I have always done and find yet another way to run away? I actually support whatever choice seems right for you in the moment. There will be time tomorrow to face painful issues. If not tomorrow, the next day. Or tonight might just be perfect. Whatever you do, love yourself. Whatever decisions or choices you make, celebrate your wisdom and maturity and intuition. You know what is right for you.