As we grow up and take on board adulthood we can lose our inner child along the way. Where our inherent nature lies suppressed, ignored and left behind when our ego developed to help us to survive, and drove us to thrive in the socialised world we live in. We go on to adopt different personae for different occasions to form a kind of protecting compromise between the inner self and outer society. We learn conditioned and received rules of behaviour to get along, to be ‘successful’ adults in our chosen field. But at what cost to our creativity and our inner spirit?
In The Middle Passage, US Jungian psychologist, James Hollis, talks about how we should reconnect with the inner child we’ve left behind. Especially in middle age, when we may have to travel back a bit further to get there. He suggests that this helps us heal ourselves from acquired hang ups and complexes which we all have accumulated within us. He argues we should make the time to find our free child within, feel once more ‘the freedom, the wonderful naiveté, the joy, even, of life lived freshly’. And that when we feel stuck, depressed, or somehow lacking we can be saved by what is within, we can ask the inner child what it needs, what it wants. ‘Where there is play, there is the life force’.
And that that brings me to what benefits there can be for both our creativity as artists, writers, craftspeople, as well as our spirit, by finding and expressing our inner child. To find this we can look at the qualities of childhood, say up to the age of 11, before teenage angst and self-consciousness wormed their way in to our psyche!
First up has to be a sense of play. Playing was fun, inventing games, inventing places and plots for plays to enact with friends. Day dreaming! Dressing up! I remember some twins from down my road and I, romped in the fields out back together, running to what we called the giant’s footprint (just a depression in the field) to our dens further on. We sang songs on swings, we made rose petal perfume. They were special times.
And a sense of fun can be drawn upon in art and writing. In art classes tutors get students to ‘mark make’ – simple application of a medium in different ways to paper, with no preconceptions, no agenda, just to see what happens – to find what those marks may suggest, or how they could be developed eg a blot of ink. And in writing it can be found by freeing up the imagination, going beyond the known, the given, the truth as we know it, to the mysterious, to the bizarre and unknowable – where would Stephen King get all his ideas from without his inner child? I know I find this difficult to access, a kind of thinking outside the box, which kind of proves how special it is to develop this reconnection.
And then there’s curiosity. Think back to all those questions we asked all the time – ‘Yes, but WHY?’ over and over again. There was a thirst for knowledge, for learning, for interpreting. What better to access for thinking up plot conflicts applying plenty of ‘what ifs’, as well as aiding us in doing vital research for authenticity.
A sense of wonder. For the world around us. I remember looking at sunset clouds in the sky thinking they looked like heavenly coves and bays ripe for exploration. Peering into the centre of flowers, examining insects close up. Especially good for artists, to help us see things around us in a totally different way, a kind of seeing outside the box, a different kind of appreciation. And a different way of seeing for writing, for coming up with innovative descriptions to bring vivid imagery into our work that the reader can relish. And what better to feed the spirit than staring into the night sky at the constellations and a host of other natural worldly delights.
We learned the benefit of delayed gratification – we learned to wait for the pay off. Think of doing those jigsaws, where you first sorted out the corners then the edges, then the colours, carefully building it up, until you were finally ready to put in the last piece of the jigsaw and thereby see the whole picture. We learned if there’s something we want, then working at it and waiting for it can be far more enjoyable an experience than instant gratification. So if we can tap into that, it can see us through long, time-consuming projects like writing a novel, and I know my favourite stage of a painting is doing the final details to make the whole come alive.
The lack of self judgment – When we were a young child, as long as we had a relatively happy upbringing, we hadn’t yet learned to be critical of ourselves, or compare ourselves with others to our own detriment. We felt good about what we did, we took a simple delight in our creative efforts, our physical achievements. We wanted to show these achievements to others, not to show off, but to share our own pleasure. The inner critic hadn’t yet been born. Just think of what it would be like to not be so self-critical as an artist, as a writer? Well, we have to try to enter into that child-like simple way of creating, where the imagination can be given free rein, where we can make marks to our heart’s delight, knowing that we can invite in the left brain inner critic for the editing much later on in the process.
Being naughty – we were naughty to break rules to see what happened. It was fun, with an edge of fear, it was testing boundaries. It was following instinctual drives, it was using the shadow side of ourselves. It was having tantrums, going into a sulk, it was hiding or running away. It was allowing the dark side to take over for a while. But it was also inventive and spontaneous, mischievous and we can tune in to this dark side to go, within our creativity, where you wouldn’t go in real life, to create those ‘on the edge’ villainous characters. And we can use it to break conventions in our art or writing, to just see what happens when we do.
And finally on a personal note – When I went to secondary school, which was a grammar school at the time with a mean crow of a headmaster, who stalked along the corridors in his black robes with his hooked nose to peck out disobedience, I was kind of railroaded from my inner child interests in art and literature, which I’d loved at primary school. I was fed how good it was to be getting girls into science, so despite doing better in the arts, I ended up determined to be a researcher in a lab. No future in the arts was the message I received, and even those sticking to the arts seemed semi-apologetic about it.
But how could I have become a convert to science? Well, all I can tell you is I loved drawing diagrams and I fancied looking down a microscope for a living to see structures invisible to the naked eye – that’s it. Totally visual wonder reasons. So some irony here. I hated doing chemistry and physics, biology was okay. I never did become a researcher – it was, well, far too scientific for me. And in the end, much later on, I came back to what I had loved as a girl – reading, writing, drawing and painting, and now I sing in a choir because I remembered how much I enjoyed the small amount of singing I did at school. And if my bossy pigtail wearing PE teacher, right out of an Enid Blyton story, could see me now, jogging and cycling down leafy lanes, when she didn’t see much action from me on the hockey pitch, and all she ever wrote in my report was ‘Lynne tries hard’, she’d keel over in shock. So there is a lesson to be learned here, in returning to my inner child’s former passions in the end. So please indulge yours. It’s healing, it’s healthy, it’s looking after your creativity and your spirit.