Finding Your Inner Toddler
A while back, it was popular to talk about the “inner child.” The inner child was often conceived as vulnerable, perhaps wounded, in need of care from the adult self. And most of us probably have such a wounded internal child, trying to hold us back and keep us sad for our own safety. We should all give those children some love.
But there is also within us the inner toddler who is fearless, spontaneous, who has never been wounded. The high-energy Zen master who is whole, joyous, and who wants to be free. That inner toddler is the self or non-self we most need to connect with.
Philosophers and spiritual teachers keep telling us this. The Confucian sage Mencius (c 372-289 BC), wrote “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s-heart.” And Freidrich Nietzche (1844-1900) said, “In every real man is a child who wants to play.”
So what does that mean? In what ways can we become like toddlers? Well, watching them seems to help, especially if we can watch them without judging or worrying. We can see ways of theirs that might be joyous for us. Doing child-like things might help. I imagine splashing in the puddles after a rainstorm, or finger-painting might be a start.
How would I interact with others if I were in touch with my inner toddler? I would start by expressing how I feel whenever doing so doesn’t hurt anyone unnecessarily. Perhaps I could also learn to take pleasure when it is available and to enjoy the good things more, to spend more time not doing, and not to fear pain or the negative reactions of others. They’re always temporary.
Meditation could also be a way. Meditation might not seem child-like, but in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes that, as we come to see the world more clearly through meditation, our sense of humor grows and we can start to take pleasure in all things. Meditation is known to move our brains into the theta wave states where toddlers hang out. We can spend some time in our right brains, where we might meet our whole inner child.
Certainly, therapy or grief work could help us heal some of the wounds, which might encourage our feelings of wholeness. But suppose we just try noticing our whole self, our inner toddler, for a minute or two each day. Try to get in touch with the self who is always OK, who is timeless, who just is.
I know this is easier said than done. It’s not like our inner toddler is playing hide-and-seek with us. He or she has been pushed out of the way, stuck in a closet so we could feel safe as our brains went on their ways doing boring, difficult, adult things. There might be a lot of hunting through old boxes of stuff to find your inner toddler, and some wooing to get him or her back.
One way to reconnect might be to spend more time exploring the physical world. Like kids, we could pay more attention to our senses and less time on words and worries. We could approach the world with more wonder and less fear.
That might be difficult, but imagine the payoff. What if we stop restraining the best part of us, and help it manifest itself? We might annoy some people, but wouldn’t we be happier, more creative, more alive? I’m going to try it, and I invite you to come along.