Humans are social creatures, and a major aspect of the human experience is fulfilling a sense of belonging. We want to connect with each other. But in adolescence the desire to belong is so strong that we might ignore our own intuitive intelligence and instead look outside ourselves for external validation. Expectations and/or pre-defined hopes are put onto us from peers, mentors, culture, and media to be and think certain ways. And if the environment is painful enough, we might choose to reject those parts of ourselves that others find taboo, just out of survival.
Rejection of the childhood self can still run on autopilot in the shadows of our adult psyches, and reacquainting ourselves with those lost parts helps to heal the areas where we feel wounded. By gently reintegrating those aspects, we gain the joy of embodying unconditional love and respect for our own humanity. Below are four techniques to reconnect with your inner child.
1. Befriend Your Body
Between diet trends and images of predominately able-bodies in the media, women and men are inundated with false perceptions of how healthy bodies should look, every day. This can lead to body shaming of ourselves and each other, starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood. But each body is made differently and has different needs in any given moment.
I was born with congenitally displaced hips, which required two corrective surgeries when I was a kid. For years I practiced vinyasa yoga because I liked the idea of feeling strong and pushing my body to new limits. But the truth is vinyasa yoga is terrible for my body. It actually hurts, no matter how slow I take the postures. A year ago I shifted to yin yoga, which is much more conducive for my body even if it’s not as visually impressive as vinyasa. Yin is a passive style of yoga that works in conjunction with gravity to allow the body to open on its own terms. By entering into conversation with my body and honoring what it needs, I’ve opened up and felt parts of myself that I didn’t know existed, both literally and figuratively. When we redirect our focus from outward expectations to inward intelligence, we’re able honor ourselves rather than ceding to what our culture demands. We return to a place of empowered innocence.
What is your body requiring of you in this moment? What is one thing you can do to tend to your body today?
2. Tend to Your Emotions
Throughout childhood we might encounter moments that teach us to undermine the ways we actually feel. We’re taught that expressing sorrow or grief is a sign of weakness. Or that anger is only appropriate for men, not women. In contemporary New Age culture, an over emphasis is placed on accessing and maintaining pleasant emotions like joy, while so-called “negative” emotions are discouraged outright.
The truth is we need to safely access all the points of our emotional spectrum in order to mindfully navigate this world. Rather than dismiss our emotions, we should tend to them like a trusted companion.
If you feel an emotion wishing to be expressed, don’t hide from it. Gently lean into it as much as you feel comfortable doing. Imagine you are sitting by a hearth fire with a stranger with whom you’d like to be acquainted, as poet and philosopher John O’Donohue suggests. If you imagine this stranger is your childhood self, you can gently enter into conversation with them about old wounds that need tending. By taking the time to actively listen to your inner child, you validate and integrate the emotions that were rejected years ago.
3. Journey work
Journey work is a type of active meditation that allows the practitioner to journey into the spirit world for insights and answers. Using this skill, the journeyer may go directly to their inner child and learn what they need in order to be recognized and integrated. The technique is a lot like daydreaming, although it requires practice for those new to the method.
To start, find a quiet and comfortable place to lie or sit down. Say a prayer that states your intention and sets a container for the emotions, thought patterns, and spirits you wish to invite or disinvite in aiding you on your journey. Close your eyes and imagine yourself at an altar (your inner altar). Mentally repeat your intention to meet your inner child, and allow your imagination to lead you on a journey for the next 10-15 fifteen minutes.
Once the message has been received, return to your body by rotating your wrists and/or ankles. Stretch. Write down anything that came to you during the journey, and commit to enacting them to the best of your ability.
4. Honor your Ancestors
We all have ancestors who are connected to us in spirit and blood, whether or not we know their names or places of origin. In my own Irish-American lineage I separate ancestral spirits into four different groups:
- The recently dead – grandparents through 3rd great-grandparents who are still working out emotional trauma from individual lifetimes. Offerings are made to them, but they are not called upon for prayers or spells out of respect to their death processes.
- The mostly dead – ancestors whose emotional baggage from life is healed, allowing them clarity of mind for aiding living descendants.
- The Aos Sí – ancestors who have been dead so long that they no longer resemble human spirits. Their magic is powerful but they are unpredictable.
- The Cailleach – the most ancient ancestor. A goddess and old crone embodied in winter and limestone.
Ancestors are beneficial for healing intergenerational traumas as we, the living, are their answered prayers from their own lifetimes. In aiding to heal the inner child, they also act as no-nonsense spirit allies who will show the practitioner areas that need improvement. They also will help the descendant implement necessary steps for personal growth. That said, it behooves the spiritual practitioner to tend to these relationships.
Build an altar for your ancestors, using either family heirlooms or whatever items you feel called to include. The more you intentionally work with them, the more your ancestors will speak to you. Feed them biodegradable offerings on the altar. Pray to them daily for blessings or guidance.