Today, while walking in the woods, I was transported back in time.
There it was – the perfect tree for climbing. I experienced a powerful urge to run up to this tree and clamber all over its sinuous branches. Suddenly I was a kid again.
But as the impulse arose, so it was quenched – another part of me wanted to have words with my inner child.
“Pipe down”, it said. “Mature grown-ups don’t climb trees. People will laugh if they see us. They will think we’re pathetic.”
Harsh words. But justified? My inner child didn’t seem to think so, because on this most unusual of occasions, it won. I climbed that tree and had a grand time.
When I got back home, I realised this was something to celebrate. I had honoured my need for play, spontaneity and authenticity – all values I aspire to live by.
I also considered the source of my inhibiting impulse. Why had it felt so dangerous, socially speaking, to simply climb a tree?
One reason could be my internalised notions of what it means to be a responsible, self-regulating adult. According to these notions, adults shouldn’t climb trees even if they want to, because they have more important things to do. More ‘adult’ things.
In this sense, my conscience was grasping at an idea: you must not be a child again; you must maintain the illusion; you must be a grown-up at all costs.
Perhaps this betrays an undercurrent of fear beneath all the demands and all the self-criticism. I was afraid of yielding to what childhood represents – joy, ease, playfulness, innocence. But why the fear?
Maybe because happiness, even momentary happiness, is paradoxically uncomfortable. On some level I fear that indulging in unselfconscious play will incur a cost. That it will undermine the noble adult struggle. That it will loosen my addiction to problems, woes and worries. And ultimately, that I will have a bloody good time in the process.
The main thing I take from this experiment: somewhere, beneath all the psychological rubble, my inner child is alive and well.
Although it has been on life support for quite a while now, it’s time to nurture and honour that part of me. Maybe next weekend I’ll build a pillow fort and get the colouring pens out.
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